Lawyer career overview. FAQs: Responding to a Divorce Case, - Providing Free and Reliable Legal Information & Forms for Civil Legal Issues in Texas

Unless the divorce is agreed, the petitioner (the spouse who starts the divorce) must have the respondent (the other spouse) served with the initial court papers. What does a lawyer mean.

The initial court papers in a divorce include:

a Citation (the form issued by the court to officially notify the respondent of the divorce) and

a copy of the Original Petition for Divorce (the form filed by the petitioner to start the divorce).

The initial court papers will also include the following (if applicable in your case):

any other forms filed by the petitioner at the beginning of the case and/or

any orders signed by the judge at the beginning of the case.

If you are the respondent, there are several ways you can be served.

You can be served in person by a constable, sheriff or private process server. (If you are served in person, you will not need to sign anything.)

You can be servedby certified or registered mail (return receipt requested) by the court clerk, constable, sheriff or private process server. (Service by certified mail is valid only if you sign the return receipt showing that you received the letter.)

You can be served by posting or publication if the petitioner can’t find you. This means the Citation will be posted at the courthouse or published in a newspaper.

You can be served any other way approved by the judge. For example, if the constable, sheriff or private process server is unable to serve you in person or by certified mail but can confirm your home address or work address; the judge could order that the Citation and Petition be:

left with anyone over 16 at your home or work, or

mailed to you at your home or work by regular mail.

Note: Papers filed by the petitioner later in the case will usually be sent to you by regular mail or email.

Talk to a lawyer if you have questions about being served.

Calculate the deadline to file your answer. If you have been served with divorce papers, there is a deadline to file an answer. To determine the deadline, find the day you were served with divorce papers on a calendar, count out 20 more days (including weekends and holidays) then go to the next Monday. You must file an answer with the court on or before this date at 10:00 a.m. If you don’t, your spouse can finish the divorce without you (as long as any other applicable waiting periods have passed). Note: If the courts are closed on the day your answer is due, then your answer is due the next day the courts are open.

Try to talk to a lawyer. A family law lawyer can explain your options and give you advice. You can hire a lawyer to handle your whole case. You also have the option of hiring a lawyer just to give you advice or review your forms. Or, you may be able to talk with a lawyer for free at a legal clinic.

If you need help finding a lawyer, you can:

Lawyer unemployment rate 2016

Use our Legal Help Finder to search for a lawyer referral service, legal aid office or self-help center in your area.

Check our Legal Clinic Calendar for free legal clinics in your area.

Use Ask a Question to chat online with a lawyer or law student.

Option 1: File an answer. If you have been served with divorce papers and want to have a say in your divorce, you must file (turn in) a Respondent’s OriginalAnswer form with the court by the deadline. If you don’t, your spouse may finish the divorce without you. Get answer forms here: Instructions & Forms for Filing an Answer in a Divorce.

Warning! It’s important to talk with a lawyer before filing an answer (or any other form) with the court if (1) you don’t live in Texas or (2) you think the divorce should be transferred to another court in Texas.

Option 2: File an answer AND a counter-petition for divorce. A counter-petition for divorce tells the judge what orders you want the judge to make in your divorce. If your divorce is contested, you may want to file (turn in) a Respondent’s OriginalAnswer form AND a Respondent’sOriginal Counter-Petition for Divorce form. Get counter-petition for divorce forms here: Instructions & Forms for Filing an Answer and Counter-Petition for Divorce.

Warning! It’s important to talk with a lawyer before filing a counter-petition (or any other form) with the court if (1) you don’t live in Texas or (2) you think the divorce should be transferred to another court in Texas.

Option 3: Do nothing. If you have been served with divorce papers and don’t file an answer, your spouse can finish the divorce without you. This is called a “default judgment.” You will not have a say in any of the issues involved in your divorce, including decisions about your property, money and debt. If you and your spouse have children, you will not have a say in decisions about custody, visitation and child support.

Divorce can be a dangerous time. If you are concerned about your safety or the safety of your children, call the National Domestic Violence 24 Hour Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). They can refer you to help in your community.

For legal help, you can also call:

Texas Advocacy Project Hope Line at 1-800-374-HOPE (4673)

For situations involving sexual assault, you can also call:

Legal Aid for Survivors of Sexual Assault at 1-800-991-5153

If you are an immigrant, you can also call:

Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) 512-994-2199

In an emergency, please call 911.

Find out more in the Protection from Violence or Abuse section of this website.

You do not have to have a lawyer to file or respond to a divorce case. However, divorce cases can be complicated and your rights as a parent, your property and your money may be at risk.

Lawyer in the court

It’s a good idea to talk with a family law lawyer about your particular situation. Family law lawyers specialize in cases involving families, like divorce. A family law lawyer can explain your rights and options.

It’s really important to talk with a family law lawyer if any of the following are true.

You are afraid for your or your children’s safety.

You or your spouse have a house, retirement, business, other valuable property or a lot of debt.

You need spousal maintenance (alimony).

You and your spouse have a child with a disability.

You or your spouse have an ongoing bankruptcy or are planning to file for bankruptcy.

You are in a same sex-marriage and you and your spouse have a child but there is no adoption or other court order stating that you are both legal parents.

If you need help finding a lawyer, you can:

Use our Legal Help Finder to search for a lawyer referral service, legal aid office or self-help center in your area.

Check our Legal Clinic Calendar for free legal clinics in your area.

Use Ask a Question to chat online with a lawyer or law student.

If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, you may ask that your spouse be ordered to pay for a lawyer to represent you in your divorce. This is called asking for “interim attorney’s fees.”

A judge may or may not grant your request for interim attorney’s fees. A judge is more likely to grant your request for interim attorney’s fees if:

your spouse has a lot more money than you do, and

the issues in your divorce are complicated.

You can ask for interim attorney’s fees as part of a Motion for Temporary Orders. Get information about temporary orders here: Temporary Orders & Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs).

It’s a good idea to talk with a lawyer in your county about local practice regarding interim attorney’s fees.

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In almost all cases, you must wait at least 60 days before you (or your spouse) can go back to court to finish your divorce.

When counting the 60 days, find the day your spouse filed the Original Petition for Divorce on a calendar, and then count out 60 more days (including weekends). Don’t count the day the Original Petition for Divorce was filed; day one is the next day. If the 60th day falls on a weekend or holiday go to the next business day.

There are only two exceptions to the 60-day waiting period.

If the respondent spouse has been convicted of or received deferred adjudication for a crime involving family violence against the petitioner spouse or a member of petitioner’s household, the 60-day waiting period is waived.

If the petitioner spouse has an active protective order or an active magistrate’s order for emergency protection against the respondent spouse because of family violence during the marriage, the 60-day waiting period is waived.

See Texas Family Code Section 6.702.

Note: If your divorce is contested, it will probably take a lot longer than 60 days.

There are two kinds of waiver of service forms:

Specific Waiver - A specific waiver waives your right to be formally served with the divorce papers. A specific waiver does not waive any other rights. Filing a specific waiver (like filing an answer) protects your right to have a say in your divorce.

If you file a specific waiver with the court, your spouse cannot finish the divorce unless:

you agree to and sign the Final Decree of Divorce, or

your spouse gives you notice of a contested hearing date.

The Waiver of Service Only (Specific Waiver) form is a specific waiver.

Global Waiver- A global waiver is different. A global waiver waives your right to be formally served with the initial divorce papers AND waives your right to know anything else about the case. It’s NOT a good idea to sign a global waiver. If you sign a global waiver, your spouse can finish the divorce without further notice to you. You will not get notice of court dates, you will not get copies of future paperwork filed in the case, and you will not get to tell your side of the story to the judge.

Note: It can be hard to tell the difference between a specific waiver and global waiver. If you are not using a Waiver of Service Only (Specific Waiver) form, you may want to file an Answer instead.

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