If you are served with a modification suit, you should read your documents carefully and right away. Your next step will depend on the manner you are served. You will have the option to file an Answer, a Waiver of Service and do nothing. If you miss a deadline or do nothing, the other party can move forward with the case without notifying you.
What should I do if I'm served with court papers in a modification case?
Calculate the deadline to file an answer. Find the day you were served with modification papers on a calendar, beginning on the following day, 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 a.m. If you don’t file an Answer by the deadline, the petitioner may finish the modification without you.
Note: If the 20th day is 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.
You can also use TexasLawHelp's deadline calculator, but you should double-check the answer by following the instructions above.
Try to talk to a lawyer. A family law lawyer can explain your options and give you advice about your particular situation. You can hire a family law lawyer just to give you advice. 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:
What does it mean to be “served” with court papers?
Unless you agree to change the existing order and sign a Waiver of Service, the petitioner (the person who filed the modification case) must have you served with the initial court papers.
The initial court papers include:
- a Citation (a form issued by the court to officially notify the respondent of the case) and
- a copy of the Petition to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship (the form filed by the petitioner to start the case).
The initial court papers will also include the following (if applicable in your case):
- any other forms filed by the petitioner at the beginning of the case and/or
- 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 with the Citation and Petition to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship
- You can be served in person by a constable, sheriff, or private process server. (If you are served in person, 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 by certified mail 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 website.
- You can be served 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 Petition be: (1) posted to your door, (2) left with anyone over age 16 at your home or work, or (3) mailed to you at your home or work by regular mail.
Note: Papers filed by the petitioner later in the case will usually be mailed (regular mail) or emailed to you.
Talk to a lawyer if you have questions about being served.
What options do you have to respond to a modification?
Decide how you want to respond.
- Option 1: File an answer. If you have been served with modification papers and want to have a say in the case, you must file (turn in) a Respondent’s Original Answer form with the court. If you don’t, the petitioner may finish the modification without you. Get answer forms here: I need to respond to a modification case.
Warning! It’s important to talk with a lawyer before filing an answer (or any other form) with the court if you don’t live in Texas or think the modification should be transferred to another court in Texas.
- Option 2: File an answer AND a counter-petition for modification. A counter-petition for modification tells the judge what orders you want the judge to make in your modification. If your modification is contested, you may want to file (turn in) a Respondent’s Original Answer form AND a Respondent’s Original Counter-Petition for Modification form. Modification counter-petition forms are not currently available on TexasLawHelp.org.
To file a Counter-Petition for Modification, talk to a lawyer. A family law lawyer can explain your options and give you advice about your particular situation.
- Option 3: Do nothing. If you have been served with modification papers and do nothing, the petitioner can finish the modification without you. This is called a “default judgment.” You will not have a say in any of the issues involved in the modification case and you will have to follow any orders entered by the judge.
If you have questions about your options, it’s important to talk with a lawyer.
What is an answer?
An answer is a legal form, usually the first one, filed by the respondent in a court case. Filing an answer with the court protects your right to have a say in the issues involved in the case.
If you file an answer, the petitioner cannot finish the modification case unless:
- you and the petitioner (and anyone else named as a respondent in the case) agree to and sign an Order in Suit to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship, or
- the petitioner gives you written notice of a contested hearing date.
How much does it cost to file an answer?
Filing an answer is free.
Can I file an answer if I haven’t been served?
Yes. When a modification is agreed, the respondent will often voluntarily file a Respondent’s Original Answer form or Waiver of Service Only (Specific Waiver) form. If you voluntarily file an answer or waiver of service, you will not need to be formally served.
Read about the steps in an agreed modification here: I need to change a custody, visitation, or support order (Modification).
Child Custody & Visitation
Child Custody & Visitation
This article tells you about temporary orders and temporary restraining orders (TROs) in family law cases.
This article explains what to show the court to change custody and support orders.
This article answers frequently asked questions about changing an existing custody, visitation, child support, medical support, or dental support o...
Some Texas counties have "standing orders," which are court orders that automatically take effect when a case is filed.
This article explains what a modification case is and the options for responding to a modification case.
This article explains how to ask the judge to set aside (cancel) a default judgment.