Divorce can be stressful for everyone. For some, it can even be more stressful if the spouse filed for divorce. If you find yourself served with divorce papers, don’t panic. The last thing you want right now is to let your emotions get the best of you. And, while it may be difficult to stay calm, it’s the best way to avoid making any mistakes.
What Does it Mean to Get Served with Divorce Papers?
Depending on your situation you may or may not be aware that your spouse is filing for divorce. Unless you and your spouse have already agreed to divorce terms, the filing spouse must serve you with a form issued by the court called a Citation. This form officially notifies you of the divorce. In addition, you’ll also get a copy of the Original Petition for Divorce, which is the form they filled out to start the divorce process. You may also receive other papers that were filed relevant to the divorce proceedings and any orders or temporary orders signed by the judge.
The act of being served can happen in a few different ways. This often happens in person by a sheriff, constable, or process server or by registered mail by the court clerk, sheriff, constable, or process server. If the filing spouse is unable to find you then they can also serve you through publication in the newspaper, at the courthouse, or the state’s citation by publication website.
The judge also has the authority to approve other methods of serving divorce papers. For example, if they have your address at home or work but have not been able to reach you in person then the judge may allow them to post the paperwork to your door, leave them with someone else at your residence or at work, or mail them using regular mail.
Reading the Complaint
It’s important to read the divorce papers sooner than later. You may want to read them as soon as you get them if you’re able to. The complaint will tell you what the other party is asking for. Some of it may be agreeable, and some of it may not be. It’s a good idea to make notes on what you agree with and what you disagree with. You’ll need to know this information when you file your response. You’ll also want to find out if the papers say anything about a standing order. For example, has the judge signed a temporary restraining order?
Once you’ve been served with the divorce petition, you have a limited amount of time to file your response. To find your deadline count twenty calendar days from when you were served then go to the following Monday. Your response must be filed by 10:00 AM on this date. If this happens to be a holiday, then your answer will be due instead on the following day that the courts are open. If you don’t file your response before this deadline, then your spouse may be able to finish the divorce without you and on their terms.
Speak with a Divorce Attorney
Once you’ve read through the initial petition, you’ll want to call and set up an appointment with a lawyer. They may ask you when you were served with divorce papers, so they are aware of your deadline as well. Your lawyer will review the original petition with you and offer you legal advice regarding your options. They’ll also go over the divorce process to make sure you understand what’s to come.
Responding to Being Served with Divorce Papers
In most cases, you’ll have a few different options for your divorce response. It’s vital that you speak with a divorce lawyer before you file your answer. This is particularly true in the event that you don’t live in the state of Texas or if you believe the case should be transferred to a different Texas court.
Your “answer” is your legal responsibility to the court to protect your interests in the divorce. Filing an answer effectively means that your spouse cannot complete the divorce until you agree to the Final Decree of Divorce or they give you a written notice of a contested hearing date. It is free to file an answer.
Option 1: File an Answer
If you want to have a say in your own divorce, then you must submit a Respondent’s Original Answer form before the deadline to file. If your spouse is the one who filed, they are the petitioner, and you are the respondent. If this form is not filed prior to the deadline, then your spouse will get everything they put in the paperwork, and you will not get the opportunity to make your requests.
Option 2: File an Answer and a Counter-Petition
If you don’t agree with what’s written in the original petition, this is your opportunity to put in your requests. A counter-petition includes what orders you’d like the judge to make in your divorce. Speak with your attorney about your requests and they will help you fill out the forms.
Option 3: Do Nothing
You have the option to not take action at all in response to the divorce petition. However, if you go this route then your spouse will be granted the divorce on their terms. This is known as a default judgment. This means you get no say in what happens, including decisions regarding your money, property, debt, child custody, visitation, or child support.
We do not recommend not responding to divorce papers for obvious reasons. In this scenario, your best interests are not looked after, and you could find yourself in a very difficult legally binding situation.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Technically, you do not need an attorney to file or to responds to a divorce case. However, the legal community strongly recommends that you do have representation due to the complexities of divorce proceedings. Divorce can have long-lasting effects when it comes to finances, assets, and children. Not hiring a family law attorney puts you at a greater risk of losing these things.
Family law attorneys specialize in divorce, child custody, child support, and other family law matters. To best protect your interests, you should take the time to find a quality family law attorney to guide you through your divorce.
The Jimenez Law Firm has educated and experienced attorneys who handle family law and divorce cases. We take family law seriously and will fight for your right and the rights of your children.
Call The Jimenez Law Firm today at (214) 513-0125 for a consultation for your divorce or family law case.
Frequently Asked Questions
If your spouse has not yet finished the default divorce, then it is possible to file your answer to divorce papers after the deadline has passed. However, if you did not file your divorce answer and the divorce is finalized then the time to respond has passed and it is now too late to file the forms.
You’re able to find out if your spouse has finished the divorce by speaking with the clerk’s office in the county where your spouse filed.
You may be able to ask the judge to either cancel the final decree of divorce or set it aside. Speak with an experienced divorce attorney to learn more.
No. An attorney is not required to respond to divorce papers. However, the dissolution of marriage is often complex and can be risky to tackle on your own without experienced legal professionals. Without an attorney, your rights as a parent, your money, and your property may all be at risk. It’s very important to speak with a family law attorney if any of the following apply:
- You are afraid for your own safety
- You are afraid for your children’s safety
- Your spouse has an attorney
- Your case is contested
- You need spousal maintenance
- You and your spouse have a child with a disability
- You and your spouse own property together
- You and your spouse own a business together
- You and your spouse have a significant amount of debt
- You and your spouse are dividing retirement accounts
- You and your spouse are involved in an ongoing bankruptcy or were planning to file for bankruptcy
- You and your spouse have a child but there are no court orders stating you are both legal parents
- You are concerned about you or your child’s best interests
You have the option of voluntarily filing an answer or a waiver of service form. Some people choose this route when they do not want to be served with divorce papers. Filing a voluntary waiver of service informs the court that you’re aware of the case.
If you and your spouse agree on all matters regarding the divorce, then this is considered an uncontested divorce. You can file a divorce settlement agreement that details the agreements you’ve made about dividing property, debts, child custody, and any spousal support or child maintenance payments. Uncontested divorces are great if the couple wishes to avoid litigation and a lengthy court hearing.
This agreement needs to be approved by a judge. This generally isn’t an issue unless the judge feels that the details are unclear or unfair or if one of the parties was under duress to agree to the terms. After the required waiting period has passed then the divorce will be final.
Uncontested divorces are best for couples with few assets, debts, and no children. However, couples with children, assets, and debts can still get an uncontested divorce if they agree. In some cases, you may wish to go through divorce mediation with a mediator or family law attorney to ensure your rights are protected and all paperwork is completed correctly.
Uncontested divorces happen when the divorcing couple agrees to the terms of the divorce. A no-fault divorce refers to the cause or grounds for divorce. In many cases, the spouses will agree that neither of them is more responsible than the other for causing the divorce.
If they don’t respond to divorce papers then your spouse will default. In Texas, your spouse is not required to sign the papers in order for you to get divorced. Speak with your attorney. They will walk you through filing an affidavit advising the court that your spouse was served with divorce papers and did not respond.