Friday, October 28, 2005

Divorce Part I: Pleadings and Other Preliminaries

So you decide that you are legally married and want to get a divorce. Where do you start? In most cases, you will file an "Original Petition for Divorce" with your local district court. The Origianl Petition contains all your pleadings and may be amended without seeking permission from the court up to seven days prior to final trial (as long such amendment doesn't unfairly "suprise" the other side with a whole new set of legal issues) (TRCP 63).

State law controls the requirments for a divorce in Texas. There are seven statutory grounds for divorce. The first, and by far the most common, is "insupportability" (TFC 6.001). This is the catch all grounds which brings Texas in line with the modern trend among most all states to allow people a "no fault" divorce. Basically, if you don't want to be married anymore, then you don't have to come up with an excuse. For strategic purposes, such as trying to get a disproprtionate share of the community estate, or obtain primary custody of a child, or to further a tort claim, then pleading a divorce "for cause" may be done. These grounds include Cruelty (6.002); Adultry (6.003); Conviction of a Felony (6.004); Abandonment (6.005); Living Apart (6.006); or Confinement in a Mental Hospital (6.007).

Although we'll discuss some of them in more detail in later postings, in general some of the things you may plead for in your initial petition is for spousal alimony(maintenance); temporary orders (court orders while the case is pending); temporary restraining orders (restricting the actions of one or both parties).
It is also usually necessary to plead that the court divide the community property. It is not necessary to get into any detail about the property- only that property exists and should be divided. Although it is possible to make a statement that there is no community property, it is my opinion that there is always some kind of community property even if you are getting divorced from your quicky marriage in Vegas and all you ever got together was a few poker chips from Harrah's. Better to plead for it now then cry about it later.

Related to this is the necessity to plead for any reimbursement or economic contribution claim (when community funds where unfairly spent on seperate property).
Also, you must generally make a pleading involving the children of the marriage (if any). Although a suit involving children is technically a seperate law suit (called a "Suit Involving the Parent Child Relationship" or "SAPCR"); in Texas, you must include the children issues in your divorce case and they are tried together as one case. The only exceptions to that is if you already have a SAPCR order in place (usually if there is a long seperation and one of the parties was seeking child support) or if the children are adults.

Name changes for an adult or a child are also plead for. Under TFC 6.706, the court shall change the name of a party specifically seeking the change, unless the court specificall gives a reason why it won't in the final decree. The name change requires that the person previously used the name being changed to and that the change is not to avoid creditors or avoid criminal prosecution. Now usually this is a woman changing her name back to her maiden name, but in theory a guy could do this too. I recommend to my clients that they plead for the change even if they are unsure about it. You can make sure in the end that you keep your name if you want to. (And by the way, no one can force you to change your name if you don't want to). Otherwise, if you change you name after the divorce, you have to file a seperate suit and pay the fees. If you do it now, it is free with your other fees.
And on the topic of fees, this varies for county to county. In Harris County Texas, fees to file a divorce are around $200.

Another thing that is commonly plead in the original petition is a request that the other side pay your attorney fees. You may not get them awarded to you by the judge at the end of the case, but you definately won't get them awarded to you if you don't plead for them at the beginning of the case.