Ending a marriage can be one of the most emotionally-charged, distressing times in a person’s life. Over the years, I have found my divorce clients appreciated not only my attention to detail and efficient manner, but also my ability to listen and show compassion. You need a strong advocate but one who will be compassionate with you.
At the outset of your case, it is wise to understand the big picture so you know what to expect. The divorce process begins by one of the spouses filing with the Court a petition for divorce. The spouse who files first is the Petitioner, and the other spouse is the Respondent. In Texas, the parties must wait 60 days before their divorce can be finalized, but, in rare cases, this waiting period can be waived. The next step in the process is usually to obtain Temporary Orders, which are the “ground rules” for the spouses while the case is pending. As you can imagine, many people who are divorcing have stopped communicating with one another and cannot sit down at the kitchen table to discuss who will stay in the marital residence, who will pay the household bills, with whom the children will primarily reside, who will pay child support, if any, and what the visitation schedule with the kids will be while the case is pending. All these immediate questions can be resolved at mediation or, if that fails, at a Temporary Orders hearing. In the vast majority of cases, parties and their attorneys attend mediation, which is required in most courts, and resolve these immediate disputes during a 4-hour or 8-hour mediation.
If a divorce involves children, the most important issues in the divorce are the issues pertaining to the children—conservatorship, possession and access (a/k/a visitation), child support, and health insurance. In Texas, it is a rebuttable presumption that the parents will be joint managing conservators, which means they will share decision-making rights and duties. In some cases, one parent may be unfit; therefore, it is possible the unfit parent will be appointed only a Possessory Conservator while the other parent will be appointed the Sole Managing Conservator. The next step is to determine the appropriate visitation schedule for the children. In Texas, a Standard Possession Order is presumed to be in the best interest of the children and to be the minimum amount of time a fit parent should have with his or her children. Of course, legal presumptions can be overcome; thus, if you believe a Standard Possession Order is not appropriate for your children, it is crucial you explain your circumstances to an experienced family law attorney who can determine the best course of action to obtain a different visitation schedule. The next step is to determine the amount of child support, if any, one spouse will pay to the other and who will provide and pay for health insurance for the children. Child support is not a foregone conclusion in every case, but if child support is necessary, then it is likely the child support guidelines set forth by the Texas Legislature will be followed. If you are concerned about paying or receiving child support, it is imperative to speak to a family law attorney who can evaluate your specific circumstances and determine the best course of action to achieve your objectives.
The next phase of a divorce involves identifying, characterizing, valuing, and dividing the marital property estate. Before a marital estate can be divided, the parties and their attorneys must first ascertain what assets and debts the marital estate encompasses. In some cases, the attorneys must avail themselves of the discovery process, whereby they send formal, written requests for information to the other party and may, in some cases, request an oral deposition of the opposing party. If the case involves a modest marital estate, sometimes the attorneys can agree to informally exchange financial information and forego the time and expense of the formal discovery process.
After the parties and their attorneys identify the assets and debts in the marital estate, the next step is to determine whether each item is community property or separate property. After each item is characterized as community property or separate property, the value of each item must be determined, and, finally, when the picture is complete, the attorneys can begin to negotiate how the community property estate will be divided. Some people erroneously believe that community property must be divided 50/50, but that is not the law in Texas. In Texas, the community property estate must be divided in a just and right manner. In many cases, one party is awarded a disproportionate share of the community property. The vast majority of cases settle at mediation, after which a Final Decree of Divorce is drafted and filed with the Court and a final hearing is held.
As your attorney, I will be as efficient, diligent, and detailed as is necessary throughout the case to achieve your objectives, all while balancing the need to avoid unnecessary, protracted, and costly litigation. Over the years, my clients have told me time and time again they truly appreciate how diligent and efficient I was in preparing their case and bringing it to a swift resolution. At the end of the day, most clients simply need a fair and reasonable divorce settlement and to conclude the litigation as expeditiously as possible so they can move on with the rest of their lives. I fully appreciate and understand those needs, and I never forget that peace of mind is priceless.
A surprising number of people have the good fortune of ending their marriage in an amicable and respectable manner. Sadly, if a spouse chooses the wrong attorney to handle the paperwork, the amicable divorce can quickly become contested. I have handled many uncontested divorces and have never, and would never, create problems where none exist. Period.
If you have an uncontested divorce, make sure you hire an attorney who will keep it uncontested.