THREE METHODS OF DIVORCE IN TEXAS
Coming to a decision to file for divorce is one of the most difficult things to do. The process carries so much uncertainty, and can be intimidating for many.
But, once you’ve decided to file a Petition for Divorce, what actually happens next? How do we finalize a divorce case in Texas? The good news is that there are many creative options on how to get from beginning to end, that generally fall into 3 overall methods:
1. The “Kitchen Table” Method
This method is the most intuitive method for some people, and common for couples who are still amicable and do not have complex property. It involves a couple mapping out their estate on paper, deciding how property will be split, what possession schedule (parenting time) and child support they will agree to for the children (if there are any), and any other issues that they want to include. They then provide it to an attorney, who drafts the agreement into a Final Decree of Divorce.
• It is usually the most cost-effective (unless you strike a bad deal for yourself). Though we recommend both spouses have an attorney to ensure the documents drafted conform with the couple’s agreement, the attorneys’ involvement in this method is not nearly as high as other methods.
• There is no need for hearings or other Court involvement. This method is colloquially known as the “kitchen table” method because it’s most often resolved in the comfort of your home.
• Spouses need to be largely on the same page as to all issues in order to come to a full agreement on their case. Even if couples agree on the entire property division, for instance, if they can’t agree on the children, then a decree can’t yet be drafted.
• This does not work well when there is an imbalance of power. If one person is going to be bullied into a deal, this will not be a satisfactory approach.
• Most people cannot do this because of the emotion that gets in the way of the deal.
2. Collaborative Method
What if you don’t agree on everything with your spouse, but you want to work with them to craft a solution that you both feel comfortable with, while also having the ability to be creative and work outside the bounds of what a Court would order? Enter: Collaborative Divorce. This process, that’s quickly gaining attention and favoritism across the state, involves the couple, each of them represented by an attorney, a neutral financial professional, and a mental health professional, working together to craft a solution that works for both spouses. The process typically involves joint meetings (all members present) as well as “offline meetings,” wherein the couple meets, individually or together, with various team members, to work out a resolution on both children and property issues.
• There is wide flexibility in the agreement that can be made. Without the Court dictating what will happen, spouses can agree to unique parenting time schedules that work around parent work schedules, property divisions that work best for their particular estate, and other agreements like college funding that would normally not be part of a Court order.
• Neutrals can provide valuable advice regarding finances and how to help the children through the divorce process.
• Though the process will certainly be cheaper than taking your case to trial through the litigation route (below), having meetings with multiple people can be expensive.
• Like the kitchen table method, spouses need to be at least willing to work together to craft a solution. Collaborative is voluntary, and spouses can “opt out” at any time. If they do, they have to start the litigation process over with new attorneys.
3. Litigation Method
This is the most well-known and traditional method to handle a divorce. Both spouses are (usually) represented by an attorney. Court hearings are held, as necessary, to ensure the safety of the children, and the preservation of property. Though an adversarial process, it doesn’t have to be contentious. Avenues like mediation (a meeting with a neutral family law professional, with each spouse and their attorney in separate rooms), and informal settlement agreements (a binding agreement drafted by one party’s attorney and signed by all) can provide amicable resolution without the necessity for trial. If a final agreement cannot be made, the issues are tried, either in front of a judge or jury (for some limited issues), and the Court makes a final order.
• If spouses cannot agree, the litigation method provides for a definitive resolution. Courts make final orders that outlay who gets what, who pays support and when each will see the children.
• The vast majority of the time, an agreement will be reached prior to a final trial, avoiding the heavy legal fees incurred with trial.
• Some parties (and attorneys) are more litigious than others, which can lead to more hearings, or more fights over individual assets.
• If a case proceeds to trial, the fees incurred can be high.
• With the Court making a final decision at trial, the end result is a win/loss, as opposed to other methods where the end result can be mutually satisfactory.
In any of the three methods above, the final resolution is drafted into a document known as the Final Decree of Divorce, which is signed by the judge, officially ending the case. Though the minimum time that a case can take is 60 days, times can vary from 60 days to years, with an average time of 3-6 months. The timing largely depends on the method chosen, as well as the ability of the spouses to work amicably.
Regardless of the method chosen, the attorneys here at Duffee + Eitzen, including myself, have the ability to work with you to craft your perfect solution. For more information about Collaborative divorce, inquire about our partner, Melinda Eitzen’s book, Divorce the Collaborative Way. If you’re considering divorce, and would like to discuss any of the above in further depth, feel free to reach out to us, at 214-416-9010.