Many people believe being the first person to file for divorce is the one with the advantage. That may be the case in other states, but not in Texas. What matters the most is what’s at stake for each person, and what you want for your child or children. The judge will consider both sides and the applicable laws.
Being the first to file for divorce can give you a measure of control over the divorce, but doesn’t have any distinct legal advantages. All divorcing couples will “have their day in court,” depending on how well they work out their property division and parenting plan for any children. But most divorces don’t end up in a full-blown jury trial.
Divorce mediation can help both parties come to an agreement. Although both parties should have their own attorneys, mediators can help cut down the expenses associated with “battling it out” for months at a time.
Why File First
The person who files first will “start the clock” on the divorce. But since every divorce is different, there really isn’t a way to know how long it will take for the divorce to be final. If both spouses agree on the material issues, the divorce may not take long. But there aren’t really specific advantages to rushing to file.
The first person to files the petition has the advantage of filing in the court of their choosing, to an extent. This means:
- The petitioner can “set the tone” for the entire case, such as an uncontested divorce
- The petition can be filed in their own jurisdiction, if different than the other party’s. This may require travel and other expenses to attend hearings
- The petitioner can file in Texas to take advantage of community property laws, if the spouse now lives in a different state with differing property laws
- Put a stop to any disposal of assets or leaving with children through Temporary Restraining Orders
Court and filing costs are also more for the petitioner, and less for the respondent, who will have the opportunity to present their case and have the “last say.” Conservatorship and child support are handled separately from the divorce proceedings, so no advantage exists for filing first.
If you and your spouse are already considering getting a divorce, you should make plans before either one files a petition. Whether or not you decide to file first, it’s always a good idea to begin the process of selecting the best attorney for your needs.
Attorneys are not able to consult with both parties. When you consult with an attorney about your divorce, they will be a party to confidential information. This precludes them from assisting your spouse, and vice versa. Anything you discuss with an attorney—even for a consultation—won’t be repeated to your spouse.
Begin saving money to put yourself in a better financial position. Open bank accounts and credit cards in your own name. You’ll have an advantage if they begin moving assets—or cut you off entirely without any money.
You will also have time to make copies of important documents like financial statements, utility and other bills, proof of insurance, mortgage statements, titles of ownership, and retirement account statements. Paper copies are fine, but you’ll need to keep them in a secure location. You can also scan copies and keep them in a secure place, or use cloud-based storage like DropBox or Google Drive for security and access anywhere.
Texas is a community property state, and everything earned or acquired during the marriage belongs to both parties. If you believe your spouse may be moving or hiding financial assets that should be in the property division, it’s also important to find a forensic accountant to locate the assets.
The process can be difficult for children, so now is a good time to find a therapist or other emotional support for both you and your children. Divorce is emotionally trying for everyone involved, and it’s easy to make wrong long-term decisions. Planning ahead will help you from acting from a place of emotional distress.
If your spouse has already filed for divorce, that doesn’t mean you’re at a distinct disadvantage. But you’re on notice that your marriage will soon be terminated, so you’ll need to speak with a Texas divorce attorney in Tarrant County immediately. Your attorney will have a limited amount of time to build your case and protect your interests, and those of your children (if applicable.)
Fort Worth’s Compassionate Divorce Attorney
Wendy L. Hart is an experienced family law attorney helping people throughout Tarrant County who need help in a divorce. As a divorcee herself, Wendy understands the process as well as the difficulties involved. We represent both men and women. We’ll make sure you’re treated fairly, and will protect your interests and your children.