Last Updated on August 25, 2023 by Benson Varghese
In Texas, you do not have to have an attorney to get divorced. The law allows you to go “pro se,” which is a legal term that basically means you are representing yourself in divorce proceedings.
But just because a DIY divorce is allowed, doesn’t mean it’s advisable. In fact, a pro se divorce in Texas can be incredibly complicated and problematic.
In this article, our experienced Fort Worth family law attorneys explain pro se divorce in Texas, the process, and 5 reasons why you shouldn’t try to go it alone.
Pro Se Divorce in Texas
A “pro se” divorce in Texas refers to a process whereby one or both parties choose to represent themselves in the proceedings without the assistance of an attorney. Pro se is a Latin term that means “for oneself” or “one’s own behalf.”
This type of divorce is also sometimes referred to as a “do-it-yourself” or “DIY” divorce. The pro se party must handle all aspects of the divorce, from filing the initial paperwork to negotiating property division and any other contentious issues such as child custody, spousal support, and child support.
While a pro se divorce might seem like a cost-effective, simpler option, especially in cases where the divorce is uncontested and there are no complex assets or issues involved, it can be anything but. The legal process can be intricate and confusing for those not trained in law. Mistakes made in the filing process can lead to delays or even long-term legal and financial consequences.
Reasons People Pursue a Pro-Se Divorce in Texas
There are several reasons why individuals might choose to pursue a pro se divorce in Texas. Here are a few of the most common:
Hiring a divorce lawyer can be expensive, and many people want to try and cut costs by attempting to do it themselves. Pursuing a divorce pro se may seem like a way to save money on attorney fees, but it actually can end up costing you more if you make mistakes during the process.
If a marriage is relatively short, there are no children involved, and few assets to divide, a couple might believe they can navigate the divorce process on their own. However, even in these cases, the process can be more complicated than it appears at first glance.
If both parties are in total agreement regarding the terms of the divorce, they might feel a lawyer is unnecessary. However, it is important to make sure all the legal paperwork required for a divorce is properly completed and filed in a timely manner or else the divorce may be delayed.
Some people may want to have direct control over their divorce proceedings and feel more comfortable handling everything themselves. But divorce can be a very emotional and stressful process, which can actually make you feel very out of control without guidance.
Handling a divorce pro se can provide a degree of privacy, as fewer people are involved in the process. But bear in mind that certain information will still need to be disclosed to the court, and this is something a lawyer can help you navigate.
While a pro se divorce might seem appealing for these reasons and others, it can also be complex and fraught with potential pitfalls. Having a seasoned divorce attorney by your side can help ensure that your rights are fully protected.
The Process of Pursing a Pro-Se Divorce in Texas
While a pro-se divorce in Texas may be more cost-effective, it can also be complex, especially if there are children, significant assets, or debts involved. Here are the general steps you would need to take in a do-it-yourself divorce:
Make sure you meet the residency requirements. In Texas, you or your spouse must have lived in the state for at least six months and in the county where you plan to file for at least 90 days.
Obtain the Necessary Forms
Visit the Texas state court’s website or your local county clerk’s office to get the appropriate divorce forms. You’ll need to choose the right forms based on whether you have children and whether the divorce is contested or uncontested. Make sure to complete the petition for divorce.
File the Petition for Divorce
File your completed petition for divorce with the clerk’s office in your county. You will need to pay a filing fee, which varies by county.
Serve Your Spouse
After you’ve filed the petition, you must formally provide (“serve”) your spouse with a copy of the divorce petition. If your spouse agrees, they can sign a waiver of service. Otherwise, you might need to hire a private process server or a law enforcement officer to serve the papers.
Wait for a Response
Your spouse has a certain amount of time (usually 20 days and the following Monday at 10 AM) to respond to the petition. If they don’t respond in time, you may be able to get a default judgment for your divorce.
Complete Additional Forms
If you have children, you’ll need to complete a Child Support Worksheet and Parenting Plan, among other forms. The court may also require you to attend a parenting class.
Attend Court Hearings
Even in an uncontested divorce, you will have to attend at least one court hearing to finalize the divorce. If your divorce is contested, there may be additional hearings or even a trial so that significant issues such as property division and child custody can be decided.
Wait for Divorce Decree
If the judge approves your divorce, they will sign a Final Decree of Divorce, which officially ends your marriage once it’s filed with the court clerk. This usually happens at the final court hearing.
As you can see, the divorce process can be long, involved, and complicated. By doing it yourself, you run the risk of misinterpreting the law, mishandling paperwork, and making errors in the division of assets or determination of child custody, which could lead to unfavorable or unjust outcomes.
5 Reasons Why You Really Need a Lawyer for Pro-Se Divorce in Texas
Now that we have discussed the DIY divorce process and some of the reasons why people consider pursuing a pro se divorce in Texas, let’s take a look at the reasons a DIY divorce could potentially backfire.
1. Family Law is Complicated and You Probably Don’t Know the Rules
The intricacies of family law in Texas can be overwhelming for someone without a law degree and legal experience. Lawyers go to law school for three years and have to pass a rigorous bar exam to practice law. While you may be capable of researching and understanding the basics of family law, a divorce lawyer has the education and experience needed to successfully navigate the legal system and obtain the most favorable outcome possible.
If you represent yourself, you will be held to the same standards as a licensed family law attorney, according to established Texas case law. Otherwise, you would be given an unfair advantage over parties who have attorneys. That means you must comply with all applicable laws and rules of procedure. The judge will not cut you a break because you don’t know what you are doing. In fact, the judge can sanction you for any violations or, at the very least, rule against you.
2. Asset Valuation and Division Can Be Costly
Dividing assets can be a complex process, especially when it also involves real estate, business assets, or retirement funds. For starters, you must understand marital property law. Texas is a community property state, which means all assets acquired during the marriage are generally considered joint property and subject to equal division. However, there can be complexities such as separate property brought into the marriage or inherited during the marriage, or commingling of separate and community property.
Many assets, such as businesses, stock options, retirement accounts, or real estate, can be difficult to value. And there may also be tax implications. Certain asset divisions can have significant tax consequences which you need to be aware of so that asset division can be structured in a way that minimizes the tax burden.
While representing yourself in a divorce may seem cost-effective, the expertise of an attorney can prove invaluable when it comes to the division of assets. The division of property in a divorce can have long-term financial implications, and professional advice can help ensure a fair outcome.
3. Child Custody and Support Can Be Contentious
When it comes to divorce, nothing is more emotionally charged than the issues of child custody, visitation, and support. As an experienced divorce attorney can tell you, working out a fair agreement that both parents are comfortable with is often easier said than done. If your case goes to court, the judge will decide based on what they believe is in the best interest of the child.
And it can get complicated from there. If you represent yourself, you must understand conservatorship, possession, and access. You must be familiar with the Texas guidelines for determining child support. And you must know how to prepare and argue your case in court.
You may think that representing yourself in a divorce is your only option, but an experienced family law attorney can guide you through the process and make sure that your rights are protected and any agreements reached are fair and just, while helping you maintain a healthy relationship with your child.
4. Mistakes or Missed Deadlines May Delay Divorce
Pro-Se divorces require numerous specific forms and precise filing procedures. Mistakes can delay your case and could even lead to your case being dismissed. Missing deadlines can also put you in a difficult position, as the court is likely to rule against you if your filing was late.
An attorney can draft documents and review all paperwork and ensure that all filings are accurate and timely. They will be familiar with local court rules and procedures, which may vary from county to county. This can help you avoid costly delays in getting your divorce finalized.
Ultimately, representing yourself in a divorce can be risky and could cost you more down the line if something goes wrong. With so much at stake, hiring an experienced attorney to handle your divorce in Texas is worth considering.
5. Attorney Advice is Invaluable
Divorce can be extremely emotional and stressful, especially when children are involved. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and make rash decisions. Your lawyer can provide valuable advice on how to handle certain legal issues, draft necessary documents, negotiate agreements, and provide an objective perspective to help you make the best decisions for your family’s future.
Working with a lawyer during a difficult time can also help maintain civility between both parties. They will be able to act as a mediator and ensure that both sides are presented fairly and in a respectful manner. This can help prevent costly and damaging arguments during the process.
When it comes to divorce, it pays to have an experienced attorney on your side. If you’re considering a pro se divorce in Texas, be sure to weigh the pros and cons of working with an attorney to ensure the best outcome for your situation.
Steps to Hiring the Right Divorce Attorney
When hiring a divorce attorney, it’s important to consider their experience and reputation, their communication style, and their fee structure. It’s also important to feel comfortable with them, as they’ll be your partner throughout this process. Here are some steps on how to hire the best divorce attorney for you.
- Identify Your Needs
The first step is to understand your needs. Do you need help with asset division, child custody, alimony, or all of the above? Identifying your needs will help you find a lawyer who specializes in what you require.
- Do Your Research
Look for attorneys who specialize in family law and, more specifically, divorce law. You can do this by searching online, asking for referrals, or contacting your local bar association.
- Schedule an Initial Consultation
Once you have a shortlist of potential attorneys, schedule initial consultations. This will give you a chance to ask questions, understand their approach, and get a feel for whether you would be comfortable working with them.
- Consider Their Experience and Reputation
Experience and reputation matter. An experienced attorney will be familiar with the intricacies of the law, court procedures, and other legal professionals in your area.
- Evaluate Their Communication Style
Good communication is crucial in any attorney-client relationship. You need an attorney who will keep you informed, answer your questions, and be responsive.
- Discuss Fees and Court Costs
Understanding how and what you will be charged is important. Some attorneys charge by the hour, while others have a flat fee structure. Make sure you are comfortable with the fee structure and that it fits within your budget.
Thinking about a Pro Se Divorce in Texas? Contact Us First.
Pro se divorce in Texas may initially seem appealing, but the complexities of divorce law and the stress and gravity of the process often necessitate legal representation. By hiring a skilled divorce attorney, you can protect your interests and navigate the process more effectively and smoothly.
At Varghese Summersett Family Law Group, our experienced divorce attorneys will guide you through every step of the process, ensuring your rights and interests are protected every step of the way. To schedule a consultation, call us today at (817) 900-3220 or contact us online. We represent clients in Fort Worth, Tarrant County, and the surrounding areas.
FAQs About Texas Divorce
Rule 7 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure says “any party to a suit may appear and prosecute or defend his rights therein, either in person or by an attorney of the court.” However, it is strongly recommended that any party facing a divorce in Texas seek the assistance of an experienced attorney.
To file for a divorce in Texas, either spouse must have been a resident of the state for at least six months prior to filing, and must have lived in the county where the divorce is being filed for at least 90 days.
The length of the divorce process in Texas can vary depending on the circumstances. However, Texas law imposes a mandatory 60-day waiting period from when the divorce is initially filed until it can be finalized.
In a ‘no fault’ divorce, the person requesting the divorce does not need to prove that their spouse did something wrong. In other words, they don’t have to have “grounds for divorce.” They can simply state that the couple has “irreconcilable differences” or that their marriage has become “insupportable.”
Alimony, known as “spousal maintenance” in Texas, is not automatically granted. It is usually awarded based on specific criteria, such as financial need, the length of the marriage, or if there was domestic violence.
Texas is a community property state, which means that all assets and debts acquired during the marriage are generally split equally between the spouses. However, property that was owned by one spouse before the marriage or was a gift or inheritance during the marriage is considered separate property and is not divided. Learn more about property division in Texas divorce.
In Texas, child custody is determined based on the best interest of the child. Factors considered include the current and future emotional and physical needs of the child, any danger to the child, and the parenting abilities of each parent.
Come prepared with any questions you have about the divorce process, as well as any specific concerns related to your situation. It’s also helpful to bring any relevant documents, such as financial records or prenuptial agreements.