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My spouse filed for divorce.

Divorce

If you have been served with divorce papers, learn about your options and how to respond.
Overview

Guide Overview

Warning: The information and forms in this guide are not a substitute for the advice and help of a lawyer.

This guide tells you about your options if your spouse has filed for divorce.

Common questions about Divorce

The “petitioner” is the spouse who starts the divorce by filing an Original Petition for Divorce with the court. The “respondent” is the other spouse.

Unless the divorce is agreed, the petitioner (the spouse who starts the divorce) must have the respondent (the other spouse) served with:

  • 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 respondent should also be served with (1) any other papers filed by the petitioner at the beginning of the case and (2) 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 in person by a constable, sheriff or private process server. (You will not need to sign anything.)
  • You can be served by certified or registered mail (return receipt requested) by the court clerk, constable, sheriff or private process server. (Service this way 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, published in a newspaper, or published on the state's citation by publication web site.
  • You can be 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 Original Petition for Divorce be posted to your door, left with anyone over 16 at your home or work or mailed to you at your home or work address 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.

Read the divorce papers right away. What orders does your spouse want the judge to make? Is there a standing order? Has the judge signed a temporary restraining order? Are there any hearing dates? If so, read these articles to learn more: Standing Orders, Temporary Orders & Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs)

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:

Decide how you want to respond.

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.

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.

If you don’t want to be served with the divorce papers, you can voluntarily file an answer (or waiver of service only form). Filing an answer (or waiver of service only form) tells the judge that you know about the case and have received a file-stamped copy of the Original Petition for Divorce. Your spouse will not need to have you served if you voluntarily file an answer (or waiver of service only form).

An “answer” is a legal form you (the respondent) file with the court to protect your right to have a say in the divorce.

If you file an answer, your spouse cannot finish the divorce unless:

  • you agree to and sign a Final Decree of Divorce or
  • your spouse gives you written notice of a contested hearing date.

If you have been served with divorce papers (Citation and Original Petition for Divorce), there is a deadline to file an answer.  

To calculate the deadline, find the day you were served on a calendar, count out 20 more days (including weekends and holidays) then go to the next Monday. You must file your answer with the court on or before this date at 10:00 a.m. If the 20th day falls on a Monday go to the next Monday. If the courts are closed on the day your answer is due, then your answer is due the next day the courts are open.

If you are served and do not file an answer on or before the deadline, your spouse can finish the divorce without any further notice to you (as long as any other applicable waiting periods have passed). This is called a “default judgment.”

Maybe. If your spouse has not finished the divorce, you can file your answer after the deadline. If your spouse has finished the divorce, it is too late to file an answer.

To learn if your spouse has finished the divorce, call the district clerk’s office in the county where your spouse filed the divorce. Ask the clerk if the judge signed a Final Decree of Divorce in your case.

Note: If your spouse has finished the divorce without you, you may be able to ask the judge to set aside or cancel the Final Decree of Divorce. Read this article to learn more: How to Set Aside (Cancel) a Default Judgment.

Filing an answer is free.

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:

For situations involving sexual assault, you can also call:

If you are an immigrant, you can also call:

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.

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.
  • Your case is contested.
  • Your spouse has a lawyer.
  • 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:

Instructions & Forms

Warning: The information and forms in this guide are not a substitute for the advice and help of a lawyer.

Filing an answer in a divorce case is easy. These instructions explain how.

Checklist Steps

If you have been officially served with a Citation and Original Petition for Divorce, there is a deadline to file your answer.  

  • To determine the deadline, find the day you were served on a calendar, count out 20 more days (including weekends and holidays) then go to the next Monday. You must file your answer with the court on or before this date at 10:00 a.m. If the 20th day falls on a Monday go to the next Monday. If the courts are closed on the day your answer is due, then your answer is due the next day the courts are open.
  • If you are served and do not file an answer on or before the deadline, your spouse can finish the divorce without any further notice to you (as long any other applicable waiting periods have passed). This is called a “default judgment.”
  • You may be able to file your answer late. If your spouse has not finished the divorce, you can file your answer after the deadline. If your spouse has finished the divorce, it is too late to file an answer. If your spouse has finished the divorce without you, talk to a lawyer right away. Depending on how much time has passed, you may be able to file a “motion to set aside the default judgment.”

If you have NOT been officially served, there is no deadline to file your answer. You can file your answer (or waiver of service only form) at any time after your spouse files an Original Petition for Divorce (the form that starts the divorce process) with the court. If you file your answer (or waiver of service only form) now, your spouse will not need to have you served.

Fill out an answer form.

When filling out your answer form:

  • Print neatly in blue or black ink.
  • Find the cause number and court number on the Original Petition for Divorce filed by your spouse. Write the same cause number and court number on your answer.
  • You are the “respondent.” Your spouse is the “petitioner.”
  • Do not leave blanks. If something doesn’t apply write “not applicable” or “none.”
  • Talk to a lawyer if you have questions or need help.
  • You must include a mailing address on your answer. Your spouse will get a copy of this form. If you are concerned about your spouse knowing your mailing address, call the Family Violence Legal Line at 800-374-4673 for free advice.

Make two copies of your completed answer form.

File (turn in) your completed answer form with the court.

  • To file online, go to E-File Texas and follow the instructions.
  • To file in person, take your answer (and copies) to the district clerk’s office in the county where your spouse filed for divorce.
    • Turn in your answer form (and copies).
    • Ask the clerk if there is a local standing order that you need to follow or attach to any of your documents.
    • Ask the clerk if there are local rules or procedures you need to know about for your divorce.
    • The clerk will “file-stamp” your forms with the date and time. The clerk will keep the original and return your copies. One copy is for you and one copy is for your spouse.

Note: It does not cost anything to file an answer. Filing an answer is FREE.

WARNING! Effective January 1, 2021, once a party to a family law case (like a divorce) files an answer, both sides will be obligated to exchange certain information and documents within 30 days. The form is here: Required Initial Disclosures in Divorces, Annulments, and Suits to Declare Marriage Void.

Send one of the file-stamped copies of your answer to your spouse. If your spouse has a lawyer, send it to the lawyer instead of directly to your spouse. You can send it by:

  • Hand delivery
  • Email
  • Mail
  • Commercial delivery service (for example FedEx)
  • Fax
  • Electronic service through the electronic filing manager. (Note: This method is required if you electronically file (E-File) this document and the email address of your spouse or your spouse’s lawyer is on file with the electronic file manager.)

WARNING! If a judge has signed a Protective Order ordering you not to contact your spouse, do not violate that order. Talk with a lawyer about your options. 

Effective January 1, 2021, once a party to a family law case (like a divorce) files an answer, both sides must exchange certain information and documents within 30 days.

Filing an answer protects your right to have a say in the issues involved in your divorce. Once you file an answer, your spouse cannot finish the divorce unless:

  1. you and your spouse agree to and sign a Final Decree of Divorce form or
  2. your spouse gives you notice of a contested hearing date.

To learn more, read the Frequently Asked Questions and Articles included in this TexasLawHelp.org guide: My spouse filed for divorce.

Forms Required

Warning: The information and forms in this guide are not a substitute for the advice and help of a lawyer.

These instructions explain how to file an answer and a counter-petition for divorce. Each step includes the form or forms needed for that step.

Checklist Steps

If you have been officially served with a Citation and Original Petition for Divorce, there is a deadline to file your answer.  

  • To determine the deadline, find the day you were served on a calendar, count out 20 more days (including weekends and holidays) then go to the next Monday. You must file your answer with the court on or before this date at 10:00 a.m. If the 20th day falls on a Monday go to the next Monday. If the courts are closed on the day your answer is due, then your answer is due the next day the courts are open.
  • If you are served and do not file an answer on or before the deadline, your spouse can finish the divorce without any further notice to you (as long any other applicable waiting periods have passed). This is called a “default judgment.”
  • You may be able to file your answer late. If your spouse has not finished the divorce, you can file your answer after the deadline. If your spouse has finished the divorce, it is too late to file an answer. If your spouse has finished the divorce without you, talk to a lawyer right away. Depending on how much time has passed, you may be able to file a “motion to set aside the default judgment.”
  • You do not have to file an answer and counter-petition for divorce together. It is okay to file an answer first (to meet the deadline) and file a counter-petition for divorce later.

If you have NOT been officially served, there is no deadline to file your answer. You can file your answer (or waiver of service only form) at any time after your spouse files an Original Petition for Divorce (the form that starts the divorce process) with the court. If you file your answer (or waiver of service only form) now, your spouse will not need to have you served.

Fill out an answer form and counter-petition for divorce form.

Although it is free to file an answer, there is a fee to file a counter-petition. Call the district clerk’s office (in the county where the divorce was filed) to learn the filing fee for a counter-petition. Fill out this additional form if you cannot afford to pay the fee.

When filling out your forms:

  • Print using blue or black ink.
  • Find the cause number and court number on the Original Petition for Divorce filed by your spouse. Write the same cause number and court number on your answer and counter-petition for divorce forms.
  • On your answer, you are the “respondent” and your spouse is the “petitioner.”
  • On your counter-petition for divorce, you are the “counter-petitioner” and your spouse is the “counter-respondent.” Note: Your spouse should still be listed as the petitioner and you should be listed as the respondent in the court information box at the top of the first page.
  • Do not leave blanks. If something doesn’t apply write “not applicable” or “none.”
  • Talk to a lawyer if you have questions or need help.
  • The answer and counter-petition for divorce ask for your mailing address. Your spouse will get a copy of these forms. If you are concerned about your spouse knowing your mailing address, call the Family Violence Legal Line at 800-374-4673 for free advice.

Make two copies of each completed form. 

File (turn in) your completed answer and counter-petition for divorce forms with the court.  

  • To file online, go to E-File Texas and follow the instructions.
  • To file in person, take your forms (and copies) to the district clerk’s office in the county where your spouse filed for divorce.
    • Turn in your answer and counter-petition for divorce forms (and copies).
    • Pay the filing fee for your counter-petition for divorce (or file your completed Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs if you cannot afford the fee).
    • Ask the clerk if there is a local standing order that you need to follow or attach to any of your documents.
    • Ask the clerk if there are local rules or procedures you need to know about for your divorce.
    • The clerk will “file-stamp” your forms with the date and time. The clerk will keep the originals and return your copies. One copy of each form is for you and one copy of each form is for your spouse.

 

You must send a file-stamped copy of your answer and counter-petition for divorce to your spouse. If your spouse has a lawyer, send the copies to the lawyer instead of directly to your spouse.

It’s best to use one of these delivery methods (so that you will have proof of delivery):

  • Certified mail, return receipt requested and regular mail
  • Fax
  • Email
  • Commercial delivery service (such as Federal Express or UPS)
  • Electronic service through the electronic filing manager. (Note: This method is required if you electronically file (E-File) this document and the email address of your spouse or your spouse’s lawyer is on file with the electronic file manager.)

WARNING! If a judge has signed a Protective Order ordering you not to contact your spouse, do not violate that order. Talk with a lawyer about your options.

For cases filed after January 1, 2021, once a party to a family law case (like a divorce) files an answer, both sides will be obligated to exchange certain information and documents within 30 days.

Effective for suits filed after January 1, 2021, once a party to a family law case (like a divorce) files an answer, both sides will be obligated to exchange certain information and documents within 30 days. The form is here: Required Initial Disclosures in Divorces, Annulments, and Suits to Declare Marriage Void.

Filing an answer protects your right to have a say in the issues involved in your divorce. To learn more, read My spouse filed for divorce. 

Once you file an answer, your spouse cannot finish the divorce unless:

  1. you agree to and sign a Final Decree of Divorce, or
  2. your spouse gives you notice of a contested hearing date.

Filing an answer does not mean your divorce is over. If you file an answer, that means your divorce is contested. So, you need to at least consult with a lawyer.

 

If your divorce is contested, you are best served by hiring a lawyer if at all possible. 

Effective for suits filed after January 1, 2021, once a party to a family law case (like a divorce) files an answer, both sides will be obligated to exchange certain information and documents within 30 days. It may be possible to agree otherwise. The form is here: Required Initial Disclosures in Divorces, Annulments, and Suits to Declare Marriage Void.

Learn more at Required Initial Disclosures in Texas Civil Cases.

Forms Required

Articles in this guide