Divorce: What to Expect at Family Law Court
If you are facing a divorce, there is a lot going on, and you may not have any idea where to even begin. The fact is that, in addition to involving emotional upheaval, divorce incorporates considerable legal requirements. Knowing what to expect as you move through the divorce process and toward family law court can help. The best way to help ensure that your financial and parental rights are well protected is by consulting with an experienced Killeen, Texas, divorce attorney early in the process.
What to Expect in Texas Family Law Court
The Texas Young Lawyers Association has an online family law booklet entitled What to Expect in Texas Family Law Court that is intended to walk you through the basics regarding what you can expect to encounter as you move forward in the divorce process – whether you end up in court or not. Being more familiar with what you are likely to encounter can help take the edge off the very stressful situation that is divorce.
Your Appearance in Court: What to Wear
At some juncture in your divorce process, at least one of you – you or your divorcing spouse – will need to appear in court. This is true even if you settle your case out of court. As such, it is a good idea to give some thought to your court appearance. Keep all the following in mind:
You should wear clothing that demonstrates your respect for the court, whether this means a suit, a shirt and tie, a pantsuit, or a conservative dress or skirt (basically, the kind of clean, well-cared-for, and conservative clothing you would wear to an interview for an office job is the standard you are going for).
Consider items such as hats, slogan tees, shorts, and sunglasses off-limits.
You are well-advised to avoid over-the-top hairdos, makeup, jewelry, and accessories.
If you have questions about what to wear, turn to your experienced divorce attorney’s knowledgeable guidance.
Your Appearance in Court: How to Act
Court proceedings are formal legal matters, and everyone is expected to act accordingly. This includes treating the judge and everyone who works for the court with courtesy and respect. Keeping all of the following in mind will help to ensure that your behavior is appropriate for your court appearance:
Turn off your phone and/or any other electronic devices that have the potential to make noise.
Remember that food, chewing gum, and drinks are not allowed in the courtroom.
Do not bring magazines, books, newspapers, or any other form or outside reading material into the courtroom (only paperwork that is relevant to the matter at hand is appropriate).
Once the judge enters the courtroom, talking, whispering, and passing notes are prohibited. You should refrain from speaking unless a response is required of you from either your attorney or the judge.
When your court matter is being heard, and it is your turn to speak, it’s important to pay attention to all the following guidelines:
Be polite and speak clearly and loudly enough for the judge to hear and understand you.
Keep all your responses verbal – refrain from nodding your head yes or shaking your head no.
When you address the judge directly – or respond to a question put to you by the judge – either begin or end with your honor, judge, Ma’am, or Sir.
When referring to or addressing anyone else (even if it's someone whom you know well), use Mr., Ms., or Mrs.
Never interrupt anyone else who is speaking in court (this goes double for the judge). You and your divorce attorney will ultimately be given the opportunity to address the matter. If you are speaking to the court and the other side has an objection, stop talking until the judge gives you further instructions. If you require a break, a drink of water, or a tissue (court is often stressful), do not be afraid to respectfully ask for what you need. Further, if you do not understand the question that has been put to you, you should ask for clarification (again, respectfully).
Your Appearance in Court: Bringing Others with You
Because court proceedings are open to the public, those in your support system can accompany you to court. Many people going through divorce find that having one or more trusted friends, family members, and/or clergy persons supporting them in court can be very helpful.
You should not, however, bring children to the courthouse with you. This is true even if the matter at hand involves them. Unless the court has ordered you to do so or your attorney has instructed you to do so, it is important to make other arrangements regarding childcare. If you have no other option, you’ll need to bring an adult who is competent to watch them outside of the courtroom (children are not allowed inside).
If Your Children Are Interviewed
In rare instances, children are interviewed for divorce proceedings. If, for instance, they are old enough and mature enough to weigh in on their preferences regarding your child custody arrangements and the matter goes to court. If your children are interviewed, however, it will very likely occur in the judge’s private chambers to help ensure that they are as comfortable as possible and are willing to speak freely.
You Have Options: Alternative Dispute Resolution
As mentioned, most divorces are settled out of court. And toward this end, you have options. Most couples do not magically resolve the terms of their divorce by coming to easy agreements on every issue. Instead, you will engage in various modes of negotiation that can include negotiating between yourselves (with your respective divorce attorneys’ careful guidance) and allowing your divorce attorneys to negotiate on behalf of each of you. Beyond these approaches, however, there are alternative dispute resolution (ADR) options to consider that can help reduce the emotional turmoil, the expense, and the delays inherent to litigation.
The most common form of ADR is mediation. At mediation, a neutral third party who is a professional mediator will meet with you, your divorcing spouse, and your respective divorce attorneys to explore your best options and available compromises. Mediation is a far less formal process than going to court, and this alone can make finding a middle ground more feasible. Further, the mediator will let you know what is likely to happen at court, which can help both sides gain much-needed perspective. Mediation is not binding – and you are not required to reach agreements on the unresolved matters remaining in your divorce – but if you come to an agreement and sign off on it, it becomes a binding legal contract that can be upheld by the court.
A collaborative divorce is one in which you and your divorcing spouse commit to resolve your divorce issues outside of court. The idea is to avoid the emotional rollercoaster, expense, time-consuming nature, and damage to family morale that often accompany divorce and to move forward with intent. Each of you will hire your own dedicated divorce attorney who has considerable experience in the collaborative divorce process, and you will begin by signing off on an agreement that addresses your commitment to being respectful toward one another throughout the process. A collaborative divorce allows all the following benefits:
The decision-making power remains squarely in the hands of you and your divorcing spouse.
You can bring in the same expert witnesses, such as forensic accountants, that you would in court.
The procedure is private (if your divorce goes to trial, it becomes a matter of public record).
If you reach a settlement, it is legally binding.
Collaborative divorces tend to require fewer post-decree modifications.
If you are not able to reach a mutually acceptable agreement via your collaborative divorce approach – or if either of you turns to the court for its intervention – both of your collaborative attorneys must be discharged, and you will need to obtain new legal counsel before heading to trial.
Your Divorce: FAQ
When it comes to the meat of your divorce itself, you naturally have questions, and the answers to some of the questions that are asked most frequently by people who are in your shoes can help.
Is legal separation a possibility?
While many states recognize legal separations – and some states even require them – the State of Texas is not among them. Although there are some legal workarounds that can come close to a legal separation, the fact of the matter is that, in Texas, you are married until you are divorced, and any assets that either of you accumulates or any debts that either of you acquired during this time will remain marital property (to be divided between you equitably in the event of divorce). As such, if you are concerned about protecting your financial and/or parental rights while you are separated from your spouse, the best path forward is likely to be filing for divorce and obtaining temporary orders in the interim.
How long will my divorce take?
If you are going through the divorce process, you naturally would prefer that it take less time (rather than more), but it is important to recognize that, because your parental and financial rights hang in the balance, rushing the matter is not in your best interests. However, committing to settling your differences out of court and focusing on your divorce priorities (while loosening your grip on matters that are less important to you) can help expedite the process. Factors that tend to complicate and lengthen the divorce process include:
Generally complicated financials
Highly contested child custody concerns
Do I have a common-law marriage?
Common law marriages refer to those instances when a couple was never formally married but are considered married by the state. In Texas – in order for a common-law marriage to apply – all the following must be true:
You and your common-law spouse lived together in Texas.
You and your common-law spouse had a proven intent to be married (you shared the intention of marriage between you).
You and your common-law spouse held yourselves out to others in the community as a married couple, including doing things like introducing one another as husband and wife, wearing wedding rings, changing your last name, filing taxes together as a married couple, and/or including the other as a spouse on health insurance coverage.
There is no minimum amount of time that must be reached in order for you to be considered married in the eyes of the law, but it is important to recognize that simply living together – and even having children together – does not necessarily qualify as a common-law marriage. Common law marriages are determined on a case-by-case basis.
If my marriage is common law, do I need a divorce?
If you and your common-law spouse have been separated for at least two years, it voids the matter of common-law marriage. If, however, you have child custody and/or marital property concerns that need to be addressed, moving through the divorce process is well advised.
What happens at trial?
If your case goes to court, it means that at least one of the terms that apply to your divorce remains unresolved. At trial, which is a formal legal process, these unresolved issues will be presented to the judge (by both sides), and he or she will make final decisions on the matters.
An Experienced Killeen Divorce Attorney Can Help
Divorce is a difficult experience and a complicated legal matter, and Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Killeen, Texas – is a compassionate divorce attorney who is well attuned with all aspects of divorce – and is well prepared to help. For more information, please do not wait to contact us online or call us at 254-501-4040 today.