How the Divorce Process Works

(See also the FAQs on Divorce and Family Law by clicking on the FAQs button at left)

Texas does not recognize the legal concept of separation. You are "married" until a court enters a final decree. Nevertheless, you can enter into a "separation agreement" or "partition and exchange agreement." Your actions at the separation stage can "POINT" the case to the final outcome. Take the following example:
Spouse "A" moves out. Spouse "B" is left as the primary caregiver of the children. Later, Spouse "A" decides he or she wants the children. The Court will be hesitant to change the status quo (although it can happen). If you are the victim of recent family violence, please do not let the statement above frighten you out of taking action to protect yourself. If there has been family violence, there may be grounds for a Protective Order -- which would legally remove the abuser from the home.

The divorce process starts by filing a document entitled "Original Petition for Divorce." That document informs the court that a divorce is sought, of any grounds the party may have, and what the party wants the court to award in regard to property and children. Concurrently with the filing of the Original Petition, a party may ask for Temporary Orders, Temporary Restraining Orders, and/or a Protective Order.

Temporary Orders are orders issued by the court to place immediate controls upon the relationship of the parties, the parties' financial affairs, child custody, and financial support while the divorce is pending. Temporary Orders can specify who will live in the marital residence, who will be able to write checks on what bank accounts, and who will have primary custody of the children. Depending on the court, in most cases the parties will be ordered to "Mediation" prior to the actual hearing on Temporary Orders.

Mediation is a process where both parties meet in a neutral setting to discuss their differences, and attempt to resolve the case. The process is controlled by a mediator. The mediator can be a lawyer or just a volunteer. The mediator's task is to help the parties settle the case. Although mediation is a required process, there is no requirement that the parties reach an agreement -- each party is free to walk away at the end of mediation and opt for a court hearing.

"Discovery" is a broad general term for a number of legal devices designed to gather information. Discovery is sometimes an informal process of exchanging documents or information between the parties' attorneys. Often, discovery becomes a formal process in which information is obtained through some of the following tools:
"Interrogatories" are written questions directed to the other party. Each side is allowed one set calling for 25 answers. Notice that the rule refers to answers and not questions. This is to prevent the other side from issuing 25 questions with multiple subparts which might require 40 or 50 answers.
"Request for Production" is a device used to obtain documents. Upon request, the other party must provide to you any records that you have requested for inspection and photocopying.
"Disclosures" seek very basic information that has to provided to the other party upon request.
"Depositions" are question and answer sessions in which sworn testimony is taken from the other party or a witness (before a court reporter).

If the case cannot be settled, then it will be set for trial. Often, in addition to the pre-temporary orders mediation, a 2nd mediation will be ordered prior to a final trial. Trial is often expensive, stressful, and risky. A trial can be before the court or before a jury upon request.

Whether there is a settlement agreement or a trial, at the conclusion of the case a Final Decree of Divorce is drafted. This document spells out who gets what property, where the primary residence of the children will be, how much child support will be paid, and how various child-rearing decisions will be made in the future. The court's orders in the Final Decree of Divorce can in some circumstances be modified in the future.

If there has been a procedural error in the trial, or if the ruling of the court was not equitable or not in the best interest of the children, you may file a motion for new trial, or begin an appeal within a very limited period of time.

See also Frequently Asked Questions on Family Law/ Divorce by clicking the FAQs button at left.