Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Few Quick Questions -- Divorce Deadlines

There are several issues that have different ending dates in Texas divorces. Here are some that people often wonder about.

1. What is the cut-off date so that anything earned or acquired belongs to just one of the parties? Using some legal terminology, when does the community estate end?

Answer: It ends when the divorce decree is signed by the judge. That means that community property can change in value, up or down, even after the parties are separated. That is true whether the parties are separated for 60 days, 6 years or longer. It used to be that we talked about the increase in value since the parties separated. Now, we have to consider the real possibility of a decrease in value since separation.

Example: Many people continue to make contributions to a retirement plan after they are separated from their spouse. Those contributions and any increase in value (generally) will be community property and are subject to division by the Court, up to the date the decree of divorce is signed by the judge.

2. When is new debt created by my spouse no longer my responsibility? Can I put a notice in the newspaper to terminate my responsibility?

Answer: New debt created by your (ex)spouse after the decree of divorce is signed by the judge is not your responsibility. Up until the decree of divorce is signed by the judge, any debt may be a community obligation which both parties may be held responsible for. After the decree is signed, you are each on your own.

Example: If either spouse charges on a credit card after separation, those charges may be a community obligation up until the decree of divorce is signed.

Publishing a newspaper notice saying you are no longer responsible for your spouse's debts doesn't help you.

3. Why is there a 60-day waiting period and how does it work? Why can't we get divorced immediately if we both agree?

Answer: It is a cooling off period mandated by state law. It begins the day after someone files for divorce. The idea is to give people time to think over the major decision they are working through. A divorce cannot be granted until the petition for divorce has been on file with the court for at least 60 days. That waiting period cannot by waived by a judge or anyone. Wait means wait.

4. When is the Answer due?

The Short Answer: It depends.

The Slightly More Helpful Answer: There are actually different answer dates for different documents. Each pleading, request, etc. should spell out the answer date. You should carefully read over anything you receive to determine when the answer is due. The documents should say when an answer is due or they may explain how to calculate the due date. If you are represented by an attorney, you should show the attorney any documents or notices you receive. The attorney can tell you when and if an answer is needed.

Reminder: These are superficial comments and are not intended as legal advice. Please consult with an attorney to review the application of the law to your unique situation. Divorces always have their own special characteristics that need to be considered when deciding how to proceed. Be aware, though, that courts take deadlines very seriously, so you should, too.

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