The Process 

Getting divorced is a process.  It can be fast for some and slow for others. In any case, there are certain steps that are required in most divorces. 

"Filing for Divorce"

The first step is filing a petition for divorce.  After doing this you can say you "filed for divorce," but what you've actually done is file a lawsuit that will end a legal partnership (your marriage).  When you file the petition with the clerk of the court, you'll also have to make sure that your spouse gets a copy and notice ("citation") from the court letting them know they've been sued. 

Waiver

In some cases your spouse may agree not be notified when things happen in the suit for divorce, allowing the process to proceed smoothly and quickly.  If your spouse chooses this option they're agreeing to a "waiver of service."  Your spouse may choose not to be notified if the two of you have already agreed to the terms of the divorce and want to get it over with as soon as possible.  If your spouse wants to waive service they can sign a waiver after you've filed for divorce, then return a notarized copy of the waiver to the clerk of the court. 

The Answer

If your spouse doesn't waive service, they have several options once they receive their copy of the petition for divorce.  First, they can file an answer generally denying the claims you've made in your petition.  By filing a general denial your spouse is forcing you to prove any and all legal claims contained in your petition for divorce.  Second, in addition to filing an answer generally denying the claims in your petition, your spouse may also choose to file their own petition for divorce.  This is called a counter-suit and their petition is called the "counter-petition."  Filing a counter-petition allows your spouse to state their own legal claims for divorce and requests from the court.  Third, your spouse could completely ignore the petition, not file anything in response, thus allowing you to file for a default judgement when the time comes. 

Temporary Orders

Because finalizing a divorce typically takes time, courts will often grant temporary orders protecting the parties, their children, and their property.  Common requests for temporary orders include sole use and possession of the house, child support, custody and visitation, and dividing the bills and debts between the spouses.  You can request temporary orders at any time during the divorce, although it's common to request them at the time of filing.  Roughly two weeks after requesting temporary orders, the court will hold a hearing to determine whether to grant your request.  This is often one of the most important steps in the process for your divorce--when a court considers your final decree, they'll look to see if there were temporary orders in the case.  Final decrees for divorce often contain orders resembling the temporary orders granted in the case. 

You may be in a situation where you fear for the immediate safety and protection of you and your children.  In this case you'll want to file for a Temporary Restraining Order ("TRO").  TROs are intended to provide immediate protection in the time before a court can hold a full hearing.  TROs go into effect as soon as your spouse receives them and remain in effect until a temporary orders hearing can be held.  The TRO won't remain in effect after the temporary orders hearing, although the court can grant similar temporary orders that last until the divorce is finalized. 

Discovery

This is the time during the divorce for information gathering.  You will have the opportunity to request certain information, such as tax documents, pay stubs, mortgage documents, bank records, medical bills, and other information relevant to finances, property, and custody.  You will also be permitted to ask your spouse certain questions and they'll have to answer truthfully under oath.  The information collected helps paint a clear picture of exactly what there is to divide between you and your spouse, which can be very valuable when calculating the division of property and custody for the final decree. 

Mediation

Most suits for divorce end with the parties settling.  A common, last-attempt at settling is mediation, which is required in certain counties (Travis) and strongly encouraged in others.  You might think that settling or mediating with your spouse is the very last thing you want to do.  I understand.  But in all sincerity, there's value in at least attempting to reach a settlement that you actually agree to instead of throwing yourself on the mercy of the court hoping they'll decide things in your favor.  One significant benefit to settling is that you have a say in the outcome of the agreement, rather than just providing your suggestions and reasons to the judge or jury for them to decide.  When a settlement is reached in mediation it's called a Mediated Settlement Agreement ("MSA").  If you reach a MSA, you put the terms of the agreement into a final decree and give it to the judge to sign. 

Decree

The final decree officially grants the divorce and lists the terms, such as how property and debt is to be divided and who gets the children when.  As mentioned, the final decree is typically the product of a settlement, but if you and your spouse can't agree to a settlement then a hearing will be held for both of you to present your evidence to the judge or a jury.  At the conclusion of the hearing, decisions are made about all contested matters and the divorce is granted, then either you or your spouse will have your attorney draft the final decree for the judge to sign.  When the decree is signed, your divorce is final and any changes or modifications must be made by initiating a new process an entirely new process.

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