Updated: Feb 4, 2020
The court system is tricky and difficult to navigate, especially for those who have no experience with it. And when you’re in the difficult position of a divorce, you’re likely not worried about court structures and venue. However, knowing where to file for divorce is extremely important. This is because, in general, the area of family law is reserved to state regulation. Thus, the laws of divorce in Texas can be dramatically different from the laws in New York. Even within Texas, Travis County can interpret a case quite differently than adjacent Williamson County. When consulting your attorney about your case, where the suit will be filed will have a significant effect in determining their strategy.
The Texas Family Code states that couples may not file for divorce in Texas unless either the petitioner (filing party) or the respondent (non-filing party) have lived in Texas for the past six months and are a resident of the county in which the suit is filed for the past 90 days. For example, if you lived in Texas seven months before filing for divorce but recently moved to Bexar County just 30 days ago, you wouldn’t be able to maintain your suit there. This is to discourage “forum shopping.” This is a term referring to people who file their suit in a county they have no attachment to under the belief that it will give them the result they want.
The Code recognizes that moving out of state is common in break-ups, so it allows the court to maintain jurisdiction if this occurs. For instance, if one spouse lives in Texas, but the other spouse lives in Oklahoma, the spouse living in Oklahoma could file their divorce petition in Texas despite not living there themselves. On the other hand, if the Texas spouse is filing for divorce in Texas, the court can still have authority over the Oklahoma spouse. The Code specifically states that if the last marital residence of the parties was in Texas and the divorce petition was filed within two years of the other spouse leaving the state, a Texas court can hear the case. However, if this doesn’t apply, other bases for jurisdiction may be pursued in accordance with the rules of civil procedure.
Issues like these make consulting a qualified divorce attorney critical. If your ex-spouse lives outside of Texas, be sure to talk to an attorney before filing any documents yourself. If you try to file yourself and fail to meet court rules, you could subject yourself to hundreds of dollars in fees. You may even be subjected to jurisdiction that you have no connection to. The process is never as simple as it seems, which is why the interstate divorces should always be handled by professionals.