What Happens If We Go to Court to Divorce?

Many spouses who have decided to end their marriage are interested in the following questions: “Is a divorce a civil case?” and “Do we have to attend the court?” The answers to both of them are affirmative. Yes, divorce is one of the cases regulated by civil law, and all couples seeking to terminate their marital relations will have to go to court.

However, the length of the legal proceedings and the character of the final trial will depend on the situation. Contested cases always require a court hearing; divorce without disputes regarding marriage termination issues can sometimes be finalized without it.

What happens at a divorce hearing also depends on case-specific circumstances. Nevertheless, the general process of finalizing a contested divorce is the same: either spouse must file a petition for divorce, serve the defendant, collect the necessary information, set a hearing date, etc.

In this article, we will discuss what stages parties need to go through if they cannot reach an agreement and what happens in divorce court hearings step by step.

Filing the Divorce Petition

To start the divorce process, you need to file a petition with the court. In Texas, it is called an Original Petition for Divorce; its form differs depending on the type of marriage dissolution. In this document, you need to indicate basic information about yourself, your spouse, and children, if any, the date of marriage and separation, your requests to the judge, etc.

In addition to the Petition, you will need a Civil Case Information Sheet, a Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs if your income does not allow you to pay fees, and other case-specific forms. You can file paperwork with the clerk’s office offline or online through the e-filing system. Regardless of your chosen method, you will need to pay mandatory court fees of $350 or $365 if minor children are involved.

Is a divorce considered a lawsuit? Yes, it is; after filing with the court, you must notify the other party that you have started the divorce lawsuit.

You cannot serve the paperwork yourself; instead, you can ask a constable, sheriff, or private process server to deliver the papers. They can provide documents to the defendant in person or by registered mail. In some rare situations, and upon court permission, service by publication or posting is also possible. The service by posting, when a notice about the case is placed at the courthouse, is permitted only if you cannot find your spouse and have no children.

In contested cases, it is not possible to avoid serving the other party. Such an option is allowed in uncontested divorces when the defendant agrees to sign a Waiver of Service.

Following the service procedure is important; without completing it, you cannot proceed to the next stage.

Response and Counterclaim

After you officially serve the paperwork you filed to start a divorce, the defendant will have a certain period to respond. To determine it, they need to count 20 days from the moment they receive the papers and then go to the following Monday. This day is the final deadline when a response to the divorce petition can be made.

If the respondent disagrees with the information presented in the Petition, they can prepare the Respondent’s Original Answer and the Respondent’s Original Counter-Petition for Divorce. After they fill out the required paperwork, they must submit it to the clerk’s office or online and send a copy to the petitioner. They can use certified mail, commercial delivery service, etc.

Filing a response does not finalize your divorce. After the defendant files an answer and counterclaim, you still have time to agree to the divorce terms and sign a Final Decree of Divorce. If you cannot reach an agreement, you must schedule a contested hearing date.

You should contact the county clerk and request a trial appointment to plan it. Then, you must fill out a Notice of Final Hearing, file it with the clerk’s office, and send a copy to the other party using the allowed service method.

What is a Notice of Hearing in a divorce case? This document includes details regarding the location, date, and time of the divorce court hearing. It is used to notify your spouse about the trial appointment. You must send it no later than 45 days before the hearing date.

You can schedule the first court date for divorce no earlier than 60 days after filing the papers with the court. This mandatory waiting period can be avoided only in cases that involve domestic violence.

Discovery Process

Previously, as a general rule, all spouses terminating their marriage had to exchange initial information and fill out and file the Required Initial Disclosures in Dissolution of Marriage within 30 days after the defendant submitted an answer to the Petition. According to changes in law, this requirement is still mandatory, but only for cases started before September 1, 2023. Spouses who filed papers after this date are no longer required to exchange information. However, they may need to gather divorce testimony, affidavits, and financial documentation to attend the trial and finalize the divorce.

During the divorce court proceedings, you or your lawyer will represent your interests and argue your requests to the judge. Therefore, you should think beforehand about what to say and what not to say in divorce court, what evidence to provide, and what witnesses to involve. If you have children, you must prepare information regarding their education, insurance, etc. If you asked the court to award alimony, you should present the judge with documents confirming your difficult financial situation.

How does divorce court work in contested cases? Typically, a judge reviews the case and issues a decision on divorce. We will discuss this stage in more detail in the next section.

Trial Process

Divorce trial is one of the final stages of the marriage dissolution process. It assumes both spouses will go to court to argue their claims and obtain a divorce decree.

Here is the approximate order of what happens in a divorce trial:

  1. The judge reviews the case and gets acquainted with the pleadings of both parties.
  2. Each spouse or their attorney presents their interests and provides information related to the case.
  3. Parties take turns calling witnesses, if any, and the judge listens to each of them.
  4. Spouses present their final arguments and summarize the collected evidence.
  5. The judge takes into account all the documents and information and decides on the divorce terms.

Some of the legal process stages may vary from case to case. At the end of the final hearing, the judge issues a divorce decree.

How long does a divorce trial take? It depends on many circumstances. On average, the hearing can last about 3 hours. In some cases, parties can finalize the divorce in one hearing, while in others, it may take several trials to resolve the disputes between future ex-spouses.

Judgment and Decree

After the judge has heard both spouses’ arguments, they will make a decision regarding the requests stated in the Petition. They can be related to the division of assets and liabilities, child custody, granting alimony, child support, etc. What does a judge consider in a divorce when deciding on its terms? The list of things they take into account may include but are not limited to the following:

  • Age of spouses.
  • Their physical and mental health.
  • Standard of living during marriage.
  • Relationship with children.
  • Each spouse’s contribution to the maintenance of the house, etc.

After each issue is determined, the judge will sign the Final Decree of Divorce.

What happens if divorce is not granted? If one hearing is not enough to grant a divorce or parties do not provide the required documents, the judge can continue the case and schedule additional trials. Contested proceedings can last from several months to a year or more, depending on how quickly the divorce terms can be decided.

Post-Divorce Matters

Your divorce is still not final until you file a Final Decree of Divorce with the clerk’s office and receive a copy of the divorce certificate.

What happens after divorce depends on whether you are satisfied with the outcome of the process. If you agree with the judge’s decision, you must follow the court’s orders after you receive a copy of the decree. If you disagree with the divorce terms, you can file an appeal and ask the judge to review their decision regarding your marriage dissolution.

Adjusting to life after divorce can take some time. If you asked for a return to a maiden name in the Petition and the court approved it, you need to replace the documents. You may need to sell the family home or refinance the mortgage, adapt to a parenting plan, move to another house, etc. It depends on the provisions of the divorce decree signed by a judge.

The traditional divorce process involving trial attendance is usually more time-consuming and stressful than a simplified one. However, it may be the only option for parties who decide to terminate their marital relations but cannot reach an agreement on divorce terms on their own.

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