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What Happens After You File Your Custody Case

Child Custody & Visitation

This article discusses what steps you should take when the respondent files an answer or a counterpetition in a SAPCR or Modification.

You have filed your Suit Affecting Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR) or Modification lawsuit and have completed service to the other parent. Here, learn about answers, counterpetitions, what to do if the other party doesn't respond, temporary orders, and finishing your case.

What do you do if the respondent does not file a response to your custody case?

If the other parent was properly served, you will need to calculate the day their answer was due. Start at the date they were served on a calendar, count out 20 more days (including weekends and holidays), then go to the next Monday.

The other parent (respondent) must file their Answer with the court on or before this date at 10 a.m. If the respondent does not respond to the case by filing an answer, hiring an attorney, or appearing in the case, then you can proceed with a default judgment.

Default means you have the other parent served with the initial court papers and they do not file an answer with the court. If the other parent is served and defaults, you can finish the case without them.

If the other party is likely to participate in the case and does not agree to your requests or changes to the custody, support, or visitation order, then the default form sets are not right for you.

What do you do when the respondent files an answer or a counterpetition?

An answer is a legal form filed with the court by the respondent in a case. The answer is the respondent’s way of letting the court know they are going to participate in the case.

A counterpetition is a legal form filed by the respondent that tells the judge what orders they want the judge to make in your SAPCR or modification that are different from those you asked for in your petition. If the Respondent files a counterpetition in your case, you need to file an answer responding to their counterpetition.  

Required Initial Disclosure Requests in Texas Civil Cases

Parties to new civil lawsuits in Texas usually must exchange information within 30 days of the filing of an answer, waiver of service, or counterpetition. This includes all family law cases. Read Required Initial Disclosures in Texas Civil Cases for more information.

This means the respondent in your case will also need to provide these disclosures to you, in addition to their answer or counterpetition.

If the respondent needs extra time to exchange this information with you, you may enter into a Rule 11 Agreement to extend the time period to gather and provide the required information to you.

When does the respondent need to file these legal forms?

A respondent can file only an answer in a case, but they can also file a counterpetition.  

While the respondent must file the answer by a certain time (20 days after being served), the counterpetition can be filed at any time in the case, as long as it is filed seven days before the date of trial. See Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 63.

The Required Initial Disclosures need to be exchanged within 30 days of the respondent filing their answer.

What if I do not understand what the respondent filed?

You must read the papers filed by the respondent. If you do not understand some of the language, requests, or disclosures, you should speak with an attorney about the documents.

Usually, by reading the respondent’s counterpetition, you can get a good idea of what they want in a final order.

Do we need temporary orders?

Family law cases (like SAPCRs and modifications) can take a long time, especially if the case is contested, which means that you and the other party do not agree to the final terms for your order.

While your case is pending (waiting to be finished), you may need orders about custody, visitation, and support of your children. If so, you can ask the judge to make temporary orders. Read Temporary Orders & Temporary Restraining Orders for more detailed information.

Either party in a family law case can ask for temporary orders by filing a Motion for Temporary Orders. The judge will have a temporary orders hearing so they can hear arguments from both sides. The judge will then make temporary orders.

The temporary orders will last until a final order is signed by the judge or the temporary orders are changed.

Not all cases need temporary orders, and you may want to speak with a lawyer if you believe you need temporary orders in your case.

Can we agree to a final order?

If after reading the legal forms, it looks like you could agree to most of the respondent’s requests, then you and the other party may be able to sign an Agreed Order.

Read How to Set an Uncontested Final Hearing (Family Law) for more information on finishing up your case.

What if I do not know if we can agree to a final order?

If you are unsure whether you and the respondent could reach an agreement for final orders or you do not agree on the terms of your case, you may consider going to mediation. In many cases, the judge may also order you and the other parent to go to mediation before hearing your case. Read Mediation for more information.

In mediation, an independent, neutral third party (the mediator) will try to help you reach an agreement. Going through a SAPCR or modification is usually easier when you have an agreement. Mediation can also help all parties save time and money. Be sure to talk to a lawyer first if you have any questions about mediation. A lawyer can help you understand your options and negotiate a fair agreement. 

If a partial or full agreement is reached at mediation, a mediated settlement agreement must be signed by all parties and their attorneys, if any, and then filed with the court.  Mediation has significant legal consequences, so consult with an attorney if you have any questions about the effects of mediation and signing a mediated settlement agreement.

What if we cannot agree and need the judge to decide our final order?

If you and the other side do not agree on all the issues in your case, you can ask a judge to decide those issues at a contested final hearing. The judge will listen to both sides and then make a decision. You will be expected to follow court rules of evidence and procedure at a contested final hearing. 

Either you or the other party can schedule the final hearing.   

To finish a contested modification suit, you must set your case for the final hearing and give the other parent at least 45 days notice of the hearing. It is important to talk with a lawyer if your case is contested.

Read How to Set a Contested Final Hearing (Family Law) for more information on setting this hearing.

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