In addition to ending the marriage, divorce divides your property and debts and results in legal orders affecting your children. Many choose to work out their own terms for their divorce.
But if you cannot work out agreed-upon terms with your spouse, your divorce is “contested.”
Contested divorces can be emotional and complex. Each spouse is typically well served to hire their own attorney to preserve and defend their individual rights.
At The Larson Law Office, our Texas divorce attorneys have helped many families work through the contested divorce process. We help our clients develop solutions that leave them ready to heal and move on with their lives.
What Is a Contested Divorce?
One spouse files an Original Petition for Divorce with the county district court to start the divorce process. Matters typically addressed in a divorce include the distribution of assets, child custody, and child support.
If you and your spouse agree on all matters and are willing to sign divorce documents, you can finalize your divorce by agreement. If your spouse refuses to sign a settlement, you have a contested divorce, meaning that a judge may eventually need to decide one or more issues that you and your ex can’t agree upon.
It’s common for one spouse to desire to argue and draw out the divorce to hurt or punish the other spouse. However, because that can be expensive and time-consuming, most divorces in Texas are “no-fault” divorces—but Texas still recognizes fault-based divorce grounds, which can affect property division.
What Happens in a Contested Divorce?
The contested divorce process begins when you file for divorce and serve your spouse with a copy of your petition through a constable or process server. At that time, you may set a date for the final trial, where the judge will issue divorce orders.
Additionally, you may file for interim temporary orders to help maintain the family status quo. When children are involved, mediation is required in many courts before the parties can proceed to court.
Even in property-only cases, mediation is still usually a good idea before going straight into court. Between filing your initial petition and your final trial, you should work towards negotiating agreed-upon terms with your spouse. Your lawyer will be there to help this process along.
Filing and Service
After filing for divorce, the court will schedule the final trial. The law requires you to give your spouse at least 45 days’ notice of trial. A process server, constable, or other law enforcement agent can acquire the petition from the court and citation from the district clerk’s office and serve your spouse.
Once your spouse receives the documents, Texas law states that they have 20 days, until the following Monday at 10:00 a.m., to file an Answer to your Petition. Typically, an answer contains a broad denial of the claims in the Divorce Petition.
If your spouse has any independent claims against you, they may assert them in a document known as a counter-petition.
When filing for divorce, you may need a temporary order allowing you to continue paying bills with community property and maintaining contact with your children. In domestic violence cases, a temporary restraining order can limit contact with that spouse.
Establishing temporary orders when children are involved is typically done first in mediation. If mediation fails, a temporary orders hearing is typically the first time you’ll be required to appear in divorce court.
Considered “mini-trials,” both spouses will appear at the temporary order hearings and present evidence and testimony. Your attorney will help you prepare for the questioning involved in these proceedings.
The goal of Texas family law is to encourage the peaceful resolution of conflicts. As such, even uncontested divorces will involve some level of negotiation and compromise. This is even more true for a contested divorce in Texas.
Mediation is a common tool that helps a couple work out an agreement. Typically, when you go for mediation, each spouse will be in a separate room, and a neutral mediator will go between rooms to facilitate cooperation. Your attorney will be in your room to help you make decisions.
Even if you believe you cannot cooperate with your spouse, mediators can often help you identify the strengths and shortcomings of your case before a trial.
Often, the ultimate result is that both sides recognize the benefit of not having a judge make the final decision. Usually, a settlement is better for your family than a court-mandated order.
If mediation or other negotiations fail, the final divorce trial is the culmination of the months spent on the divorce process. Trials are sometimes necessary, but often are the most expensive and least efficient way to bring your divorce case to a resolution.
In a trial, both spouses present their cases to the family court judge at the final hearing. As there are no agreements at trial, the judge will consider the evidence and testimony presented by the parties and issue a judgment.
The judge’s word is final, and the parties have no control over the outcome and ruling from the judge, once the testimony and evidence are closed.
Many cases end with the approval of the spouses’ agreed-upon terms, either due to informal negotiations or informal mediation. It is relatively rare for a divorce to reach the adversarial trial process due to the expense and time-consuming nature of trial preparation.
Nonetheless, if your spouse forces you to trial, it’s crucial that you have attorney representation. The judge has a limited time to get to know your case and rule on the issues.
Your attorney will work with you to develop testimony and collect evidence designed to persuade the judge to issue orders in your favor.
Preparing for a Contested Divorce
If you feel that your spouse won’t cooperate, you should begin preparing your finances as soon as possible. First, gather a complete financial picture. It is never a good idea to try to hide assets. You should also start working toward being independent post-divorce.
Most parents are granted joint managing conservatorship. Prepare to share time with your spouse unless you have circumstances making it not in your child’s best interest to spend time with both parents.
The Larson Law Office: Effective Representation for Contested Divorce in Texas
Divorce isn’t easy for anyone and can be more difficult to navigate when your spouse contests the issues. If you’re facing a contested divorce, an experienced family law attorney can help you make informed decisions.
At The Larson Law Office, we are here to give you honest advice on solutions for divorce, child support, child custody, property division, and spousal support.