Many people walk into our Fort Worth family law firm hoping to get an uncontested divorce, also known as a simple divorce or no contest divorce. However, the reality is that less than 10 percent of the divorce cases we handle truly end up being uncontested because uncontested is a high bar to reach. That doesn’t mean you and your spouse have to go to war, it just means most couples don’t agree on everything. Wondering if you’re one of the less than 10 percent? Read on to learn more about the uncontested divorce process.
What IS an uncontested divorce in Texas?
The true uncontested divorce cases we see most often are typically those where the party comes in and says, “Hey, we’ve sold the house and divided the proceeds. I’m keeping my retirement, and she’s keeping hers. I’m keeping my bank account, and she’s keeping hers. Just draft it up.” And that’s it. These are cases—also known as simple divorce cases—where all issues of property have been resolved, children are not involved, and you basically agree on everything (which rarely happens).
Why are uncontested divorces so uncommon?
The reality is unforeseen issues regularly arise in most divorce cases. For example, the parties may believe they’ve worked everything out only to discover that all assets weren’t accounted for. In addition, child custody complicates divorce. There are also essential steps to take in the divorce process, paperwork to file and points of law that need to be addressed in accordance with the Texas family code.
Divorce doesn’t need to be super complicated or contentious but you should take a careful inventory of all of your assets and make sure to dot all of your “I”s and cross all of your “T”s before signing your divorce decree. An experienced and reputable family law attorney can help simplify the process.
Is an uncontested divorce the same as a default divorce in Texas?
No. With an uncontested divorce, both spouses typically agree on all terms pertaining to the divorce and child custody, put it in writing and take steps legally necessary to finalize their agreed divorce. Default divorces are more “one-sided.”
To obtain a divorce in Texas, one party needs to file an Original Petition for Divorce and must notify the other party of the filing. The other spouse should then file an answer to the petition, either agreeing or disputing terms proposed by the original petitioner.
So, what is a default divorce in Texas? If the responding party does not file an answer within 20-days after the original petition has been filed* or DOES file a response but doesn’t appear for the divorce hearing, the spouse who filed the original petition may submit a request to enter default. If the judge grants a default judgment, the original petitioner can proceed with finalizing a default divorce without providing further notice to the spouse and once Texas’ 60-day waiting period has passed.
* NOTE: There are exceptions to the 20-day deadline in Texas. Ask an attorney how it applies to your case.
What unforeseen issues arise that turn the uncontested divorce process into a contested one?
1). Issues pertaining to assets and debts. The more property and less liquidity you have the less likely it is that you’ll be able to secure an uncontested divorce. Taking a deep dive into your assets and debts—property, retirement accounts, life insurance, bank accounts, credit cards, loans, etc.—is an essential step during divorce. Otherwise, you could inadvertently give up rights to a portion of your estate.
We get it. You may be like many clients who want to get divorced and move on as soon as possible. Unfortunately, rushing the process could lead you to make decisions you’ll regret later (like losing rights to a retirement account, home or another sizeable asset), which you won’t be able to reverse. That’s why we require a sworn inventory for all of our client’s estates—something you don’t see often with online or quickie divorces.
These are some of the biggest decisions you could be making in your life—to go through a divorce and divide up half your assets and half of your time with your kids—so it’s worth taking the time to get it right the first time.
2). Issues pertaining to child custody and visitation. When children are involved, the likelihood of getting an uncontested divorce is basically zero. Again, that doesn’t mean you and the other parent don’t agree that you want what’s best for your kids. It just means that you’ll probably need to work through certain logistical challenges and address specific child custody and visitation requirements set forth in the Texas family code.
In Texas child custody cases in Tarrant County, most people don’t know what parental rights the law affords them and what parental duties the court will require they resolve. For example, the major concerns include geographic restrictions, the right to designate the residence, the right to make medical and educational decisions for the child or children and who has those rights. No matter how well you and the other parent get along, you most likely will run into some disagreements along the way.
3). Issues pertaining to legal paperwork. The nice thing about most uncontested divorces is that they are less costly and take less time to resolve than a contested or litigated divorce. At the Sisemore Law Firm, we are happy for clients who can walk in and truly say, “Hey, my husband and I have everything worked out.” In fact, we encourage people to work through as much as possible on their own because that helps keep their costs in check.
We’ve even had some clients tell us, “That was so easy we could have done the divorce ourselves.” While that sounds great, those clients still needed an attorney to help navigate uncontested divorce papers and processes for powers of attorney, special warranty deeds, a deed of trust to secure assumption, motor vehicle transfers, qualified domestic relations orders (QDROs) and other documents.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is finalizing their divorce decree and failing to prepare the ancillary closing documents related to their no contest divorce. It’s very challenging to go back years later and do a QDRO, locate the other party, track down the retirement plans and other important documents. It’s not just the divorce decree itself that family law attorneys handle. It’s other documents—especially those that effectuate the transfer of property—that often get left out when people try to get a simple divorce without an attorney.
Paying for a legal consultation about an uncontested divorce is worth the investment
Even if you think you and your spouse would be best served through the uncontested divorce process, it’s well worth your while to seek advice from an experienced divorce attorney in Tarrant County or the county where you reside. He or she can explain how to file an uncontested divorce and help you decide if a no contest divorce makes sense for you.
Don’t go it alone! At the Sisemore Law Firm in Fort Worth, our founder Justin Sisemore typically conducts all preliminary client consultations himself. He will provide a detailed case analysis, explain the big picture and recommend a game plan before you walk out the door. To speak with Justin, visit our contact page to schedule a consultation.