The Texas Pro Se Divorce Process
By Capt. Brian Mauro, Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office
Filing for divorce can be overwhelming. This article provides a guide to filing a divorce on your own without an attorney’s representation. These are known as “pro se” divorces. Please note that there may be other issues involved in your case not discussed in this article.
The first step to filing, or “petitioning” for a divorce is to determine whether you meet the Texas residency requirements. One spouse must have lived in Texas for at least six months. Additionally, one spouse must have lived in the county of filing for at least three months. If these requirements are met, you can get divorced in Texas even if your spouse lives in another state or is elsewhere in the country or overseas because of military orders. Note, however, that for the court to issue an order deciding some matters, such as child support, the court needs “personal jurisdiction” of your out-of-state spouse. A list of example situations giving the court personal jurisdiction is already listed on the petition for divorce form that you will fill out.
Fill out the Initial Forms
The main form you need to fill out is the “Petition” for divorce. If you are the person filing or petitioning for divorce, you are the “petitioner” on all forms you fill out. Your spouse, who is responding to your petition, is the “respondent.” Always make sure you fill out the forms as the correct party in the process. Many forms must be notarized. If a notarization is required, a notary must witness you signing the form and notarize your signature. This verifies that you were actually the one signing the form. The same goes for your spouse. A notary cannot notarize signatures he or she does not witness themselves.
Filing the petition with the court begins the divorce process. It tells the judge and your spouse you want a divorce and states what you want the judge to order in the “Final Decree of Divorce.” In addition to the petition, you need to fill out a form entitled “Information on Suit Affecting the Family relationship.”
Unfortunately, it will cost money to file for divorce. In El Paso, the current filing fee is around $300. There may be additional fees if you need to serve your spouse with process, which will be discussed below. If you cannot afford to pay these fees, you should fill out a “Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs” form and file it with your other documents. All documents can be found on the El Paso County Courthouse website.
Filing the Forms
After you fill out the required forms, the next step is to file them with the court. This can be done in person at the courthouse, or by e-filing. To file in person, visit the El Paso County Clerk’s office. To e-file, conduct an Internet search for “E-File Texas” and follow the instructions given. As a note, El Paso County has a standing order that applies to divorces. You will need to also file a copy of the standing orders with your other documents. They can be found on the El Paso County Court website as well.
Spouse Answer or Waiver of Service Form
Next, you must give your spouse formal notice of the divorce suit. There are two ways to document this notice. The first is to fill out a “Waiver of Service” form. This form can be found on the El Paso County Court website. Note that a notary must witness your spouse's signature and notarize the form, and your spouse must sign it at least one day after you filed the original divorce petition. The other option is for your spouse to submit an “answer.” This is a formal response to the petition you filed. This form can also be found online and does not have to be notarized. Once your spouse fills one of these two out, have them return it to you. Hold on to this form until your court date.
Final Decree of Divorce
Next, you must fill out the “Final Decree of Divorce” form. This will ultimately be signed by a judge and finalize your divorce. Note that there are different Final Decree of Divorce forms for opposite-sex and same-sex marriages. The Final Decree of Divorce form must be completely filled out (except for the judge’s signature) before you go to court. You and your spouse may want to fill it out together. If you or your spouse wants a name change, make sure to also fill out an “Order Restoring Name Used Before Marriage.” Hold on to this as well until your court date. If possible, have an attorney review your Final Decree of Divorce form. For eligible patrons, the Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office is happy to assist you with this by appointment.
The 60-Day Waiting Period
Generally, you must wait 60 days before a judge can finalize your divorce in court. You can wait longer than that, but 60 days is the minimum. This starts on the day after you file your Original Petition for Divorce and includes weekends and holidays. If the 60th day falls on a weekend or holiday, go to the next business day.
There are two exceptions to the 60-day waiting period. First, if your spouse has been convicted of or received deferred adjudication for a crime involving family violence against you or a member of your household, the 60-day waiting period is waived. Second, it is waived if you have an active protective order or an active magistrate’s order for emergency protection against your spouse because of family violence during your marriage.
After the 60-day waiting period is up, it is time to stand before a judge to finalize your divorce. The El Paso County Courthouse will give you information on when and where it hears uncontested cases. This is typically done in person. However, if you or your spouse cannot reasonably appear in person, you can request a virtual hearing by filing a “Motion for the Use of Emergency Procedures.”
You can find sample testimony online of things that are typically asked by the judge at this hearing if you wish to review them. Make sure to bring the following documents with you to court: a file-stamped copy of your Original Petition for Divorce, the Waiver of Service or Answer form filled out and signed by your spouse, your Final Decree of Divorce form filled out and signed by both you and your spouse, and any additional documents needed for your specific case.
When you get to the courthouse, go to the clerk’s office and turn in your spouse’s Original Answer or Waiver of Service Only form that they filled out and signed. Ask the clerk to file stamp your copy and bring this to court. Make sure to ask if there is anything else you need, such as a docket sheet.
When you get to the courtroom, tell the clerk you are there and give them your paperwork. Sit down until the judge calls your case. After you testify, if everything is in order, the judge will sign your Final Decree of Divorce.
Next, take the signed Final Decree of Divorce back to the clerk’s office and file it. Once you have done so, your divorce is finalized. Be sure to ask the clerk for a certified copy of the decree and any other orders the judge signed while you are there.
The Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office Pro Se Divorce Program
The attorneys at the Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office provide free assistance with pro se divorces to service members, retirees, and their dependents. The qualifications are as follows:
- The petitioner/sponsor is E-5 or below;
- There are no children (under 18 or disabled) born or adopted of the marriage (note: this does not include stepchildren);
- The divorce is uncontested, the petitioner knows the location of the spouse, and both parties agree to sign the divorce decree;
- Neither spouse owns real property, unless it was acquired before the marriage;
- Neither spouse is represented by an attorney in the divorce proceeding;
- Neither spouse has filed for bankruptcy during the marriage;
- The wife is not pregnant;
- Division of retirement pay is not required;
- One spouse has lived in El Paso County for more than 3 months; and
- One spouse has lived in the State of Texas for more than 6 months.
If you qualify, you can set up an appointment and your attorney will guide you through every step of the process. To set up an appointment, call the Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office at (915) 568-7141 during business hours, or email firstname.lastname@example.org anytime.