Whether the filing is a complete surprise, or you knew this was coming, you may be wondering about your next steps. Once you’ve been properly served with divorce papers, you’re on notice that your spouse wants to end the marriage. But you can’t wait until the shock wears off to react. In Texas, one party can have a divorce granted even if the other doesn’t want it. You’ll need to act quickly to protect your own interests and those of your children.
In Texas, there is no real tactical advantage to being the first to file for divorce, so it doesn’t matter who filed. If your spouse filed, it’s up to you to respond. The first thing to do is read the petition and find out what your spouse is requesting and determine their goal. There will be demands in the petition that you will likely not agree to so that is why you will respond with your own petition and demands. You can file a reply yourself but most people will hire a divorce lawyer to help.
When you are served with “divorce papers,” the first thing you should do is seek advice of a family law attorney to learn about your legal options. Family law attorneys handle all types of areas related to relationships and families such as child custody, paternity, adoption, and divorce.
An attorney needs time to prepare your response, so don’t wait. Your attorney will want to ensure that your response will be filed on time. Responses will have to be filed by 10:00 am on the Monday after 20 days have gone by since you were served with divorce papers. 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.
Doing nothing is not advisable and can be costly. If you don’t do anything, your spouse can get a default judgment without your agreement or involvement. After a required 60-day waiting period, the court can grant the divorce and you will be legally divorced without your input and consideration of what you are likely entitled to receive from the assets of the marriage. A default judgement can be set aside under some circumstances, but clearly it is best not to take that chance.
There are two types of responses: an Answer and/or Counter Petition for Divorce. An Answer is your response to your spouse’s petition responding to all the points in their petition for divorce. You could go down to the courthouse of the county your spouse filed in and try and do it yourself. However if you are anxious, you may find it easier to let an experienced divorce lawyer help you.
For example Wendy L. Hart is a divorce lawyer with many years of experience who serves clients in Tarrant County, Ellis County, and Johnson County. Your Answer ensures that your spouse cannot proceed without your input. At the end of the day, a divorce is about dividing assets and debts, and if there are children, making decisions about child custody and visitation – areas you very much want input on.
You can also file a counter-petition, which is a much more detailed filing. It allows you to make your own petition about what you want in the divorce. It can file it separately from an Answer, or at the same time. In either case, a response is required within the deadline.
The petitioner—the person who files first—does have the opportunity to, in a sense, speak first and include what they in theory want out of the divorce. If you file second, you as the respondent, will still get the opportunity to ask for what you want in your counter petition and in court.
By filing first, you also stop the parties from clearing out any bank accounts, selling assets, moving, or taking the children out of the area, or out of the country. This applies to you as well. You cannot clear out accounts or take the children once the action is filed.
Going To Court
You may or may not need to make a court appearance. Much will depend on the circumstances of the case. Once you meet with a divorce attorney, they will let you know if a court appearance will be required.
Most divorce cases have a temporary orders hearing, which is something that makes immediate decisions until the divorce is finalized. Temporary orders are granted as a way to get an agreement about child custody and support in place while the process of negotiating the final decree of divorce. Just because it’s a hearing on temporary orders does not mean you don’t need to attend.
Texas Compassionate Divorce Attorney
Since 2001, Wendy L. Hart has been helping people in the Fort Worth area (Tarrant County) as well as Ellis and Johnson counties with various family law issues, including divorce. She represents both men and women in practice areas that include establishment of paternity, child support, child custody, visitation, and other family law matters. As a divorcee herself, she understands what’s involved when a relationship breaks down.
If you have been served divorce papers, we’re ready to help. Call us at (817) 842-2336 or use our online contact form to schedule your virtual consultation or appointment.