Time Period for Contesting a Final Divorce Decree in Texas
By Beverly Bird
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Divorce is often a controversial process. It’s not uncommon for a spouse to agree to terms, then realize he made a bad deal. Sometimes, a judge makes an erroneous or unfair decision following the trial. When any of these things happen, Texas offers several ways in which you can contest the divorce. The statutes of limitation vary depending on whether you were divorced by trial, agreement or default.
The divorce process in Texas begins when you or your spouse files a petition for divorce. If your spouse files, she will serve you with a copy of the petition. The paperwork will include a citation, telling you that you have 20 days to respond. Technically, this time period ends at noon on the first Monday after the 20 days have expired. If you don’t respond, your spouse can ask for a default judgment against you 60 days after the date she filed the petition. The court will schedule a default hearing. Thirty days after the hearing, the judge will sign a decree, most likely giving your spouse everything she requested in her petition. You have 30 days from the date of the hearing to object to the signing of the decree, ask the court to vacate, or reopen, the default judgment and request permission to contest the divorce terms.
Marital Settlement Agreement
Texas’s 60-day waiting period applies to all divorce procedures. Even if you file a response to your spouse’s petition within 20 days, you must wait two months to finalize your divorce. Many spouses use this time period to negotiate a divorce settlement. If you reach an agreement with your spouse, you or your lawyer can submit it to the court and a judge will sign off on your divorce after 60 days. If you realize during this time period that you’re not comfortable with the terms to which you agreed, contact your attorney or the court immediately. As long as the agreement you signed does not state specifically in bold, underlined letters that the settlement agreement is irrevocable, you can request that the court throw the agreement out and schedule a trial instead after the 60 days expires. When you receive a trial date, you can contest the divorce.
If you miss the 30-day deadline for vacating a default decree, you can request a new trial within 30 days after the judge signs the decree. If you go to trial and the terms of the judge’s decree overlook a point of law or a piece of evidence, you can file an appeal. You have 20 days after the judge signs the decree to do this. If you requested a trial by jury and you suspect jury tampering or error, or if new evidence has come to light since the court issued the decree, you can also request a new trial. The same 30-day rule applies in this situation, just as if you wanted to request a new trial after a default decree.
The terms of a divorce decree pertaining to property usually cannot be changed or contested after the statutes of limitation expire for a new trial or an appeal. However, issues such as custody, child support and alimony can be changed at any time if you suffer a change of circumstance that makes the decree’s terms inappropriate. There is generally no deadline after a judge signs a decree to file a motion for modification of these issues.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.