How to file for divorce in Texas
Divorce was once pretty simple in the region that eventually became the state of Texas. Back in the day, women of the Caddo Indian tribe could divorce their husbands simply by putting their belongings outside the lodge.
The process takes longer now, but it doesn’t have to be super-complicated. For starters, Texas is a no-fault divorce state. That means that you don’t have to prove your spouse has done something wrong in order to justify filing for divorce. (However, it’s also possible to divorce your spouse for a specific reason, such as adultery or abandonment.)
Like other states, Texas encourages couples to avoid divorce trials. Tools such as mediation and arbitration help most divorces get settled. More couples are opting for the DIY divorce, using online tools that walk you through the process.
- What are you entitled to in a divorce in Texas?
- What are the child support laws in Texas?
- How to get a divorce in Texas
- What is a traditional dissolution of marriage procedure?
- Is Texas a 50/50 custody state?
What are you entitled to in a divorce in Texas?
Texas is a “community property” state, which means that anything acquired during the marriage belongs to both parties. (There are some exceptions, such as property given as a gift to one spouse.)
Among the assets you’ll need to divide:
- The equity in your house(s) and contents
- Investments and retirement benefits (such as pensions, 401(k) plans or individual retirement accounts)
- Vehicles, RVs or boats
- Checking and/or savings accounts (during the divorce, get yourself an account in your own name
Note: If you have a lot of property (or a lot of debt), talk to a divorce attorney to make sure you’re making the best choices for your future. Most of us aren’t lawyers and don’t know what issues might come up. For example, you might agree to an unfair division of the debts because you’re tired of fighting and just want this to be over.
Or suppose your spouse gets the family home and doesn’t get your name taken off the mortgage. If at some point the ex stops paying, the lenders can come after you.
Once you’ve agreed on how to divide things up, the judge will typically sign off on the plan. And if you can’t agree on certain things (or anything)? In that case, the judge will decide what is “just and right,” i.e., what’s fair to both people under the circumstances. For example, the judge could take into account who has primary custody of the children, or any differences in earning power between the spouses.
Three more things to consider asking for in divorce:
- Life, long-term care and disability insurance
- Therapy for the children
- Passports for your kids
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Engagement ring, wedding jewelry and gold in a Texas divorce
In Texas, an engagement and/or wedding ring is a gift to the person who accepted the marriage proposal. It is considered separate property rather than community property.
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How marital debt is divided in a Texas divorce
Generally speaking, debt that either of you brought into the marriage is “separate” debt, and each of you is responsible for your own. Any debt accrued during the marriage is “community” debt, and will get divided up as part of the settlement. (Note: This may not be a 50/50 split.)
Some examples of marital debt:
- Credit card debt
- Medical debt
- Vehicle loans
- Tax debt
If you can’t agree on how to divide the debt, the judge will decide what is fair.
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How retirement accounts are split in Texas divorces
All types of retirement funds can be deemed community property, such as:
- Individual retirement accounts
- Profit-sharing plans
Only contributions made during the marriage are considered. Any money that went into the plans before that belongs to the individual. To divide the retirement funds, you’ll need a court order called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order.
It’s also possible just to keep your own retirement plan and have your ex keep his. The two of you can make this part of your divorce agreement.
Can I get half my husband's pension in a divorce?
Like other types of retirement accounts, a pension earned during the marriage is considered community property. Texas law doesn’t guarantee you will get half, though.
As part of your petition for divorce, you must request that the pension be divided. You’ll need a QDRO for this, just as you would with splitting other retirement accounts.
Is military retirement marital property?
A military pension can be considered in a divorce agreement if you were married for 10 or more years and your ex was in the service for at least 10 years during that time. For example, if you were married for 12 years and your spouse served in the military for 10 of those years, you’d be eligible. Buf if they’d served only nine years, you wouldn’t be eligible.
No federal law guarantees military retirement benefits to an ex-spouse. Instead, you must be awarded a portion of the account in a state court order (in this case, your divorce).
Benefits are based on how long the spouse served during your marriage. The maximum amount is 50% of the ex-spouse’s retirement pay. Payments generally begin up to 90 days after the ex-spouse has started getting the pension.
What is the alimony law in Texas?
Called “spousal maintenance” in Texas, it’s decided on a case-by-case basis. The court considers factors like education, work skills and the spouse’s age and health.
Alimony can last anywhere from five years to more than 10 years, depending on the length of the marriage. It may last longer than 10 years in certain cases, such as disability.
How does your alimony change in Texas if you have been married 10 years?
If you were married for at least 10 years, alimony will last no more than five years. Those married between 20 and 30 years might receive support for up to seven years. Marriages that lasted for 30 years or more could result in alimony for as long as 10 years.
Note: Shorter marriages might entail alimony if your spouse was convicted of (or received deferred adjudication for) family violence.
Texas alimony calculator
Texas has no alimony formula. In general, the rule is that payments cannot be more than $5,000 or 20% of the spouse’s gross monthly income.
What are the child support laws in Texas?
In Texas, child custody is called “conservatorship,” and parents are generally named “joint managing conservators” after divorce. However, this does not necessarily mean 50/50 shared parenting. A custodial parent is named in most joint conservatorship orders, and usually that parent has the right to determine where the child lives.
Whichever parent has the child more than half the time gets support from the other parent. The payment is a certain percentage of net income: 20% for one child, 25% for two and higher percentages for three or more.
How to get a divorce in Texas
One or both of you can hire attorneys, or you can opt for mediation or some other form of non-trial settlement. You can also do a DIY divorce, and even file online.
The county clerk’s office will have the basic paperwork. You can also find free “toolkits” of divorce-related forms at TexasLawHelp.org. The kits include instructions on how to fill out and file the forms.
What are the residency requirements in Texas?
Either you or your spouse must have lived in Texas for at least six months. You must also have lived at least the last 90 days in the county where you file.
The same six months/90 days rule applies if you normally live in Texas but either of you is in the military or works for some other government service outside the state.
What is a summary dissolution of marriage procedure?
Most states have some form of “summary dissolution,” also known as a “simple” divorce. It’s generally used by people with short marriages, no kids and few assets.
Since there are fewer things to argue over, it can be as simple as filling out a “petition for divorce/dissolution” and submitting the signed documents to the court.
It’s possible for parents to go the summary dissolution route if they agree on asset division and child support and also agree to forgo alimony.
What is a traditional dissolution of marriage procedure?
A traditional dissolution of marriage means lots more paperwork than a summary one. Mediation/arbitration can help things move faster.
Your the lawyer writes the divorce petition or you go the DIY divorce route and write it yourself. After filing paperwork, you and your spouse work to determine issues like custody, support and property division.
The judge will look over the agreement and ask questions. After the judge approves, you get your divorce.
Is Texas a 50/50 custody state?
Most custody orders in Texas call the parents “joint managing conservators” who will share decisions about the child’s best interests. But there’s no presumption of a 50/50 custody situation.
Generally speaking, one parent gets to decide a child’s primary physical residence. The other parent pays child support and has visitation rights.
Should a parent refuse visitation or in some other way interfere with the Texas custody order, they can be charged with contempt and pay a fine or even go to jail.
In cases where the child’s parents were never married, the father must submit an Acknowledgment of Paternity form. At that point he is considered the child’s legal father and has the same rights and privileges he would have had if married to the child’s mother.
Some custody orders feature “geographic restrictions.” If you want to relocate, you have to petition the court to modify the current order.
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What if I want no contact with the father?
Unless there’s a legally compelling reason to keep them away, fathers in Texas have rights. While it can be challenging to co-parent with a difficult ex, for your children’s sake it’s best to reduce conflict. (See “Co-parenting rules — even with a difficult ex” for best-practice tips.)
In certain situations, such as a history of child abuse, the judge will name the mother as “sole managing conservator.” This means the father loses the right to make decisions about the child’s upbringing.
The Texas court system can also require drug testing or specify supervised visitations only in order to protect the child’s welfare.
Even if your kid’s father isn’t interested in co-parenting,, it’s important for the child to have:
- Medical information about dad’s side of the family
- Financial support
- Other benefits, including but not limited to insurance, inheritance rights and Social Security
How does shared custody work?
Generally, a Texas custody order designates a primary parent and spells out a basic visitation agreement called a “standard possession order.” It says that parents may have the child “whenever they agree.” For parents who can’t agree, the law spells out visitation on certain weekends, holidays and the like.
However, if parents. they are free to try it.
Many experts believe that equally shared parenting is the best thing for children after divorce. That doesn’t mean it’s easy! Fortunately, there’s an app for that. OurFamilyWizard, one of the first co-parenting apps, helps keep divorced parents and extended family in touch. You get a 30-day free trial and a price break if you’re a military family; if money is tight, you may qualify to get OurFamilyWizard free of charge.
Texas’ fault grounds for divorce
A no-fault divorce is always an option. But you can also file for divorce claiming these grounds:
Cruelty refers to the intentional infliction of mental or physical suffering, including abuse of all kinds.
If your husband catted around, you can divorce him. You don’t need film of the encounter(s), but you do need to be able to prove it happened.
Felony criminal conviction
If your spouse is convicted of a felony and sent to prison for at least one year, that’s grounds for divorce.
In order to claim abandonment, you have to prove that:
- Your spouse left voluntarily.
- He did not intend to come back.
- The abandonment continued for a one-year period.
In addition to the reasons listed above, a court may approve an at-fault divorce for reasons such as:
- Cultural or religious differences
- Substance abuse
- Lack of financial support
Texas’ no-fault grounds for divorce
As noted, Texas is a no-fault divorce state. However, even a no-fault divorce needs a reason to be filed..
Also known as “irreconciliable differences,” this means prolonged and irreparable conflict or discord. In other words, your marriage is broken and you know it won’t change.
Should you and your husband live apart for three years or more, you’ve got a case.
Confinement in a mental hospital
Whether it was due to mental illness, a head injury or some other reason, if your spouse is confined for at least three years then you can file for divorce.
How to file for divorce in Texas without a lawyer
In some cases you should consult a lawyer, especially if you have a lot of property or complex finances.
But if your divorce is amicable, you might be able to do it yourself. You can get forms from the county clerk or from TexasLawHelp.org, a project of the Texas Legal Services Center (click on “Family, Divorce and Children”).
The process will differ slightly depending on whether the two of you are agreeing to divorce or whether this is a “default divorce,” one in which your spouse does not file an answer to the court once you’ve served them with divorce papers. The basic steps, however, are:
- Fill out the starting forms and turn them in to the court. If you can’t afford filing fees, fill out a “statement of inability to pay.”
- Have your spouse served or ask them to sign the “answer” or “waiver of service” form.
- Fill out the “final decree of divorce” and other forms.
- Get the final decree reviewed by an attorney if possible, and have your spouse sign it. (TexasLawHelp.org has a free legal clinic calendar if you can’t afford a lawyer.)
- Wait 60 days, then go to court.
- Complete the divorce in front of the judge, and file the paperwork with the clerk’s office.
- Get certified copies (there may be a fee for this) of the decree for yourself and your spouse. If you changed your name in the divorce, get extra certified copies for updating driver’s license, Social Security card and other essential paperwork.
Depending on your circumstances you might also have to do things like set up a child support account or transfer a vehicle title. TexasLawHelp.org provides a list of things to take care of after your divorce.
The DIY divorce route will be simpler if you use one of two tools we recommend. For $39.99 a month, RocketLawyer offers unlimited access to the documents you’ll need, plus half-hour lawyer consultations for $59.99. Among other things, you’ll need a divorce worksheet, separation agreement and a divorce settlement agreement. Learn more at our RocketLawyer review.
CompleteCase offers the same kind of service for a flat $299 fee, which includes unlimited documents, online storage, and info on how to file a divorce in Texas. Learn more at our CompleteCase review.
How long does it take to get a divorce in Texas?
At least 60 days, starting the day after your petition gets filed. However, if the 60th day is on a weekend or a holiday, the 60th day is considered to be the next business day.
Depending on how backed-up your county court is, the divorce could actually be completed on that 60th day (or the next business day). It could take longer in busier county court systems.
Two exceptions to the 60-day rule exist:
- There’s an active order of protection or a magistrate’s order for protection against your spouse due to domestic violence.
- Your spouse has either been convicted of (or received deferred adjudication for) a crime involving domestic violence.
In both these cases the 60-day period is set aside.
How long does it take to get a divorce if you are legally separated
There’s no such thing as legal separation in Texas. Basically, you’re married until you’re not married, i.e., until the divorce is finalized.
What happens if the spouse doesn’t want a divorce?
Since Texas is a no-fault divorce state, your husband can’t stop the process. He can contest it, but ultimately the divorce will be granted.
Should you go for a DIY divorce?
That depends on your personal situation. For example, maybe you have complicated property issues or a spouse who’s vowed to fight to the bitter end. In such cases you need a skilled divorce lawyer to protect your rights.
But if things are amicable, a DIY divorce can save both parties thousands of dollars. That’s money that can go toward future financial security for the two of you and your children.
Can you file online for divorce in Texas?
Yes. Whether you get free paperwork or use a paid service like Rocket Lawyer or Complete Case, you can file through the Texas state court system, efiletexas.gov.
How do you file for an uncontested divorce in Texas?
If the two of you agree on the issues, you can file it yourself. The basic steps are:
Fill out the divorce petition and file it with the clerk’s office.
Make sure your spouse gets a copy (you need to provide proof that he did).
During the 60-day waiting period, iron out the details of your settlement.
At the court hearing, the judge will review your paperwork and ask some questions before granting the divorce.
File the signed divorce decree with the clerk. Each of you should order a certified copy.
What is a conversion divorce?
A conversion divorce is one that converts a legal separation into a divorce once the two of you have lived apart for a certain amount of time (as defined by state law).
This is not an issue in Texas, which doesn’t have legal separation.
How much does it cost to divorce in Texas?
Filing fees vary depending on the county where you file. But not by much: The divorce filing fee for the least-populous county in Texas is $283 and for the most-populous county it’s $310. If you need to serve your spouse with the divorce papers, you’ll also pay service and issuance fees. The district clerk’s office can let you know how all this will cost.
Those who can’t afford the fees might be able to have them waived. Ask for a form called the “Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs.”
If you decide to use a service like Complete Case or Rocket Lawyer, you might pay as little as $299 plus related costs like notarization and registered copies. By comparison, using a lawyer for an uncontested divorce could run anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000; a contested divorce could cost $15,000.
RocketLawyer has an attorney directory if you’re seeking a family or divorce attorney in your area.
Longtime personal finance journalist Donna Freedman created the Smart Spending blog for MSN Money and has written for dozens of other publications, including The New York Times Review of Books, NerdWallet, Magnify Money, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Vox, Get Rich Slowly, All You, The Simple Dollar, the Chicago Tribune and Wise Bread. Her work has won regional and national awards. She is a member of Mensa, but people are much more impressed by the fact that she was once on the game show “Jeopardy!” Donna lives and writes in Anchorage, Alaska.