What's the First Step in Filing for Divorce?
We know divorce is not something to be taken lightly. Deciding to get a divorce is a difficult decision, and there are many steps and processes to complete before it can be legally recognized. Every divorce is unique. Some divorces are more or less complex than others, and the amount of time it takes for them to solidify can vary drastically. Law firms like us exist to help people through this part of their lives, and we know many clients want to know the basics.
Please note that we are a law firm in the state of Texas, so the details regardingfiling for divorce and the divorce process outlined in this article are specific to Texas. While divorce details can look very similar from state to state, it’s recommended to always reach out to a lawyer or legal representative in your state who understands the laws and processes of divorce in that state.
Step 1 in Texas
In the state of Texas, the first step in filing for a divorce is just that — you need to file something. You need to file a document called a Petition for Divorce or an Original Petition for Divorce. This Petition for Divorce is filed with the family court in the county where you or your spouse resides. The filing of this official document needs to be completed in the county where you or your spouse has been residing for at least 90 days prior to filing the petition. You or your spouse also needs to have resided in the state of Texas for at least the last six months.
Note: As long as you meet the residency requirements, you can file for a divorce in a specific county in Texas even if your spouse lives in another state or does not meet the residency requirements of Texas.
Either party of a marriage contract can file this document, and it is basically a notification to the court and judge that a divorce is wanted in order to start the greater divorce process. There is also a standard court fee associated with filing this document that needs to be paid. You can call the county clerk’s office to discuss the amount prior to filing if needed, and there is also support available if you cannot afford to pay the fee. After the document is filed, the process begins. A case number is assigned to your divorce proceeding, and other steps can fall into place.
After you file a Petition for Divorce or an Original Petition for Divorce, you are known as the “petitioner,” and the other spouse is now referred to as the “respondent.” Just because one part of a married couple files to start the divorce process does not mean the other part of that married couple is aware yet, so the second step is actually providing an official legal notice of the filing from step one.
Another way you might have heard about this step is “being served a notice of filing for divorce.” This step includes an official document being physically given to the respondent or the person in the marriage that did not file the Petition for Divorce.
Being served a legal notice leads to the next step of the divorce process in which the actual terms and specifics are discussed and agreed upon by you and your spouse. There may or may not be a trial involved, and then a judge finalizes everything. This includes but is not limited to division of property and financial assets and, if there are children involved, everything from custody schedules to visitation rights. Depending on the specifics and complexities of your case, divorce timelines in Texas can range from 60 days to 6–18 months, or longer.
Importance of Representation
When filing for divorce at the county level, it is important to understand that the court staff, clerks, and judges cannot give you legal advice. They also cannot legally help you fill out forms or tell you what to do (or not do). Because of this, it’s important to have legal representation before you even file and throughout your divorce from beginning to end. You do not need to do this alone, and having legal representation adds a layer of protection to you during this already stressful process.
If you’re in the Keller, Texas, area of the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex, we’re here at the Setzer Law Firm PLLC to help you settle your case and achieve your goals so that you can move forward with your life. We regularly provide legal advice, divorce mediation, property and debt division, spousal support, child support and custody, and much more. Contact our firm or stop by our office to speak with one of our representatives.