Divorce in Texas

TYLA emphasizes need to address domestic violence first

April 27, 2011

[Note: Also see “Getting a Divorce in Houston“]

By Mike Hinshaw

Residents of any state who are facing the painful prospect of divorce often share the same similar questions about residency requirements (six months in Texas), grounds for divorce, where to file, asset distribution,  child custody, and so forth. Texas law provides the usual grounds for divorce in appropriate cases but is also a “No-Fault” state.

County of residence

The Petitioner files in the county of residence, usually with the District Court’s Clerk’s Office, although some counties hear Family Law in County Court, so the paperwork goes through the County Clerk’s Office. Also “special instructions” apply in Travis County.

Domestic violence? Resolve that first

However the attorneys at Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA) insist that if domestic violence is involved, you must first address that issue. In the introduction to its Pro Se Divorce Handbook: Representing Yourself  in Family Court,  TYLA writes (in big, all-caps letters): “In the event you or any member of your family is the victim of domestic violence, you should immediately contact 1 (800) 799-safe (1-800-799-7233).

“You should also contact a private attorney or your local Legal aid provider before filing for divorce. This handbook and the pro se divorce process may not be appropriate for a divorce where domestic violence is involved. Domestic violence can include physical, mental, emotional and verbal abuse.”

Having your own attorney recommended

I think it’s safe to assume they intend that if domestic violence is involved, you really do need a lawyer. It’s something they repeat at the beginning of the text, in reference not only to violence but also to all but the very simplest cases, in which both spouses agree on everything: “Divorce is more than an emotional event; it is also a legal proceeding. Failing to protect your rights during a divorce, as with any legal matter, can have serious, longterm consequences . . . . Although you have the legal right to represent yourself in any court proceeding, the process can be quite complex and, if at all possible, it is recommended that you have an attorney represent your interests, especially if domestic violence, child custody or large amounts of property are involved.”

Community Property

Texas law presumes all property acquired during the marriage to belong jointly to both spouses. Exceptions are things acquired by gift or through inheritance. However, this can get tricky, and if one spouse disagrees, the court will require clear evidence for proof. Furthermore, all debt is likewise a joint responsibility and must be addressed, even if both parties agree on their separate obligations. According to the handbook, agreements can be created before the marriage, or anytime during, to address property ownership.

Spousal support, child support, child custody

The court is limited in what it can order for “alimony” and child support and can not extend beyond certain limits. However, the court has great leeway regarding child custody and visitation.

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