Texas petitioners may act as their own representatives (known as "pro se") in a divorce. Filing a pro se divorce may save time and money, but the Fort Bend County District Court recommends consulting an attorney when couples cannot reach an amicable agreement or the non-petitioning spouse has hired an attorney. Once the decision to divorce becomes a reality, there are a number of steps to follow from the beginning to completion. The petitioning spouse must complete and file the necessary documents.
Before you file, be sure you're legally entitled to file for divorce in Fort Bend County. Texas has state and county residency requirements, so one or both of the spouses must reside in Texas for six months prior to the filing of the divorce petition. Either you as the petitioner, or your spouse as the respondent, must have lived in the county for at least 90 days.
Check Your Grounds
Texas has seven grounds for divorce. Insupportability states that the marriage is irretrievably broken with no hope of reconciliation, and is the only no-fault grounds for divorce. Cruelty refers to intolerable treatment that makes continued cohabitation impossible. Texas allows divorce if the nonpetitioning spouse was convicted of a felony that led to incarceration of more than a year without pardon. Texas courts will not accept conviction of a felony as grounds if the petitioning spouse's testimony led to the conviction and incarceration. Other grounds include adultery, abandonment of at least one year, separation for three years and incurable mental incapacity leading to confinement in a mental institution for at least three years.
Setting Things in Motion
Visit the Fort Bend District Clerk’s Office to obtain the appropriate forms. You'll need to at least complete the "Original Petition for Divorce" and "Civil Case Information Sheet." Once the forms are completed and signed, file them with the Fort Bend County District Clerk's office and pay the filing fee. As of April 2017, the Fort Bend County divorce filing fee is $310 with or without children. If your financial situation means you can't manage to pay the fee, complete a "Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs" and provide any supporting documentation you can gather. The District Clerk's office determines whether you're eligible for a fee waiver.
"Serving" Your Spouse
As the petitioner, you must notify your spouse of your intent to divorce by providing a copy of the paperwork, usually referred to as "serving" the papers. Texas allows a few service process methods. You can serve the papers yourself if it is safe to do so, or have them delivered by a professional process server or the county constable. If you don't know how to find your spouse, you can send the papers by certified mail to a known address or have a legal notice published in your local newspaper. You cannot serve the papers by certified mail if there are minor children involved.
With or Without Cooperation
If your divorce is by mutual consent, the nonpetitioning spouse may waive the service process by signing a "Waiver of Citation" in the presence of a notary. The nonpetitioning spouse also waives the right to contest the divorce. The divorce hearing can then proceed on a pro se basis. If the non-petitioning spouse files an answer to the petition, indicating a wish to contest the divorce, this changes things. In a contested divorce the court must decide on whether to grant the petition, and to decide issues such as custody and division of property, so at this point it's usually best to seek the aid of a lawyer. If the divorce is not contested, the final stages are much simpler. Just wait 61 days from the filing date, then complete the "Decree of Divorce" form, file it at the District Clerk's office and sign up for the pro se hearing. You must attend the hearing, at which the uncontested divorce will be granted.
If the divorce is uncontested, does not involve children and does not involve real property (land or house), consider using the District Clerk's EFileTexas Self Help website to prepare and file your court forms online. For more complicated cases, such as when children and/or real property is involved, consider hiring a family law attorney.
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