Friday, December 26, 2008

How to File for Divorce in Tarrant County, Texas

A common question I see is about how to file for divorce. Here is a general, simple explanation of several of the steps that go into filing for divorce. Each case may be different and your case may involve more steps or fewer steps. This is just to give you a general idea about how to file for divorce in Tarrant County, Texas.

Step 1. Do your homework and come prepared. When you go to your attorney's office to start the process, you need to bring various types of information. The attorney will need information on you, your spouse and all the children: full names, dates and places of birth, driver's license and Social Security numbers, and date and place of marriage, among other things. The attorney will probably have a long form for you to fill out and you might be able to request a copy in advance so that you can fill it out before you come in.

You also need to be able to explain your immediate concerns and needs. You should also think in advance about your short-term and long-term goals. You may have financial or custody issues, or both. There may be personal safety concerns as well.

Step 2. Decide how you want to proceed -- Collaborative Law or full litigation. You can start in litigation and switch to Collaborative Law, but it's really better to try to start in Collaborative if your spouse is willing. It doesn't hurt to try to get an agreement to use Collaborative Law and many people will welcome it once they learn about it. On the other hand, in some cases, Collaborative Law may not be appropriate, so litigation must be used. You and your attorney can choose the best course of action.

Step 3. Your attorney will get specific information from you to prepare the pleadings. "Pleadings" are the court papers that are filed -- the petition and sometimes a temporary restraining order (TRO) are filed at the outset. The petition is usually fairly brief and has the basic background information about the parties. It may also contain specific requests for your case and may include grounds for an unequal division of property or special terms for child custody of support. The person filing for divorce is the "Petitioner".

Step 4. The attorney files the petition with District Clerk. If a TRO is requested, the order must be taken to a judge to be signed and then we go to the Court Coordinator to schedule the hearing. If a TRO is issued, it is not in effect on the Respondent (your spouse) until a copy is actually delivered to your spouse by an authorized process server, which can be an approved civilian process server or a deputy sheriff or constable.

Step 5. Your spouse gets notice of the lawsuit. This can be accomplished either by having the papers served by an authorized process server or by handing the papers to the Respondent (your spouse who will respond to the petition) and then having him or her sign a "Waiver". The waiver is a document that says that the party has received a copy of the court papers and does not need to be formally "served" with a copy by a process server. A waiver must be notarized and should be carefully read before signing.

These are some of the common steps followed in initiating a divorce in Tarrant County, Texas. The process should be about the same anywhere in Texas, but there may be some differences from county to county. You should consult with your lawyer about how he or she normally proceeds.

Remember that these are only the first steps in what can be a long process!

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