When uncontested divorce in Texas goes wrong. Really wrong–Fort Worth uncontested divorce lawyers
I have written numerous times about uncontested divorce in Texas and uncontested divorce services I offer from my Bedford office. It is possible to obtain an uncontested divorce without an attorney if there is no significant property and no children. When the spouses have complex child custody issues or there is significant property it is rarely a good idea to use your divorce to start learning legal drafting.
The more complex the issues, the greater the risk that your divorce decree will result in future problems. I believe people are better off obtaining legal advice for a divorce; but simple divorces often work without attorneys. The same is rarely true for uncontested divorces (or contested divorces) where there are complex or unique issues. Today’s post will discuss some of the reasons why.
A poorly drafted divorce decree may delay your divorce and end up costing you more money.
If your divorce decree fails to adequately deal with any child custody, child support, or property division issues, the judge may refuse to grant your divorce until you present a proposed divorce decree that adequately covers each issue the Texas Family Code requires and sufficiently deals with these issues. The judge in your divorce cannot offer you legal advice from the bench. You will walk away with an unsigned decree and no advice how to fix your problems. That means you will likely have to hire an attorney to draft the decree for you. You may end up paying more for hourly work to draft the decree than a flat fee uncontested divorce.
A poorly drafted divorce decree may lock you in to a very unpleasant property division.
Under the Texas Family Code, a Texas court has very little room to modify a property division in a divorce. If you make bad decisions about dividing assets you could end up with a deal that could ruin you financially. You could give up too large of a share of a retirement account or receive too little of your spouse’s. You may saddle yourself with responsibilities to pay on debts that do not belong to you. Worst of all, you could end up letting your spouse off the hook for debts he or she should pay. That leaves you paying the whole thing or suffer the consequences of a creditor chasing down unpaid bills.
Even a well-intended and fair property division could be misrepresented in the decree. It will lock you in to something different from what you intended. When problems arise with the debts or you reach retirement and realize you gave up more than you could afford then it will be entirely too late to do anything about it. If you find out afterwards your spouse hid assets then you may be able to include those in your decree; but that will be more money than what you might have spent hiring a divorce attorney in the first place.
A poorly drafted divorce decree may lock you in to a bad child support arrangement.
It is common in uncontested divorces for the spouses to agree to no child support or less child support than what the Texas Family Code requires under its minimum child support guidelines. Sometimes it is reasonable or at least understandable why the parties agreed to deal with child support as they have. However, the parties must be careful about how child support is described in the decree to ensure an enforceable child support order has been established and that the amount correctly reflects the obligation of the parent paying child support.
What usually happens is the husband agrees to everything else with none or little child support. If the decree misrepresents the amount or schedule then the father can end up paying far more than he should. On the other hand, the mother may find herself accepting an unreasonably low amount of child support or end up with a support order that is difficult to enforce due to ambiguous or confusing language. This can also create problems for medical support when not properly assigned between the spouses. Under the Texas Family Code a parent typically cannot modify a child support order for at least one year. Even when modification is available, the modification is often contentious and expensive.
A poorly drafted divorce decree may result in a conflict-ridden custody arrangement.
Along with property division language, this is probably the area where divorce decree language can be most confusing. Often spouses attempt to draft a unique custody arrangement with their own visitation schedule and may try to write their own list of rights and responsibilities for each parent. Usually things are fine as long as the parents agree on everything. It doesn’t matter what the decree says because the parents are following their agreement that they think they accurately described in the decree.
However, at some point the parents are likely to disagree about something. The parenting relationship takes a stumble and they look at the decree to guide them. Well if the decree does not offer guidance on how to deal with the situation then the parties are left trying to figure it out on their own, which usually means more disagreement and more discord with the children stuck in the middle. The whole parenting relationship can quickly descend into a bad place. The option to clean up the divorce decree’s language is more litigation through a modification suit. Which, again, is expensive and contentious. If things have been allowed to backslide so far that the parenting relationship is dysfunctional then the whole custody arrangement may have to be rebuilt, which means starting over from scratch and trying to build something positive in a sea of negativity.
Here is an example of how this goes wrong:
A lady divorced approximately six years ago in an uncontested divorce in Tarrant County. Her and her husband did not have much assets and agreed about everything with the child. A friend who had been divorced twice gave them some “advice” that they chose to adopt. The friend told them that they could just take a basic divorce decree and do everything themselves. As long as they agreed about everything then they could do whatever they wanted without paying for a lawyer.
So the husband found one of these form divorce decrees online and filled in their information. They included the standard possession order for custody, no child support and a property division that basically said whatever each spouse had in their name or in their possession belonged to that spouse. The judge granted the divorce.
What the spouses really intended in their divorce was a 50/50 custody arrangement with no child support order but they would share costs in everything for their child. There was one credit card in the ex-wife’s name from the marriage that they had used for all their credit purposes. They had put a significant amount of debt on the card and the agreement for the divorce was supposed to be that they would equally pay on it each month although the divorce decree said nothing of this arrangement.
Things were good until they weren’t. After a couple years the ex-husband’s job relocated to another part of the state. His living expenses increased. It was no longer reasonable to split time because he could not take the child to school without spending his whole day driving to the school and back. So they agreed the ex-wife would keep the child during the week. The ex-husband would take most weekends and most of the summer. But then the drive became exhausting and he showed up less frequently. His payments on the credit card and for various expenses for the child were sporadic. The ex-wife had to constantly harp about getting the money out of him.
Eventually he stopped paying the card because he could not afford it and pay to drive to see his child. The added cost of caring for her child and the full credit card payment broke her financially. Then she started dialing for divorce lawyers.
The divorce decree had left her with very few options. The credit card was not in the decree. The custody arrangement gave her no options to require the ex-husband to take possession or pay child support. Even worse, the decree mangled the required medical support language so there was very little opportunity to enforce the ex-husband’s obligation. What was once a reasonably healthy parenting relationship fell apart without the safety net of the divorce decree. She was understandably despondent about her situation.
Months of expensive litigation and settlement efforts eventually resulted in a new, workable custody arrangement, child support and after significant work a portion of the credit card debt paid off. Both ended up spending an enormous sum of money on a few paragraphs in the divorce decree and the parenting relationship will probably never recover.