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Texas Divorce Terminology

Alimony

See Contractual Alimony and Spousal Maintenance, below.

Answer

The spouse of the party who files the Petition for Divorce must appear in the suit.  This is done by filing an “answer,”  which is essentially just making an appearance by filing a document with the Court.  The same thing is often accomplished by a Waiver of Service of Citation.  The Negotiated Divorce system provides you with documents for the Respondent to make an appearance in the case.

Cause Number

The number assigned to your divorce case by the clerk of the court.  It appears at the top of all documents filed with the Court.

Character

Whether property owned by a spouse at the time of divorce is community property or separate property.

Child Support

An amount of money paid to help meet the children’s financial needs after a divorce.  Texas has enacted child support guidelines which stipulate the percentage of a parent’s net resources that should be paid as child support.  Parents are free, however, to make agreements that are not consistent with the child support guidelines.

Community Debt

Any debt incurred during a marriage by either party, unless specificly agreed otherwise between the borrowing spouse and the creditor.

Community Estate

All community property  and community debts.

Community Property

All property acquired during marriage by either spouse unless a spouse can prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that an asset is his or her separate property.  Community property, along with debts incurred during marriage, make up the parties’ community estate.

Contractual Alimony

Periodic payments from one ex-spouse to the other from future income of the paying spouse.  Contractual alimony may be agreed to by the spouses if it makes sense for their situation.  Under the IRS Code, Alimony is taxed to the receiving party and deducted from income by the paying party.

Conservatorship

How decisions about children are made.  Parents can be appointed as “Joint Managing Conservators” who share some decision-making ability regarding children, and the Texas Family Code requires a presumption that appointing parents as Joint Managing Conservators is in the best interest of children unless there is evidence of family violence or some other situation which makes Joint Managing Conservatorship unworkable.  In that instance, one parent will be named as the Managing Conservator, and the other will be the Possessory Conservator.

Court Appearance

In most Texas counties, one party must go before a judge to give some basic testimony in order to finalilze a divorce and have the Divorce Decree signed.  The Negotiated Divorce system provides you with everything needed for a party to make a court appearance.

Court Number

The Court to which your case is assigned.  This appears in the first section of your divorce decree that identifies the parties.

Divorce Decree

The document that is signed by the judge, and that contains all the details of the parties’ parenting plan and property division.

Fault

Texas law does allow a spouse to prove that the other spouse was at fault in the breakup of the marriage.  If, after a trial, a judge finds that one party was “at fault,” it might affect how the judge divides community property.  When the parties reach an agreement about how to settle the terms of their divorce, fault is irrelevant.

Kitchen Table Divorce

A settlement method that involves just Husband and Wife agreeing about how to divide their property and care for their children after divorce.

Litigation

The process of going to court for a trial.  Most people consider litigation to be the “traditional” divorce process where, if the parties cannot agree on a settlement, the issues in a divorce are turned over to a judge or a jury to make a decision.

Mediation

Assisted settlement negotiation with a neutral third party (the mediator) who helps the parties evaluate their options and make agreements.  In many Texas jurisdictions, parties are required to mediate (with their lawyers present, if they have lawyers) before they can take their case to trial.  Spouses can also mediate with a third party if each spouse is not represented by an attorney.

Mixed-Character

Property owed partly as community property and partly as separate property.  Property is of mixed character when part of the purchase price or down payment on a property comes from one spouse’s separate property and part comes from community property or is financed with both spouse’s credit.

No-Fault Divorce

Neither spouse is required to prove that the other spouse was at fault in the breakup of the marriage.  Either party may get a divorce without proving that the other party caused the marriage to end.  In Texas, spouses may allege that the other spouse was at fault, which could have an affect on how a judge divides community property.  When the parties reach an agreement about how to settle the terms of their divorce, fault is irrelevant.

Original Petition for Divorce

The Original Petition for Divorce is the document filed at the beginning with the court to start a divorce. It contains simple information, such as identifying information, and does not contain any of the agreements that will be included in the final Decree of Divorce.

Parenting Plan

The details about how divorced spouses will make decisions about their children, as well as when the children will be with each parent, and how the children’s financial needs will be met.  The parenting plan will be part of the Divorce Decree.

Periods of Possession of and Access to Children

Often called “visitation,” this is the schedule of time the children will spend with each parent.

Petitioner

The party who files the Petition for Divorce.  The other spouse is called the “Respondent.”  In some counties, the Clerk will allow the parties to file a Joint Petition for Divorce.  When the parties make an agreement about how to divide their property and care for their children post-divorce, it does not matter who is the Petitioner and who is the Respondent.

Property Division

The details about how divorced spouses will divide their community property and confirm the ownership of separate property.  The property division will be part of the Divorce Decree.

Reimbursement

Money owed from one party’s separate property estate to the community estate or from the community estate to one party’s separate property estate because of contributions during a marriage.  If, for example, a couples uses Husband’s inheritance to make improvements on their community property home, Husband’s separate property estate has a reimbursement claim against the community estate.  Likewise, if Wife uses community property money to improve a home she owned before marriage, the community estate has a reimbursement claim against Wife’s separate property estate.

Respondent

The spouse of the party who files the Petition for Divorce.  The parties who files the Petition for Divorce is called the “Petitioner.”  In some counties, the Clerk will allow the parties to file a Joint Petition for Divorce.  When the parties make an agreement about how to divide their property and care for their children post-divorce, it does not matter who is the Petitioner and who is the Respondent.

Separate Property

Property that a spouse:  1) owned before marriage; 2) inherited, before or after marriage; 3) received as a gift, including gifts from a spouse; or, 4) received as a personal injury award (with some exceptions).  Separate property claimed by a spouse in a divorce must still exist in some form in order to be claimed at the time of divorce.  Separate property cannot be divided between spouses except by agreement.

Spousal Maintenance

An award, as part of a divorce, of money to be paid from one ex-spouse to the other after divorce from future earnings.  Texas courts may order spousal maintenance for a limited period of time under some circumstances.  The purpose of spousal maintenance in Texas is to help a divorced spouse who does not have sufficient resources to meet his or her minimum financial needs.

Waiting Period

The 60 days following the date a Petition for Divorce is filed with the Court.  A divorce may not be granted until at least 60 days have passed since the day the petition was filed.  This is a minimum, however, there is no set maximum time that your petition can be on file before your divorce is completed.

Waiver of Service of Citation

One way for the Respondent to make an appearance in the divorce case.   The Negotiated Divorce ® system provides you with documents for the Respondent to make an appearance in the case.