Decided on Divorce - First Steps to Take

Man working on paperwork with Scales of Justice on desk

If you've decided on divorce, it's useful to know the first steps to take to protect your rights and the best interests of any involved children, before you jump into serving papers. Divorce, even if you are the initiator, can be a traumatic, upsetting, and conflict-ridden experience. How you move through it may well impact your future, your children's future, and your financial and emotional well being for years to come.

The first step in a divorce is to file a petition for divorce with the court. The person who applies for this petition is known as the petitioner or the plaintiff. This is the one who has initiated the divorce proceeding. The papers in the petition for divorce are then "served" on the spouse. The spouse is known as the respondent or defendant.

If the couple has agreed to divorce and the divorce is amicable, then the respondent can sign a waiver that legally gives up the right to be served with papers. Otherwise, the papers must be personally delivered to the respondent as a first step.

The petition for dissolution of marriage you records facts about you, your spouse and any involved children. It is a public record and it is brief, maybe a few pages, in all. It does not contain information such as the reason you want to divorce or your income. Texas is a "no-fault" state, which means that you do not have to give a reason for divorcing. However, if one of the spouse's behaviors has clearly contributed to the breakup of the marriage, the judge may take that into account when it comes time for equitable property division.

If you believe that you may be in danger from your spouse, then you may at the time of the filing for the petition of divorce, also obtain a Temporary Restraining Order mandated by the court.

This temporary restraining order can require that:

  1. All assets must remain where they are and not removed from accounts until they are divided by the court
  2. Each spouse must act with civility toward one another, with no threats or harassment.

Other temporary orders during this time period can be filed, including temporary custody orders, temporary visitation orders, temporary property usage and debt orders, and temporary support orders, as well as payment of attorney's fees during this time period.
If there is an issue with obtaining information from your spouse, or you believe that your spouse has not been forthcoming with financial or other information you need to protect your rights, then a process called discovery can be initiated. This involves both parties exchanging documents and information.

After this, you make decisions about how you want to proceed with your divorce. Are you getting along with your spouse and really just need an attorney to make sure your paperwork is in order? Do you get along with your spouse for the most part but have some disagreements around child custody or property division? Then you may consider retaining a mediator to help with the part that you cannot come to an agreement on.

If you are not able to agree with your spouse or there is a lot of conflicts, it is likely that you could go to trial. However, before trial, you are required, as is your spouse, to seek to mediate an agreement. Going to court is the last resort because essentially you are putting your important life decisions in the hands of a complete stranger, the judge. Also, a contentious divorce breeds animosity for years to come, and can seriously impact the well being of children involved.

Contact Pfister Family Law Today

At Pfister Family Law, we have protected the rights of people across north Texas for more than 20 years. Board-certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, attorney John J. Pfister, Jr. understands that every case is different and will take the time to learn the details of your situation. We will then carefully craft an individualized approach to help you get the outcome you want.

For an appointment with an experienced divorce and child custody lawyer, contact our office by e-mail or call us at (972) 370-5172.

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