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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, visitation, or child support order.
Overview

Guide Overview

Warning: The information and forms in this guide are not legal advice and are not a substitute for the help of a lawyer.

This guide tells you about your options if your child’s other parent (or someone else) has filed a modification case to change an existing custody, visitation or child support order. 

Research Tips

The legal system is complex. TexasLawHelp.org does not contain the answers to all questions. If you cannot hire an attorney, visit a law library to conduct legal research. See I need to do legal research for help getting started. Find your nearest law library here: Law Libraries in Texas.

Books and guides to look for at the law library include:

  • O’Connor's Texas Family Law Handbook
  • Texas Family Law Practice Manual
  • Texas Family Code Annotated
  • Texas Jurisprudence

If you are not near a law library, Texas residents may be able to access more information by registering for a free Texas State Law Library Account. With this account, you can access a variety of online sources. 

    Westlaw Resources – If your local law library has free Westlaw access, you can look for secondary resources called:

    • Texas Practice Series
    • Texas Family Law Service
    • Texas Practice Guide Family Law

    Common questions about Child Custody & Visitation

    A modification case asks a judge to change existing custody, visitation, child support or medical support order.

    A modification case should be filed in the Texas county where the existing order was made.

    If the child has lived in another Texas county for the last 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 before your answer deadline or before the court hearing (whichever happens first). Talk to a lawyer about whether filing a motion to transfer makes sense for your case. TexasLawHelp.org does not currently have motion to transfer forms.

    If your child has lived in another state for the last 6 months, talk to a lawyer. The Texas court may have lost the power to make orders about your child.  

    Unless you agree to change the existing order, 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 web site.
    • 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:
      • posted to your door, or
      • left with anyone over 16 at your home or work, or
      • 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.

    Read the modification papers carefully and right away. Is there a standing order? Has the judge signed a temporary restraining order? Are there any hearings dates? If so, read these articles to learn more: Standing Orders, Temporary Orders & Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs)

    Calculate the deadline to file an answer. Find the day you were served with modification papers on a calendar, 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 10:00 a.m. If you don’t, 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.

    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:

    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 in the Instructions & Forms section of this guide. 

    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.
    • 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.

    If you have questions about your options, it’s important to talk with a lawyer.

    Modification cases can be complicated. It’s a good idea to talk with a family law lawyer who can explain your options and give you advice about your particular situation.

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

    • You are afraid for your or your children’s safety.
    • Your case is contested.
    • The petitioner has a lawyer.

    If you need help finding a lawyer, you can:

    If you are concerned about your safety or the safety of your children, call the National Domestic Violence 24 Hour Hotline800-799-SAFE (7233). They can refer you to help in your community.

    For legal help, you can also call:

    For situations involving sexual assault, you can also call:

    If you are an immigrant, you can also call:

    In an emergency, call 911.

    Find out more in the Protection from Violence or Abuse section of this website.

    An answer is a legal form 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.

    Get instructions and answer form in the Instructions & Forms section of this guide. 

    Filing an answer is free.

    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: Instructions & Forms for an Agreed Modification.

    Instructions & Forms

    Warning: The information and forms in this guide are not legal advice and are not a substitute for the help of a lawyer.

    These instructions explain how to file an answer in a modification case. 

    Checklist Steps

    If you have been officially served with a Citation and Original Petition to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship, there is a 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 10:00 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.  You can also use TexasLawHelp's deadline calculator, but you should double-check using a calendar, following the instructions above. 
    • If you are served and do not file an answer on or before the deadline, the petitioner can finish the modification case without any further notice to you. This is called a “default judgment.”
    • You may be able to file your answer late. If the petitioner has not finished the modification case, you can file your answer after the deadline. If the petitioner has finished the modification case, it is too late to file an answer.
    • To learn if the petitioner has finished the case, call the district clerk’s office (where the modification 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. 
    • If the petitioner has finished the case, talk to a lawyer right away. Depending on how much time has passed, you may be able to file a Motion to Set Aside the Default Judgment. For more information and forms, read: How to Set Aside (Cancel) a Default Judgment.

    If you have NOT been officially served, there is no deadline to file your answer. You can file your answer (or waiver of service only form) at any time after the petitioner files an Original Petition for Modification of the Parent-Child Relationship (the form that starts the modification process) with the court. If you file your answer (or waiver of service only form) now, the petitioner will not need to have you served.

    Fill out this answer form:

    When filling out your answer form: 

    • Print neatly in blue or black ink.
    • Find the cause number and court number on the Original Petition for Modification of the Parent-Child Relationship filed by the petitioner. Write the same cause number and court number on your answer. 
    • You are the “respondent.” The other side is the “petitioner.” 
    • Do not leave blanks. If something doesn’t apply, write “not applicable” or “none.” Talk to a lawyer if you have questions or need help
    • You must include a mailing address in your answer. The petitioner (and anyone else listed as a respondent in the Petition in Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship) will get a copy of this form. If you are concerned about the petitioner (or other respondent) knowing your mailing address, call the Family Violence Legal Line at 800-374-4673 for free advice.
    • Make enough copies of your completed answer form to have a copy for yourself, the petitioner, and each other respondent (if any).

    File (turn in) your completed answer form with the court. 

    • If the child has lived in another Texas county for at least six months, you can ask 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 answer. File your answer and Motion to Transfer with the court in the county where the petitioner filed the modification case. Talk to a lawyer about whether a transfer makes sense for your case.
    • If the child has lived in another state for at least the past six months, it is important to talk with a lawyer about your case. To file online, go to E-File Texas and follow the instructions. Also, read How to E-File on TexasLawHelp.

    To file in person, take your answer (and copies) to the district clerk’s office in the county where the petitioner filed for modification of the parent-child relationship. 

    At the clerk’s office: 

    • Turn in your answer form (and copies). 
    • 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 procedures you need to know about for your modification case. 
    • The clerk will “file stamp” your forms with the date and time. The clerk will keep the original and return your copies. One copy is for you and the other copy (or copies) are for the petitioner and other respondents (if any).

    Note: It does not cost anything to file an answer. Filing an answer is FREE.

    CHANGE IN LAW! All cases filed after September 1, 2023, no longer need to exchange the previously mandatory Required Initial Disclosures. If your case was filed before September 1, 2023, after a party to a family law case (like a paternity suit) files an answer, both sides are obligated to exchange certain information and documents within 30 days. The form is here: Required Initial Disclosures in SAPCRs and Modifications. See Rule 11 Agreements for information (and forms) about one way to waive required disclosures by agreement.

    Send a file-stamped copy of your answer to the petitioner and each other respondent (if any). If the petitioner or any other respondent has a lawyer, send it to the lawyer instead of directly to the petitioner or other respondent. You can send it by:

    • Hand delivery,
    • Email,
    • Mail,
    • Commercial delivery service (for example FedEx or UPS),
    • Fax, or
    • Electronic service through the electronic filing manager. (Note: This method is required if you electronically file (E-File) this document and the party's email address or the party’s lawyer is on file with the electronic file manager.)

    WARNING! If a judge has signed a Protective Order ordering you not to contact a party, do not violate that order. Talk with a lawyer about your options.

    Filing an answer protects your right to have a say in the issues involved in your modification case. Once you file an answer, the petitioner cannot finish the modification case unless:

    Filing an answer does not mean your modification case is over.

    To learn more, read the Frequently Asked Questions and Articles included in this guide.

    All cases filed after September 1, 2023, no longer need to exchange the previously mandatory Required Initial Disclosures. If your case was filed before September 1, 2023, after a party to a family law case (like a modification suit) files an answer, both sides must exchange certain information and documents within 30 days. (This step is not required if the case is filed by, or against, the Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division). Learn more at Required Initial Disclosures in Texas Civil Cases.

    Use our Legal Help Directory to search for a lawyer referral service, legal aid office or self-help center in your area. Check our Legal Events and Clinics page for free legal clinics in your area. Use Ask a Question to chat online with a lawyer or law student. 

    Forms Required

    Warning: The information and forms in this guide are not a substitute for the advice and help of a lawyer.

    These instructions explain how to file an answer and a counter-petition in a modification case. Each step includes the form or forms needed for that step.

    Checklist Steps

    If you have been officially served with a citation and petition (usually called an Original Petition to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship), there is a 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. 
    • You can also use TexasLawHelp's deadline calculator but double-check the result using the instructions above.
    • If you are served and do not file an answer on or before the deadline, the petitioner can finish the modification without any further notice to you (as long as any other applicable waiting periods have passed). This is called a “default judgment.”
    • You may be able to file your answer late. If the petitioner has not finished the modification, you can file your answer after the deadline.
    • To learn if the petitioner has finished the case, call the district clerk’s office (where the modification 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.
    • If the petitioner has finished the case, talk to a lawyer right away. Depending on how much time has passed, you may be able to file a “motion to set aside the default judgment.” For more information and forms, read the article How to Set Aside (Cancel) a Default Judgment.
    • You do not have to file an answer and counter-petition for a modification together. It is okay to file an answer first (to meet the deadline) and file a modification counter-petition later.

    If you have NOT been officially served, there is no deadline to file your answer. You can file your answer (or waiver of service only form) at any time after the petitioner files an Original Petition to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship (the form that starts the modification process) with the court. If you file your answer (or waiver of service only form) now, the petitioner will not need to have you served.

    Fill out an answer form and counter-petition to modify the parent-child relationship form.

    Although it is free to file an answer, there is a fee to file a counter-petition. Call the district clerk’s office (in the county where the divorce was filed) to learn the filing fee for a counter-petition. Fill out this additional form if you cannot afford to pay the fee.

    When filling out your forms:

    • Print using blue or black ink.
    • Find the cause number and court number on the Petition to Modify the Parent-Child Relationship filed by the petitioner. Write the same cause number and court number on your answer and counter-petition to modify forms.
    • In your answer, you are the “respondent” and the other party is the “petitioner.”
    • On your counter-petition in a modification, you are the “counter-petitioner”, and the other party is the “counter-respondent.” Note: The other parent should still be listed as the petitioner and you should be listed as the respondent in the court information box at the top of the first page.
    • Do not leave blanks. If something doesn’t apply write “not applicable” or “none.”
    • You must include a mailing address on your answer and counter-petition. The petitioner (and anyone else listed as a respondent in the modification) will get a copy of these forms. If you are concerned about the petitioner knowing your mailing address, call the Family Violence Legal Line at 800-374-4673 for free advice.

    Talk with a lawyer BEFORE filing an answer and counter-petition 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 orders requiring you to pay child support, medical support, court costs, and lawyer’s fees. 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.

    Talk with a lawyer BEFORE filing an answer and counter-petition if your child does not live in the Texas county where the case was filed or has not lived in Texas for at least the last six months (or since birth for an infant).

    Make enough copies of your completed answer form to have a copy for yourself, the petitioner, and each other respondent (if any). Make two copies of each completed form. 

    File (turn in) your completed answer and counter-petition forms with the court.

    At the clerk’s office:

    • Turn in your answer and counter-petition to modify forms (and copies).
    • Pay the filing fee for your modification counter-petition (or file your completed Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs if you cannot afford the fee).
    • 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 procedures you need to know about your custody case.
    • The clerk will “file-stamp” your forms with the date and time. The clerk will keep the originals and return your copies. One copy of each form is for you and the other copy (or copies) are for the petitioner and other respondents (if any).

    Note: It does not cost anything to file an answer. Filing an answer is FREE.

    You must send a file-stamped copy of your answer and counter-petition to the petitioner and each other respondent. If the petitioner or other respondent has a lawyer, send the copies to the lawyer instead of directly to the petitioner or other respondent.

    It’s best to use one of these delivery methods (so that you will have proof of delivery):

    • Certified mail, return receipt requested and regular mail,
    • Fax,
    • Email,
    • Commercial delivery service (such as FedEx or UPS), or
    • Electronic service through the electronic filing manager. (Note: This method is required if you electronically file (E-File) this document and the email address of the party or the party’s lawyer is on file with the electronic file manager.)

    WARNING! If a judge has signed a Protective Order ordering you not to contact the other party, do not violate that order. Talk with a lawyer about your options.

    Filing an answer protects your right to have a say in the issues involved in the modification case. Learn more by reading the material in the Overview and Articles tabs of this guide. 

    Once you file an answer, the petitioner cannot finish the modification case unless:

    Filing an answer does not mean the modification case is over. If you file an answer, that means the case is contested. So, you need to at least consult with a lawyer.

    Forms Required

    Articles in this guide