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Instructions & Forms for a Default Modification

These instructions explain the steps to change a custody, visitation, child support, medical support, or dental support order when you don’t think the other parent (or other respondent) will participate. Each step includes a link to the form or forms needed for that step.  Click on the step to expand it with more information.

“Default” means you have the other parent (or other respondent) served with the initial court papers and he or she does not file an answer with the court. If the other parent (or other respondent) is served and defaults, you can finish the case without them.

If the other party is likely to participate in the matter and does not agree to change the custody, support, and visitation order, then the default form set is not right for you. See Is my modification suit contested or uncontested? 

Have you read the Frequently Asked Questions and related articles?

These instructions are part of this TexasLawHelp.org toolkit: I need to change a custody, visitation or support order. Before getting started, it’s important to read the Frequently Asked Questions and Articles included in the Toolkit.

The legal standards for modifying child support changed on September 1, 2018. 
See What is the legal standard to change child support or medical support?

WARNING! These instructions provide general information, not legal advice. It’s a good idea to talk with a lawyer about your particular situation.

You can print these instructions to use as a checklist.

For the instructions and forms combined, click here.

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Step 1: Fill out the petition and other starting forms.

Fill out the following form:

This form (called the Petition) asks the judge to change the current order.

Write the cause number and court number on the first page of the Petition just as it is written on the order you want to change. Write these numbers at the top of any document you file in your modification case.)

Print your answers using blue or black ink. Do not leave blanks.

Who is the petitioner? You are the petitioner—the person asking the court to change the current court order. This is true even if you are listed as the respondent in the current order.

Who must be listed as a respondent? Any person listed as a party in the current order must be listed as a respondent. If the Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division is listed as a party in the current order you must also list it as a respondent.

In some cases the only respondent is the other parent. In other cases, there are additional respondents. If anyone else is named as a respondent in your Petition to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship:

  1. that respondent must also be served and default (not file an answer with the court), - or -
  2. that respondent must sign the necessary court forms showing he or she agrees to the changes.

If a respondent will agree to sign the necessary court forms, follow these steps for that respondent: Instructions & Forms for an Agreed Modification.

Note: The Petition asks for your address. Each respondent will get a copy of your Petition. If you are concerned about a respondent knowing your address, call the Family Violence Legal Line at 1-800-374-4673 for free advice.

Fill out these additional starting forms and attach them to your Petition if required for your case:

Fill out these additional starting forms:

Fill out this additional form if you cannot afford to pay the filing fee for your case. Call the clerk’s office in the county where the current order was made to learn the filing fee for your case.

Make copies:

  • Make enough copies of your completed Petition to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship to have one copy for you and one copy for each respondent.
  • Make one copy of the Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Courts if you are asking the court to waive court costs.
  • You do not need copies of the Civil Case Information Sheet or the Information on Suit Affecting the Family Relationship.
Step 2: File the Petition and other starting forms with the court.

File (turn-in) your completed Petition and other starting forms with the court in the county where the current order was made.

Note: If the child has lived in another Texas county for at least 6 months, you have the option of asking the court to transfer the case to the child’s new home county. You must file a Motion to Transfer at the same time you file your Petition. File your Petition and Motion to Transfer with the court in the county where the current order was made. Talk to a lawyer about whether a transfer makes sense for your case.

Note: If the child has lived in another state for at least the past 6 months, it is important to talk with a lawyer about where to file your case.

  • To file your forms online, go to E-File Texas and follow the instructions.
  • To file your forms in person, take your Petition and additional starting forms (and copies) to the district clerk’s office in the county where the current order was made.

At the clerk’s office:

  • Turn in your Petition and other starting forms (and copies).
  • Tell the clerk you want to have one or more of the respondents named in your Petition served in person. This means a sheriff, constable or private process server will deliver the initial court papers to the respondent in person.
  • Pay the filing fee and issuance fee (or file your completed Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs if you cannot afford the court costs).
  • 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 you need to know about for your modification case.
  • The clerk will “file-stamp” your copies with the date and time. The clerk will keep the original and give one copy back to you.
  • The clerk will print a form called a “citation.” The citation tells the respondent that you have filed a modification case. The citation also tells the respondent that unless he or she files an answer with the court you will be able to finish your case by default. The clerk will attach the other copy of your Petition to the citation. The citation with a copy of your Petition attached are the “initial court papers” that must be served on the respondent by a constable, sheriff or private process server. Read Step 3 for further instructions.
Step 3: Arrange for the respondent to be "served" with the initial court papers.

It is your responsibility to arrange for the respondent to be served with the initial court papers by a constable, sheriff or private process server. You CANNOT serve the initial court papers yourself.

What are the initial court papers? The initial court papers include the citation you got at the clerk’s office with a copy of your Petition attached.

What do I need to do? Send the initial court papers to a constable, sheriff or private process server in the county where the respondent can be served. Include the service fee or a file-stamped copy of your Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs. (Call first to learn the fee.) Also include a self-addressed and stamped envelope.

The constable, sheriff or private process server will deliver the initial court papers to the respondent in person. The constable, sheriff or private process server will fill out a form called a “Return of Service.” It tells the court when and where the respondent was served. The completed Return of Service is proof the respondent was served. The respondent will not have to sign anything.

The Return of Service must be filed with the court. The constable, sheriff or private process server may file it themselves or they may give the completed Return of Service form to you. If they give it to you, make a copy and file the original at the courthouse. It must be on file for at least 10 days before you can finish your case, not counting the day it is filed or the day you go to court to finish your case.

What if I’m having trouble serving the other parent or other respondent? For more information read this article: How to Serve Initial Court Papers (Family Law). You can also use Ask a Question to chat with a law student or lawyer online.

What if I can’t find a respondent? If you cannot find a respondent (after looking really hard), you must have the respondent served by publication in a local newspaper. You must also have to hire a lawyer to serve as an “attorney ad litem” for the respondent. For more information read this article: Service by Publication (when you can't find the other parent).

Step 4: Fill out the order forms.

You will ask the judge to sign a new order to change the current order. The new order must be completely filled out before going to court. The new order will be the Order Modifying the Parent Child Relationship form with specific order forms attached regarding the issues you want changed. You and the other parent may want to fill out the order forms together

Fill out the following order form for all cases:

  • Order Modifying the Parent-Child Relationship (for modification cases filed before September 1, 2018)

    • ​NOTE: The above version of the Order Modifying the Parent-Child Relationship (Rev. 09-2015) will only be available until February 28, 2019. 
       

    • If you filed a suit to modify the parent-child relationship before September 1, 2018, but it has not been finalized by February 28, 2019, consult an attorney, because this form will no longer be on TexasLawHelp.

  • Order Modifying the Parent Child Relationship (for modifications filed after September 1, 2018)

Fill out the Order completely (except for the judge’s signature). When it’s time to finish your case, you will ask a judge to sign this Order Modifying the Parent Child Relationship form with one or more of the specific order forms below attached.

If child support will be changed fill out and attach this order form:

If your case was filed BEFORE September 1, 2018, and medical support will be changed, fill out and attach this order form:

  • Medical Support Order
    • ​NOTE: The above version of the Medical Support Order (Rev. 01-2017) will only be available until February 28, 2019. 

    • If you filed a suit to modify the parent-child relationship before September 1, 2018, but it has not been finalized by February 28, 2019, consult an attorney, because this form will no longer be on TexasLawHelp.

If medical and dental support will be changed fill out and attach the order form below:

If custody will be changed fill out and attach one of these order forms:

If possession (visitation) will be changed fill out and attach one of these order forms or hire a lawyer to help you write a possession order that meets the specific needs of your family.

Use this form if a non-parent will be the managing conservator of the children. You can find other sample modified possession orders here: Child Visitation & Possession Orders

Fill out the following additional order form if child support will be ordered, changed or stopped.

TIP: Read these short articles to learn about child support, medical support, dental support, custody and visitation:

TIP: It’s a good idea to have a lawyer review your order forms after you fill them out. You can hire a lawyer just to review your forms. This is called “limited scope representation.” Use our Legal Help Finder tool to search for legal help in your area. Or, if your income is low, you may be able to have your completed forms reviewed at a free legal clinic. Use our Legal Clinic Calendar tool to search for a free legal clinic in your area.

Step 5: Wait the required waiting periods.
  • 20 + day waiting period – From the day the respondent is served, the respondent must have at least 20 days plus the next Monday at 10 a.m. to file an answer. Find the day the respondent was served on a calendar, count out 20 more days, then go to the next Monday. This is the last day of the respondent’s answer period. However, if the respondent files an answer at any time before you finish your modification case it will still count.
  • 10 + day waiting period – The constable, sheriff, private process server should have completed a Return of Service form stating when the respondent was served. The Return of Service form must be on file with the court for at least 10 days before you can finish your case. Important: When counting the 10 day waiting period, do not count the day the Return of Service is filed with the court and do not count the day you go to court to finish your case.
Step 6: Determine if your case can be finished by default.

Call the clerk’s office to find out if the respondent filed an answer.

  • If the respondent filed an answer, you CANNOT finish your modification case by default.
    • If the respondent filed an answer and will now agree to sign your completed Order Modifying the Parent-Child Relationship form you can finish your case by agreement.
    • If the respondent filed an answer and will not agree to sign your completed Order Modifying the Parent-Child Relationship form your case is contested. To finish a contested modification case, you must set a contested final hearing. You must give the respondent at least 45 days’ notice of the final hearing. Read this article to learn more: How to Set a Contested Final Hearing (Family Law). Remember: It’s always best to have a lawyer if your case is contested.
  • If the respondent has NOT filed an answer, you CAN finish your modification case by default as long as all of the following are true.
    • The respondent was successfully served by a constable, sheriff or private process server. and
    • A Return of Service form (stating when and where the respondent was served) has been on file with the clerk’s office for at least 10 days (not counting the day it was filed or the day you go to court). and
    • The 20 + day waiting period for the respondent to file an answer has passed. and
    • If the respondent was served by publication, you hired a lawyer to be the “attorney ad litem” for the respondent and the lawyer has not been able to find the respondent. and
    • The respondent has not filed an answer and does not file an answer before you finish your modification case. (Remember, the respondent can file an answer up until the time you finish your modification case, even if the 20 + day waiting period has already passed.)
    • If anyone else was named as a respondent in your Petition to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship:
  • that respondent was also served and defaulted (did not file an answer with the court),

                      or

  • that respondent signed the necessary court forms showing he or she agrees to the changes.

If you CAN finish your modification case by default, fill out these additional forms and make 1 copy of each form:

Step 7: Get ready for court.

Call the clerk’s office to find out when and where the court hears uncontested modification cases.

Call the clerk’s office again the day before you plan to go to court to make sure the respondent has still not filed an Answer. If the respondent has filed an answer, you cannot finish your case by default. Go back to Step 6.

Read the article: Tips for the Courtroom for more information about going to court.

 

Step 8: Go to court to finish your case.

Bring these papers with you to the courthouse on the day you plan to finish your modification case.

  • A copy of the order you are asking the judge to change.
  • A file-stamped copy of your Petition to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship. and
  • A file-stamped copy of the Return of Service form showing when and where the respondent was served. and
  • A completely filled out Order Modifying the Parent-Child Relationship signed by you. and
  • A completely filled out Income Withholding Order for Support if child support will be ordered, changed or stopped. and
  • A completed Certificate of Last Known Mailing Address form and 1 copy. and
  • A completed Military Status Declaration (or Military Status Affidavit) and 1 copy. and
  • If the respondent was served by publication, a completed Statement of the Evidence and the lawyer you hired to serve as attorney ad litem for the respondent. – and –
  • If another respondent was served and defaulted, you must also bring the following for that respondent:
    • A file-stamped copy of the Return of Service form showing when and where that respondent was served. and
    • A completed Certificate of Last Known Mailing Address form and 1 copy. and
    • A completed Military Status Declaration (or Military Status Affidavit) and 1 copy.

When you get to the courthouse, go to the clerk’s office.

  • Ask the clerk if you need the court file or docket sheet (list of what has been filed in your case).
  • Ask the clerk to check one more time to see if the respondent has filed an answer. If the respondent has filed an Answer, you will not be able to finish your case by default. Go back to Step 6.
  • File the Certificate of Last Known Mailing Address and the Military Status Declaration (or Military Status Affidavit). Ask the clerk to file stamp your copy of each form. Bring a file-stamped copy of each form with you to court.
  • When you get to the courtroom, tell the clerk you are there and give the clerk your paperwork. Sit down until the judge calls your case.
  • When the judge calls your case, walk to the front of the courtroom and stand in front of the judge’s bench. The judge will have you raise your right hand and swear to tell the truth. Be prepared to quickly tell the judge, what orders you are asking the judge to change and why the change or changes you are requesting would be in your child’s best interest. It’s a good idea to write down everything you want to say ahead of time. You can read it to the judge if you get nervous.
  • The judge will listen to what you say and review your papers. If everything is in order the judge will sign your Order Modifying the Parent-Child Relationship.
Step 9: File the signed order or orders with the clerk.

After the judge signs your Order Modifying the Parent-Child Relationship, go back to the clerk’s office. File (turn in) your Order Modifying the Parent-Child Relationship and any other orders signed by the judge. Your modification case is NOT final until you do so. Get a certified copy of your Order Modifying the Parent-Child Relationship and any other orders signed by the judge from the clerk while you are there. The clerk may charge a fee for the certified copies.

If child support was ordered, ask the clerk what you need to do to set up a child support account. If child support was changed or terminated, ask the clerk to send a copy of the income withholding order for support to the employer of the person who is or was ordered to pay child support.

Step 10: What to do after your case is finished.

Send a file-stamped copy of the Order Modifying the Parent-Child Relationship to each respondent.

Follow these additional steps if they apply:

  • If you were ordered to pay child support and/or cash medical support or dental support, learn about payment options here: Texas Attorney General - Child Support Payment Options. If you have any questions, call the Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division at 1-800-252-8014. DO NOT send child support payments directly to the other parent.
  • If the respondent was ordered to pay child support and/or medical support and dental support to you and doesn’t pay, you can contact the Texas Attorney General Child Support Division for help enforcing your order.