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Ms. DeWald

Jean answers
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Q: How much does it cost to get a divorce?

A: The total cost of an uncontested divorce at The Law Office of Jean DeWald in Dallas County is $733. This includes the $183 filing fee due the court. The other $550 is for document preparation, document filing, my counsel and my expenses. Please understand that $733 will only be enough if: (a) you and your spouse will sign all necessary documents, (b) and you both completely agree concerning the custody and vistation terms for any minor children and (c) you agree on how to divide up your property and debts.

An uncontested divorce means an agreement on ALL issues. I require the parties to put their agreement in writing and that it be signed by both parties. I then incorporate it in the final decree. Also, please understand that if the other party hires a lawyer and/or files an answer, it is no longer an uncontested divorce.

Please consider counseling if emotions are running high. Counseling may be done as a couple, or as an individual. Even if the other party will not consider counseling, go as an individual. Divorce is generally a traumatic event in the lives of the parties, and most people will benefit from professional advice in getting through the process. In addition, where children are involved, the family courts in Dallas will require parenting classes in contested divorces

Q: Why are contested divorces so expensive?

A: Contested divorces are more expensive because lawyers usually get paid at an hourly rate, and many hours can be used in back-and-forth negotiating. If the cost of the divorce is an issue, every effort should be made to resolve issues regarding children, asset distribution and debt distribution between the parties. The Family Courts in Dallas will require your attendance at a professional mediation before a case can be set for trial.

However, you are entitled to a trial if mediation does not result in an agreement on all issues. There are situations where a trial is the only resort but it should be the last resort. My fees for contested divorces can be found here.

Q: What do you have to do to get a divorce?

A: A divorce is a lawsuit and it follows some of the same conventions. You, or your lawyer, must prepare and file an Original Petition for Divorce in the proper county. this is commonly known as "filing for divorce." The spouse doing this becomes known as the "Plaintiff" in legal-speak.

Next, your spouse must be notified, in a way that the court recognizes, that the case exists. This is commonly known as "serving papers." This costs money (at least $63, maybe more if your spouse evades service or their whereabouts are unknown). If your spouse is willing to sign a paper (called a waiver of service) indicating they voluntarily accept formal notice of the suit, then you can save the expense of serving papers. The spouse receiving notice is known as the "Respondent." They may or may not seek legal advice of their own.

Next, the parties must attempt to negotiate an agreement regarding the issues before the court--property (including debts) and children, if they exist. Again, the cheapest way to do this is as two adults who genuinely seek a mutually satisfactory agreement on their own, but in case this cannot be achieved, there are increasingly expensive and contentious ways to get this done. This first tier of this is mediation, which while expensive ($500-$1500 per day) is cheaper than the next option--going to trial and asking a judge to decide ($3000-$10000 and I don't do these cases). This agreement is formerly drawn up in a document known as a divorce "decree."

After that, the Petitioner must appear in Court for a "prove-up". You will be asked perhaps 10 or 12 questions by your lawyer, which you will be able to answer either yes or no, and maybe 1 or 2 questions by the Judge. If everything is in order, the Judge will sign the decree, you get a ceritifed copy (commonly known as the "divorce papers") and you will be divorced.

Q: How long does it take to get a divorce?

A: It takes at least 60 days--that is the minimum waiting period which begins on the day the original petition is filed, and ends on the first day you can appear for a prove-up (the 61st day). It can take much longer if the two of you are unable to agree on anything. Most divorces, in absence of an agreement, take six months to eighteen months.

Q: What if my spouse refuses to sign the papers?

A: Your spouse does not have to sign anything for you to get a divorce. It just gets more expensive the more disagreeable (or unavailable) your spouse becomes. Again, it's cheaper to work out these kinds of differences in any other manner, including private individual marriage counseling.

Q: What if I don't know the whereabouts of my spouse?

A: This is an obstacle, but it can be overcome. You must prove to the Judge with clear and convincing evidence that you have tried to locate the other party--through friends, family members, workplaces, etc. The Judge must believe you have exhausted all of the resources available to you. This evidence will probably be in the form of an affidavit from you, accompanied by any documentary proof of your search.

You will have to file a Motion for Service by Publication with the Court. The Court will appoint a "publication attorney" who will meet with you and get as much information as you can give him/her, and then this attorney will make his/her own search, probably using the Internet, or making telephone calls. After his/her search is complete, and if he/she has been unable to locate an address or workplace for the other party, then he/she will make a report to the Judge.

The Judge will then sign an order to the clerk of the court to have the other party served by "publication". The upside is that you will be able to proceed with the divorce; the downside is that it is expensive (you have to pay the fees charged by the publication attorney, and the fees for publishing), and time-consuming. It will take probably one to three months to complete the process.

In the event the publication attorney is successful and finds the person, then that person will be served by a constable. If he/she avoids service (won't come to the door, or hides at the workplace), then you can make a Motion for Alternative Service. If you are absolutely sure you have the right address, the constable can serve him/her by attaching the citation and petition to the front door of the residence or workplace, or leave the papers with someone answering the door.

Again, as you can see, unless you have a desire to enrich the Dallas County legal community, find another way to get on speaking terms with your spouse.

Q: Can I get a divorce even though there aren't any problems like "irreconcilable differences" or adultery?

A: Yes. Again, if your spouse objects, your spouse can make it expensive, but no one can force you to stay married (in the eyes of the law), even if your spouse is a saint.

Q: Do grandparents have any rights concerning their grandchildren in a divorce actions?

A: Yes, under certain circumstances. It's complicated, make an appointment for a consultation.

Q: I have more time than money and I want to do my own divorce. I mostly understand it and I have some papers I bought from a store, but I still have a couple of questions. Can you look over my papers and make sure they will be accepted by the Court?

A: Yes. See my section on fees for divorce--there are a couple of options.

Q: Do you charge for a consultation?

A: Generally, I do, but the fee is nominal. $20 for one-half hour, $50 for up to 90 minutes, in a single session. If you want more time, please see my fee schedule.

Q: Can I just ask you a question or two over the telephone?

A: Yes, I will answer one or two questions over the telephone, but they have to be questions of a general nature. Questions dealing with specifics about your particular legal problem must be answered via a paid consultation.