Preparing for Divorce in 2021

On January 1, 2021, quite a few changes to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure (the procedural rules that govern lawsuits in Texas, including family law cases) went into effect.

At Hance Law Group, our veteran divorce attorneys help Texans navigate the divorce process.

To schedule a consultation with our team, contact us online or via phone at (469) 378-5467.

How Do Recent Changes in Texas Civil Procedure Rules Impact My Divorce?

While there are some rule changes that family lawyers and litigants need to be aware of, this article focuses on one of those changes that directly affect a litigant at the beginning of a family law case.

When we meet with potential clients who are considering filing for a divorce, one of the first issues we have to address is what we call "the information-gathering phase." During this phase, we decipher whether we have the information we need (financial information, income information, etc.) to assess or make a proposal for the division of the community estate in the divorce.

The scope of the information gathering phase is heavily dependent on the particular circumstances of that case. Is the client the spouse who took the lead on the marriage's financial issues and therefore has access to all of the bank accounts, credit card, retirement, etc. information; or, is the spouse utterly unaware of what is in the community estate?

Whatever the situation, the litigant and their attorney have options on how to get the information they need but do not have. The parties could engage in informal discovery, which is essentially asking the other side for a list of documents such as bank account statements, deeds, retirement statements, credit card statements, etc., to be able to have a complete picture of the marital estate. The parties could agree (or ask the Court to order) the exchange of a sworn inventory and appraisement of the estate assets. A party could initiate formal discovery, including requests for the production of documents, depositions, and subpoenas to third parties for records.

It is relatively common for parties trying to divorce amicably and cooperatively to exchange documents and information without resorting to more expensive and time-consuming formal discovery; however, formal discovery is always an option, especially in situations where one side may not be cooperating or forthcoming with the requested information.

Before January 1, 2021, a party wishing to engage in formal discovery would serve a formal request on the other party. While that is still generally the case, the rules change that went into effect on January 1, 2021, added a requirement for "Initial Disclosures." This rule triggers an automatic deadline for both parties in a divorce suit to exchange the following information for the past two years:

  1. All deed and lien information on any real property owned and all lease information on any real property leased.
  2. All statements for any pension plan, retirement plan, profit-sharing plan, employee benefit plan, and individual retirement plan.
  3. All statements or policies for each current life, casualty, liability, and health insurance policy.
  4. All statements about any account at a financial institution, including banks, savings and loans institutions, credit unions, and brokerage firms.

In a suit where child support is an issue (including any divorce with children), the parties are required to exchange the following information:

  • Information regarding all policies, statements, and the summary description of benefits for any medical and health insurance coverage that is or would be available for the child or the spouse;
  • The party's income tax returns for the previous two years or, if no return has been filed, the party's Form W-2, Form 1099, and Schedule K-1 for such years; and
  • The party's two most recent payroll check stubs. While this type of information is regularly exchanged in divorce cases, litigants need to be aware that this new rule imposes an automatic deadline to exchange this information at the beginning of a case.

Of course, in situations where both parties already have this information and try to resolve the case as quickly and efficiently as possible, the parties can agree to abate or move the deadline for these initial disclosures.

Nevertheless, it is even more critical for a person considering filing for a divorce to begin organizing these documents and records at the outset. Having this information ready and accessible for your lawyer at the beginning of your case will make this process more efficient and save costs. Additionally, if you are served with a divorce filed by your spouse, do not delay consulting with an attorney about the next steps, as failure to meet these deadlines can result in serious consequences.

At Hance Law Group, our attorneys will work with you to find the best path forward in your divorce.

To schedule a consultation with our team, contact us online or via phone at (469) 378-5467.