How to navigate family law and the Texas court system, without a lawyer, or legal advice.Tips and inside advice from a pro-se litigant
I am writing this in hopes to help other parents that need help getting things done in their family law cases. Frankly, I will shoot straight, and say I have very little legal knowledge. This is written purely on my experience in the local county court system in Texas. If this helps just one person understand things better or through this difficult and tedious time, then I will be happy.
Depending on what you are trying to do in the family law court, these tips may differ, but for the most part, I feel that the process is similar. I would like to give you a step by step process on how to navigate the court and what can be done. Some inside advice (the court system is not in favor of you doing this alone, they want your money and they want to drain your bank account with high legal fees). Know this going in, because this is what you are up against. The court including all the people in it, will drag out any case that they do not want to make a decision on, and typically the Judge will not sign off on any contested cases unless you have a lawyer fighting for you, or you change your mind and make an agreement prior to the hearing.
Trying to go through the Attorney General’s Office for anything in Texas is a nightmare. It can take years to receive child support, for instance. And sometimes it feels like no one is on your side. Here are my do-it-yourself tips for getting child support, petitioning for divorce, and modifying the parent-child-relationship.
If you are still trying to do this alone after knowing this, read on. To petition for divorce, get child support, or modify the parent child relationship, go to, Texas Law Help.Org. There is a section there for do- it- yourself forms. Click on the forms you need and print them, there is no “one form does all.” I quickly learned this. Print all of them if you don’t know which ones you will need.
If you are struggling for child support (like most Texas moms are I talk with) then print out “Petition to Enforce Child Support, (if you already have a order in your divorce decree) or the “Child Support Order” form for starting the process.
Fill these forms out to the best of your abilities, if you are modifying your decree to make changes to the parent child relationship or your child support order, be aware that there are multiple forms. If you are making changes in less than a year, for example, you will have to fill out separate forms. This is what lawyers make all their money on! But, you are more than capable of doing this yourself. If you are unsure what you need (like I said earlier, print off all the forms and you can decide later what to toss).
The district clerk and the court administrator are your buddies. (Don’t piss them off)
Next, go to the local courthouse in your county. Go to the district clerk’s office (not the criminal division). Be sure to bring cash or check (because they charge for copies of anything). Bring all your forms and documents with you and file them. This is where they will file your petition for divorce, modifications, or child support orders. They are usually very friendly and will answer your questions to the best of their abilities.
After these forms are filed, you will have to have the papers served. So look up a local process server or pay the district clerk (only by writing a check to the county sheriff to serve the papers). These fees run around a hundred bucks, depending on if you know where the other parent lives etc.
Wait. And wait some more. The other parent has to file a response. Personally, my spouse had a lawyer and she electronically filed a response for my petition. Since I have an active ex-spouse, the process becomes more challenging.
Once you receive a response, you will have to decide if you want to go further. I got a flat denial from my ex. This is where it gets difficult doing this alone. I decided I was not going to give up, so I looked up my Court Judge’s administrator and started to email her asking her for available hearing dates to get my case reviewed.
Realize that during this process you will have to keep trying and there will be a lot of waiting. I was lucky to be seen in court after three months of filing the petition. This was after constant bugging of the court administrator and resetting dates three times.
Also, know that once you are seen in court, the judge will probably make you feel low and stupid for not knowing much about law. He probably won’t decide anything the first time, especially if there is no agreed upon order by you and your ex-spouse. I ended up having to come back another time after being told I would have an hour in front of the judge. The judge’s words “I don’t have time for this.” I didn’t even get five minutes the first time. The second reset hearing is where you will have more luck and perhaps you will be given fifteen minutes this time, like I was.
But, if you have a valid argument, are extremely persistent and keep bugging your court officials, you may get somewhere. I was able to get a sign-off on changing my geographical restriction in my original decree. Mostly, I think this was due to the fact that I was extremely persistent and my ex didn’t want to have to keep going to court hearings, so he gave in to me. I urge parents to try this method if all else fails, yes, the legal system is flawed, but there are ways to navigate it alone and be successful.