What If the Respondent Refuses to Sign the Divorce Papers in Dallas County, Texas?
By Marcy Brinkley
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If you filed for divorce in Texas but the other party refuses to sign the final decree of divorce, you may set the case for trial and ask the judge to make decisions about the property division, custody of the children, child support and other issues. Refusing to sign the papers will not stop the finalization of the divorce, but the procedure becomes more difficult than an uncontested divorce situation. Dallas County's local rules describe the manner of setting a hearing and finalizing such a divorce.
In an uncontested divorce case, both parties sign a final decree of divorce that addresses all of the issues of the case including child support, conservatorship and property division. After the 60-day waiting period, one party appears at a brief hearing to finalize the divorce and ask the judge to sign the decree. If the respondent refuses to sign the decree, you will need to set a hearing and present evidence to the judge so that she can decide the terms of the divorce. Under no circumstances, however, will the other party be able to prevent the divorce from occurring at all.
Applicable Law and Local Rules
The Texas Family Code sets out laws regarding marriage, divorce, property division and parent-child relationships that apply to divorces throughout the state. Most counties also expect parties to follow local rules that apply only to the procedures of the courts in that jurisdiction. Dallas County, for example, publishes local rules for the family law courts that describe the procedures for setting hearings, courtroom conduct, pretrial conferences and other issues that arise frequently. When you file for divorce in Dallas County, you and your spouse are also subject to a set of standard temporary orders regarding the children, marital property and conduct of the parties while the divorce is pending.
Setting a Final Hearing
If the parties cannot reach an agreement and the respondent refuses to sign the decree, the case is considered a contested divorce and the issues must be resolved at a trial where both parties present evidence to the judge. Either party may set a final hearing on the merits by contacting the clerk/administrator of the court. When you set the case for hearing, you must notify the other party in writing of the date and time within two business days of obtaining the setting Prior to the final hearing, you should conduct discovery to obtain information about the other party's assets, arrange for witnesses to appear and prepare a final decree of divorce. On the day of the final hearing, present your evidence, respond to the other party's case and ask the judge to sign your decree.
In some situations, the judge will grant a divorce even if the other party refuses to participate in the final hearing. You must show that you served the other party with notice of the suit, he is not on active duty in the military, your proposed final decree of divorce divides the property fairly and equitably, and the provisions for the children are in their best interests. You will be asked to present evidence to assist the judge in making her decision and to provide her with a written final decree of divorce to sign. If the other party is in the military, the court will appoint a lawyer to represent him in the proceedings if necessary.
If the other party refuses to sign the decree because he does not agree with one or more of its provisions, you may try to re-negotiate with him. If the other party agrees, you may also try mediation, a form of alternative dispute resolution that involves discussing your situation with the help of a neutral third party. If you reach an agreement on the issues, you may proceed with the case as an uncontested divorce. Even if the other party refuses to mediate, you may ask the judge to order him to attend.
Marcy Brinkley has been writing professionally since 2007. Her work has appeared in "Chicken Soup for the Soul," "Texas Health Law Reporter" and the "State Bar of Texas Health Law Section Report." Her degrees include a Bachelor of Science in Nursing; a Master of Business Administration; and a Doctor of Jurisprudence.