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What is the timeline for a divorce in Texas?

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If you and your spouse decide to divorce in Texas, you should know -- even if you're both in agreement on every single part of your divorce -- it'll still take some time to finalize. After you officially file a petition for divorce, at least 60 days must pass before the divorce will be granted by a judge.

(There are some exceptions to that rule, specifically in cases where domestic violence has taken place or a military deployment is imminent. Even then judges are still reluctant to finalize a divorce prior to this 60-day period passing, because it does take time to get a divorce case completely resolved and finalized even under the best of circumstances.)

Of course, a lot can happen in the course of this 60-day window which can potentially prolong a divorce from being finalized on day 60 and make it go well beyond that which comes a shock to the system for people ready to move on to the next stage of their life.

For example, discovery. Discovery is a process where each side is asked to show their hand of cards including but not limited to: property, documents, and witnesses. The Courts may be brought in to steer the divorcing couple's discovery when you have one side refusing to show their cards and withholding things such as property that could be part of the marital estate. This entire process can significantly slow things down pushing that 60-day window back by days, weeks, months, even years.

Ideally, both parties fully disclose all jointly-held and separately-held assets and debts on their own, and those working to bring the case to resolution-be it a judge, a mediator, a collaborative team, or lawyers trying to come to an out-of-court settlement-can work on dividing the community estate.

But sometimes in this voluntary process, one party suspects the other of not fully disclosing all the assets, so motions to compel discovery can be raised as a way of asking, "What other cards are you holding and possibly hiding?"

People going through divorce, even if they want to rush through it, should be very mindful of the discovery process and what it entails.

Typically, with discovery, the parties have 30 days to produce records of all assets and debts. If someone going through divorce doesn't fully, honestly disclose all assets in the discovery process, that person is lying by omission to the other side as well as to the court, and this can be utilized by opposing counsel and factored in to a final decree. (Moreover, a rare exception to modification of the final decree can being modified after finalization happens if there's a revelation about information withheld during discovery.)

How a respondent reacts to the petition being filed can impact how much time it might take to proceed with the case. Once the petitioner files a petition for divorce, the respondent is expected to acknowledge the petition no later than 10 am on the first Monday after 20 days of its receipt. But the respondent has one of several options available that can prolong a case: He or she can choose not to respond at all, can file an answer denying any claims or allegations made in the original petition for divorce, or file a counter-petition.

Another major issue that can require more time to sort through are questions surrounding custody, especially in circumstances that are especially contentious. If parents disagree on child custody, it may require a child custody evaluator be appointed so as to assess the child's (or children's) situation and report to the court their findings and beliefs as to what is in the best interest of the child. This can easily turn into a three-month process, and while this can happen concurrently with discovery, it's still another complicating factor that can extend the time a divorce case takes to resolve.

Setting a case for trial can be still another area where timing is important-if the case can't be settled through negotiation or alternative dispute resolution-a trial requires 45 days' notice be given to notify both sides. (And given what many family courts contend with in scheduling cases, moving to trial can delay the case's resolution well beyond 45 days.)

Hearings around temporary orders, or motions that need to be filed related to violations of temporary orders, can extend the time even further, and sometimes in unpredictable ways. A lot can happen in the course of a divorce; it's a sometimes-complicated legal process that can be incredibly emotionally charged.

If you're about to initiate the divorce process, it helps to know these basics about the timeline. In your initial consultation with the Law Office of Lisa Vance, we would talk about the factors in your case and how they might impact the timeline. If finishing the divorce as quickly as possible is a priority to you, we can discuss the available strategies that would allow for that, as well as homework you can do to make the process go more smoothly.

But it's also important to remember that a divorce decree is a document that will have a lot of influence in post-divorce life. Under the right circumstances, it can come together in a relatively short amount of time-but it's never something that should be rushed. 

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