What can you expect in the divorce process when there are children involved?

The first step in the divorce process in Texas is filing the Original Petition for Divorce.   One party (the Petitioner) files the petition and serves the other party (the Respondent).  If you expect the case to be relatively amicable, then I recommend using a waiver instead of serving the Respondent.  (Serving someone involves having the constable or a private process server find them and personally deliver the papers.)  With a waiver, you hand your spouse the petition along with a document called Waiver of Service.  The waiver basically says that the person acknowledges receiving a copy of the petition and does not want to be served.  Your spouse signs the waiver before a notary, and it is filed with the court.  (Our office usually handles that when the spouse of our client signs a waiver.)

In addition to the issues involved in divorces with no children (see post here), the additional issues that need to be resolved in a divorce with children are conservatorship, possession and access, and child support.  “Conservatorship” deals with the rights and duties of the parents.  “Possession and access” deals with the visitation schedule.  “Child support” includes standard child support and health insurance.

If the parties have already agreed to terms on all issues, then the next step is to prepare an Agreed Final Decree of Divorce.   Once the decree is prepared, both parties (and their attorneys, if applicable) will sign the decree.  Once the sixty-day waiting period has passed, one party (usually the Petitioner) will “prove up” the divorce in court.  In Collin County, you can show up any day at almost any time and prove up a divorce in the Auxiliary Court.  In Dallas County, different courts have different days and times when they do prove up hearings.  You just show up at the most convenient time for the hearing during the prove up times.  (Of note, if you are handling a divorce without an attorney (“pro se”), Dallas County courts may have specific time slots for pro se litigants.)

If there are disputes about custody, child support, property or debt, discovery will be conducted.  Discovery can be done informally (where the attorneys simply ask each other for certain information or documents and hand it over) or formally (with written Interrogatories, Requests for Production, Requests for Admissions, depositions, etc.)  Some courts will order each side to prepare a sworn inventory and appraisement of property to help clarify the situation with regards to property and debt.  If there is a custody dispute, the court will most likely require a social study.  (You can read about social studies here – link).

Once the parties have completed discovery, the case will usually proceed to mediation if it cannot be settled informally.  At mediation, a neutral mediator goes back and forth between the parties to try and reach a settlement.  If the case does not settle at mediation, the case will proceed to trial.  The vast majority of cases settle, whether it be informally or at mediation.  Occasionally, a case will settle after mediation but before trial.

Divorce

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