The Texas Family Law Guidebook

A man, a woman, and a gavel

Family law attorneys help people with cases that involve family matters, including divorce, post-decree modifications, and child-related concerns. If you have a family law case, it will proceed through a family law court, and if the action you are filing pertains to a prior case, you generally must file in the same court that heard the original case.

If you are facing a family law concern, having a better idea of how the matter will proceed can be helpful. One of the most useful steps you can take in relation to family law matters is discussing your issue with an experienced Killeen family law attorney early in the process.

The Courtroom

The family law courtroom in which your case or legal action is heard will be much like any other courtroom that you have ever been in – or seen on television.

The judge will sit at the front, the jury box will be on one side of the courtroom (the vast majority of family law matters do not require juries, however), and the clerk and the court reporter will both be located at the front – at both sides of the judge.

Texas courtrooms are generally open to the public, but you should not bring children to court unless you are specifically asked to do so by the court (or are given permission to do so by the court).

The Rules of the Court

The same Texas Rules of Procedure that apply in every other Texas court apply in family law courts. The Texas Family Code, however, also applies in family law cases. And if your case is a contested hearing that involves the presentation of evidence, the Texas Rules of Evidence also apply. There may also be local rules and specific court rules that are relevant to your case.

In other words, there is a lot to take in, but your dedicated Killeen family law attorney will help you skillfully navigate the path forward.

You Have the Right to Represent Yourself

You have the legal right to represent yourself in your family law case, but this is unlikely to do you or your case any favors. The fact is that family law is a broad and challenging area of the law that can directly affect both your financial and your parental rights, which makes the outcome of your case too important to simply hope for the best – or to wing it by representing yourself as a pro se litigant (what someone who represents himself or herself is called by the court).

The most important point to keep in mind is that, as a pro se litigant, you will be held to all the same court rules, rules of procedure, and rules of evidence that those who are represented by attorneys are, which means that having a seasoned Killeen family law attorney on your side is almost certainly in your best interests.

The Matter of Mediation

The court’s preference – and typically your best option – is that you resolve your family law concern between you and your ex. This does not, however, mean that you are expected to miraculously put away your differences and find common ground.

There are helpful options in place that include mediation, which is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Mediation involves all the following steps:

  • You and your family law attorney, along with your divorcing spouse or ex and his or her family law attorney, will meet with a professional mediator who is a neutral third party in your case.

  • The mediator will go back and forth between you and your ex, helping you to explore your best options in the context of your family law matter.

  • The mediator will help you understand how the family law court is likely to rule in your case, which may help you take ownership and find the strength to dig a bit deeper in terms of meeting in the middle.

  • Mediation is only binding if you do come to a mutually acceptable agreement that you are both willing to sign off on.

  • Once signed by both of you (and accepted by the court), your mediated terms become legally binding.

Mediation Is Generally Required

Typically, in family law matters, the court will require mediation before going to trial. The advantages of mediation can include the following:

  • You and your ex drive the course of mediation – instead of your case being driven by the court.

  • Mediation allows you and your ex to make decisions that directly affect you – rather than allowing the court to do so for you, which is generally considered a last resort.

  • Mediation ensures that you have the right to agree to or nix the results – instead of you having no recourse other than accepting whatever orders the court hands down.

  • Mediation allows you to be creative in your problem-solving efforts (in a way the court is very unlikely to be). This means that you can address your family law concern from a perspective that makes sense for your unique family.

  • Mediation is generally both less time-consuming (you do not have to wait to get on the court’s busy docket) and less costly than going to court.

  • The mediation process is a friendlier, less stuffy, and generally less anxiety-producing process than going to trial.

An important point to make regarding mediation is that it can be extremely helpful and that it helps many couples resolve seemingly unresolvable concerns between them. If, however, your divorcing spouse or ex has taken the position that he or she would rather see you fail than find a solution that works for both of you, mediation may end up being just another step in the inevitable march towards a court date.

After Mediation

If you are able to resolve your family law matter at mediation, the written agreement, which is called the Mediation Settlement Agreement (MSA), will be transferred by either your attorney or your ex’s to the judge for his or her approval and signature.

Divorce and Family Law

There are several issues that must be resolved prior to a divorce being final, and Texas family law determines how courts resolve them. These issues include the division of marital property, your child custody arrangements, child support, and alimony. Contact a Killeen divorce attorney for help navigating these issues.

The Division of Marital Property

While you were married, you and your spouse acquired assets and likely took on debt. Upon divorce, you will need to divide these assets (as offset by your debts) between you in a manner that the court recognizes as fair when the circumstances of your marriage and divorce are considered.

While you are allowed to keep any separate assets that came with you into the marriage – and that you kept separate throughout the marriage – it can be a difficult bar to clear. Ultimately, the law requires that your marital assets be divided between you in a manner that is considered “just and right.”

Your Child Custody Arrangements

If you and your divorcing spouse share children, your child custody arrangements are a clear priority. Texas divides child custody into both legal custody and physical custody.

Legal custody guides how you and your children’s other parent will approach the matter of making big-picture parenting decisions moving forward, including those related to the following issues:

  • Your children’s schooling

  • Your children’s healthcare needs

  • Your children’s religious education

  • Your children’s extracurriculars and travel opportunities

  • Where your children make their primary home

You and your children's other parent can make these decisions together, or one of you can take on the sole responsibility. Other options include the following arrangements:

  • You and your children’s other parent can make these major decisions by consensus, but if – after putting forth the necessary effort – you have not found a middle ground, one of you has the authority to break your tie.

  • You and your children’s other parent can divide this decision-making authority according to the kind of decision that you are making.

Physical custody, on the other hand, determines when your kids are with you and when they are with their other parent. While your parenting time schedule may be utterly unique to your situation, it will fall into one of the following categories:

  • One parent is the primary custodial parent, while the other has a visitation schedule.

  • You and your children’s other parent adopt a more balanced schedule in which you divide parenting time more evenly.

Child Support

Texas law requires both parents to continue supporting their children financially when they no longer live together.

While a range of variables can play a role in the state calculation process, the major factors tend to be which parent is the higher earner and how many overnights the children spend with each of you. Generally, the parent who is the higher earner pays child support, and this is true even if you share parenting time equally.

Alimony

While alimony can play an important role in divorce, it is by no means applicable to every divorce. Alimony generally only applies if divorce leaves one spouse unable to support himself or herself financially and leaves the other with the financial ability to help.

In most cases, the duration and amount of alimony are calculated to allow the recipient the time he or she needs to become more financially independent – either through job training, additional education, or both.

Divorce Filing Requirements in Texas

There are specific requirements when it comes to filing for divorce in Texas:

  • At least one of you (you or your divorcing spouse) must have lived in the state for at least six months prior to filing for divorce.

  • At least one of you (you or your divorcing spouse) must have lived in the county in which you file for at least 90 days prior to filing.

  • After filing for divorce in Texas, you must wait 60 days before your divorce can be finalized. This restriction, however, does not preclude you from negotiating divorce terms during this waiting period.

How Does the Divorce Process Begin?

To begin the divorce process in Texas, either you or your spouse will need to file the divorce petition with the court. The person who files becomes the petitioner, and the other party is the respondent. After filing, the spouse who does not file must be served with the divorce papers – unless service is waived.

With this, you have begun the divorce process in Texas, and you will move on to the necessary exchange of information and documentation through discovery, the negotiation process, and beyond.

Temporary Restraining Orders

Once you have filed for divorce, either of you can request that the court hand down a temporary restraining order (TRO). Your TRO will basically set the ground rules for keeping your divorce on the up and up as it proceeds. Matters that are commonly addressed in divorce TROs include the following arrangements:

  • Orders that prohibit harassing one another (or engaging in domestic violence of any kind)

  • Orders that prohibit hiding assets, spending down assets, giving away assets, or otherwise tampering with marital assets prior to the divorce

  • Orders that prohibit hiding or absconding with your shared children prior to obtaining child custody orders

You can request a TRO in your divorce petition, but such orders only apply for 14 days (extendable by another 14 days). In order for your TRO to apply throughout your divorce process, you will need to request a temporary orders hearing – and at this hearing, you will need to ask the court to make the TRO a temporary injunction that will stay in effect as your divorce proceeds.

An Experienced Killeen Family Law Attorney Is on Your Side and Standing By to Help

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a distinguished family law attorney who understands the importance of your family law issue and is committed to skillfully advocating for a favorable resolution. To learn more about how we can help, please do not hesitate to contact or call us at (254)781-4222 today.