How to File for Divorce in Harris County and Houston
If you are considering filing for divorce in Harris County, or wondering how to file for divorce in Houston, Texas, you probably have a lot of questions.
You’re probably asking yourself, Where do I go to file divorce papers in Harris County? Is it different from filing for divorce in Houston? What papers do I file? How do I file? How much will this cost me? Where do I find a good attorney? Is the process quick?
Divorce is a complicated, time-consuming process. Hopefully this article can help answer some of your questions.
Where to File Divorce Papers in Harris County
If you are a resident of Harris County or Houston, you would file your divorce with the Harris County District Clerk’s office. You can file online. However, you may also be able to file in person. If you reside in a suburb of Houston, such as Montgomery, Galveston, or Waller, you would file with the local county district clerk there.
When you are filing for divorce in Harris County or Houston, you must be a Texas resident for at least six months prior to filing and a Harris County resident for 90 days prior. It is not mandatory that both spouses be residents of Harris County, or even of Texas.
Steps to File for Divorce in Houston and Harris County
Filing for divorce must be done with care, and it is very important not to leave any information out on the forms.
- Divorce proceedings begin when an original petition for divorce is filed online with a Case Information Sheet.
- The local county clerk also gets a copy of the petition, and the filing spouse pays the filing fee.
- A process server or constable serves your spouse with the petition. If your spouse is agreeable, you can have them sign a waiver of service instead. If you do not know where your spouse is residing, you must make a reasonable effort to locate them. If you’re not able to find your spouse, you would have them served by posting, so long as there are no kids involved.
- Next your spouse must answer the petition, either with an original answer or a counter-petition for divorce.
- The Harris County court coordinator can provide information about when the judge schedules final hearings. You or your attorney must make a reasonable effort to reach out to your spouse and agree upon a final hearing date. If you could not agree upon a date with your spouse, they must at least get 45 days notice.
- Your spouse must be served with a file-stamped copy of the hearing notice.
- There is a mandatory 60-day waiting period after you file the petition before the hearing, though most divorces do not happen even that quickly. The court will make exceptions for annulments or in domestic violence situations.
- At the hearing, the judge will review your and your spouse’s requests, and you can present testimony or other evidence and information. The judge will make his or her findings and sign the final decree of divorce.
Though you do not necessarily need an attorney for a divorce, it is not advisable to proceed pro se. It would be smart to at least hire a lawyer for advice.
How Long Can a Harris County or Houston Divorce Take?
One question that we often get is — How long does it take to divorce in Houston? From the very beginning to the very end.
Let’s start with the quickest possible time to finalize a Houston divorce under Texas law. Texas has a 60 day waiting period before any agreed order of divorce can be finalized. The waiting period begins to run on the day that the Original Petition for Divorce is filed with the court. The waiting period is a cooling off period provided by the Texas legislature.
So, the soonest that an agreed divorce can be finalized in the Houston area is 61 days. The first thing that needs to happen is that a divorce petition must be filed to start the 60 day clock. Once this occurs, your spouse must either be served by service of process, or your spouse must sign and complete a waiver of service of process that must be filed with the Court.
Of course, finalizing the terms of a divorce within this 60 day period is going to require an agreement on the division of property, liabilities, as well as child custody and child support issues, if children are involved. So, an agreement on these issues has to be reached by the parties if you want to finalize the divorce within 60 days of filing Then a final and fully signed decree of divorce can be entered with the court after the waiting period expires.
If you do not have an agreement with your spouse on these issues, it is unlikely that you will be able to finalize your divorce within 60 days. In this event, you should anticipate needing to either go to mediation for assistance in reaching an agreement. Or it is possible that you may end up going to court so that a judge can resolve your differences for you.
If you need help filing for divorce in the Houston Area, you can reach Diana Larson or Erik Larson at 713.221.9088.
What If Your Spouse Doesn’t Want a Divorce?
If your spouse doesn’t want a divorce or if there are any issues that you both cannot easily agree upon, it is a contested divorce. You will need to have your spouse served, as they likely will not be amenable to waiving process.
The court may appoint an amicus attorney or guardian ad litem to act in the best interests of the children. The court may also order you and your spouse to meet with a mediator to try to resolve any lingering issues about custody, child support, or property division.
What Is an Uncontested Divorce?
An uncontested divorce is common in simpler situations such as where the parties do not have much property, do not have children, or have already agreed on all issues. To qualify for an uncontested divorce, the parties must:
- Agree to be divorced;
- Agree on all issues; and
- Voluntarily sign all papers.
If the parties disagree on any issue, they can not get an uncontested divorce.
How to File for an Uncontested Divorce in Harris County
The process for an uncontested divorce follows pretty much the same steps as those outlined above, with a few small differences:
- The filing party files the original petition of divorce and the other party signs a waiver of service or is served with process.
- The filing spouse provides all the information about the agreements made between the two parties.
- The attorney prepares the final decree of divorce, which both parties sign.
- Sixty days after the petition, one spouse (usually the filing party) appears in court to present the final decree to the judge in a prove up hearing.
An uncontested divorce is cheaper, less stressful, and less time-consuming but, unfortunately, not common.
Advantages of Filing First for Divorce in Harris County & Houston
Are there advantages of filing first for divorce in Houston and other nearby counties? In other words, will you get any benefits from winning the race to the courthouse and filing your divorce petition first?
Yes, there are advantages to be gained by filing first. Most of the advantages yield benefits at the beginning of the case. Sometimes those benefits can affect the final outcome of the case as well.
There can be an advantage for filing your Texas divorce case first. There are a couple of different ways in which it can be advantageous. N0umber one, there’s a time advantage that you can utilize if you are looking to file for temporary orders quickly and you are the first to file.
Timing Advantage in First Filed Divorce
First, there can be a timing advantage if you file first, and if your spouse is unaware of your intentions to file for divorce in Houston, you may have the element of surprise, which is an advantage on your spouse. You can have your spouse served with the petition along with a hearing for temporary orders.
Many times, service of process is completed just a few days prior to the scheduled temporary orders hearing. So, if you are able to preserve your element of surprise, your spouse may have very little time to prepare for the temporary orders hearing when your spouse is served. Contrast that with your comparative high level of preparation if you select the right Houston divorce lawyer.
Psychological Advantage for Filing for Divorce First
There is also a psychological advantage that can come into play when you’re the one that has your stuff together, you are the one who is organized and aggressive, and you file your Houston divorce case first.
When you are the person making the decisions, when you are the one taking the initiative and moving the ball forward, your spouse may be on his or her heels and unprepared. This can be a significant psychological advantage for you for negotiating a settlement and preparing for litigation.
What Are the Benefits of Working with a Divorce Attorney?
Divorce is a very complicated and time-consuming process. It can be an exhausting, emotional process even if you are confident in your decision. An experienced divorce attorney that is familiar with the laws, processes, and local judges can take a lot of that stress off your shoulders. Attorneys are trained to protect your legal rights.
Divorce involves family relationships, property rights, and personal finances. It is especially important to have an attorney if you have a large amount of assets or debts, if your spouse has an attorney, or if you are afraid for your or your children’s safety.
Contact the Larson Law Office to Handle Your Divorce in Houston and Harris County
At The Larson Law Office, our practice focuses on family law matters including divorce, custody, mediation, marital property division, and spousal support. We will work closely with you to help you make the best possible decisions for yourself, your children, and your property. Contact us online or by phone at 713-221-9088 and discover why we are Harris County’s trusted divorce attorneys.