What it takes to get an uncontested divorce on your own in Texas
Last Wednesday I was at the Dallas County Family Courts helping a client wrap up an uncontested divorce. The early morning court sessions are typically open to what are called “prove ups” in which parties present testimony on uncontested issues (such as name changes, uncontested divorce decree signing, etc.) and the judge grants the orders or divorce decrees.
These sessions are open to both attorneys and pro se parties (people without lawyers); but Texas courts typically allow the parties with attorneys to go to the front of the line. That must be very frustrating for pro se parties who have been waiting their turn in the Dallas courtroom for who knows how long just to have their, often literally, two minutes before the judge. The judges are polite enough to let cases with lawyers jump the line because they know we may be billing clients for our time or have cases in front of other judges. There’s no reason to have us charge clients for waiting around the courtroom or to hold up other courts. (I charge flat fees for uncontested divorces but the judges don’t know that just by looking at me.)
However, that seemingly endless wait to stand before the judge and openly declare a desire to end your marriage is not the only extra wait time given to pro se parties in uncontested divorces.
Uncontested divorce in Texas
All parties in a Texas divorce must follow certain waiting times. In Texas parties must wait sixty days between the date filing a divorce petition and the date a judge can grant a divorce (absent truly extraordinary circumstances, like family violence). If a waiver of service has not been executed then the spouse not filing the petition, called the respondent, must be served with process and the divorce cannot be granted until the respondent has had the required opportunity to file an answer (10am the Monday following twenty days after the date of service) and the return of service proving service occurred has been on file for at least ten days. Otherwise, a court can grant a divorce as quickly as the parties agree to a decree or a trial occurs.
However, pro se parties must endure additional delays. These delays occur because the family courts recognize that pro se parties typically do not understand the judicial process to obtain a divorce nor are they experts in drafting divorce decrees. Rather than create situations where possession orders in a divorce decree cause complicated problems, the courts have set up various mechanisms to review divorce decrees and set up pre-divorce programs to help usher people through the judicial process as simply as possible.
Some of these processes add months to the divorce process. If you are trying to get out of a bad marriage that can be a real problem. Most courts require parties to attend a parenting class before granting the divorce. That means both parents must go. If one parent doesn’t go then the court may not approve your decree until both parents satisfy the requirement or one party hires a lawyer to get out of the pro se process. Talk to an uncontested divorce lawyer for help avoiding these delays.
Uncontested divorce prove ups in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas
The courts also typically want to pre-approve your divorce decree before you can have a prove up hearing. This is where being a pro se party takes its toll. Many courts have limited resources to approve decrees and you may wait months to gain approval. Then you have to get in front of the judge for a prove up. If your decree fails approval then you have to fix the problems and then resubmit it.
Some courts, like Dallas County family courts, make you schedule a hearing before an associate judge to pre-approve your decree. If it gains approval then you have to wait to go before the district judge who will sign your decree. Associate judges have limited time to approve decrees. You may wait weeks before you can get on the schedule. And if your decree fails approval then you go back to the end of the line. Each county has its own rules for pro se parties and that can affect how long the process takes.
Bedford divorce attorney for uncontested divorce
I do not believe everybody needs a lawyer; but it may be to your benefit to hire an uncontested divorce attorney for Dallas County or Tarrant County.