In Texas, a Divorce is initiated with the filing of an Original Petition for Divorce; the spouse who files the Divorce Petition is usually referred to as the “Petitioner,” and the other spouse is referred to as the “Respondent.” The Divorce Petition can be anywhere from a couple of pages (with very non-confrontational language) up to a very large, complicated (and confrontational) document.
Once the Divorce Petition has been filed, like in the courts of Travis County, Texas, it is necessary to have it “served” upon the other side. The documents that will be delivered to the Respondent consist of what is basically a cover page (called a “Citation”) together with the Divorce Petition and "Standing Orders" imposed by the court to serve as groundrules for the parties. This is usually done by a Court-approved “Process Server,” the Sheriff or the Constable. Sometimes, rather than having the Process served, the parties will agree to “waive” such service.
Once the Divorce Petition has been delivered, the time starts ticking for the Respondent or their lawyer to file an “Answer.” An answer must be filed at or before “10:00 a.m. on the Monday next following the expiration of twenty days” from the date of service. If you do not file an Answer, then a “default Divorce Decree” can be taken against you, which means that the Petitioner essentially gets what he or she wants, by default. The Answer may include special pleadings or defenses, or even a “Counter-Petition for Divorce.” The Counter-Petition is basically the Respondent joining in the Petitioner’s request to be divorced, but may seek a different outcome on issues of child custody, child support or division of property.
Under Texas law, after the Divorce Petition is filed, there is a waiting period of at least sixty (60) days prior to the time the Divorce is finalized by entry of a “Divorce Decree.” During this time period, the parties and their lawyers will usually attempt to negotiate a resolution of their Divorce and may conduct “discovery” in order to gain an understanding of the facts and legal issues related to their divorce. If there are relatively few assets (other than personal possessions) and no children, then a negotiated resolution of the divorce will likely be easier. If the parties’ attempts to resolve the matter are unsuccessful, if there is a particularly difficult legal issue in the case, or if there are other obstacles to settlement (or, sometimes, if you have a party that is unwilling to accept a divorce upon reasonable terms), the parties will prepare for mediation. If resolution through mediation is unsuccessful, then the parties will prepare for and try their case in front of the Judge or a Jury.
Before entry of a Texas Divorce Decree, the parties may need “Temporary Orders.” Temporary Orders are requests for interim orders such as child support, measures to allocate the payment of certain debts and obligations, orders permitting the temporary use and possession of personal property and/or real property, attorney’s fees, injunctions (such as Temporary Restraining Orders) and other orders that prevent the parties from doing certain things. Temporary Orders are generally used to preserve the status quo, take care of the parties’ or children’s interim needs, or pay for anticipated expenses until the Texas Divorce Decree is entered.
The document that Orders that the marriage be dissolved and deals with issues concerning the children, property (assets), and debts (liabilities), is generally referred to as the Divorce Decree. For lack of a better description, the Divorce Decree is the “Rule Book” that governs virtually every legal issue, or potential legal issue, involved in the breakup of the marriage and separation of the parties. If no action is taken to contest the Divorce Decree or to file an appeal, the divorce usually becomes “final” on the thirtieth day after the Divorce Decree is signed.
Once the Divorce is final, the Court will still retain the power to clarify or issue orders to correct certain clerical errors, but the substantive provisions of the Divorce Decree will not be subject to change without a new lawsuit seeking a modification. The Court will also retain the power to enforce the various provisions of the Divorce Decree in the event one of the parties does not live up to their obligations. In the event one of the parties is dissatisfied with the outcome, they can appeal to a higher court. There are detailed rules concerning such matters and parties should not undertake an appeal without representation and advice from a licensed and qualified attorney.