Step 1. First Know What It Means—What Does “Serving Divorce Papers” Even Mean?
In order to be divorced in Texas, there is a particular set of steps a person legally has to take for a judge to sign off on the final divorce.
One step is that a person has to be “served” with notice of the divorce lawsuit.
This means that a sheriff or private process server has to pick up a physical document from the courthouse where the divorce was started, and physically hand that divorce document to the person/spouse being notified that a divorce was started.
There are some circumstances in the Texas Family Code where handing the documents to the person is not required in order to effectuate proper serving of divorce papers, also called “service of process.”
Being served with papers is a vital first step to getting a divorce completed.
If service of process is not properly completed, a judge should not sign off or permit the final divorce to go through.
Step 2. Check, Were you actually served?
Know That Your Spouse Handing You the Papers Does Not Count As Being Served With A Divorce Petition.
If your spouse hands you a petition or citation for divorce, that does not count as you being served with divorce papers.
A disinterested third party person has to be the one that hands you the divorce papers for it to count.
Or, your signature on certified mail receipt can also in some circumstances be enough to count as proper receipt of divorce papers.
If you do not receive a document titled “Citation” or if the Petition does not have a cause number on the top, then the documents are not ready to actually be served yet, and service of process is not actually complete, so you may not have been legally served.
Step 3: WHEN SERVED WITH DIVORCE PAPERS, Read Them & Note The Deadline!
The first step you should take is to simply read the documents that were given to you. A lot of the time the documents will have been created from template language.
If your spouse hired a lawyer, it is even possible that your spouses has not read the documents you were given!
Something that might really surprise you about the document is that they could request things that you did not expect your spouse would ever ask for, such as attorneys fees.
Do not panic. It is possible that the requests in the petition are just included in the language, and it is not something your spouse is actually attempting to win.
The reason for reading the divorce documents you were served with is so that you can see the details of where the document was filed. This will tell you the jurisdiction or location that the divorce is set in, and the cause number for your divorce.
The cause number will be the same and listed on every document of your entire case.
Read the Citation & The Petition
Your citation will say the very important deadline. It should say something like:
“You have been sued. You may employ a Texas divorce Attorney. If you or your attorney do not file a written answer with the clerk who issued this citation by 10:00 a.m. on the Monday next following the expiration of twenty days after you were served this citation and petition, a default judgment may be taken against you.”
In sum, what this all means is that you have about 20 days to file a document which responds to the petition-
Step 4: Hire a Lawyer Or Create Your Answer Document .
You can Instantly Download the actual Answer that lawyers use in Texas for Divorce cases and get help with the document here.
Again, once you are served with divorce papers, you have 20 days from the date that you received the papers to file an “Answer” with the court.
An “Answer” is the legal name of a special particular document that is filed in court, in response to a petition.
The reason you file an Answer is so that the Court and lawyers or your spouse cannot do anything in your divorce without notifying you.
If you do not file an answer, they can do the entire divorce without your participation.
What is an Answer?
Generally, it is a document that simply says you want to be informed of any steps that happen in the divorce, that you are participating in the divorce, and you deny everything that your spouse wrote in their petition. Hence, an Answer is called a “general denial.
Get an editable example answer that works in all Texas Divorce Cases.
You can download the exact document that you need to file after you are served with divorce papers here:
*When you are served with divorce papers you can also file a counter-petition which can ask the court for relief and make allegations against your spouse.
Step 5. Before You File An Answer, Assess Whether The Divorce Was Filed In the Right Location
Both the citation and petition will say what county the divorce is filed in.
This divorce has to be taking place in a county where at least one spouse has lived for 90 days. AND, you cannot file a divorce in Texas unless you have lived in Texas for the last 6 months, with the exception of military members.
If you have children, the proper court to file a divorce case is where the children have resided for the last 6 months.
(military members can file a divorce in Texas if they are based somewhere else but have their home state of record as Texas).
If your spouse did not file the divorce in a location where jurisdiction is proper and the parties meet residency requirements, you really should call a lawyer immediately.
The reason is that there are special steps that you need to take in order ot move the case to the right court and out of the wrong location.
You can accidentally waive the ability to move the case to a different location steps by doing something as simple as appearing in court or signing a waiver, or filing an an answer even!
Since you do not want to waive the opportunity to move the case to the court where you reside or to the correct location, you need to talk to a lawyer if there is any chance that your divorce papers were filed in the wrong county.
If you both live in the same county, and the divorce was filed in that county, and you have lived there for 6 months, then you can be confident that the divorce is in the right location.
Step 6: Have a Lawyer Review Your Answer & File it
Texas allows lawyers to be hired on a limited scope, so you can hire a lawyer for something as small as reviewing your answer and filing it for you.
I recommend you do this. You can register for Texas efiling and file your answer online without a lawyer if you elect to handle this step on your own.
Step 7: Call the Clerk & Make Sure Your Answer Was Accepted
A lot of documents get rejected that people try to file with the court. You want to follow up and make sure it was accepted, so that you can benefit from the protections of having an answer filed, such as having the right to be notified of hearings in your lawsuit.
Step 8: Now, Decide How You Want To Approach This Divorce
Once your answer is filed, you have done the vital step of participating in your lawsuit to protect your property rights and children if applicable. But, now you have to decide how you want to approach the rest of the divorce.
You should interview with several lawyers if you have not already done so, that offer services in the location of your divorce, and find out the different methods and approaches to getting the rest of this matter handled.
Wishing you the best and smoothest process possible, and thank you for stopping by The Part As Friends Company. We believe a better understanding of the law can help you part as friends from every fight.