Houston Divorce and Family law Blog
Michael Busby employs 3 full time attorneys and files 40 divorce and/or family law related matters per month in the greater Houston area. In this divorce blog, you will find articles about the family law and divorce judges and local practice in the greater Houston region.
10 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT:
DIVORCE IN HOUSTON OR HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS
The first thing you should know when you are meeting a divorce attorney in Houston and Harris County, Texas is the residency requirements. A person must be a domiciliary in Texas for at least six (6) months to file for divorce in Texas. Additionally, a person must reside in Harris County, Texas for at least 90 days prior to filing their divorce petition in Harris County. Both parties do not have to meet these requirements. Either the Petitioner or the Respondent can meet these requirements to file for divorce in Harris County, Texas. If you are the Petitioner and do NOT meet these requirements but your spouse does, you can file for divorce in Harris County, Texas.
However, just because the Petitioner meets the residency requirement mentioned above to file for divorce in Harris County, Texas, that alone does not mean that one can get a divorce in Harris County, Texas. The courts would need to have personal jurisdiction over the other party. There are various statutes that may give Harris County, Texas, courts jurisdiction over a non-resident of Texas, thus enabling the court to proceed with the divorce.
The second bit of helpful information you should know about divorce in Harris County, Texas is that if you and your spouse have children born during the marriage, you may need to complete a Parent Education Program. Harris County local rules and many of the Harris County courts’ scheduling orders require that in divorces involving children, the parents need to complete and file the certificate of completion with the court prior to trial. For a list of Parent Education programs offered in the Houston, Texas area, please visit www.busby-lee.com and click on the “link” button to view the list of some providers. If you show up on trial date and ask for a continuance or announce ready for trial, some judges may dismiss your case if neither of the parties have taken the parenting class. On occasion, some judges in Harris County, Texas are likely to dismiss your divorce case even if you announce an agreement, if one party has not taken the required parenting class. One thing for sure is that a parenting class can never do any harm to your case.
The third thing you should know about getting a divorce in Harris County, Texas is that you should always try to hire a lawyer that is familiar with the local rules and judges of the District Courts of Harris County, Texas. Some of the local rules require a party to supply the other party and/or the court with certain information even without it being requested. For instance, in any hearing for temporary orders in which child support or spousal support is an issue, completion and exchange of Financial Information Statements, copies of income tax returns for the past two years, and the two most recent payroll stubs are required prior to the commencement of the hearing. You do not want to show up for a hearing, only to discover that your lawyer did not comply with the rules of the court; therefore, making your request and argument less effective to the court. There are currently nine District family courts in Harris County, Texas and each court has two judges; therefore, the better your lawyer knows the judges, the better he can advise you on what he or she thinks will persuade the judge to grant your relief. Hiring an attorney familiar with the Harris County District Family judges will generally save you time, frustration, and money.
The fourth thing you should know about getting a divorce in Harris County, Texas is that if child custody is an issue at a Temporary Orders Hearing, most courts will require that the parties attend mediation prior to having the hearing. Many courts will also require the appointment of an ad litem or amicus attorney to represent the best interest of the children if custody is an issue. These attorneys who are sometimes appointed to represent the best interest of the children become very helpful in settling a hotly contested custody case. The parties are responsible for the payment of the attorney fees for the appointed attorney.
One of the first things my clients typically asks me when custody is an issue, is, “can my child tell the judge who he wants to live with primarily?” In most cases, the judges, with good reason, prefer not to ask the child to choose between one parent or the other either directly or indirectly.
However, when custody is an issue in Harris County, Texas, and a party feels that it is necessary for the judge to interview a child, most courts follow Local Rule 3.5. In all cases in which the court deems testimony of a child to be necessary or required by statute, the attorney wishing to have the child interviewed shall arrange a specific time through the court coordinator for the court to interview the child. No party is to bring a child to the courthouse to testify without prior arrangement pursuant to this rule, unless the child’s attendance is required by court order including a writ of habeas corpus or attachment. The attorney or pro se party who is responsible for the child’s attendance at court shall immediately notify the court coordinator of the child’s presence in the courthouse. The child shall not be brought into the courtroom without the express consent of the judge or associate judge.
Another bit of information that is helpful when getting a divorce in Harris County, Texas, is the procedure for a particular court when serving someone by publication. Generally, many people come into my office thinking it will be faster and cheaper to get divorced when they have no idea where their spouse is living now. That is a false assumption. Most courts in Harris County, Texas will appoint an ad litem attorney to represent the interests of their missing spouse. If you do not know where you spouse is, the court will generally appoint someone to attempt to locate them so that they can be served personally. The court will generally order the spouse requesting service by publication to pay the ad litem fees which generally range from $500.00 to $1,500.00. Some courts will approve no appointment of an ad litem in a publication divorce if there is an affidavit of no children born during the marriage.
Another popular question I get is: “Is it cheaper or easier if I already have a child support order set up through the Office of the Attorney General?” My answer is typically both yes and no. It is usually easier if you do not want to modify anything in the previous order regarding the children. However, if you want a modification, it can make the case more complex depending on what you want to modify.
However, in my office, if I do the case for a flat fee, I typically charge a little more for several reasons. I always get a certified copy of the prior order which is an extra expense. Also, when there is an Attorney General order existing, we have to serve the petition for divorce on the Attorney General’s office because the children are at issue in the divorce. Therefore, instead of just being husband and wife in the divorce suit, there is an additional party, the Office of the Attorney General. The Attorney General’s office in Houston and Harris County handles so many cases that it typically takes multiple follow-up phone calls and faxes to get them to approve and sign the divorce decree even though the parties are agreeing to not modify anything in the Attorney General order.
Yet another piece of helpful information when getting divorced in Harris County, Texas is the information and documents that need to be exchanged prior to trial for property issues. Every family court in Harris County, Texas follows their local rules in a property case. The local rules of Harris County, Texas require exchange of certain information and documents even without a discovery request from the opposing party.
A party’s final Inventory, Financial Information Statement and financial information required under the Texas Family Code including, but not limited to, the party’s income tax returns for the part two years and the party’s two most recent payroll stubs, as well as suggested findings regarding child support and a proposed division of property shall be exchanged no later than ten (10) days before trial, and shall be filed before the commencement of trial. If children are involved in the proceeding, the inventory shall contain sufficient information so the court may render a qualified medical child support order regarding health insurance for the children. This rule providing for the exchange of information shall constitute a discovery request under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, and failure to comply with this rule may be grounds for sanctions.
Each party to a suit for divorce or annulment shall, without waiting for a discovery request, provide to the other party the following information about the property in which the party claims an interest:
a) all documents pertaining to real estate;
b) all documents pertaining to any pension, retirement, profit-sharing, or other employee benefit plan, together with the most recent account statement for any plan;
c) all documents pertaining to any life, casualty, liability, and health insurance;
d) the most recent account statement pertaining to any account located with any financial institution including, but not limited to, banks, savings & loans, credit unions, and brokerage firms.
If you are getting a divorce in Harris County, Texas, you should also know that if you have to appear in court, you should always arrive at least thirty (30) minutes prior to the time your hearing is scheduled. You will have to find parking downtown Houston, walk a few blocks, and wait in line to go through security prior to even getting in the courthouse. Then you still have to get to the courtroom that you are supposed to appear in. Your attorney may ask you to arrive even earlier than thirty (30) minutes depending on the type of hearing and whether or not he needs to talk to you prior to the hearing. You should always listen to your attorney.
Finally, you should ALWAYS dress appropriately for court. The judges in many courts may feel disrespected by you if you go in there dressed with slaps, shorts, or with holes in your clothes. Anytime you have to appear in court, it is an important day for you. You should always dress appropriately to let the judge know that you take your appearance in court seriously.
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