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Instructions & Forms for a Default SAPCR (filed by a nonparent)

These instructions explain the basic steps in a default Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (called a SAPCR for short) when you are a grandparent or other nonparent.  Click on the step to expand it with more information.

A SAPCR is a type of court case used to ask for a custody, visitation, child support, and medical and dental support order.

If you are filing a new SAPCR after September 1, 2018, the court must order that dental insurance be provided for the child. See Texas Family Code chapters 154.1815 and 154.1825.

“Default” means you have the parents served with the initial court papers and they do not file an answer with the court. If the parents are served and default (do not file an answer with the court), you can finish the case without the parents.

Use these instructions if:

  • You are not the child’s parent; 
  • You have “standing” to file an initial custody case;
  • There are no court orders about the child already in place; and
  • You don’t think the parents will participate in the case.

Do not use these instructions if the case is, or is likely to be, contested. If you are not sure, read Is my SAPCR contested or uncontested?

Note: It’s possible that one parent will agree and one parent will default. If a parent will agree to sign the necessary court forms, you do not need to have that parent served. Follow these instructions for that parent: Instructions & Forms for an Agreed SAPCR (filed by a nonparent)

Do you need help finding the right instructions? Use our Ask a Question tool to chat with a lawyer or law student online.

Have you read the Frequently Asked Questions and related Articles?

These instructions are part of this TexasLawHelp.org toolkit: I need a SAPCR (custody) order. I am not the child's parent. It’s important to read the Frequently Asked Questions and Articles included in the toolkit before getting started.

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.

 

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Step 1: Make sure you can file the case.

“Standing” means the legal right to file a court case. Usually, only a parent has standing to file an initial custody case.

If you are not the parent, you have standing to file an initial custody case only if:

  • you have had actual care, control and possession of the child for at least six months ending not more than 90 days before the date you file your case and you are not a foster parent; or
  • you have lived with the child and the child’s parent, guardian or conservator for at least six months ending not more than 90 days before the date you file the SAPCR, and the child’s parent, guardian or conservator has died; or
  • you are the foster parent of a child placed by the Department of Family & Protective Services who has been in your home for at least a year ending not more than 90 days before the date you file the SAPCR; or
  • you are the child’s grandparent, great-grandparent, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, niece or nephew and: 
    • both parents are dead, or
    • both parents, the surviving parent or managing conservator agree that you can file the case, or 
    • the child’s present circumstances will significantly harm the child’s physical health or emotional development.

If you have standing, go to Step 2. If you aren’t sure, talk to a lawyer.

Step 2: Fill out the court forms.

Fill out this starting form:

You will file the Petition with the court to start the case. It tells the judge and the child’s parents (and anyone else listed as a respondent in your petition) what orders you want the judge to make. The Frequently Asked Questions and related Articles included with these instructions will help you understand your options.

When you fill out the Petition:

  • Print your answers clearly in blue or black ink.
  • Do not leave blanks (unless instructed to do so).
  • Talk to a lawyer if you have questions or need help.

Who is the petitioner? You are the petitioner – the person asking the court to make a custody order. You must fill out and sign the Petition. No one else needs to sign the Petition.

Who must be listed as a respondent? Each parent must be listed as a respondent (unless the parent is dead or the parent’s parental rights have been terminated). If a parent is dead, you must attach a copy of the parent’s death certificate. If a parent’s parental rights were terminated, you must attach a copy of the court order terminating their rights. If anyone else has a court ordered relationship with the child, that person must also be listed as a respondent.

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

Fill out these additional starting forms if required for your case:

Make enough copies of these completed starting forms for you and each respondent to have one copy:

  • Petition in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship
  • Exhibit: Out-of-State Party Declaration (if required for your case)
  • Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Courts (if needed for your case)
Step 3: File (turn in) your starting forms.

File (turn in) your completed Petition and other starting forms with the court in the county where the child lives.

  • 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 child lives.

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 each respondent in person. (Remember: If a parent will agree to sign the necessary court forms, you do not need to have that parent served. Follow these instructions for that parent: Instructions & Forms for an Agreed SAPCR (filed by a nonparent).) 
  • 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 fees).
  • Ask the clerk if there is a local standing order that you need to follow or attach to your Petition.
  • Ask the clerk if there are local rules or procedures you need to know about for your case.
  • The clerk will write your “Cause Number” and “Court Number” at the top of the first page of your Petition. (Write these numbers at the top of any document you file in your case.)
  • The clerk will “file-stamp” your copies with the date and time. The clerk will keep the original and return your copies.
  • The clerk will print a form called a “citation” for each respondent you would like served. The citation tells the respondent that you have filed a SAPCR 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 (without the respondent). The clerk will attach a copy of your Petition to the citation. The citation and Petition are the “initial court papers” that must be served on each respondent by a constable, sheriff or private process server. Read Step 4 for instructions.
Step 4: Have parents (or other respondent) served.

It is your responsibility to have each parent (and anyone else named as a respondent in your Petition) served with the initial court papers. You cannot serve the initial court papers yourself. You must have the initial court papers served by a constable, sheriff or private process server.

(Remember: If a parent or other respondent will agree to sign the necessary court forms, you do not need to have that parent or respondent served. Follow these instructions for that parent or respondent: Instructions & Forms for an Agreed SAPCR (filed by a nonparent).) 

To have a parent served in person:

  • send the initial court papers to a constable, sheriff or private process server in the county where the parent lives or works;
  • include the service fee (call first to learn the fee) or a file-stamped copy of your Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs; and
  • include a self-addressed and stamped envelope.

The constable, sheriff or private process server will:

  • deliver the initial court papers to the parent in person; and
  • complete a Return of Service form that says when and where the parent was served; and
  • send the completed Return of Service to you or the court.

The completed Return of Service is proof the respondent was served. The respondent will NOT have to sign anything.

If the Return of Service is sent to you, file it at the clerk’s office. The Return of Service 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.

NOTE: If you have trouble getting a respondent served, read this article: How to Serve the Initial Divorce Papers. If you have questions, you can use Ask a Question to chat with a lawyer or law student online.

Step 5: Notify the Office of the Attorney General (if applicable).

Has the child ever received TANF or Medicaid?

  • If NO, skip this step.
  • If YES, you must send a file-stamped copy of your Petition to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) Child Support Division (and be able to prove that you did so).
    • Send your Petition by Email: You can scan a file-stamped copy of your Petition and email it. Find the email address for the OAG child support office in the county where your case is filed here: Email Addresses for Child Support Offices. Write the cause number and the county where you filed your case in the subject line of the email. Print a copy of your email. This is your proof. Bring it with you when you go to court to finish your case.
    • Send your Petition by Certified Mail Return Receipt Requested - Or, you can mail a copy of your Petition by certified mail return receipt requested. The post office has the forms for certified mail return receipt requested. Find the mailing address for the OAG child support office in the county where your case is filed here: Mailing Addresses for Child Support Offices. The post office will give you a receipt when you mail the Petition. The OAG will sign the return receipt (often called the “green card”) and mail it back to you. This is your proof. Bring the receipt and the return receipt (green card) with you when you go to court to finish your case.
Step 6: Fill out the ending forms.

Fill out these ending forms:
 

  • Order In Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (Nonparent Custody Order)
    • Note: As of September 1, 2018, new custody orders must contain dental support provisions. TexasLawHelp will make an Order In Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (Nonparent Custody Order) containing dental support provisions soon. If you filed your suit before September 1, 2018, however, you should still use the above form.

You will ask the judge to sign this form when it’s time to finish your case. Fill it out completely (except for the judge’s signature).

Note: A Modified Possession Order (Nonparent is Managing Conservator) form will print with the Nonparent Custody Order. Fill it out completely and attach it to your Nonparent Custody Order.

  • Income Withholding Order for Support (Fill out an Income Withholding Order for Support for each parent who will be ordered to pay child support, medical support, dental support, or all three.)
Step 7: Have your forms reviewed.

Although not required, it’s a good idea to have a family law lawyer review your completed forms. Family law lawyers specialize in cases involving families, such as custody cases.

You can hire a family law lawyer just to review your forms. This is called “limited scope representation.” You can then finish your case yourself. You may also be able to talk with a lawyer for free at a legal clinic. If you need help finding a lawyer, you can:

 

Step 8: Wait the required waiting periods.

These waiting periods are required:

  • 20 + day waiting period – Each parent (or other respondent) served must have at least 20 days plus the next Monday at 10:00 a.m. to file an answer. Find the day the parent/respondent was served on a calendar, count out 20 more days, then go to the next Monday. The parent/respondent must have until this date to file an answer. If the parent/respondent does not file an answer by this date (and all other requirements have been met) you can finish your case by default without that parent/respondent. Note: A parent/respondent can file an answer until you finish your SAPCR case, even if the 20 + day waiting period has passed.
  • 10 + day waiting period – The constable, sheriff, private process server should have completed a Return of Service form stating when the parent (or other 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 9: Determine if your case can be finished by default.

Call the clerk’s office to find out if the parent or any other respondent who was served has filed an answer.

  • If a parent or other respondent who was served filed an answer, you CANNOT finish your SAPCR case by default.
    • If the parent or other respondent will now agree to sign your completed Order in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (Nonparent Custody Order) form, you can finish your case by agreement.
    • If the parent or other respondent will not agree to sign your completed Order in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (Nonparent Custody Order) form, your case is contested. To finish a contested SAPCR case, you must set a contested 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 NO respondent has filed an answer; you CAN finish your SAPCR case by default as long as all of the following are true.
    • each parent/respondent was successfully served by a constable, sheriff or private process server; and          
    • a Return of Service form (stating when and where the parent/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 each parent/respondent to file an answer has passed; and    
    • each parent/respondent has not filed an answer and does not file an answer before you finish your SAPCR case. (Remember, each respondent can file an answer until the time you finish your SAPCR case, even if the 20 + day waiting period has already passed.)

If you CAN finish your SAPCR case by default, fill out these additional forms for each parent or other respondent who was served and defaulted. Make one copy of each form:

Step 10: Get ready for court.

Call the clerk’s office to learn when and where the court hears uncontested cases.

If you sent a copy of your Petition to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) (because the child gets Medicaid or TANF now or got it in the past), ask the clerk if the OAG filed anything in your case.

  • If no, you can finish your case without further notice to the OAG.
  • If yes, talk with a lawyer about what to do next. You can use Ask a Question to chat with a lawyer online

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

 

Step 11: Go to court to finish your case.
  • Bring these papers with you to the courthouse on the day you plan to finish your case:
    • a file-stamped copy of your Petition in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship; and  
    • a file-stamped copy of the Return of Service form showing when and where each parent/respondent was served; and
    • a completed Order in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (Nonparent Custody Order) (with the modified possession order attached) signed by you; and
    • a completed Income Withholding Order for Support if child support will be ordered; and
    • a completed Certificate of Last Known Mailing Address form for each parent/respondent who defaulted; and
    • a completed Military Status Declaration for each parent/respondent who defaulted.
    • a completed Information on Suit Affecting the Family Relationship form
  • 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 either parent or other respondent (or the OAG) has filed an answer. If anyone has filed an answer, you will not be able to finish your case by default. Go back to Step 9.
    • File a Certificate of Last Known Mailing Address and the Military Status Declaration (or Military Status Affidavit) for each parent/respondent who defaulted. 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: who you are, how you are related to the children, what orders you are asking the judge to make and why those orders would be in the children’s best interest. It’s a good idea to write down everything you want to say so 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 in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (Nonparent Custody Order).
Step 12: File the signed order or orders.

After the judge signs your Order in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (Nonparent Custody Order), go back to the clerk’s office.

  • File (turn in) your Order in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (Nonparent Custody Order) and any other orders signed by the judge. Your case is NOT final until you do so.
  • Get a certified copy of your Order in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (Nonparent Custody Order) 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. 
  • File the completed Information on Suit Affecting the Family Relationship form.
  • If child support was ordered:
    • ask the clerk how to set up a child support account, and
    • ask the clerk to send a copy of the Income Withholding Order for Support to the employer of the parent ordered to pay child support, medical support, or dental support.
Step 13: After your case is finished.

Follow these steps after your case is finished.

  • Send a file-stamped copy of the Order in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (Nonparent Custody Order) and any other orders signed by the judge to each parent or other respondent.
  • If a parent was ordered to pay child support, medical support, or dental support to you and doesn’t pay, contact the Texas Attorney General Child Support Division for help enforcing your order.