There can be so much to prepare for mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and even physically when you’re contemplating divorce.
If you decide to move ahead with the process, you will be required to file certain paperwork in the right county to get started.
It’s good to have an idea of what to expect from a process as taxing as divorce. This article can help you understand the basic process of filing for divorce in Fort Bend County, Texas.
Starting a Divorce Case in Fort Bend County, Texas
You begin a Texas divorce by filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, a Case Information Sheet, and, when children are involved, an Information on Suit Affecting the Family Relationship form with the appropriate County Clerk.
You or your spouse must have lived in Texas for at least six months in order to file for divorce in Fort Bend County. Without meeting that residency requirement the court does not have jurisdiction to hear your case.
If you meet the 6-month threshold, the next determining factor is to focus on the county either you or your spouse have lived in for the last 90 days.
Now that the proper county has been identified you’re ready to file your petition for divorce. When you file your petition, you need to have your spouse properly served with a copy of the petition and a citation. Your spouse can also agree to sign a Waiver of Service to avoid personal service altogether.
Either way, the return of service or the waiver of service should generally be filed with the court. If you’ve opted for personal service, once you serve your spouse with the divorce petition then he/she has until the Monday following the 20th day from the date of service to answer the suit.
Standing Orders in Fort Bend County, Texas
There are three specialized family law courts in Fort Bend County, Texas: the 328th Judicial District Court, the 387th Judicial District Court, and the 505th Judicial District Court.
These three courts have signed Standing Orders which are in effect for all divorces filed in Fort Bend County, Texas, with or without children. These Standing Orders govern permissible behavior by both litigants during the divorce process and are important for litigants filing on their own to understand before filing the petition for divorce.
Divorce Waiting Periods and Temporary Orders
Even if you’re certain about filing for divorce, it’s rarely a “full steam ahead” process after beginning your case.
Mandatory Waiting Period After Filing for Divorce in Texas
Texas law normally requires divorcing couples to wait at least 60 days before they can finalize their divorce. If there was violence in your marriage, you might be able to receive a divorce sooner.
Some divorcing couples might have to wait longer than 60 days because the court can order them to attend counseling before granting a divorce. How quickly your case will proceed is dependent on your family’s particular circumstances.
Temporary Orders After Filing for Divorce in Fort Bend County
Whether you’re waiting the mandatory 60 days or you’re waiting to complete court-ordered counseling, you can file motions with the court to protect your assets and your family’s safety during the divorce process.
Generally, this is accomplished by requesting a temporary orders hearing where the court considers the evidence and determines on a temporary basis: who the children of the marriage should live with, how rights and duties over the children should be allocated, who should have exclusive use of what property, and who should pay what debts during the divorce proceeding.
Only in the final divorce decree, does the court make the ultimate decision about how to divide community assets, community debts, and which parent to award various parental responsibilities to.
But by filing a motion for temporary orders, you can keep your spouse from making irresponsible or harmful choices regarding your family or property while you wait for the divorce to be finalized.
Once you clear any waiting periods set by the law, you can take action on finalizing your divorce in a number of ways.
Finalizing a Divorce in Fort Bend County, Texas
There are many ways to finalize a divorce in Texas, including:
- Participating in alternative dispute resolution methods such as informal settlement conferences; mediation; or the collaborative law process;
- Agreeing to submit unresolved issues to binding arbitration with a qualified arbitrator; or
- Attending a contested trial of your suit.
If you choose binding arbitration, that agreement must be in writing and you will be bound by the arbitrator’s decision. You also have to pay the arbitrator for his or her time.
This is rarely the proper route for litigants representing themselves and is more often utilized when spouses have complex contested issues they want heard quickly or that may require several days of testimony.
Otherwise, if you are unable to resolve all outstanding issues through one of the alternative dispute resolution methods described above, you will try your case to the court and the Judge will make a decision for you.
The court can, and generally will refer you and your spouse to mediation prior to holding any contested hearing or final trial in your suit. If you and your spouse come to an agreement during mediation, that agreement is binding and irrevocable.
The court must enter a final order reflective of this agreement absent a showing of fraud or illegality. If family violence is an issue in your case you should consider asking the court to waive the requirement of mediation.
Going through a divorce isn’t ideal. But if you believe a divorce necessary, you probably want it to be as conflict-free as possible. Sometimes you can achieve this result with an uncontested divorce.
Couples who want an uncontested divorce must agree about everything regarding the divorce, both parent-child issues and property issues.
Although many litigants claim their divorce suit is uncontested, rarely do couples agree on everything from the outset. More often than not they need to attend mediation to resolve all issues by agreement.
In some cases, you can get a divorce even if your spouse doesn’t participate. This is called a default divorce. This occurs when your spouse, although properly noticed of the suit, fails to file an answer to the case which allows you to proceed on a default basis.
Like any other divorce, you file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, Case Information Sheet, and Information on Suit Affecting the Family Relationship, and you must have your spouse personally served with the Petition for Divorce.
You also have to wait 60 days before you can file a final divorce decree and most courts also require you to provide a Sworn Inventory and Appraisement of your assets and liabilities before taking a default against the other side.
During the waiting period, you can fill out and sign a Final Decree of Divorce, a non-military affidavit, and a certificate of last known address. After 61 days have passed, you take your divorce paperwork to the court and give your testimony to the judge.
If the judge grants your divorce, you will need to order a certified copy of your divorce decree for your records.
Contested Divorce with a Hearing
If your spouse is involved with the divorce process and you both can’t agree on all the issues in your divorce, then you’re likely going to have to go to trial. You file your divorce paperwork; present any arguments, defenses, and motions; and wait for the judge to make decisions on your issues in a Final Decree.
You can demand a jury trial for your contested divorce if the request for a jury relates to issues of conservatorship, geographic restrictions, characterization of property, or attorney’s fees.
All other issues, such as the allocation of various rights and duties, possession and access, and division of property, must be submitted to the Judge. If circumstances prevent you from physically attending a hearing, you might be able to attend a “Zoom-style” hearing as an approved form of electronic communication.
Filing in the Fort Bend County Divorce Court
Now that you know the basic steps for obtaining a divorce in Texas, let’s talk about where you go to file for a divorce in Fort Bend County, Texas.
For in-person filings, you can submit your divorce paperwork in person at the following address:
You can send filings by mail to:
Fort Bend County District Clerk’s Office
301 Jackson Street, Room 101
Richmond, Texas 77469
To submit your paperwork electronically, you can consult the Fort Bend County e-file information page.
If you don’t have an attorney, the e-file system can help you submit your Fort Bend County divorce forms online. And if you have trouble finding a Fort Bend County divorce form, you can call the Fort Bend County District Clerk about forms at (281) 341-4509.
Do You Need an Attorney?
Texas law doesn’t require you to have an attorney to file for divorce in Fort Bend County, you can proceed “pro se” meaning you are representing yourself. However, it’s rarely wise to proceed pro se.
Going through a divorce can be an overwhelming process for many. Properly defending your legal rights and dividing assets can be complicated.
These matters are generally best handled by an attorney specializing in family law. You’re likely going to have to do a lot of tough work at home to get through this painful process. Let an experienced attorney do the hard work in court to help you navigate the process for the best outcome possible.
Our Experienced Texas Divorce Attorneys Can Look Out for You and Your Family
At The Stout Law Firm, PLLC, we are experienced family law attorneys who are ready to protect you and help you face difficult family decisions. We give our clients honest, straightforward legal advice to help them achieve the best results in tumultuous times.
If you’re ready to file for divorce in Fort Bend County or have questions about your divorce, give us a call. We can protect your family’s future together. Call us at (713) 980-4300 or reach out to us online.