One of the biggest obstacles people face when getting a divorce is the financial strain of the process. This article will evaluate the best way to avoid the high cost of divorce in Texas – an uncontested divorce.
What is an uncontested divorce?
Uncontested divorce is when both parties are in agreement to the end the marriage as well as to all of the terms of the dissolution of marriage. This will include key issues such as how to divide property and debts, child custody and visitation, and child support. To accomplish this, both parties will have to be willing to meet and negotiate the terms of their divorce. In Texas, this agreement is then put into writing in the form of a settlement agreement.
By coming to an agreement on all the contentious issues of the divorce, the couple can move forward with an uncontested divorce and avoid all of the extra fees associated with a lengthy court trial. If the case is simple enough, and the couple can act civilly in their negotiations, it can even be done without an attorney. The most difficult part after negotiations then becomes the paperwork, and there are lots of online services available that can take on the paperwork process for you for a fraction of the cost of paying a lawyer. Many couples going through an uncontested divorce even choose to do the paperwork themselves.
When both the husband and the wife agree to end their marriage with mutual and free consent, it is known as a Mutual Consent Divorce. Because Texas has a mandatory waiting period of 60 days, the divorce process can’t be completed in less than 2 months, but it is much faster than a contested case where the husband or the wife have to go through a long and complicated court trial. Contested cases can take 1 – 2 years or longer to complete.
Getting an Uncontested Divorce – Step by Step
#1 Get the forms
Before you start this step you’ll need to make sure that you meet the Texas residency requirements to qualify to file for a divorce in the state. One of the spouses has to have been a resident of Texas for a continuous six-month period before filing for divorce. One of the spouses must also have been a resident of the county where the divorce is filed for at least 90 days prior to filing.
Since Texas is a no-fault state, you don’t need to have fault grounds for divorce in Texas. You can just say that you no longer get along or are no longer compatible (irreconcilable differences). Nothing has to be proven to the court in terms of evidence of your claim.
What forms you need will depend on if you have property and if you have children. The forms can vary slightly by county too. So it is best to contact the clerk in the county where you intend to file to find out exactly which forms you need.
#2 Draft a child custody agreement
As was mentioned earlier, an uncontested divorce depends entirely on both spouses agreeing to the terms of the dissolution of marriage. That includes a parenting plan for how care of the children will continue after the divorce. If you have no children under the age of 18 from the marriage, you can skip this step.
Texas law presumes that joint legal custody is best for a child unless a situation exists to prove otherwise. Joint legal custody means that both parents will continue to have a say in important decisions in the child’s life.
Physical custody can be shared with a child spending some time living with each parent or the child can live with one parent and the other parent will be given visitation time with the child. The Texas court assumes that continuous contact with both parents is in the best interests of the child except in a situation where spending time with one parent may put the child in danger.
In Texas, it is expected that the non-custodial parent (the parent the child doesn’t live with) will provide child support to assist with the expenses of raising the child. The amount of support depends on the non-custodial parent’s net monthly income and the number of children receiving support. To help determine the exact amount, Texas provides guidelines on its court website.
In the end, as long as your parenting plan has the best interests of the child in mind, the judge is likely to accept it.
#3 Divide assets and debts
Texas is a community property state, which means that property acquired during the marriage belongs to both spouses and should be divided between the spouses. In contrast, each spouse gets to keep his or her separate property (property acquired before the marriage or gifted/inherited to just one spouse during the marriage) when the marriage ends.
When making a settlement agreement, obviously the main thing is to find a fair way to divide marital property that will make both spouses happy. This includes debts too. If the couple owns a house together, the couple can agree to sell the house and split the money from the sale down the middle. They can also agree for one spouse to take the house and the other to take other assets of equal value to make it fair.
Again, the main thing is that the settlement agreement is fair and both spouses are happy with the terms.
#4 Decide if there will be spousal support
The main idea of spousal support (also known as alimony) is to provide financial support to the spouse that may not have had an opportunity to complete school or develop a career because of other commitments in the marriage.
The spousal support will give the spouse left without solid means to earn an income with an opportunity to get an education or to support themselves until they have found a job.
Spousal support isn’t common in Texas. But for cases when it is awarded for marriages that last less than 20 years, spousal support usually does not remain in effect for more than 5 years. For longer marriages, spousal support can last up to 10 years.
The spouses can agree to an amount and length of spousal that both sides consider fair in the settlement agreement, but it is not necessary to have spousal support in your case.
#5 Complete all the forms
Once you and your spouse have agreed to the terms of your divorce, it can proceed as an uncontested divorce and you can go ahead and start completing the necessary paperwork to apply for divorce.
You have three options for completing your forms:
- Do it yourself
- Pay an attorney
- Get a divorce over the internet
It is perfectly legal to do the paperwork yourself (a DIY divorce) without any 3rd party assistance. This is obviously the cheapest option. But keep in mind that the more complicated your cases is, the more risk there is of making a mistake. Any mistakes in the paperwork may require you to start the whole procedure over again which could mean paying the filing fees a second time.
By hiring an attorney you can be sure that the paperwork will be done correctly, but this option is the most expensive and most time consuming. Lawyers often charge between $1500 – $3000 for their assistance and since you are not their only client, you could be stuck waiting several days for an appointment and if you end up having to see them more than once, the process gets stretched out several more days each time.
Online divorce services are the perfect option for couples that want a quick and easy solution without the risk. For a cost of between $100 – $400, an online divorce service will take care of all the divorce papers for you. And in most cases you can get your completed forms within 2 – 3 days. This inexpensive option will also save you the hassle of having to go to the court to pick up your own divorce forms. The best companies will even provide a court approval guarantee and easy to follow instructions on how to file.
#6 File your divorce petition
Once you have the required Texas divorce papers filled out, you can submit them to the Family District Court in your county. The person filing the paperwork is known as the petitioner. The county clerk will ask you to pay a filing fee, which will need to be paid in cash, before you can file the documents. The filing fee is approximately $300 but will vary from county to county. So to know the exact amount ahead of time, you can check with the clerk in the county where you will be filing.
#7 Serve your spouse
Texas law requires you to inform your spouse (known as the respondent) of the divorce filing. This is usually done by a county Sheriff or a professional service processor.
In uncontested divorces, you may waive the service requirement, as long as your spouse signs a form stating that he or she was given documents of the initial filing.
#8 Appear before a judge
After your spouse has been served (or has waived the service). There will be a 60 day mandatory waiting period before your case will be reviewed by a judge. You just have to be patient and wait. Use this time to start preparing for your life after the divorce is over.
When the waiting period is up, you will need to appear before the court for a hearing. At the hearing the judge will ask a few questions just to confirm the validity of the divorce and the information in your settlement agreement. If everything looks and sounds good, they will sign your Divorce Decree officially ending your marriage.
Make sure that divorce is your only option. The best way to save money on a divorce is to not get divorced at all. Explore all your options, including counseling. And if you still believe that divorce is the only option, try to end the marriage amicably.
Do everything you can to come to an agreement with your spouse on the terms of your divorce. You can save tens of thousands of dollars by avoiding a long, ugly court trial. If you are unable to sit down and talk to your spouse without losing your head, seek 3rd party assistance like mediation or an attorney to represent you. This will cost some money, but it will still end up saving you thousands of dollars by avoiding a trial.
Use your assets to pay off all of your debts including credit cards. This can make it easier to come to a fair division and can make paying future child support easier.
Put the home up for sale, BEFORE the divorce and move into an affordable home or better yet, rent. Trade your newer car and hers, for older models.
Keep your children’s best interests in mind. That doesn’t just mean coming up with fair property division and a good parenting plan. It also means avoiding fighting in front of the children, avoiding saying bad things about your spouse in front of the kids, and reminding them that you will both still be their parents after the divorce and will both continue to love them.