Every Texas divorce or custody case goes through the same 5 Steps:
Step 1 is the easiest and least expensive Step. This is just the beginning of the process but it does need to be done correctly.
You start by determining what you need to file. Are you married? Then an Original Petition for Divorce? Not married but have children? Then it is a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship. Want to change an existing custody order? Then you'll need to file a Petition to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship. There are many other types of filings.
Then you must decide where (what County) to file. Usually everyone involved live in the same County and it is a simple decision. If there is a Modification then you must usually file where the underlying order was filed. There are more complex rules involving multiple states (in the UCCJEA) as well as international cases. Here are more detailed rules:
- For a Texas divorce, you may file in a court in the county where you have been residing for the past three months, as long as you have been a resident of Texas for the prior six months. Sometimes a couple has been living separately and live in 2 different counties. In this case, it is possible that a divorce action could be filed in either county. In this case, it becomes a race. The party that files first (in the proper court of their residence), establishes the court for the action.
- Family law cases not involving divorce (such as a child custody case between unmarried parents) have different rules for a court having power over the parties. They usually revolve around where the child has lived most recently (for the past 6 consecutive months). I have handled cases where there were 2 or more children that were divided between two households (i.e. a child lived with each parent) , which can cause there to be quite a bit of confusion over the proper county to file the suit. Again, the party that files first would have an advantage in this respect.
- On the other hand, modifications of existing family law orders usually have to be initially filed in the county where the existing order is. Sometimes the case can be moved after the initial filing to the new county where the kids reside, but this will require a specific motion and/or hearing. This can be a major tactical advantage or disadvantage for you in your case so it is important to consult an attorney to guide you through the process