Steering You Toward Your Best Options
Below you will find common concerns and questions that our clients have found to be helpful. Although we have provided a good deal of general information on this site, it is important that you consult with an attorney about your particular situation before making any final decisions about your case. Every case is different, and you need a tailored response to your needs in order to get the outcome you need and deserve. Call our office to discuss your legal matter today by calling 817-612-4298 today.
- How much will my divorce cost?
- If one spouse is a high-wage earner, does it change how the court divides property and debts?
- What is an uncontested divorce and how much does it cost?
- What is your retainer for contested cases?
- How long will my divorce take?
- What is the process for divorce?
- How much will I pay or receive in child support?
- What is standard visitation?
- How does the court decide how to divide property?
- What is joint custody?
- What are temporary orders?
- What are standing orders?
- Is there a way to prevent my spouse from doing certain actions?
- What happens at mediation?
- Will my spouse get my employment benefits and retirement funds?
- Does Texas have alimony?
- What happens at final trial?
- Can I pay my child support directly to my ex?
- My child wants to live with me, how can I make this happen?
How much will my divorce cost?
It depends on the parties and the property. The short answer is that the more the parties fight or the more types of property involved, the more it costs.
Divorces with no children and no property other than personal effects can often be done for under $1,500 so long as the number of hours required by the firm to complete the case is limited.
If the parties have children, issues such as child custody, health insurance, and child support arise and add to the cost. However, if all of the children’s issues are agreed to and the agreements use the standard language frequently found in divorce decrees, the cost should not increase dramatically. If the agreements require custom writing, the cost to write the customized clauses will add significantly to the cost of the divorce.
If property and debts are added, the property and debts must be divided and the documents needed to reflect the division must be prepared. For example, if one party is taking the house, this will need to be reflected in the divorce decree and real estate deeds will need to be prepared. This again increases the cost, but not significantly if all the terms are agreed to. Real estate, closely held businesses, retirement plans, and stock options are among the most complicated assets to divide. The least expensive method to divide property and debts is for decree to state that each party receives property solely in their name or in their possession, and pays debts solely in their name. However, the parties sometimes cannot easily divide the property and debts into their separate names because the assets and debts are not fairly split.
The more the parties fight, the more the divorce will cost. This is because the amount of time spent by the law firm addressing the client’s concerns increases dramatically. A divorce can only be resolved in a few ways: a reconciliation, an agreement or a trial. The overwhelming number of cases eventually reach an agreement, but the energy, time and money spent by the parties before reaching their agreement varies. Cases that go to trials are very expensive due to the significant time involved.
Our firm attempts to hold down the cost to the client. We have reasonable initial retainers. We also instruct our clients on methods to limit their fees. However, if the opposing party insists on a high-conflict approach, our law firm will have to respond to their action and spend additional time on the matter, the attorney’s fees will increase even if our client is doing everything possible to limit the fees.
If one spouse is a high-wage earner, does it change how the court divides property and debts?
No, the property and debts are divided in a “just and right” manner for high-wage earners and their spouses. However, dividing the assets held by a high wage-earning couple may require a more complex property division because of the types of assets and debts being divided. Those assets may include executive compensation packages, closely held business interests and multiple homes. Other issues that frequently arise in high-wage earner divorces are contractual spousal support for a homemaker spouse and payment of private school tuition. What is “just and right” is inherently subjective and does not lend itself to an exact formula. The court decides on a division that it deems appropriate on a case-by-case basis.
What is an uncontested divorce and how much does it cost?
An uncontested divorce is not one where both parties agree to obtain a divorce. This firm defines an uncontested divorce as one where all of the following occur:(1) All terms of the divorce are agreed to by the parties, (2) a waiver of service is signed and notarized by the client’s spouse, (3) a simple divorce decree with no custom-drafted provisions is approved by the client and the court, (4) the divorce decree is the only closing document prepared by the attorney, (5) the opposing party does not have an attorney act on their behalf, and (6) the only court appearance required is a prove-up hearing. If all of these terms apply and no children or property is involved, then the divorce can be accomplished for $1,500 plus court costs and expenses (roughly $1,800 total).
Adding property or child custody provisions will add to the cost, but not significantly if the provisions are all agreed to and the parties use the standard language commonly found in Texas divorce decrees.
If closing documents such as real estate deeds or retirement plan documents are required in order to implement the property division stated in the divorce decree the fees will increase because of the time it takes to draft these documents.
However, even with children, property, and a few closing documents, if the parties immediately agree to common language found in Texas divorce decrees and the only court hearing required is the prove-up hearing, clients may still be able to have their divorce resolved for approximately $2,500.
Our firm attempts to hold down the cost to the client. In situations where it appears an uncontested divorce is possible; the firm requires a $1,500 retainer with any additional costs to be paid prior to the divorce being finalized. If the matter fails to remain uncontested, then an additional retainer will be required.
What is your retainer for contested cases?
Retainers for contested cases normally range from $3,000 — $5,000 depending on complexity and whether a temporary orders hearing is required. In specific situations where it appears that significant time will be needed to be quickly devoted to a matter, retainers are higher. The goal of the retainer is to cover the initial attorney’s fees and expenses for the matter.
As work is performed on the matter, the charges are applied against the retainer. If the retainer is near depletion, we will request that the client replenish the retainer within a reasonable time period.
In order to help limit the attorney’s fees, each matter is assigned to a specific paralegal so that person can become more familiar with the client and the matter, and perform more of the legal work for the matter. Of course, all of the work is then reviewed by an attorney.
How long will my divorce take?
The normal minimum waiting period from the date the divorce petition is filed is 60 days. The maximum depends on the parties and the court’s docket. If a trial is needed in a Tarrant County case, resolution often takes well over one year.
We attempt to speed this process along as much as possible by asking for a final trial date early in the case if it appears a trial may be necessary.
What is the process for divorce?
The short answer is that it begins with the filing of a divorce petition and ends with a divorce decree resulting from either an agreement or a trial. The process in between varies dramatically according to: (1) what legal avenue is pursued, (2) whether temporary arrangements are needed during the pendency of the divorce, and (3) the amount of discovery required.
This firm uses four legal avenues to resolve cases. Three focuses on obtaining an agreement: negotiation, mediation, and collaborative law. The fourth, litigation, focuses on trial. We attempt to reach agreements when it is in our client’s best interest to do so, and the vast majority of our cases result in agreements. Agreements cause the matter to be resolved without waiting for an opening on the court docket and usually result in lower expense for the client.
However, we do not enter into an agreement when it is not in our client’s best interest; in those situations trials must be used to assert our client’s rights.
Temporary orders are often needed to determine spousal support, interim attorney’s fees, temporary property possession, and temporary expense and debt payments while the divorce is pending. Temporary orders are also often needed to ensure that the parties are ordered not to commit harmful acts while the divorce is pending. Sometimes temporary orders are not needed; other times they are vital to protecting a spouse during the litigation.
Standing orders are court orders that family law courts put in place for every divorce suit or suit affecting the parent-child relationship that is filed in a specific county. No party to the lawsuit requests the order, it is adopted by the court for all family law cases to protect the parties, their children and preserve their property while the lawsuit is pending. Dallas County and Denton County family law district courts have adopted standing orders.
Restraining orders are the most common method to stop harmful acts by a spouse. A restraining order prohibits or “restrains” a party from specific behaviors or acts or from taking certain actions. Temporary restraining orders at the beginning of a divorce may last up to 14 days without a court hearing, and after a court hearing the same restraints may become part of the court’s temporary orders for the case.
Protective orders are used if physical violence or threats of physical violence occur. Police departments may be used to enforce protective orders, unlike temporary restraining orders.
Discovery refers to obtaining information from the spouse and/or third parties. Discovery can consist of production requests, interrogatories, requests for admissions, disclosures, depositions, and request for mental health examinations. Sometimes discovery may be accomplished informally at a lower cost. Other times, discovery must be done formally so that the court can order the opposing party to comply with the discovery requests.
Most Texas family law cases eventually are resolved by agreement of the parties resulting from negotiation, mediation, or collaborative law. In order for an agreement to resolve the matter, all the terms of the divorce must be agreed upon. If an agreement on all issues is not possible, the remaining issues are resolved with a court trial.
Depending on the number of issues that must be tried and the number of witnesses that are required, a trial may last only a few hours or may last longer than a week.
How much will I pay or receive in child support?
Child support may be determined by agreement of the parties and approval by the court. When that cannot occur, the court has guidelines that it often uses to calculate a child support amount, although the court may deviate from the guidelines in certain circumstances. The guideline for child support is used to determine child support amounts in most cases.
The guidelines assess a percentage determined by the number of children the person has a duty to support and the number of children involved in the case against the person’s net resources (similar to but not the same as net income). The following chart provides the normal guideline percentage:
|Child Support Chart|
|Number of other children the person has a duty to support||Number of children before the court|
Net resources are usually determined by the following formula:
Monthly gross income — Social Security and Medicare taxes (7.65 percent) — Federal taxes based on tax rate for single person claiming one personal exemption and the standard deduction — State income tax — Union dues — Health insurance for the children before the court. If the net resources are over $8,550 per month, the guidelines only consider the first $8,550.
In addition to child support, the person paying child support is often also responsible for the payment of health insurance for the children, either by providing the health insurance or reimbursing the other party for the cost of providing the health insurance.
What is standard visitation?
Most Texas possession orders state that possession of the children is as agreed by the parties, but absent an agreement then according to a standard possession order. In other words, the parties can agree to a possession schedule that suits them best, but have the standard possession order as a fallback provision.
In summary, standard possession is generally as follows:
Under 100 miles standard possession order — (1) the weekends beginning with the first, third, and fifth Friday of each month, beginning at 6 p.m. and ending the following Sunday at 6 p.m. (and if school is out on the Friday or Monday around that weekend, the possession extends to also cover that day); (2) Thursday nights during the school year, beginning at 6 p.m. and ending at 8 p.m.; (3) every other spring break and Thanksgiving break, beginning at 6 p.m. on the date the break begins and ending on the Sunday at the end of the break at 6 p.m.; (4) Christmas break in years when the parent does not have Thanksgiving break, beginning at 6 p.m. on the day school is released for Christmas break and ending at noon on December 28th; (5) Christmas break in years when the parent does have Thanksgiving break, beginning at noon on December 28th and ending on the Sunday at the end of the break at 6 p.m.; (6) from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. on the child’s birthday (if you do not already have the child); (7) 30 days in the summer (except for one weekend during those days) as stated in your notice, or without notice from July 1 at 6 p.m. until July 31 at 6 p.m.; and (8) the weekend of Father’s Day or Mother’s Day, beginning at 6 p.m. and ending the following Sunday at 6 p.m..
Over 100 miles standard possession order — (1) either the same as the weekend visitation for under 100 miles stated above, or one weekend per month of the visiting person’s choice with 14 days prior notice; (2) every Spring Break, beginning at 6 p.m. on the date the break begins and ending on the Sunday at the end of the break at 6 p.m.; (3) every other Thanksgiving break, beginning at 6 p.m. on the date the break begins and ending on the Sunday at the end of the break at 6 p.m.; (4) Christmas break in years when the parent does not have Thanksgiving break, beginning at 6 p.m. on the day school is released for Christmas break and ending at noon on December 28th; (5) Christmas break in years when the parent does have Thanksgiving break, beginning at noon on December 28th and ending on the Sunday at the end of the break at 6 p.m.; (6) from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. on the child’s birthday (if you do not already have the child); (7) 42 days in the summer (except for one or two weekends during those days) as stated in your notice, or without notice from June 15 at 6 p.m. until July 27 at 6 p.m.; and (8) the weekend of Father’s Day or Mother’s Day, beginning at 6 p.m. and ending the following Sunday at 6 p.m.
The standard possession order may also be expanded if requested by the visiting parent for possession to begin at the time school ends instead of that day at 6 p.m. and for possession to end when school resumes after the weekend instead of Sunday at 6 p.m. This is commonly referred to as expanded standard.
How does the court decide how to divide property?
The short answer is that the court usually divides the community property and debts in a “just and right” manner. This does not mean that the court divides the property and debts 50-50. What is “just and right” is inherently subjective and does not lend itself to an exact formula. The court decides on a division that it deems appropriate on a case-by-case basis.
In Texas, the court can only divide the “community property and debts.” Many cases involve property that one spouse had before the marriage or that one spouse received as a gift or inheritance during the marriage. If the party can prove a specific amount of property to be from a gift or inheritance, or that the property preceded the marriage, that spouse may be able to prove that the property is separate property, and then the court cannot divide that sum between the spouses.
Each spouse has a separate estate in addition to the community property estate. Sometimes spouses have “reimbursement” claims when one marital estate, for example the husband’s separate property estate, owes a sum to another marital estate, such as the community property estate. This could be, for example, because the community property funds were used to pay the mortgage for the husband’s separate property real estate. Reimbursement claims can become highly complex at times and if present may impact the “just and right” division of the community property.
In some circumstances, one or both parties may also ask for a “disproportionate share” of the community property estate due to extenuating circumstances such as, for example, fault in the breakup of the marriage, the difference in earning potential of the spouses after the divorce, or the separate property one party will retain after the divorce. If the court finds that an award of a disproportionate share is appropriate, the court will tilt the division away from a 50-50 division.
What is joint custody?
If the parties agree in detail on specific rights, duties, and possession terms, call it joint custody, and the court finds the agreements reasonable, then joint custody means whatever you and your spouse define it to mean.
Confusion reigns over what the court means by joint custody. The courts do not define it to mean that each parent has the children 50 percent of the time. In fact, joint custody, called joint managing conservatorship by the courts, refers more to the rights and duties of parents than the physical possession of the children. There are three sections in the Texas Family Code addressing rights and duties of parents: (1) rights that parents always have, (2) rights and duties that parents have during periods of possession, and (3) rights and duties that are shared between the parents (a joint managing conservatorship) or provided solely to one parent (a sole managing conservatorship). Most cases appoint the parties as joint managing conservators. Having one parent appointed sole managing conservator does not mean the other parent will not have visitation with the children.
The rights that may be shared in a joint managing conservatorship are the following: (1) the right to designate the primary residence of the child; (2) the right to consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment involving invasive procedures, and to consent to psychiatric and psychological treatment; (3) the right to receive and give receipt for periodic payments for the support of the child and to hold or disburse these funds for the benefit of the child; (4) the right to represent the child in legal action and to make other decisions of substantial legal significance concerning the child; (5) the right to consent to marriage and to enlistment in the armed forces of the United States; (6) the right to make decisions concerning the child’s education; (7) the right to the services and earnings of the child; and (8) except when a guardian of the child’s estate or a guardian or attorney ad litem has been appointed for a child, the right to act as agent of the child in relation to the child’s estate if the child’s action is required by a state, the United States, or a foreign government.
Each of the above rights and duties may be given exclusively to one parent (for example, the right to designate the primary residence of the child is usually given exclusively to one parent, and that parent is often referred to as the primary joint managing conservator), independently shared by the two parents, shared by the two parents where the parents must discuss the issue but one parent has the ultimate decision, or shared by the parents where the parents must discuss the issue and agree on how to handle the issue.
What are temporary orders?
Either party in the divorce may file to have the court issue orders governing their behavior from the date the divorce is filed until the date it is granted. These orders are called temporary orders and usually address support and property issues. Temporary orders may set spousal support and determine which party will remain in the marital home while the case is pending. Payment of bills and attorney’s fees and use and possession of property may also be addressed.
Temporary orders are also often needed to ensure that the parties are ordered not to commit harmful acts while the divorce is pending. Sometimes temporary orders are not needed; other times they are vital to protecting a spouse during the litigation.
What are standing orders?
Standing orders are court orders that family law courts put in place for every divorce suit or suit affecting the parent-child relationship that is filed in a specific county. No party to the lawsuit requests the order, it is adopted by the court for all family law cases to protect the parties, their children and preserve their property while the lawsuit is pending.
Dallas County: Dallas County family district courts have standing orders. The orders may be found at http://www.dallascounty.org/department/districtclerk/media/ 01_05_2011_Standing_Family_Order.pdf
Denton County: Denton County district courts giving preference to family law matters have adopted standing orders. The orders may be found at http://dentoncounty.com/dept/District_Clerk/Acrobat/DCSORCPCP.pdf
Tarrant County: Tarrant County family law district courts have not adopted standing orders.
Is there a way to prevent my spouse from doing certain actions?
Temporary restraining orders are the most common method to stop harmful acts by a spouse. Temporary restraining orders at the beginning of a divorce may last up to 14 days without a court hearing, and after a court hearing the same restraints may become part of the court’s temporary orders for the case.
Protective orders are used if physical violence or threats of physical violence occur. Police departments may be used to enforce protective orders, unlike temporary restraining orders.
Other types of court orders may be used as well. For example, court orders compelling a spouse to comply with discovery are used to stop discovery abuses. Contempt hearings may be used when a spouse will not stop violating previous court orders.
Clients may also help themselves to stop spouses from certain actions. While we do not recommend that clients hide assets, we do recommend that clients act defensively to keep the other spouse from hiding assets if it appears that is about to occur. For example, one spouse may freeze bank accounts so they are not taken by the other spouse by contacting the bank directly. Similarly, credit lines may often be closed by calling the credit card company.
Unfortunately, freezing bank accounts and closing credit lines may also be used offensively to keep one spouse from accessing funds for basic living expenses or to hire an attorney. To prevent this from occurring, we also recommend that persons keep at least a small amount of liquid assets and some credit line solely in their own name. Back to top of page.
What happens at mediation?
Mediation is a process that uses a third party, often another attorney, to try and help the parties reach a settlement. A mediator cannot force the parties to settle, however mediation is frequently successful. Mediation is not an easy process, but a successful mediation is usually cheaper, faster, and less adversarial than a trial. When mediation is not successful, sometimes the process helps limit the number of issues that must be litigated.
Will my spouse get my employment benefits and retirement funds?
Employment benefits and retirement funds that accrued during the marriage are community property and may be divided upon divorce. This includes retirement accounts in one spouse’s name. Employment benefits that predate the marriage are separate property. Employment benefits received during the marriage, such as stock options, may be community property.
Does Texas have alimony?
While parties can agree on contractual alimony (also referred to as “maintenance”), court-ordered alimony arises in only limited circumstances. To be considered for alimony, there must be a recent conviction or deferred adjudication result from a criminal family violence matter, a disabled spouse or child, or the marriage must have lasted over 10 years. The court may then award alimony to meet the receiving spouse’s “reasonable minimal needs.” The maximum length of time court-ordered alimony payments can be received depends on the length of the marriage (five years for a 10-plus year marriage, seven years for a 20-plus year marriage, and 10 years for a 30-plus year marriage) or in situations where the receiving spouse or a child being used for by the receiving spouse or a child being cared for by the receiving spouse suffers from a disability, for as long as the disability remains.
While not alimony, courts may also award temporary spousal support during the pendency of a divorce case. Courts will review this as part of its determination of temporary orders for the matter (see question #7). Courts generally award temporary spousal support to ensure that current bills are paid while the divorce proceeding is pending.
What happens at final trial?
At trial, the fact-finder (judge or jury) hears testimony from the parties and any other witnesses, reviews the evidence deemed admissible for consideration, and renders a decision on the pertinent issues. A final trial can be on a few limited issues if the parties reached an agreement on the other issues, or can be on all issues. Trials are always tedious, and often time-consuming and expensive due to the time involved for preparation, pretrial, trial, and posttrial issues. Family court trials usually have a judge as the fact-finder but may often be to a jury if one is requested. Once the decision is rendered, the attorneys draft the divorce decree and closing documents to conform to the decision. After the documents are drafted, the decree is signed by the judge.
Can I pay my child support directly to my ex?
Nearly every Texas divorce decree states in bold letters that payments directly to the spouse are voluntary payments in addition to child support and do not substitute for the court-ordered child support payment. Payment through the court registry protects the paying party from paying twice, just as it protects the person receiving the payment. If a dispute arises over whether a payment was made directly, the court registry will usually be the official registry unless the paying party can provide the evidence to prove the direct payment (for example, by providing a canceled check written to the other party with “child support due June 1, 2006” written in the memo of the check). Because locating canceled checks many years after the fact can be difficult if not impossible, direct payments should be avoided in most situations, even if the receiving party prefers to receive the payment in that manner.
My child wants to live with me, how can I make this happen?
In some cases, your child may state a preference to the court. In nonjury cases, Texas law provides that the court shall talk to a child 12 years old or older and may talk to a child younger than 12 years old. The preference is not binding on the court but is one of the factors the court would use in determining “the best interest of the child.” While not written as law, our opinion is that the child’s stated preference carries more weight in the “best interest” determination as the child gets older, however it never becomes conclusive.
Of course, the child may feel that they are acting against the other parent by stating a preference to the court, so great care should be considered before putting a child in the situation of stating a preference.