We Are Experienced Divorce Attorneys and We Can Answer Your Questions about Divorce in Fort Bend County and Harris County
Call us at 281-762-0578 for an appointment with either Vonda Covington or Jamie Zand. We’re experienced, caring lawyers; we’re very familiar with the courts of Fort Bend and Harris Counties; and we’ve been through divorce ourselves so we understand the emotional and financial pressures our clients often face in divorce.
We’re dedicated to educating our clients about what to expect during the divorce process so we’ve put together this outline of a typical divorce case. Your divorce might be different though so talk to either Vonda or Jamie to determine how the facts of your situation and your goals might affect your divorce case.
What Happens in a Typical Divorce Case in Fort Bend County or Harris County?
Divorce varies as much as families vary. A divorce case involves parenting issues (custody, visitation, parental rights and duties, child support, medical support) and property issues. Some cases are simple and clear cut while others are complex and difficult. We get quite a few phone calls inquiring, “How much does it cost to get divorced?” Or “How long does it take to get divorced?” The answer to both these questions is, “It varies tremendously.”
“Thank you both for all the care and hard work put into my divorce decree. I would have been lost without your advice and guidance …” Lauren
How Long Does a Divorce Take?
Depending on the complexity of the case and the difficulty of reaching an agreement, a divorce can be over in just over 60 days or it can take up to 3 years. From the time the Original Petition for Divorce is filed, the parties must wait 60 days for the divorce to be finalized. If the parties are pretty much in agreement and no discovery is required, the divorce might be finalized soon after the waiting period has expired. On the other hand, cases that require extensive discovery and development of the facts can take much longer. The Harris County courts often set their cases for trial 9 to 12 months after filing. Fort Bend County courts do not have such a policy. While most cases are resolved within a year or so, some drag on for two or even three years.
Each case has a similar anatomy. First we deal with transitional issues while the divorce is pending – temporary living arrangements, where the child lives, child support, visitation, who pays what bills. Next we gather information — a process called discovery. After discovery is complete, we attempt to reach a settlement. If we aren’t able to settle, we prepare for trial and try the case. Once we have either an agreement of the parties or a ruling from the court, one attorney drafts the Decree and other necessary documents. The documents are reviewed by the other attorney and by the parties and, based on their review, changes are made. If the parties cannot agree on the provisions in the Decree or other documents, the attorneys must get the court to rule on what language to include.
What Are Temporary Orders for Divorce?
In a litigation case, either party can ask for Temporary Orders, which govern the parties while the divorce is pending. Temporary Orders deal with the temporary use of property, who pays what bills, temporary custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, medical support, payment of attorney’s fees, appointment of a parenting coordinator or a therapist, appointment of an amicus attorney to represent the children’s best interests, and injunctions, all during the pendency of the divorce case. If the family has a need for Temporary Orders and the parties are not able to reach an agreement, the matter can be set for hearing, and the judge will rule after hearing evidence. The judge’s ruling is then reduced to writing and filed with the Court.
Some courts require mediation before a hearing on Temporary Orders when child custody is at issue.
What is Discovery in Divorce?
Discovery is the process in litigation of gathering information and documents. We send written questions to the other party that are answered under oath. We request documents from the other party. We interview witnesses and take witness depositions. We take the deposition of the other party. Each party prepares an Inventory and Appraisement, showing their assets and debts and their values. When property is hard to value (like a small business), we may need to get an appraisal. In some cases, we get a psychological evaluation or a custody evaluation. We may need experts to help us or the court understand certain aspects of the case.
When Do We Work on a Settlement?
Once we have completed the discovery process, we start working on settlement. We might send a letter to the other side suggesting terms of settlement and negotiate the case through a series of letters and conversations, or we might have an informal settlement conference. Prior to trial, most courts require us to go to mediation.
Mediation is a settlement process that involves a neutral third-party to help with the negotiations. The spouses and their attorneys meet with the mediator, who acts as a go-between and tries to help the parties reach an agreement. There are two styles of mediation, caucused and conference style. In conference style, everyone is in one room and the parties can talk directly to each other. In caucused mediation (which is usually the way mediation is conducted in Fort Bend County and in Harris County), the parties are in different rooms and the mediator talks to the parties separately, carrying offers and counter-offers back and forth. If the parties reach an agreement, it is drawn up in a Mediated Settlement Agreement, which is binding on the parties, and which the court must honor.
What Happens in a Divorce Trial?
If we have not been able to settle the case, we get ready for trial. As your divorce attorney, we will work with you to decide what witnesses we will call. We prepare testimony of the witnesses and cross-examination of the witnesses we anticipate from the other side. We prepare our trial exhibits. We will meet with key witnesses prior to trial. We will insist on meeting with you, our client, prior to trial so that you will know what to expect when he or she walks into the courtroom.
The petitioner puts on evidence first, then the respondent puts on evidence. Usually, the judge rules at the end of trial. Occasionally, the judge will not rule right away. When that happens, the judge usually faxes or emails the court’s ruling to all counsel some time later.
The judge will order that one attorney draft the Decree of Divorce. The drafting attorney will send the Decree to the other attorney for review and comments. If the attorneys are not able to agree on the language in the Decree, they will ask the judge to decide.
What Are Closing Documents
There are often a number of documents that need to be prepared to finalize the property division. For instance, if the parties co-own real property, a Special Warranty Deed may be needed to transfer title to one party only. If the parties are splitting a retirement plan, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) may be needed. If a spouse is getting a car with the other person’s name on the title, we may draft a Power of Attorney to Transfer Motor Vehicle. The case is closed only once all the paperwork is complete.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce, Again?
From the time the Petition is filed, the case might be resolved in a couple of months or in a couple of years, or even longer. As you can see, when more discovery is needed, a case takes longer. When the issues are complex, reaching a settlement takes longer. When facts are extensive and issues are complex, the trial itself (if there is one) will take longer.
Sometimes, one spouse or both spouses are not emotionally ready to negotiate right away. In such cases, it often benefits the family to get temporary orders in place, or to just separate and get an agreement on all the temporary issues, and then give the family some space for healing. Once the spouses are in two different homes and their new lives are somewhat stabilized, it is often much easier to resolve the case.
Sometimes, one or both of the spouses are so set on arguing and expressing their anger that every step of the process is fraught with conflict. Discovery is more time-consuming in these cases, and settlement may not be possible. In general, more contested cases take longer and are much more costly than less contested cases.
How long? It depends. Each case is different.
What’s an Uncontested Divorce?
An uncontested divorce is one in which the husband and wife have reached, prior to filing for divorce, an agreement on each and every issue that is necessary to craft a decree. One spouse hires an attorney to represent that spouse in the divorce. The attorney files a Petition for Divorce, which starts the 60 day clock ticking. The attorney drafts a Decree based on the client’s representation of the agreement. The attorney sends the Petition, the Decree, a Waiver of Citation, and any other closing documents to the other party (non-client spouse).
The non-client spouse should take the Decree, Waiver and other documents to his or her own attorney for review. If the non-client spouse agrees with the Decree and other documents, that spouse should sign where indicated, get notarized where indicated, then return the fully executed documents to the petitioner’s attorney. The petitioner’s attorney appears in court with the Client to “prove up” the divorce and to ask the judge to sign the Decree. The divorce is final when the Decree is signed by the judge.
What Should You Consider in Choosing Among Divorce Attorneys?
Your choice of a divorce attorney can have long-lasting consequences for your life. The conduct of the divorce and any co-parenting agreements negotiated through the divorce will have a very significant impact on your relationships with your children and their relationships with you and their other parent.
Generally, the more you have to go to court to resolve differences, the more your divorce will cost. Sometimes, it’s absolutely necessary to go to court, but if agreements can be reached between the parties that money that’s been saved for your children’s college fund might not be required to pay your attorneys.
Both Vonda and Jamie have been through divorces themselves so they’ve lived with the day to day issues associated with co-parenting agreements and custody issues. They are divorce attorneys dedicated to guiding you through the divorce process to the best outcome possible for you and your children. Call Vonda and Jamie to get the information you need to make wise choices from the start! Call 281-762-0578 today!