Contrary to popular belief, not all divorces involve fighting spouses and expensive legal fees. In fact, in Texas, divorcing spouses who can still communicate may qualify for a less expensive and adversarial process called an uncontested or "agreed" divorce.
The key to an uncontested divorce is for both spouses to agree on all divorce-related issues and sign an agreement to skip the trial process before a judge. This simplified divorce process in Texas is often relatively fast and has much less of an impact on your pocketbook than a "contested" divorce.
A contested divorce is one where the spouses cannot agree on one or more significant issues in divorce, like how to divide marital property and whether either spouse should pay spousal support. In a contested divorce, a judge will hold a trial, examine the evidence, and call witnesses.
An uncontested divorce is much faster and cheaper than a traditional divorce – spouses can often use a DIY solution like an online divorce service. They do, though, also have the option of getting professional help.
Texas divorce law restricts the uncontested divorce process, also known as an "agreed divorce," to those who meet the following criteria:
If the court has already issued a final order regarding child custody and child support, you can request an agreed divorce only if:
You can use DIY forms in either of the above situations. Texas Law Help offers free instructions and forms that you fill out yourself, or you can use a DIY service like DivorceNet's Online Divorce, which fills out the divorce forms for you.
If you and your spouse have any unresolved issues in your divorce, or if a court has issued an order on child support and custody but one spouse wants to change it (or it's temporary or doesn't include all of your children), then you don't qualify for an uncontested or agreed divorce in Texas, and you will need to file for a traditional divorce.
Regardless of the type of divorce you plan to file, the first step in every case is to ensure that you meet the state's residency requirement. For the courts in Texas to accept any divorce case, at least one spouse must have resided in the state for at least six months before filing for divorce. Additionally, you or your spouse must live in the county where you are filing for at least three months before you file.
Texas' 456 district courts oversee divorce cases and trials. You should file your divorce in the district court in the county where you live. If you and your spouse reside in different counties within the state, you can file in either county.
To get started, you must fill out an "Original Petition for Divorce" and file it with the court clerk, along with a few other forms.
The required paperwork for a divorce in Texas varies from county to county. It's best to check with your local court clerk, or a DIY service, to determine what additional forms you will need to file or bring to your final hearing.
When you submit your paperwork, you'll need to pay a filing fee to the court. Each county sets its own fee schedule, so contact your local court clerk for the amount. If you can't afford to pay, you can submit a fee waiver form asking the court to waive all court fees for your case.
Once you file the Petition for Divorce with the clerk, you have to "serve" it on (deliver it to) your spouse, usually through a private process server. If your spouse is cooperative, you can bypass service by giving it to your spouse and having your spouse sign and file a Waiver of Service form.
Your spouse will need to file an "answer" to the petition within a short amount of time or the court will enter a "default," which means the divorce can proceed without your spouse's participation.
Texas has a 60-day waiting period to complete a divorce. (Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.702.) Even in uncontested cases, Texas requires 61 days to have passed before the judge can finalize your divorce.
After the waiting period ends, the court clerk will set a final hearing with the judge to complete your divorce. If you've filed all the necessary paperwork and the court approves your settlement agreement, the judge will sign the Final Decree of Divorce.
It's important to understand that your divorce only becomes final when the judge signs the final divorce decree, although this may or may not be the date of your court hearing. (Additionally, Texas law prohibits both spouses from remarrying a third party until at least 31 days after they receive the final, signed documents back from the court. (Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.801.))
You don't need to hire a lawyer to get an uncontested or agreed divorce in Texas, and you can represent yourself during the process. Spouses can try to handle everything themselves or use an online service that eases the process. Even though there's no court battle in an uncontested divorce, one or both spouses can hire attorneys to help them through the uncontested divorce. You might want to talk to a lawyer, for instance, if your case feels complex or you have unanswered questions.
If you choose to work with one, an attorney can give you advice on your proposed settlement and make sure you complete the paperwork correctly. Keep in mind that there's another kind of professional—a mediator—who can help spouses reach agreements and prepare the paperwork that finalizes the divorce. (Learn more about how divorce mediation works in Texas.)