When it comes to divorce, the process is not a one-stop shop, and couples who want to end their marriage shouldn’t feel trapped into litigation. Contested divorce isn’t for everyone, and in fact, a traditional courtroom trial is probably the least optimal way to achieve a (relatively) happy ending.
Luckily, couples who want to avoid litigation have a myriad of different divorce options. And while Texas doesn’t formally recognize legal separation, there are a few nifty workarounds that can replicate even those results for you.
Below, are some of the ways you can avoid the courtroom in Texas, and how your North Texas Family Lawyers attorney can help you navigate the waters of alternative divorce.
In a legal separation, couples live apart, but are still technically married. The reasons for doing this varies between couples, ranging from religious, to social, and it can be a good first step for people who aren’t ready for the finality of divorce.
Couples who are legally separated must comply with many of the same edicts as a divorced couple, such as custody arrangements and child support payments. However, unlike a divorced couple, separated partners are still legally married. This means they can’t marry anyone else until a divorce is finalized, and until they do, the line of inheritance remains unbroken.
At this time, Texas does not recognize legal separation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t live apart from your spouse for a cooling-off period. In fact, with the right paperwork, your North Texas Family Lawyers attorney can even help you achieve much of the same results as a legal separation in other states.
The Property Problem
In a community property jurisdiction, any assets acquired by either spouse during the marriage belongs to both partners equally. This works well if you’re married, but once separated, it’s not so great anymore. Hence, one of the biggest benefits to formalizing your separation, is that it temporarily suspends the accumulation of marital property.
Without this option, Texas couples who want to stanch the growth of community property while separated must file a “Partition and Exchange Agreement.” This is basically a type of postnuptial agreement, which can be used to override the standard rules of community property, allowing couples to keep their finances independent from one another while separated.
The only catch is, you’ll need to revoke this contract, if you and your partner reconcile down the road. Because unfortunately, probate court doesn’t recognize “take backs” and “I’m sorry” unless legally formalized in writing.
Yeah, But What About the Kids?
The other major benefit to a legal separation, is that it allows couples to formalize custody, visitation, and child support duties, making them equally responsible for their offspring while separated.
To ensure your children are not left by the wayside during your informal separation, North Texas Family Lawyers can file a “Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship” on your behalf. Generally, these suits are used by parents who are not married, but who share a child together, however, they can also be utilized for couples who need to formalize parenting duties while separated. Like a Partition and Exchange, this document can easily be revoked, if you and your spouse ever reconcile.
Divorce Alternatives in Texas
These legal separation alternatives are all well and good for couples who aren’t ready to split up yet, but for those who already know it’s over (and who still prefer to avoid litigation), there are other divorce options available to help you do just that.
The easiest way for couples to dodge the courtroom is to file an uncontested divorce. A divorce is uncontested if the couple agrees on all the terms, and there is no need to belabor the process with further negotiations. These divorces can be drafted, filed, and finalized with ease, and are sometimes referred to as a “do it yourself” divorce.
As a general rule, it’s really not a good idea to forgo legal representation altogether. However, if you and your partner agree about the terms of your spilt (and there are no other complications), having an attorney simply review your documents before filing could be a sufficient way to save money and avoid court.
A true uncontested divorce is relatively unusual because let’s be honest: when does a married couple agree on absolutely everything? (We rest our case.)
Still, even if you and your spouse don’t see eye to eye on the terms of your divorce, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re headed to litigation. As long as you’re both able to communicate respectfully, mediation could be a great option for you.
In mediation, a licensed, third-party individual (called a “mediator”) facilitates a series of negotiations between you and your spouse, in an attempt to reach an agreement outside a court setting. Everything in mediation is confidential, and can’t be used against you in court, if you’re unable to reach a resolution.
Mediation can be conducted with or without an attorney present, though, we’re always inclined to recommend the former. While mediators are skilled negotiators—and many are often former lawyers and judges themselves—their top priority is to reach a successful solution, not to represent your best interest. Ergo, having an attorney present during mediation can give you the peace of mind in knowing that whatever compromises you agree to actually are in your best interest.
The last alternative method we’ll mention is collaborative divorce, which we like to think of as mediation’s more glamorous, sophisticated big sister. Here, negotiations are held in much the same way as mediation—with just a little bit of added sparkle.
Instead of just one mediator, the couple works with a team of professionals, including an attorney for each side, a mental health professional, and a financial expert. This roster might also include appraisers, accountants, child specialists, therapists, and other experts, as needed. And like any true team does, these professionals work not for the benefit of one party over the other, but in the interest of overall resolution.
Having an attorney is not optional in a collaborative divorce, however, for couples who work diligently and make the most of their time, this can still be a time and cost-saving divorce option. Because of its unique format, though, if an agreement can’t be reached through collaboration, both sides must scrap their attorney, and start again with new representation.
Alternative Divorce Attorneys in Texas
Whether you’re pursuing traditional litigation, or are considering alternative methods, having an attorney you can trust is essential to any level of the divorce process. If you or a loved one has questions about the divorce options in Texas, our team at North Texas Family Lawyers has the skill set to help, and over a century’s worth of combined experience to back it up.