Contested Divorce in Texas

In a contested divorce case in Texas, the two parties don’t agree on some or all details of the split. They must come to a court to argue their case, and a judge will rule for them. 

A contested case isn’t your only option. In an uncontested divorce case, you collaborate with your spouse, craft paperwork, and attend a brief court meeting to present it. Cases like this are quick and often relatively inexpensive. 

But if you can’t agree with your ex, a contested case can help settle issues and allow you to move forward. Your case begins and ends with paperwork, which could take months to complete. 

Why do you need a contested divorce in Texas?

Some people find that a contested case is their only path forward. While it takes longer than an uncontested version, it could be the right choice. 

You could opt for a contested divorce due to reasons like the following:

  • Deception: If your ex isn't honest about finances, history, or childcare capabilities, a courtroom hearing could be helpful. 
  • Deep disagreements: If you can't settle issues like spousal support, retirement accounts, or childcare independently, a court hearing might help. 
  • Abuse: If your spouse has physically or mentally abused you during the marriage, a court case ensures you don’t need to speak to that person again. 

Contested divorces in Texas exist because some people need them. But remember that you can shift from contested to uncontested versions at any time. If you work with your partner through mediation or collaboration, you could make the process move faster. 

Suggested: Collaborative Divorce vs. Mediation


What does the contested divorce process look like in Texas?

Texas divorces are handled in the family court system. The process is well established, and you'll need to follow it carefully. It looks like this:

Step 1: File for divorce

Find the family court in your county (you can use an online tool like this), and contact that court to make sure they handle divorce cases. If they do, visit the court in person with your formal divorce petition. 

Two versions exist:

Take the original and two copies of your forms to the courthouse and hand them to the clerk, who will stamp them with a date and time. The clerk will keep one copy and give you the other two back.

Tell the clerk you want to notify your ex via an official service process. You'll get an extra form you need for the next step. 

Step 2: Serve your spouse 

When you file for divorce, you become a petitioner. Your spouse is a respondent. As the petitioner, you're required to notify the respondent about the case. You'll do so through a legal process called serving

You can ask a constable, sheriff, or private process server to hand deliver two papers to your ex, which include the following:

  • A citation issued by the court after you filed for divorce
  • An official, stamped copy of your divorce petition 

Your server will fill out a Texas Return of Service form and file it with the court. You can't hand the papers to your ex. You must ask a server to do this for you. 

Step 3: Share important information

Within 30 days of filing suit in court, you must exchange information with the respondent. In family court, you're typically required to disclose your income, living situation, and other issues that might impact your children. You can serve these papers following the same method you used in Step 2.

Read: Financial Disclosures in Texas: What You Need to Know

Step 4: File temporary orders

Contested divorces can take a long time, and you must care for children, pay bills, and maintain your house as the case progresses. Temporary orders allow the judge to rule on key items while you work on your divorce. 

You can file a motion with your court with one of the two following forms:

Bring your completed forms to the court handling your divorce. The clerk can schedule a hearing and decide these issues. 

Read: What Are Temporary Orders, and Why Would You Want Them?

Step 5: Negotiate an agreement

As a final step in your divorce, you'll complete a divorce decree document containing information about your debts, assets, children, and property. You could wait for your hearing to discuss all of these items, or you could try to work with your spouse and come to an agreement. 

A mediator could be helpful. Mediators are professionals who hold meetings between two opposing parties. You could walk through arguments in this setting and resolve them, so you can shift to an uncontested divorce. 

Your mediator could help you fill out one of two final divorce decrees:

Every disagreement costs you time and money. Settling even one or two points in mediation could be valuable.  

Step 6: Go to court

The clerk will set a date for your divorce hearing. You'll present your side of the case, and your ex will do the same. The judge will listen carefully and make rulings recorded in a final divorce decree. You will both sign this document. 

Step 7: File the final paperwork 

Take your signed divorce decree to the clerk's office and file it. This is the last step to finalize your divorce.

How long does a Texas contested divorce take?

Texas has a 60-day minimum waiting period for divorces, and the count begins the day you file. An uncontested divorce could be over during this time, but contested versions take much longer. 

A contested divorce can take years if you disagree on several items. The more you can agree before the court date, the quicker things will progress.

How much does a contested divorce cost?

Texas filing fees vary by county but can range from $250 to $320. Many other costs are involved in a contested case. 

Mediators are trained professionals, and they may charge by the hour for their work. If you must hire a lawyer, your costs go up even more. 

Suggested: Successful Divorce Mediation Tips and Tricks


Uncontested and Contested Cases: The Difference. (October 2022). 
My Spouse Filed for Divorce. (December 2022). 
Required Initial Disclosures in Texas Civil Cases. (December 2022). 
Temporary Orders and Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs). (January 2023). 
What to Expect in Texas Family Law Court. Texas Young Lawyers Association.