What to Expect in a Divorce Trial in Texas

divorce trial

By J. Turner Thornton, Partner, Varghese Summersett Family Law Group

Many people think a divorce trial ends in big courtroom drama. But in reality, most cases get settled, often through mediation, before they ever reach trial. It’s more often about finding common ground than fighting it out in court. Having said that, a small percentage of divorces can and do go to trial in North Texas.

Types of Divorce Trials in Texas Divorce Cases

In Texas, there are two types of divorce trials: a trial before a jury and a trial before a judge (referred to as a bench trial). Most divorce trials in Texas are heard by a judge, rather than a jury. This is because juries in divorce cases are limited in what issues they can decide.

Jury Trial

This type of divorce trial involves a jury of peers who listen to the evidence and make certain decisions about the case. In a Texas divorce, a jury can decide issues such as:

  • Child Custody: The jury can decide which parent should have the primary physical custody of the child or children and the right to designate the child’s primary residence.
  • Grounds for Divorce: If one spouse alleges fault-based grounds for divorce (e.g., cruelty, adultery), the jury can determine if those grounds are valid.
  • Characterization of Property: The jury can decide whether certain property is community property (owned jointly by both spouses) or separate property (owned solely by one spouse).

As mentioned, a jury cannot decide on many issues, such as child support, spousal support, and division of property. These will be left for a judge to decide.

Bench Trial

In a bench trial, a judge hears the case and makes all the decisions. There’s no jury involved. The parties present their evidence and arguments directly to the judge, who then issues a ruling based on the law and the facts presented. In a bench trial, the judge decides issues such as:

  • Child Support: Determining the amount and terms of child support is a decision for the judge.
  • Visitation: The specific terms of visitation or possession of and access to the child are decided by the judge.
  • Division of Property: While the jury can characterize property as community or separate, the judge ultimately decides how the community property is divided between the spouses.
  • Spousal Support (Alimony): Decisions about whether a spouse will receive maintenance, how much, and for how long are left to the judge.
  • Protective Orders and Injunctions: If there are issues of family violence or other concerns that require protective orders or injunctions, the judge will make those determinations.
  • Any Other Matters Not Specifically Granted to the Jury: This can include numerous specifics or ancillary issues that arise in a divorce case.

Remember, while both bench trials and jury trials are options, most divorce cases in Texas get resolved before reaching the trial stage, often through negotiations or alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation.

The Process of a Divorce Trial in Texas:

When a divorce goes to trial in Texas, it means the spouses couldn’t reach an agreement on one or more issues in their divorce. Here’s a basic overview of the process:


Before the trial, both sides gather evidence. This phase, known as discovery, can involve interrogatories (written questions that the other party must answer), requests for production of documents, and depositions (sworn testimony taken in front of a court reporter). It’s a time for both parties to gather all the information they need to make their case.

Pre-trial Motions

These are requests made to the court before the trial starts. For example, one side might ask the court to exclude certain evidence or to rule on a specific issue in advance.

Jury Selection

If the case is going to a jury trial, the first part of the actual trial process is selecting the jury. Both attorneys will ask potential jurors questions to ensure they can be impartial. Jurors with biases or preconceived notions about the case may be dismissed.

Opening Statements

Once the trial begins, each side presents an opening statement. This is a brief overview of what each attorney believes the evidence will show.

Presentation of Evidence

Each side then presents its evidence. This can include witness testimony, physical evidence (like financial records or photos), and expert testimony (like a child custody evaluator or financial expert).

  • Direct Examination: The attorney who called the witness asks questions.
  • Cross-Examination: The opposing attorney then has an opportunity to ask the witness questions.
  • Re-Direct: The original attorney can ask additional questions based on the cross-examination.

Closing Arguments

After both sides have presented their evidence, each attorney gives a closing argument. This summarizes the evidence and argues why their side should prevail.

Jury Deliberation

If it’s a jury trial, the jury will then discuss the case in private and make decisions on the issues they’ve been asked to resolve.

Judge’s Rulings

For matters left to the judge or if it’s a bench trial, the judge will make determinations on the unresolved issues.

Final Decree

Once all decisions have been made, the court will issue a final decree of divorce. This document will lay out all of the court’s decisions, including custody arrangements, property division, child support, and any other relevant details.


If either party believes there was a legal error made during the trial, they may have the option to appeal the court’s decision to a higher court.

Going to trial can be lengthy and expensive, and it often involves airing private or sensitive issues in a public forum. Because of this, many divorcing couples in Texas, and elsewhere, try to reach an agreement through negotiation or mediation before opting for a trial.

The Length of a Divorce Trial

The length of a divorce trial varies based on several factors, including the court’s schedule, the complexity of the case, the number of issues in dispute, and the efficiency of the attorneys for both sides. While some trials might conclude within a day, others can stretch over several weeks.

Short Trials: Some trials can be relatively short, lasting only a day or two. These typically involve fewer contested issues or situations where the parties have already resolved some matters through negotiation.

Long Trials: More complex cases, especially those involving substantial assets, business valuations, contested custody issues, or expert testimonies, can last several days to a couple of weeks.

The Cost of Taking a Divorce to Trial

Taking a divorce to trial is generally more expensive than settling outside of court. Costs can include attorney fees, court fees, expert witness fees, and more. While it’s challenging to provide a precise figure without knowing the specifics of your case, it’s imperative to be financially prepared. Here are some factors that influence the cost:

Attorney’s Fees: This is often the most significant expense. In Texas, attorneys might charge anywhere from $300 to $800 per hour or even more for highly experienced or specialized family law attorneys in major cities. Given the hours spent in preparation and during the trial, these fees can add up quickly.

Court Costs: These include filing fees, fees for serving documents on your spouse, and possibly fees for using court facilities like a courtroom for your trial.

Discovery Costs: The discovery process can be expensive, especially if it involves depositions, which require court reporters and possibly videographers. Requesting and obtaining records or documents can also have associated costs.

Expert Witnesses: If your case requires expert testimony, such as child custody evaluators, financial experts, property appraisers, or forensic accountants, their fees can be substantial.

Miscellaneous Costs: These might include costs for copying, postage, process servers, travel (if necessary), and other incidentals.

Alternative Dispute Resolution: Before a trial, courts in Texas often require parties to attempt mediation. The cost of a mediator can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the mediator’s expertise and the duration of the mediation sessions.

Duration of Trial: The longer your trial lasts, the more you’ll pay in attorney fees, court costs, and other related expenses.

Post-Trial Actions: If there are post-trial motions or appeals, these can add to the cost.

Considering all these factors, a simple divorce trial could cost as little as $5,000 to $10,000, but a more complex case, especially one involving significant assets or contested custody issues, can easily reach $50,000, $100,000, or even more. It’s also worth noting that costs can be higher in metropolitan areas compared to rural areas.

Because of the potential high costs, many couples opt to resolve their differences through negotiation or mediation rather than going to trial. If considering a divorce in Texas, it’s important to consult with an experienced attorney to get a clearer estimate tailored to the specifics of the case.

Are Divorce Trials Public in Texas?

Yes, divorce trials in Texas are typically public, meaning anyone can sit in the courtroom. However, judges have the discretion to close a courtroom in circumstances where privacy is a concern, especially in cases involving children or sensitive information.



Preparing for a Divorce Trial

Preparing for a divorce trial in Texas is a multifaceted process that involves legal, financial, and emotional preparation. Here are some key steps a client should take to ensure they are adequately prepared:

1. Hire a Skilled Attorney:

This is the most crucial step. An experienced divorce attorney will guide the client through the complexities of the trial process, advocate for their interests, and offer invaluable advice.

2. Gather Documentation: Collect all necessary paperwork and evidence. This may include:

    • Financial records (bank statements, tax returns, retirement accounts, debts).
    • Property records (mortgages, titles, appraisals).
    • Evidence supporting grounds for divorce if alleging fault (e.g., evidence of adultery, cruelty).
    • Documentation related to children (school records, medical records, counseling records).

3. Engage in Discovery:

This is the legal process to obtain information from the other party. It may involve written questions, depositions, and requests for documents.

4. Understand Your Finances:

This is especially crucial if one spouse managed most of the finances. Understand assets, debts, income, and expenses.

5. Prepare for Testimony:

Clients will likely testify in court. Practice answering questions with the attorney to be clear, concise, and consistent.

6. Consider Expert Witnesses:

Depending on the complexity of the case, it might be beneficial to hire expert witnesses like child custody evaluators, property appraisers, financial experts, or therapists.

7. List and Value Assets:

Determine which assets are community property and which are separate. Get valuations if necessary.

8. Establish Goals:

It’s essential to know what you want from the divorce. Discuss desired outcomes with the attorney, be it custody arrangements, property division, or spousal support.

9. Stay Calm and Composed:

Emotions can run high during a divorce trial. It’s crucial to remain calm, especially when testifying or when confronted with upsetting information.

10. Avoid New Major Life Changes:

If possible, try to keep other aspects of life stable. This isn’t the best time to make significant changes like starting a new job or moving to a different city.

11. Emotional Support:

Seek emotional support from friends, family, or a therapist. A support group for people going through a divorce can also be beneficial.

12. Stay Organized:

Keep all documents and evidence well-organized. Consider getting a binder or file system.

13. Familiarize Yourself with Courtroom Etiquette:

Understand the basics of how to behave in court. Dress appropriately, be punctual, and show respect to all court personnel.

14. Know the Possible Outcomes:

Be prepared for various outcomes, both favorable and unfavorable. This can help mentally and emotionally prepare for the trial’s conclusion.

15. Reassure Your Children (if applicable):

If children are involved, reassure them and maintain as much normalcy as possible. Consider seeking counseling for them if the process is particularly stressful.

Being well-prepared for a divorce trial can significantly influence the outcome. It’s crucial to be proactive, stay informed, and lean on professional guidance.


Varghese Summersett


The Importance of Having an Experienced Divorce Attorney

Going through a divorce trial without experienced legal representation is akin to sailing stormy seas without a compass. Here’s why having a savvy attorney, like those at Varghese Summersett, is crucial:

Experienced in Texas Family Law: Understanding the intricate details of Texas law ensures your rights are protected.

Strategic Guidance: An attorney can help develop a strong case strategy based on the specifics of your situation.

Emotional Support: Divorce is emotionally taxing. A lawyer ensures you’re making decisions with clarity, not just emotion.

Negotiation Skills: Even during a trial, there’s room for negotiation. An experienced attorney can navigate these waters effectively.

Waiting or hesitating in matters of divorce can have lasting consequences. With so much at stake, from assets to child custody, it’s crucial to move forward with knowledge and the right legal support. Call Varghese Summersett today at (817) 900-3220 or contact us online to ensure you’re well-represented and your interests are safeguarded.

When a Divorce Goes to Trial: Navigate the Process with Expertise

Facing a divorce trial can be daunting and emotionally taxing. But you don’t have to go through it alone. The right legal guidance can make all the difference in securing a favorable outcome.


J. Turner Thornton
Partner, Varghese Summersett Family Law Group


Turner Thornton is a highly-regarded Fort Worth family law attorney who leads Varghese Summersett Family Law Group. A skilled negotiator and experienced litigator, Turner has successfully guided hundreds of individuals and families through the most tumultuous time of their lives.

Divorce, child custody disputes, and property division are among the most contentious and complex cases in the legal system. Turner understands the intricacies and complexities involved in family law and works strategically to find and implement the best strategy for each client. While many cases are resolved through mediation, others require an aggressive courtroom battle. Turner is skilled in all aspects of case resolution and treats every person who walks through his door with honesty, professionalism, and compassion.

In addition to being a highly adept lawyer, Turner is also a family man with deep ties to the community. He was born and raised in North Texas along with his older sister, Katie. He attended Martin High School in Arlington. After high school, Turner attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he graduated in 2009. Afterward, he returned to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to attend Texas A&M University School of Law (formerly Texas Wesleyan University). There, he obtained his law degree and also met his future wife, Alex – who is a defense attorney at Varghese Summersett. Turner and Alex have a young daughter. They are also the proud parents of two dachshunds, Clifford and Annie. Learn more and contact Turner.

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