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The Stages of a Texas Divorce or Custody Case

Posted by John Millard | May 27, 2024 | 0 Comments

While each divorce or custody case is unique, most cases flow from start to finish according to six distinct “Stages.” Of course, not all cases fit perfectly into each stage. It's not uncommon for the stages to overlap and run concurrently with others. But in general, the following should provide a good understanding of the flow of a typical divorce, custody, or other family law matter.


At the beginning of each case, the parties are required to exchange documents, including property deeds, bank, and credit card statements, retirement account statements, tax returns, paycheck stubs, and additional financial information. The information must be gathered and exchanged even if the other party already has it in their possession. There is much information to collect, and the process can be tedious and laborious.

Stage 1 also includes the preparation of initial pleadings and filing the lawsuit (or answer). Essential tasks are completed, such as locating and serving the other party with the lawsuit and, where appropriate, taking a default judgment if a party is served and fails to timely respond to the suit.

Importantly, this stage includes preparing for and attending an initial “Temporary Orders” hearing. This is a crucial part of the case where temporary orders are either negotiated and agreed to or are ordered by the Judge following a hearing. Temporary Orders address disputed issues that require immediate attention, including which parent will have temporary primary custody of children, who will pay child support and the amount, and which spouse will have exclusive use of the marital home and motor vehicles during the pendency of the case and other issues such as temporary spousal support and interim attorney's fees.

It's important to note that if there are disputed issues regarding children, all of the courts in Fort Bend County and most courts in Harris County require the parties to attend mediation on those child issues before scheduling a temporary order hearing.


After any required initial mediation and once temporary orders are in place, the next stage involves the preparation and response to “discovery,” which includes preparing written questions or “interrogatories” to be answered under oath by the other party, as well as requests for production where essential documents and additional information is obtained from the other party. Of course, the other party will likely serve discovery requests on you, and this stage, therefore, includes the preparation of appropriate responses to any discovery requests received. Finally, this stage includes filing and responding to any motions to compel compliance with discovery requests, including attending hearings on these motions before the Judge.


After exchanging and reviewing discovery, the next stage involves preparing for negotiation and, if necessary, a final (second) mediation. This stage requires establishing final case goals and preparing “Requested Relief” to be used during negotiations and, if needed, in court.

A significant part of Stage 3 consists of preparing a “Sworn Inventory and Appraisement,” which is a listing of all the party's assets and debts, including the characterization of property as either community or separate, and establishing a fair value for each asset or debt. This can be a time-intensive task, but it is vital to securing a good result during negotiations. Moreover, a properly prepared and supported “Inventory” is essential and required for hearings, including the final trial.

Lastly, this stage involves making a demand for settlement, negotiation, and attending mediation before the final hearing.


Once negotiation and mediation have been completed, if the case is not resolved, it will be necessary to prepare for the final trial. This includes amending pleadings to accurately plead and request appropriate relief and preparing supplemental discovery responses to update and timely disclose evidence before the trial commences.

It is common for new information about a case to be learned or identified during the discovery process. Legal theories may change, new witnesses may be identified, or new documents or records may be discovered. Under the Texas procedural rules, you must timely “supplement” or update your initial discovery responses. Failure to do so will result in the exclusion of the new information discovered during the case. It is therefore essential to amend pleadings, supplement discovery responses, and update financial information and inventories before the case proceeds to trial.


Once the pleadings and discovery have been updated, it's time to start the process of trial preparation. This stage involves significant effort. Witnesses need to be interviewed and possibly deposed. Arrangements need to be made to ensure that witnesses will be available to testify at trial, including preparing and serving witness subpoenas on any persons who might not voluntarily appear. In addition, the client needs to be prepared to testify, exhibits need to be prepared, marked, and furnished to the other side, pre-trial motions need to be filed and responded to, and general preparation is required to be ready to present the case to the court. Finally, after all the pre-trial preparation is done, the actual trial must occur.


Once a case has been tried to the court, and a ruling on disputed issues has been made by the Judge, the case will proceed to Stage 6, which is effectively the closing stage. The closing stage includes preparing the final orders in the case, including the Divorce Decree and any ancillary orders such as a QDRO (Qualified Domestic Relations Order), used to divide retirement accounts and other taxable assets, as well as preparation of any Deeds needed to transfer assets like the marital residence or other realty, and even preparation of vehicle title transfers.

In cases resolved by settlement or according to a Mediated Settlement Agreement, a “prove-up” hearing is required where sworn testimony is presented to the Judge to establish jurisdiction to hear the case and to secure approval of any agreements reached, including agreements for custody, visitation, and child support. 

It is important to note that at any stage, a case can be resolved by agreement, either through negotiation, mediation, or arbitration. If the parties can work cooperatively to exchange information needed to make decisions about the disputed issues and are willing to negotiate, there is always an opportunity to reach a full (or partial) settlement without going through all the stages.

Regarding Attorney's Fees.

Divorce cases are usually handled on an hourly basis, where the attorney records their time and then bills the client according to an agreed hourly rate, usually every month. In a traditional fee arrangement, an upfront retainer is paid that is an estimate of the fees needed to either completely resolve the case or at least get the case to the point of the final trial. 

Obviously, the more time an attorney must spend trying to resolve a case, the more costly it will be for the parties. That is why mediation and arbitration are so crucial in resolving family law disputes. A good mediator or arbitrator can help facilitate a prompt and fair resolution of your case without all of the unnecessary stress, wear and tear, and expense. 

Don't Forget to Mediate!

Most family law cases must be mediated at least once before proceeding to a final trial. In fact, most courts will also require mediation in cases involving disputes over custody, visitation, or child support hearing temporary orders. Armatys Millard can help with both! We understand the issues for temporary orders and for a final trial, and we will give you the benefit of our years of judicial experience and knowledge. 

Armatys Millard Is Here to Help!

Walter Armatys and John Millard have significant family law experience, both as trial lawyers and as Family Court Judges. This judicial experience gave Walter and John a keen insight into how Judges think, what persuades them, what annoys them, and, importantly, what information Judges need to make an appropriate ruling. Armatys Millard provides mediation and arbitration services for family law disputes pending in Fort Bend, Harris, and surrounding counties. You can count on our extensive family law experience and judicial wisdom to help successfully resolve your case.


If you need to mediate or arbitrate a divorce, custody dispute, or other family law issue, Armatys Millard, PLLC can help. Check availability and book your session online or call our office at 281-313-6800. We're here to help!

About the Author

John Millard

John Millard recently served as Associate Judge of the 328th District Family Court, Fort Bend County. This experience gave John a keen insight into how Judges think, what persuades them, what annoys them, and, importantly, what information Judges need to make an appropriate ruling. John provides mediation and arbitration services for family law cases pending in Fort Bend, Harris, and surrounding counties. You can count on John's extensive family law experience and judicial wisdom to help successfully resolve your case.


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If you need to mediate or arbitrate a divorce, custody dispute, or other family law issue, Armatys Millard has the experience, knowledge, and judicial wisdom to help.

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