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How to File an Answer in a Family Law Case

Court How-Tos (Civil Procedure)

This article tells you how to file an answer in a family law case (such as a divorce, custody, paternity, or modification case).

Filing an answer with the court protects the respondent’s right to have a say in a family law case. Here, find links to answer forms, and explanations of what an answer does, how to file it, and how to give it to the person who filed the suit (the petitioner).

What is an answer?

An answer is a legal form filed with the court by the respondent in a court case.

In a family law case, the petitioner is the person who starts the case by filing a petition with the court. The other side is the respondent.

Filing an answer with the court protects the respondent’s right to have a say in the case.

If the respondent files an answer, the petitioner cannot finish the case unless:

  • The respondent agrees to, and signs, a final order, or
  • The petitioner gives the respondent legal notice of a contested hearing date.

Where can I get an answer form and how do I file it?

TexasLawHelp.org has the following family law answer forms.

  • If you are the respondent in a divorce, review and use the guide My spouse filed for divorce. for instructions, do-it-yourself forms, and instructions.
  • If you are the respondent in a case involving children that is not a divorce​​​, review and use the guide I need to respond to a SAPCR (custody) case. for information, the answer form, and instructions.
  • If you are the respondent in a paternity case, you can find the answer form in I need a paternity order guide in the "Instructions and Forms" tab under the "Agreed Paternity Case" section.
  • If you are the respondent in a SAPCR modification case, review and use the guide I need to respond to a modification case. for more information, do-it-yourself forms, and instructions.
  • If you are the respondent in a child name change case, review and use the guide I want to change my child’s name. for more information, do-it-yourself forms, and instructions.

How much does it cost to file an answer?

Filing an answer is free.

What is the deadline to file an answer in a family law case?

If you have been served with a citation and petition, there is a 20-day 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 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 have not been served with a citation and petition, there is no deadline to file your answer. You can file your answer at any time after the petitioner files a petition (the form that starts the lawsuit) with the court. If you file your answer, the petitioner will not need to have you served.

Note: The deadline to file an answer may be different if you have a civil case (such as an eviction or other type of case filed in justice court). See I want to file an answer in a non-family law case.

Can I file my answer late?

Maybe. If the petitioner has not finished the case, you can file your answer after the deadline.

To find out if the petitioner has finished the case, call the district clerk’s office where the case was filed. Ask the clerk if the judge has signed a final order in the case. If the judge has not signed a final order the case is still pending and you can file your answer late. If the judge has signed a final order the case is finished and it is too late to file your answer.

What does it mean to be “served” with a citation and petition?

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

  • The “citation” (the form that officially notifies the respondent of the case), and
  • A copy of the “petition” (the form that starts the case).

If you are the respondent, there are several ways you can be served with the citation and petition:

  • You can be served in person by a constable, sheriff, or private process server.  
  • You can be served by certified or registered mail (return receipt requested) by the clerk, constable, sheriff, or private process server.
  • You can be served by posting or publication if the petitioner can’t find you.
  • You can be served any other way approved by the judge. For example, if the constable, sheriff, or private process server can confirm your home address or work address the judge could order that the citation and petition 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.

What happens if I’m served and don’t file an answer?

If you are served and do not file an answer on or before the deadline, the petitioner can finish the case without further notice to you once all the other waiting periods have passed. This is called a default judgment.

If the petitioner has finished the case, you may be able to ask the judge to set aside (cancel) the default judgment. Read How to Set Aside (Cancel) a Default Judgment to learn more.

Can I file an answer if I haven’t been served?

Yes. If the other side (your spouse, your child’s other parent, the Office of the Attorney General, or someone else) has filed a petition with the court, you can file an answer. The answer form tells the judge that you know about the case and have received a copy of the petition.

If you voluntarily file an answer (or waiver of service form), the other side will not need to have you formally served by a constable, sheriff, or private process server. 

What if I don’t live in Texas?

Talk with a lawyer before filing an answer, if you (1) do not live in Texas and (2) do not want a Texas Court to have the power to make orders that would impose a personal obligation on you. Such orders could include:

  • Dividing your property and debts,
  • Ordering you to pay spousal maintenance (in a divorce),
  • Ordering you to pay child support (if children are involved), or
  • Ordering you to pay court costs and lawyer’s fees (if requested). 

If you file an answer (or any other pleading) before filing a “special appearance you will give up your right to argue that Texas can’t make such orders because you live out of state. 

Ask a Texas lawyer to help you determine if Texas has “personal jurisdiction” over you.

What if I think the case was filed in the wrong county?

Talk with a lawyer before filing an answer if you think the case was filed in the wrong county. If you file an answer before filing a motion to transfer venue, you may give up your right to argue that the case should be filed in a different county. Read Transferring a Family Law Case to Another Court for more information.

Does filing an answer mean my case is over?

No. Filing an answer does not mean your case is over. Your case is not over until the judge signs a final order.

Do I need a lawyer?

It’s a good idea to talk with a lawyer about your situation (even if you decide not to hire one). A lawyer can explain your rights and options. 

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

  • You are afraid for your or your children’s safety.
  • Your case is contested (not agreed).
  • The petitioner has a lawyer.
  • You and the petitioner have a child with a disability.
  • The petitioner filed a paternity case and you are not sure about the identity of the child’s father.
  • The petitioner filed for divorce and:
    • you or your spouse have a house, retirement, business, other valuable property or a lot of debt;
    • you need spousal maintenance (alimony);
    • you or your spouse have an ongoing bankruptcy or are planning to file for bankruptcy; or
    • 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:

If you are concerned about your or your children’s safety, call the National Domestic Violence 24 Hour Hotline, 800-799-SAFE (7233). They can refer you to help in your community.

Can I hire a lawyer just to give me advice?

Yes! You can hire a family law lawyer just to give you legal advice, review your forms, draft a document, or help you prepare for a hearing. You may then be able to handle the other parts of your case yourself. Hiring a lawyer for a limited purpose is called limited scope representation.

Related Guides

  • My spouse filed for divorce.

    Divorce

    If you have been served with divorce papers, learn about your options and how to respond.
  • I need to respond to a custody case (SAPCR).

    Child Custody & Visitation

    How to quickly respond to a custody case when it is part of a 'Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship' (SAPCR).
  • I need to respond to a modification case.

    Child Custody & Visitation

    This guide explains your options if your child’s other parent (or someone else) has filed a modification case to change an existing custody, visita...
  • I want to change my child's name.

    Family, Divorce & Children

    How to legally change the name of a child under 18. For parents and guardians.
  • I want to file an answer in a non-family law case.

    Court How-Tos (Civil Procedure)

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