A plan of service is a voluntary agreement between a parent or caregiver, and DFPS. According to the DFPS handbook, a written plan of service should be developed within 21 days after the FBSS case has been opened. The plan of service should detail, among other things, why DFPS is involved, what tasks must be completed, how the requested action will help alleviate concerns of abuse or neglect, how to complete the requested actions, and how your progress will be evaluated. Once completed, the caseworker will ask the parent or caregiver to sign the agreement and provide you with a copy of the plan. A parent may refuse to sign the plan of service; however, this may result in the child being removed by DFPS. Texas law requires that the plan be reviewed when significant changes occur and at least every six months. However, DFPS regulations require the assigned caseworker and supervisor review the plan of service at least one time every month.
Texas Law Help Question & Answer Bank
1. Removal without a court order:
DFPS can remove a child without a court order in some emergency circumstances. If DFPS removes a child from a parent or legal guardian without a court order, DFPS must file a SAPCR, request that the court appoint an attorney ad litem for the child, and request an initial hearing no later than the next business day after the emergency removal. DFPS may have the hearing without the parents present, which is called an ex parte hearing.
2. Removal with a court order:
DFPS can request that a court sign an order to remove a child from the parents in an ex parte hearing without the parents present. If DFPS obtains an order authorizing the emergency removal of a child, DFPS may remove the child from the parents after obtaining the order.
Conservatorship is the legal term for custody. To obtain a conservatorship order, a person or DFPS must file a Suit Affecting the Parent Child Relationship or SAPCR. If DFPS asks for a legal removal of a child, that means they will be asking a court to name DFPS the Temporary Managing Conservator of a child. Generally, a managing conservator has the right to decide where and with whom a child will live. Before DFPS asks a court to be named the Temporary Managing Conservator of a child, the DFPS caseworker and supervisor should discuss the legal necessity of removing the child with an attorney who represents DFPS. If DFPS seeks a formal legal removal from a parent and a parent cannot afford to hire an attorney, the parent may be entitled to court appointed legal representation. Temporary Managing Conservatorship in the context of the CPS process means that DFPS will temporarily take custody of your child. DFPS may request the right, to make both educational and medical decisions for your child. DFPS will also ask that as a requirement of the child being returned to your custody, you be court ordered to complete a plan of service.
You can talk to and hire a lawyer at any time, including during the investigation stage, if you can afford one. But you are not entitled to a court appointed lawyer during a CPS investigation. What this means is that you can have a lawyer helping you if you pay for the lawyer yourself, but the court does not have to give you a free lawyer until later in the CPS process, and only then if you are determined to be indigent.
Paying for a lawyer is hard for many people – lawyers can be very expensive. Organizations that offer free legal advice may be able to help, but there are not many legal aid lawyers who work on CPS cases. You can also try to find a lawyer willing to give you limited advice for a lower fee – maybe you can call and talk to the lawyer for advice, even if the lawyer does not come to CPS meetings with you. Reading this Handbook is another way you can help yourself even if you are not able to pay for a lawyer yourself.
You must meet all 3 requirements for a court to appoint you a free lawyer:
- Indigency. You must be “indigent” – this means that you have a low income and cannot afford to pay for a lawyer yourself.
- Lawsuit. CPS must have filed a lawsuit in court asking to be appointed the temporary managing conservator of your child or for your parental rights to be terminated.
- Oppose the Petition. You must “respond in opposition” to the suit – this means you must go to court and show that you are going to fight the CPS petition.
Texas law is not specific about how much income you have to have to be considered indigent. Most courts give you a form to fill out where you will write down how much money you make each month and what your monthly expenses are like rent, utilities, daycare, and gas. You should fill out the form if you think there is any chance you might be able to have a free lawyer. One easy test, for example, is whether you get any other government benefits, like SNAP/food assistance. There is no penalty for filling out the form even if you do not end up receiving a court-appointed lawyer.
For parents who are under 18 years old, you are also entitled to a lawyer. You should make sure to ASK the court for a lawyer if one is not immediately appointed to your case. Your ability to pay for a lawyer will be based on your income, not that of your parents. For more information relevant to teenage parents, See page 110.
CPS is an acronym for Child Protective Services. In Texas, Child Protective Services is a branch of the Department of Family and Protective Services or DFPS. DFPS is sometimes called the Department. DFPS is a state agency that oversees five different programs including Adult Protective Services, Child Protective Services, Child Care Licensing, Statewide Intake, and Prevention and Early Intervention throughout the state of Texas. DFPS is tasked with investigating reports of abuse or neglect of children, providing services to children and families, assisting children in foster care transition to adulthood, and finding suitable adoption placements for children in foster care. This toolkit is intended to be a guide and provide insight as to how DFPS works and how you can successfully work with DFPS. Any specific questions or concerns regarding your involvement with the Department of Family and Protective Services and/or Child Protective Services should be discussed with an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of Texas. If you have further questions, you can call the Family Helpline at 844-888-6565 for free legal information and education regarding DFPS issues.
A custody case that is not part of a divorce is called a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR case for short). A SAPCR case asks a judge to make a custody, visitation, child support, medical support, and dental support orders for a child.
Read the custody papers right away. Is there a standing order? Has the judge signed a temporary restraining order? Are there any hearing 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 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 custody 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:
- Use our Legal Help Finder to search for a lawyer referral service, legal aid office or self-help center in your area.
- Check our Legal Clinic Calendar for free legal clinics in your area.
- Use Ask a Question to chat online with a lawyer or law student.
Decide how you want to respond.
- Option 1: File an answer. If you have been served with the initial custody papers (citation and petition) and want to have a say in the case, you must file a Respondent’s Original Answer form with the court. If you don’t, the petitioner may finish the custody without you. Get answer forms here: Instructions & Forms for Filing an Answer in a SAPCR (Custody) 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 custody should be transferred to another court in Texas.
- Option 2: File an answer AND a counter-petition. A counter-petition tells the judge what orders you want the judge to make in the custody case. Counter-petition forms are not currently available on TexasLawHelp.org.
- Option 3: Do nothing. If you have been served with custody papers and do nothing, the petitioner can finish the custody without you. This is called a “default judgment.” You will not have a say in any of the issues involved in the custody case.
If you have questions about your options, it’s important to talk with a lawyer.
If you are concerned about your safety or the safety of your children, call the National Domestic Violence 24 Hour Hotline, 800-799-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:
- Legal Aid for Survivors of Sexual Assault, 800-991-5153
If you are an immigrant, you can also call:
- Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), 512-994-2199
In an emergency, call 911.
Find out more in the Protection from Violence or Abuse section of this website.
Yes. When you file for adoption of an adult, you must usually pay a “filing fee.” The fee may vary by county. Contact the district clerk’s office or the statutory county court with jurisdiction over family law cases in the county where you (the petitioner) live to learn the fees.
If you don’t have enough money to pay the fees, you can ask a judge to waive the fees by completing and filing a Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs. Read this short article to learn more: Court Fees & Fee Waivers.
The person asking the court for the adoption order is the “petitioner.”
If the petitioner is married, then both spouses must join together as petitioners in the adoption case.
Note: Even though the spouse of a petitioner in an adoption case must also join in the adoption case as a petitioner, the spouse may ask the court not to grant the adoption to both spouses, and only to one.
An adult adoption can be granted in Texas without listing any “respondent” parties.
Because the person to be adopted is an adult, there is no requirement to give notice of the adoption to the adult’s biological parents or to bring in the adult’s biological parents as parties to the case.
Yes. Both the petitioner(s) and the adult to be adopted must go to court for the adoption hearing.
Note: If you have a really good reason that either the petitioner(s) or the adult to be adopted cannot attend the hearing, you can ask the court to make an exception that attendance in court for either party to the adoption is not required. This exception is rare and only applies if you have “good cause” and if the judge signs a written order giving permission that either party to the adoption is not required to go to court for the adoption.
An adult adoption:
Makes the adopted adult the son or daughter of the adoptive parent(s)
Creates the adopted adult’s right to inherit from the adoptive parents
The adopted adult no longer inherits from or through the adopted adult’s biological parents.
Note: An adult adoption will not impact immigration rights or grant benefits under immigration law.
An adult adoption will not be approved (ordered) if the judge believes:
The adoption is being requested to avoid a legal obligation (such as paying a debt)
A party to the adoption is not voluntarily agreeing to the adoption (for example, due to a disability or duress)
You can go toto get an giving you the temporary authority to care for a child. This kind of is only available if:
- The child has lived with the person applying for (at least) the 30-day period right before the date the was filed; and
- There is not already a written authorization agreement under Texas Family Code chapter 34 (or some other signed, written documentation from a , , or that enables the person to provide necessary care for the child); and
- The , , or does not object to the (that is, the person trying to get the temporary authorization) having the authority to care for the child.
No, a temporary authorization order under Texas Family Code chapter 35 is not the same thing as having custody. Please read Texas Family Code chapter 35.007(d). If you are not a and need to learn more about filing for custody (“” under Texas law), please review (SAPCR) I need a . I am not the child’s parent.
At the hearing, you ask the judge for what you want, and explain why you should get it. Here are the steps to follow at the hearing.
Step 1: Go to the courthouse.
- Arrive early.
- Ask the District Clerk if you need to pull your case file to take to the docket, or if the judge already have it for your hearing.
Step 2: Go to the courtroom.
- Let the clerk or court coordinator (seated next to the judge’s bench) know you have arrived for your hearing.
- Ask if he or she needs any of your papers, or if the judge prefers for you to give your papers to the judge.
Step 3: Sit down and wait for the judge to call your case.
- Sometimes the judge calls roll (also known as “docket call”). When your name or case number is called, stand up, and tell the judge you are the Petitioner, and say how much time you think your case will take. Then, sit down, and wait to be called again. If the judge isn’t calling roll, then stand before the bench when you are called.
Step 4: The hearing.
- The judge will swear you in, and may ask you to “proceed” with your testimony, or may ask you questions. Answer the judge truthfully, courteously, and respectfully. The judge needs to know how the other party violated the court order. Stick to the facts. Respect the other party. Be businesslike. If you have witnesses to call or evidence to present, you will do so at this time. After you call each witness, the other party can ask questions of them. The other party may call his or her witnesses, and you can ask questions of them.
If you are seeking to have someone held in contempt it is absolutely essential that the person has received actual notice of the contempt hearing. This means that the Respondent must be personally served with the Motion for Contempt containing the Show Cause Order.
Also, if you amend (update or change) the Motion to Enforce at any time after you have filed it but before the hearing, don’t forget that the Respondent must be served with the amended pleading too.
Make sure to ask the clerk about how to properly serve the other party. The clerk will process the citation and may be able to give it to a constable. The constable will serve the Order to Appear and the Motion upon the person you are seeking to have found in contempt. If they can't do it themselves, the clerk should be able to tell you how to get the proper documents to the constable for service. After they have served the paperwork, the constable will file a return of citation with the clerk’s office to show them that the person to be held in contempt was personally served.
**You cannot have a hearing on contempt until the Return of Citation has been on file with the court for at least 10 days.**
If you have been served with a citation and petition, 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.
If you are served and do not file an answer on or before the deadline, the petitioner can finish the case without any further notice to you. This is called a “default judgment.”
If you have NOT been served with a citation and petition, there is no deadline to file your answer. You can file your answer at any time after the petitioner files a petition (the form that starts the lawsuit) with the court. If you file your answer, the petitioner will not need to have you served.
NOTE: The deadline to file an answer may be different if you have a civil case (such as an eviction or other type of case filed in Justice of the Peace court)