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My Divorce is Uncontested—Now What?

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By: Alyson Falk

When you are starting to explore divorce in Texas, you will come across these terms – Contested Divorce and Uncontested Divorce. What is the difference?

The short answer: there is no legal difference between a Contested Divorce and an Uncontested Divorce. The same legal requirements will apply to each proceeding for your divorce to be granted. A divorce case will need to be filed; both parties will need to have service (notification) of the divorce case; a Decree will need to be entered that is agreed to and signed by both parties.

The Texas Bar Foundation and other Texas Legal Aid Organizations have created a resource for self-represented (pro se) litigants: www.TexasLawHelp.org. There you will find very basic forms to guide you through the divorce process if you wish to remain self-represented.

Unfortunately, the online forms most often do not do everything your divorce documents need to do to make everything tidy and final. The forms are particularly lacking when it comes to dividing property and dealing with child-related terms.

You should always take the time to meet with an experienced Austin family lawyer before finalizing any agreement so you have all the information you need to understand the agreement you want to enter. For most people, if their car stops working, they do not just open the hood and troubleshoot until the end of time, hoping it will start back up. Most people will call a mechanic who will be able to diagnose the issue and figure out the fix.

You should give your divorce, and really your future self, the benefit of calling on a divorce professional to make sure all your bases are covered. There will most likely be issues you and your spouse have not considered that will need to be addressed in your divorce documents, as well as other ways – possibly easier ways – of resolving issues.

As I mentioned before, a major downfall of remaining self-represented and relying on online forms to get through your divorce is that necessary property transfer documents that need to be executed to finalize your agreements will get overlooked. If all matters related to your property division are not handled correctly and timely during the proceeding, you may be S-O-L by the time you realize you have made a mistake. Consulting with a lawyer early is truly an investment in yourself and your fresh start.

The other downfall of remaining self-represented and relying on online forms comes when you use the forms to address child-related issues. The conservatorship, possession, and support laws in Texas are complex, yet somehow distilled into an online form with check boxes for you to make your selections. One tiny checkmark can have very dramatic, and often unintended, consequences. Before you throw caution to the wind and check a lot of boxes, invest in a meeting with an experienced custody lawyer so you can understand everything that must be decided regarding your children and then come up with a plan for what you want to agree to.

Beware of this phrase: “You don’t need a lawyer; let’s go to mediation.” Yes, mediation is a wonderful process that resolves most family law cases, but mediating without already having met with a lawyer is not advisable. A mediator – even a divorce attorney who is acting as a mediator – is prohibited from giving either of you legal advice in the mediation process. If you do not understand a term or the implications of a decision you are being asked to make, the mediator is not going to be able to help you. The time to meet with an experienced divorce or custody lawyer is well before mediation!

If you wish to remain amicable, but realize you need even the most limited of legal representation, a common way of handling that is for one of you to hire an experienced divorce lawyer who will represent that party, but who will work agreeably with the unrepresented party without providing legal advice to that party. The hired lawyer can help you negotiate any sticking points and would then be responsible for drafting the documents necessary for your divorce to be finalized and for your property to be transferred correctly.

The bottom line: meet with an experienced family lawyer early in your divorce process to understand how complicated or simple your case may be. There are always more details to address than you would have imagined, and there is nothing we hate more than being unable to fix a problem resulting from an agreement someone entered without the advice of an attorney. We are here to support and guide you through this process so that all you need to worry about is the new life waiting for you on the other side. Call us today.

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