A Guide to Choosing Your Texas Divorce Attorney
It’s tough to know what to expect when you’re planning to file for divorce, and that fear of the unknown can feel paralyzing. Hiring a Texas divorce attorney guarantees you won’t be going in blind. While every divorce is unique, an experienced family law attorney will walk you through exactly what to expect and advocate for your best interests in court. Read this article to learn more about what you get when you hire our divorce attorneys.
When you’re faced with divorce, it’s important to hire an attorney whose legal practice is solely dedicated to family law matters. A family law attorney not only understands divorce laws, but they can assist you with other matters common to divorce, such as child custody, spousal maintenance, and restraining orders.
Topics Covered in This Article
- What Kind of Lawyer Do I Need?
- Board Certified Family Law Attorneys
- How Much Will My Divorce Cost?
- Steps in a Texas Divorce
- Grounds for Divorce in Texas
What Kind of Lawyer Do I Need?
An attorney who dedicates their practice solely to family law is ideal. Since they’re immersed in the types of issues you’ll be facing, they’ll know how to respond.
Also, having someone on your legal team who is “board certified” can be beneficial.
In Texas, board-certified attorneys undergo a stringent process that equally tests their educational knowledge and practical expertise. Of the roughly 10,000 attorneys in Texas, fewer than 900 of them are board certified in family law. This amounts to less than 1 percent of all Texas attorneys. Source: Texas Academy of Family Law Specialists website
At Robinson & Henry, our family law team is led by a member of this elite group of attorneys. R&H Texas Family Law Partner Kate Smith has been board-certified in family law since 2015.
Kate, who brings an extra layer of competency and experience to each unique case, will oversee the team working on your divorce.
What Does it Mean to be a “Board-Certified Family Law Attorney”?
When you hire a board-certified family law attorney, you know that your lawyer has:
- practiced law full-time for at least five years as an active member of the State Bar of Texas;
- at least three years of family law experience with a yearly minimum 35 percent substantial involvement with family law matters;
- participated in a specific number of contested final trials, court appearances, civil trials, appeals and represented parties in mediation matters;
- submitted qualified vetted references from judges and lawyers in the area;
- completed 60 hours of board-approved continuing legal education in family law;
- met all board standards for attorney certification; and
- passed a comprehensive six-hour exam.
source: Texas Board of Legal Specialization website
How Will a Board Certified Attorney Help My Case?
Essentially, a board-certified family law attorney comes highly recommended by their peers, works well with others, and stays abreast of developments in the field of Texas family law.
This is in addition to their wealth of real-world experience in matters ranging from divorce to adoption to child custody.
Achieving Board Certification requires an attorney to have a high level of competence in more than just family law. Knowledge of the estate code, the property code, the rules of civil procedure and civil trial skills are tested. An attorney seeking board certification has to show the ability to apply a broad base of legal expertise to real-life family law scenarios. Attorneys have to be able to put it all together.
Just as the bar exam is comprehensive of an attorney’s entire time in law school, the board certification exam is comprehensive of all an attorney’s skills in family law and every area of law that potentially touches a family law case.
How Much Will My Divorce Cost?
On average, Texas divorce lawyers charge anywhere from $260 to $450 per hour. You can typically expect to spend anywhere from $11,000 to $13,000 to get divorced in Texas, although those costs may be lower if there are no contested issues.
Still, these figures are by no means set in stone. How much you pay for your divorce will hinge largely on the complexity of the issues you’re facing, how much you have in marital assets, and how litigious you and your soon-to-be former spouse are.
Your attorney’s efficiency can play a critical role in cost savings as well. Board-certified attorneys tend to be more cost-effective simply because they are familiar with the law and accustomed to meeting deadlines.
What to Expect in a Texas Family Law Court
Navigating your way through Texas family law court can add fuel to an already stressful situation. Here’s what to expect in your Texas divorce proceedings.
Steps in a Texas Divorce
Every Texas divorce is different, but they all typically involve the following steps.
Step 1 – Check Your Residency Requirements
First, you must determine whether you meet the residency requirements for the state and your county. You must have lived in Texas for at least six months—and your county for a minimum of 90 days—prior to filing for divorce.
Step 2 – File the Petition
Once you have established residency, your attorney will file your original petition for divorce with the district clerk’s office. This will include:
- the full names of both you and your spouse
- the dates of marriage and separation
- the names and ages of any children
- grounds for divorce (read more on this below)
- information about marital property or debts
- a statement that you (the petitioner) are seeking a divorce from your spouse (the respondent)
- a name change request if you are seeking one
Step 3 – Notify Your Spouse
After your attorney files a petition, you need to notify your spouse. This does not mean simply making them aware that you filed for divorce. As with any civil lawsuit, you can legally serve your spouse in the following ways.
Ask Them to Sign a Waiver of Citation
The easiest method is asking your spouse to sign a form that waives their right to be formally served with divorce papers. However, this is only valid if your spouse signs it after you’ve filed the petition with the court.
Hire a Process Server
If your spouse refuses to sign the waiver, you can hire a court-authorized third party to deliver the papers to them. This can be done through a process server, the county constable, or the sheriff.
Publish the Citation in a Newspaper
If you have done your due diligence to find your spouse and still come up empty, you may be able to serve them by publishing the citation in a legal newspaper. Source: 1 Texas Family Law: Practice and Procedure C4.06 (2022)
This method requires filing an affidavit with the court and should only be used as a last resort when all other attempts to locate your spouse have been unsuccessful.
Step 4 – Wait for Your Spouse’s Answer
Once your spouse has been served with divorce papers, he or she has the right to file an answer. This protects their right to have a say in the divorce proceedings.
If your spouse does not file an answer with the court after 20 days, you will receive a default judgment.
Your spouse may also file their own counter-petition stating their reasons for divorce and what they would like to request during the proceedings.
Waiting is the Hardest Part
Filing your divorce petition kicks off the waiting period. In Texas, you must wait at least 60 days before a judge can finalize your divorce. Tex. Fam. Code § 6.702
However, you may be exempt from this waiting period if domestic violence is involved.
The 60-day waiting period gives you and your spouse the opportunity to amicably negotiate the divorce. If the two of you can agree on how to handle child custody, property division, and child support, you may be able to proceed with an uncontested divorce.
If you are unable to find common ground, the divorce becomes contested. This means the court will have the final say on matters such as child custody and property division.
During the waiting period, the court may issue temporary orders pertaining to child custody or visitation.
Step 5 – Obtain the Divorce Decree
In contested divorces, the court will typically encourage you and your spouse to reach an agreement through mediation. This is when a neutral third party (the mediator) helps you and your spouse find an arrangement that works for both of you.
If mediation fails, the judge will hear your issues at a final hearing, which will be scheduled sometime after the 60-day waiting period.
This is where you will receive your final divorce decree.
Grounds for Divorce in Texas
Before you ever submit your divorce petition to the court, you must decide which grounds you will claim in your paperwork. A ground is simply a legal justification for ending your marriage.
You are required to prove at least one ground before the court will grant your divorce. You may claim more than one ground for divorce, but you must claim at least one.
Let’s take a look at each of the seven grounds for divorce in Texas and what they mean.
This means neither you nor your spouse wants the marriage to continue, but other grounds for divorce do not apply. This is also known as a no-fault divorce.
To obtain a divorce on the grounds of insupportability, you must prove the following three elements:
- that the marriage has become insupportable because of discord or conflict,
- that discord or conflict destroys the legitimate ends of the marriage, and
- there is no reasonable expectation of reconciliation. In re Marriage of Richards, 991 S.W.2d 32, 34 (Tex. App. 1999)
Your spouse’s cruel treatment of you can be grounds for divorce if their cruelty makes living together impossible:
Cruel treatment requires willful and persistent infliction of unnecessary suffering. … The suffering may be mental or physical, and it may consist of many different acts or combinations of misconduct. Although any one of several acts standing alone might not constitute cruel treatment, the accumulation of the acts may be sufficient to justify the granting of a divorce on ground of cruelty. Burgess v. Burgess, No. 09-06-301 CV, 2007 Tex. App. LEXIS 4076, at *1 (Tex. App. May 24, 2007)
In the above-cited case, a Montgomery County district court granted Max Burgess a divorce on the grounds of his ex-wife’s cruelty. Max presented evidence that his ex-wife, Deborah, had refused to have sexual intercourse with him for nine years. Additionally, she had spent a large amount of Max’s money without his knowledge or consent, leaving him with no savings, ruined credit, and unable to retire.
Adultery means voluntarily having sex with someone who is not your spouse. Cheating is a leading cause of divorce in Texas, and it can absolutely affect your divorce proceedings.
If your spouse cheated during the marriage and you can prove it, a judge may award you a greater share of the marital estate.
It’s important to note that adultery does not have to occur pre-separation in order to be a ground for divorce. In re Marriage of C.A.S., 405 S.W.3d 373, 379 (Tex. App. 2013)
In the case re Marriage of C.A.S., in Collin County, the wife moved out of the marital home but still hoped that she and her husband would reconcile. However, the husband instead began a relationship with another woman while they were separated.
The wife presented evidence of her husband’s trips to Europe and the Bahamas with his girlfriend, as well as several expensive gifts he had bought for her. Ultimately, the court granted the divorce and awarded the wife a “disproportionate” share of the marital estate.
If your spouse has been convicted of a felony in Texas or another state, has been in prison for at least a year, and has not been pardoned, you can file for divorce on these grounds. Tex. Fam. Code § 6.004
Importantly, if the state’s case against your spouse was based on your testimony, the court cannot grant a divorce on these grounds. However, that doesn’t mean the court will not grant your divorce based on insupportability or cruelty.
The court may grant a divorce on the grounds of abandonment if your spouse left you with no intention of returning and has been gone for at least a year. Tex. Fam. Code § 6.005
So, you and your spouse got into a huge argument three years ago. Your spouse moved out of the marital home and you two haven’t lived together since. This can be sufficient grounds for divorce once you’ve lived apart for at least three years.
Confinement in Mental Hospital
People end up in mental hospitals for a variety of reasons, whether because of mental illness or a traumatic brain injury. If your spouse has been confined to a mental hospital for at least three years, and their mental disorder is unlikely to improve or relapse is highly likely, you can seek a divorce on these grounds.
Keep in mind that these laws are meant to protect people struggling with mental illness as much as their spouses. Thus, your spouse’s confinement does not mean you automatically get everything. If your divorce is granted on these grounds, the court will likely appoint a guardian ad litem to represent your spouse and ensure a “just and right” property division.
Hire an Experienced Family Law Attorney
Divorce is hard. Don’t make it harder. With the Robinson & Henry Texas Family Law Team, you are getting a team of dedicated professionals led by a board-certified attorney. Call 214-884-3775 today to begin your free case assessment.