A Divorce Process Timeline

A Divorce Process Timeline

The General Timeframes for a Divorce

In total, you are looking at a divorce timeline of 6-12 months in most cases. However, the timeline for a Texas divorce depends on a number of factors.

When two parties are able to agree on the terms of the divorce, it can be resolved relatively quickly. Even if you do not have a contested divorce, you should take the time to negotiate a sensible divorce agreement—a process that could last several months. It would not be wise to rush this agreement because you might wind up living with the choices you make in the heat of the moment regarding your divorce for the rest of your life.

If you decide to try for a settlement agreement, your timeline depends on how long it takes for you and your spouse to agree. You can expect more complex cases to take longer. Here are the general steps:

  1. You meet with your attorney and devise a strategy for handling the divorce.
  2. You exchange financial information with your spouse through your attorneys.
  3. The two parties negotiate the terms of the potential agreement through their attorneys.
  4. If there are any sticking points, you may try mediation to help bridge the gaps.

Before you negotiate, you should consult with an experienced Texas divorce attorney to prioritize what you need from your divorce and to develop a strategy.

Otherwise, you could go through the trial process, which could take up to a year or more. After all, filing the petition with the court is usually just the first step of the divorce process. Typically, spouses will try to work out the issues between them regarding custody and finances through negotiations. These issues are rarely straightforward, and they often require back-and-forth between the spouses’ divorce attorneys.

The Process for a Texas Divorce

You can expect that it will take some time after you file for divorce for it to be finalized.

The Divorce Process Begins with Filing a Petition

The legal process for divorce starts when one spouse files a petition for dissolution with the court. This petition asks the court to grant a divorce, and it is served on the other spouse. The petition could be filed as part of a contested divorce or uncontested divorce.

Before a spouse files a petition with the court, they may have had settlement negotiations with the other spouse. These talks would address issues such as custody and division of marital assets. Oftentimes, spouses do not reach an agreement for many months, especially if they are going through a divorce with complex issues. How long each spouse decides to continue with negotiations depends on their own situation and the advice of their lawyer. If there is a reasonable possibility that they can reach an agreement, they are better off continuing to talk.

If the spouses can reach a settlement agreement on all the issues, filing the petition for divorce comes closer to the end of the process than the beginning. Once the petition is filed, there is a mandatory cooling-off period. The court will not grant a divorce for 60 days after the petition is filed to give the spouses time to reconsider their decision.

If one or more issues remain unresolved, the petition for divorce will be the start of the legal process. Each spouse will get the chance to present their own case, but this will follow a lengthy legal process.

“Cooling Off” Period in Texas

Unlike many other states, Texas does not have a mandatory separation period before you file for divorce. There is no requirement that spouses live apart for a certain period of time. What Texas does have is a “cooling off” period that keeps a court from granting the divorce until 60 days after the petition for dissolution is filed. This time period allows people to change their minds if they choose not to divorce.

Discovery in Your Divorce Case

In a contested divorce, the discovery process will begin well before trial. During the process, each spouse will be asked to exchange information with the other. Discovery could include the following:

  • Interrogatories where one party has to answer questions from the other under oath
  • Requests for documents, such as documentation of bank and investment accounts
  • Examinations of the parents (in contested custody cases)
  • Requests for admissions to a series of pointed questions
  • Depositions where the spouses and other witnesses are questioned under oath by a lawyer

The discovery process can take months because each side is given time to prepare their responses. In some cases, the parties will have disputes over what documents need to be produced, requiring them to go to the judge with motions to compel. The discovery process may be the most time-intensive part of the case.

The judge will set a schedule or docket control order at some point during the case. They will usually allot a certain time period for discovery. The judge may also require the parties to attend mediation. Most judges will not give the parties a hearing in court until they have first attended a mediation session.

Settlement Negotiations and Mediation

Before the case goes to trial, the spouses may discuss a potential settlement. Most divorce cases will settle before a trial, even if one or both spouses have filed lawsuits. Usually, these talks will get serious after discovery is complete when both spouses have an idea of the evidence and the strength of their case. If the parties reach an agreement, they will file it with the court, and it will become part of a court order granting the divorce.

In some cases, spouses will try to reach a written agreement before filing for divorce. This will be filed with the court, along with the petition for dissolution, and will become part of the court order. This would begin the 60-day cooling-off period.

Some spouses may file for divorce without all the issues being resolved. They will request the court decide contentious issues. This would begin the divorce trial process. The spouses may have reached an agreement on some issues but cannot decide on others. Alternatively, they may be on two completely different pages and need the court to get involved.

The Divorce Trial

If your case goes to trial, you can expect it to take at least a year. If the issues are more complex, the timeline could be even longer.

Divorce trials are like any other court case in that there is a formal process that must be followed. Trials only happen after a lengthy pretrial process. Since the legal process can be long, one spouse may need some interim relief before the final trial decides the issues. Many will apply for temporary orders for custody, child support, and/or alimony.

There will be several months between the conclusion of discovery and a divorce trial. In the meantime, the judge may request briefs from each party before the trial on certain issues. The judge will specify the length of the trial ahead of time, giving each of the parties a certain amount of time to make their case. Each spouse will get to call witnesses and cross-examine those the other side calls to help its case. The judge may issue a ruling right after the case concludes or in the weeks thereafter. If either spouse is unhappy with the judge’s ruling, they have the ability to appeal, which can add several more months.

In the meantime, both parties will likely continue to discuss a possible settlement of the divorce case. These discussions may intensify after discovery is completed. This may be the time for both spouses to have a mediation session to reach an agreement. A judge may even order the two parties into mediation, although the mediator can only facilitate an agreement and cannot force anyone to settle. The settlement phase of the case could last up to two months.

There is still some time between discovery and trial if settlement negotiations are unsuccessful. The court will have likely set a trial date in the case. The attorneys must prepare for trial based on the information they have gathered during discovery. You would be working with your attorney during this time, preparing for your upcoming testimony in court.

After many months of motions, discovery, and preparation, it is time for the trial. This could last between one day and two weeks (or in extremely complex cases even longer), depending on the issues to be decided. Each side will have an allotted amount of time to call witnesses and make their case in front of the judge. Each spouse can count on testifying and being cross-examined by the other’s attorney. The judge may issue a ruling at the conclusion of the trial or sometime afterward. At this point, the judge would grant the divorce and issue a court order granting the divorce and deciding the terms.

As you can see, divorce can be a complex and often contentious process. It is one that is best navigated with the help of an experienced Texas family law attorney. You can take comfort in knowing that very few divorces ultimately head to trial. However, resolving a divorce takes compromise from both spouses.

If you are contemplating divorce or if your spouse has told you they want one, you should immediately call the divorce attorneys at Terry & Roberts to learn about your legal options. A divorce attorney can explain more about the process and what you can expect, as well as prepare you for what is to come. To schedule a consultation, contact us today. Our Pearland divorce attorneys are ready to help.

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