Starting the Divorce Process
First step in the divorce process in Dallas County is the filing of a formal petition to the Court.
This petition: identifies the parties involved, recites the jurisdictional requirements, (i.e. residing in the state of Texas for six months and the county of filing for sixty days), identifies any children, requests conservatorship of minor children, and asks the Court to divide the community property in a fair, just and equitable manner if the parties involved cannot reach an agreement.
Citation and Response
After a petition is filed with the Court, you the Petitioner must decide whether to have your spouse (referred to as the Respondent) served with “Citation”. Citation is a document issued by the County District Clerk advising the Respondent that suit has been filed and that he or she should file a formal answer to the Court.
Should your spouse fail to respond to the Citation the Court may enter a default judgment in the case.
The divorce process in Dallas County is distinguished by the requirement for a Standing Order. All Dallas petitions are required to have this Dallas County Standing Order attached.
The standardized Dallas County Standing Order prohibits acts that would be harmful to the persons, property and pets involved. The standing order is immediately binding on the Petitioner when the petition is filed. It becomes binding on the Respondent when the Respondent has been served or files an appearance.
The most pressing issue in the divorce process is care for the children, called Conservatorship.
The Court’s immediate attention in a proceeding is to answer the question ‘which parent is going to be the primary care-giver (conservator)’ of the children?
The term “primary conservator” denotes the parent who will have the right to establish the child’s “primary” residence. The non-primary parent is generally awarded “standard” possession. Split primary custody is also a real possibility, especially if both parents have been active in nurturing their children.
Generally, all other rights, powers, and duties such as consent to medical treatment or the right to make educational decisions, are shared equally under the technical legal term of “Joint Managing Conservators”.
If one of the parties or the children are in need of temporary support, an Application for Temporary Orders is filed and set for hearing with the Associate Judge of the assigned Court.
In both Dallas and Tarrant County suits, Associate Judges help the family law Judges manage their dockets by hearing all temporary matters. At the temporary orders hearing each party will fill out a financial information form setting out each party’s monthly income and expenses. Based on the financial information forms, the Associate Judge will enter orders attempting to insure that priority debts get paid and that the parties financial suffering is minimized.
In a Dallas proceeding, the issues between the parties are identified and explored. If the parties to the proceeding cannot resolve and settle the issues, they are ordered to mediation. Mediation is a process involving a neutral third party who facilitates discussions between the parties in an attempt to resolve and settle the issues. In most instances the parties are separated with their respective lawyers into separate rooms and the Mediator travels between these rooms conducting settlement negotiations. If mediation is successful, a binding mediated settlement agreement will be executed by the parties. If it is not, an impasse will be declared and the parties will proceed to litigation.
After sixty days from the date of filing the petition, the “cooling off” period, if all issues are agreed, the Court may enter a Final Decree of Divorce. This document formally divorces the parties, appoints the parents as conservators of the children and divides the property, among other things. It is also the document that will allow a spouse to revert to a maiden name.
The entry of a final decree ends the process.
If all issues are not agreed, then a trial will be set. Only issues of primary custody of the children and characterization of property as community or separate may go to a jury to decide. All other issues, such as division of the property or ordering of rights, powers, and duties regarding the children, are decided by the presiding Judge. Once the Court rules following a trial, the final decree is entered and the divorce is final.