Often people considering a divorce in Texas come to an initial consultation with a divorce attorney with many questions. It is a new process for many people and potential clients are about to experience many life changes. The questions are understandable and important. Usually people have some of the same questions about their divorce and what their divorce attorney will do to help them through this experience. Here are some of the most common questions:
1. How much is this divorce going to cost?
A divorce in Texas requires paying a filing fee with the court, attorney fees and often the price of serving your spouse with the divorce petition. The filing fee differs by county but is around $300. Serving your spouse is not always necessary but if your spouse must be served it is another $75. The amount of attorney fees involved depends on the complexity of the marital assets, custody issues and your goals. If your spouse drags out the divorce it will be expensive because it requires time in court to finish. If you want to haul your spouse into court over every charge and check, it’s going to cost a lot. Certainly more than if the two of you can come to some understandings.
I do try to offer some flat fee divorce services to try to make costs predictable. I offer flat rates for uncontested divorces with and without children. You will pay a single amount for me to handle the paperwork and court issues for you. In these cases it is up to you and your spouse to come to an agreement. Unlike some flat fee divorce attorneys I do want to hear your story and I do want to strategize with you.
When spouses cannot come to agreement the work as a divorce attorney is generally billed by the time spent. This is where the fluctuation in attorney fees comes into play. Depending on all the factors at play your divorce could cost thousands to tens of thousands. Divorces rarely run onto the higher amount because most people are not willing to spend that much money to litigate.
2. Do I really need to hire a divorce lawyer?
Yes and no. You can file and complete a divorce without an attorney. People do it all the time. That said, you may not be better off doing it yourself without an attorney. A divorce attorney should offer you more than just processing paperwork and submitting it to the court. Your attorney should advise you and make sure you receive a fair result. You may not know how to structure the division of assets properly or what rights you have to your children. Once the court signs the final divorce decree it is difficult and expensive to try to undo the decree.
There is a lot that can go wrong and cause years of financial difficulty if you do not hire a divorce attorney who can assist you in properly negotiating the division of property and debts. If you do not have children and have little or no assets there is likely less to advise you. In those cases your need for counsel may be low and can get by not hiring a lawyer. If you have a house and/or a 401k plan you have enough assets that you should hire an attorney.
3. How long will it take to get a divorce in Texas?
In Texas a divorce cannot be granted sooner than sixty days after the date the divorce petition is filed. In most cases, however, the divorce will not be granted that quickly because the parties need more time than that to complete negotiations on how to divide assets, debts and responsibilities with the children. The only time divorces tend to be granted that quickly is when both spouses have agreed to all the divisions before hiring a lawyer to complete the process. Sometimes it is advantageous for one or both sides to delay requesting the court grant the divorce so that can delay the process. The desire for parties to fight can also drag the process out. Some divorces take a year or more to complete when there is a lot of fighting or when marital assets are extremely complex.
4. Do I have to go to court for a trial to obtain a divorce in Texas?
No although at some point you will appear before the judge to obtain the judge’s signature on the final order. This usually involves a short question and answer session between you and I before the judge in what is called a “prove up” where we are basically just explaining to the judge through your testimony that the divorce is appropriate and he or she can and should grant the divorce. If the spouses cannot come to an agreement on all issues regarding division of property, debts and responsibilities with the children then it can result in a trial before the court on those issues. It is rare that a trial occurs because they are expensive and everything usually settles before then.
Before trial can occur most judges will require the spouses submit to mediation (think the beginning of the movie Wedding Crashers) to try to work out the details in a less formal setting. The spouses can also voluntarily agree to let a mediator assist in the settlement process before requesting the court grant the divorce. The video below explains more about prove up hearings.
In addition to a trial and mediation, spouses can also agree to submit the issues to arbitration. Arbitration is like an informal trial before an arbitrator, who is not a judge. The arbitrator decides how to divide property. The arbitrator’s decision is written into the divorce decree and submitted to the court for approval. This is actually how shows like Divorce Court works. The “judge” on the show is actually arbitrating the divorce issues and will issue a decision. The lawyer for one of the spouses will then draft that into the divorce decree and take it before a real judge in a real court.
Texas also permits something called collaborative law. Collaborative law is a process in which the spouses hire divorce lawyers and everybody agrees to come to an agreement between the four of them without the court intervening on issues. The lawyers sign an agreement not to take issues to the court for rulings without a final agreement (unless domestic violence occurs) or two years go by without agreement. It relies on everybody to act in good faith so if the spouses cannot act civilly with each other it’s not a great option. Collaborative law has the benefit of allowing the parties to come to an agreement but without the added expense of a mediator. It is not a good fit for all divorces but can be an effective tool in many cases.
5. What information do you need to get started with a divorce attorney?
The first step in hiring a divorce attorney is to schedule an initial consultation. Before the consultation some law firms prefer you to complete an information packet so they can assess the issues that may be involved in your divorce. This can include information about:
- Your spouse
- The kids
- Your income
- Your spouse’s income
At the initial consultation the attorney will discuss the process involved and what additional information they will need from you to get started on your case. There will also be a discussion about attorney’s fees and fee structure. It is a good idea to come to the consultation with an idea of how you will pay for the attorney’s work. The law firm may require payment up front for at least a portion of the work to reserve the attorney’s time to work on your case. This may be a retainer or advance on fees/costs.