“Pressing the Pause Button” on a Divorce in Texas

By Holly Rampy

Earlier this month, sources close to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt said the couple planned to “put their divorce on pause.” Reportedly, the couple wanted to allow some time and space for Brad to continue therapy for alcohol addiction. While this might come as a surprise to some, it’s actually not uncommon for some couples to step away from these proceedings whenever a change in circumstances causes them to reassess their situation.

Substance and alcohol abuse are common reasons for spouses to file for divorce. When that happens, it can serve as a “wake-up call” for the spouse struggling with addiction. If that spouse is willing and does pursue rehabilitation and sobriety, it can mark a dramatic change in the relationship, sometimes dramatic enough for both spouses to ask their respective attorneys to put work on their divorce case on hold so they can focus on treatment and recovery and participate in marital therapy or counseling.

While it’s preferable for couples to pursue therapy together before filing for a divorce, that’s not always the decision they make. One spouse might have a strong objection to the involvement of a mental health professional in the marriage; however, these sentiments might change once the divorce is actually filed. This may be another reason the couple requests that the pause button be pressed and pursues reconciliation. Additional reasons can include anything from financial factors to health issues to serious life events.

However, it’s important to remember that this isn’t Hollywood! Before filing for divorce, a party should be aware that, in Texas, there is no formal, legal means by which to “pause” a divorce proceeding. In many counties, divorce cases (and other family law matters) are placed on a “dismissal docket” within a few months of the case being filed. The court sets a dismissal hearing in the case and, in order for the case to remain open, the parties must show the court that they’re making some forward progress in the case. If not, the case may be dismissed. In other words, in Texas, especially in larger counties, a court is not likely to allow parties to press the pause button indefinitely.

In the event that a couple wishes to press the pause button for a period longer than that which the court allows, the party who filed for divorce has the option to voluntarily dismiss the case by filing a Notice of Nonsuit. The parties retain the right to refile the case at a later date, however, a new filing fee would be required, service of citation would again be necessary, and the case would essentially start over from the beginning.

This article was published in Texas Lawyer.