Divorce is one of the most stressful periods that any person will experience. The divorce process can be exhausting and emotionally wrenching. The divorce lawyers at Woodburn & Watkins understand the challenges of divorce and will help you navigate through the often tumultuous divorce process. The family law attorneys at Woodburn and Watkins understand that the facts and circumstances of each case require a thorough, insightful, and well-organized plan. In some instances, our divorce attorneys know that the best results will only be achieved through aggressive action. At other times, our divorce lawyers understand better results may be achieved through purposeful negotiation.
The Divorce Process
In Texas, the divorce process usually begins when one spouse files a petition for divorce. The Petition for divorce states in general terms what the spouse hopes to achieve at the conclusion of the case. The Petition will state the grounds for divorce (either no-fault or fault-based, explained below). It may specify how property should be divided; the terms of conservatorship and possession of children (if any), and may include requests for spousal support, maintenance or alimony.
Grounds for Divorce in Texas
Texas is a no-fault divorce state, which means that you do not have to prove that either party is at fault to achieve a divorce. However, there may be reasons to allege fault such as adultery, cruel treatment or wasting of assets. One reason to proceed on fault-based grounds is to allow the Court to determine the other spouse’s fault in the breakup of the marriage when deciding whether to award a larger share of the community estate to a spouse. Another reason to allege fault is to ensure that the judge allows evidence regarding fault so that he can consider the fault when deciding child custody and possession issues.
Getting and Gathering Information
After the Temporary hearing, it will be time to start preparing to finalize your case. However, clients often do not have all of the information that they need to make their argument at a final hearing. The Texas Rules of Civil procedure grant attorneys a number of ways to gather information. The information gathering process is called Discovery. Discovery grants attorneys the ability to request documents or to compel witnesses to answer specific questions. The forms of discovery generally include:
- Interrogatories: These are formal questions answered under oath and the penalty of perjury. These can include general questions as to the witness that they will call. Interrogatories can also ask for specific information like “What did you do with the $20,000 withdrawn from your 401k?”
- Motion to Produce Documents: This type of discovery requires the other side to produce documents. Some of the more common documents requested include tax returns, bank statements or retirement records.
- Depositions: This type of discovery involves formally interviewing a witness under oath while the questions and answers are transcribed by a court reporter and possibly video recorded.
Discovery can include gathering information from parties or non-parties. It is important to hire an attorney who is skilled at acquiring information from the opposing side or from a witness who is not eager to cooperate. The divorce lawyers at Woodburn and Watkins know how to use the information from the other party or witness, and also know how to use the information to aid your case. There is nothing more damaging to a party than someone who is shown to have hidden information or is revealed to be a liar.
Once your attorney has acquired the necessary information through the discovery process, the divorce is ready to be finalized. Under Texas law, the issues regarding children, their primary caretaker, where they live, the visitation awarded to the parties, and the financial support to be provided must be decided at the same time as the rest of the divorce. A final hearing can be accomplished by trial either to the Judge or a Jury. Alternatively, a divorce can be finalized by agreement through mediation, the collaborative divorce process or other alternative ways of finalizing the divorce.
Trial by Judge or Jury
Except in very limited instances, judges alone decide property disputes.
Child-related issues, on the other hand, may be decided by a judge or a jury. Texas is one of the few states that allows decisions such as who should have primary custody to be made by a jury of your peers. If you feel that the Judge was erroneous at a Temporary hearing and that a jury may make a different decision, you may wish to pursue a jury trial at the final hearing. You always have the right to have a jury resolve custody issues.
You should choose a firm or family law attorney who has experience both with judges and with jury trials. The divorce lawyers at Woodburn and Watkins have experience with local judges as well as jury trials. The attorneys at Woodburn and Watkins have been in business and in the Courthouse almost continuously for over 30 combined years.
Decisions the Court will make at the Conclusion of the Divorce
The decisions that a court will make will affect you and your children – if there are children from the marriage – for years to come; possibly, your entire life. The matters the court will consider include determining custody, living arrangements, visitation, child support, and other matters related to children. The court will also determine the parties’ rights in “community” property, “separate” property, retirement benefits acquired by one or both spouses, homestead and related issues, the value of assets acquired during the marriage, ownership of businesses, and all related property issues.
The court will attempt to divide community assets in a “just and right manner”. Depending on the circumstance, this may mean that the estate is divided equally or the court may determine that one spouse should be awarded a larger amount of the estate. The divorce lawyers at Woodburn and Watkins know that determining what is “just and right” is not always easy to define. They will be prepared to achieve the best divorce settlement that their client considers to be “just and right.”
Lastly, under circumstances in fairly limited areas, a court may have the power to provide for alimony (now called “spousal maintenance” in Texas) payable by one spouse to the other spouse over a period of time after the divorce is over and done. If spousal maintenance will be an issue in your Texas divorce, seek effective counsel from an experienced family lawyer to make sure the amount and duration of the award consider one spouse’s need and the other spouse’s ability to pay it.
Choose Your Divorce Attorney Wisely
Before choosing your Texas divorce attorney, you should review the credentials of any attorney you are considering. Your divorce attorney should think strategically as to how the divorce should be finalized and when to pursue the end of your case. Regardless of whether your divorce is finalized by Judge, Jury, or agreement, the family law attorneys at Woodburn and Watkins will use their skills and experience to meet all of your divorce-related needs. With offices in Amarillo, Texas, we proudly represent clients throughout Potter County and the Texas Panhandle.