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(Divorce) My spouse filed for divorce.

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(Divorce) My spouse filed for divorce.

This toolkit tells you about your options if your spouse has filed for divorce. FORMS ARE INCLUDED.

This toolkit includes:

  • Instructions & Forms you can use to file an answer and/or counter-petition for divorce.
  • Frequently Asked Questions about responding to a divorce.
  • Articles on topics related to divorce.

Need Help?

  • Use our Legal Help Finder to search for a lawyer referral service, legal aid office or self-help center in your area.
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WARNING! The information and forms in this toolkit are not legal advice and are not a substitute for the help of a lawyer. It’s a good idea to talk with a lawyer about your particular situation.

Instructions & Forms
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is the “petitioner” and who is the “respondent” in a divorce?

The “petitioner” is the spouse who starts the divorce by filing an Original Petition for Divorce with the court. The “respondent” is the other spouse.

What does it mean to be “served” with divorce papers?

Unless the divorce is agreed, the petitioner (the spouse who starts the divorce) must have the respondent (the other spouse) served with:

  • a Citation (the form issued by the court to officially notify the respondent of the divorce) and
  • a copy of the Original Petition for Divorce (the form filed by the petitioner to start the divorce).

The respondent should also be served with (1) any other papers filed by the petitioner at the beginning of the case and (2) 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.

  • You can be in person by a constable, sheriff or private process server. (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 this way is valid only if you sign the return receipt showing that you received the letter.)
  • You can be by posting or publication in a newspaper if the petitioner can’t find you.  
  • You can be 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 Original Petition for Divorce be posted to your door, left with anyone over 16 at your home or work or mailed to you at your home or work address by regular mail.

Note: Papers filed by the petitioner later in the case will usually be sent to you by regular mail or email.  

Talk to a lawyer if you have questions about being served.

What should I do if I’m served with divorce papers?

Read the divorce papers right away. What orders does your spouse want the judge to make? 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 your answer. If you have been served with divorce papers, there is a deadline to file an answer. To determine the deadline, find the day you were served with divorce 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, your spouse can finish the divorce without you (as long as any other applicable waiting periods have passed). Note: 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. You can hire a lawyer to handle your whole case. You also have the option of hiring a lawyer just to give you advice or review your forms. 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 divorce papers and want to have a say in your divorce, you must file (turn in) a Respondent’s Original Answer form with the court by the deadline. If you don’t, your spouse may finish the divorce without you. Get answer forms here: Instructions & Forms for Filing an Answer in a Divorce.

Warning! It’s important to talk with a lawyer before filing an answer (or any other form) with the court if (1) you don’t live in Texas or (2) you think the divorce should be transferred to another court in Texas.

  • Option 2: File an answer AND a counter-petition for divorce. A counter-petition for divorce tells the judge what orders you want the judge to make in your divorce. If your divorce is contested, you may want to file (turn in) a Respondent’s Original Answer form AND a Respondent’s Original Counter-Petition for Divorce form. Get counter-petition for divorce forms here: Instructions & Forms for Filing an Answer and Counter-Petition for Divorce.

Warning! It’s important to talk with a lawyer before filing a counter-petition (or any other form) with the court if (1) you don’t live in Texas or (2) you think the divorce should be transferred to another court in Texas.

  • Option 3: Do nothing. If you have been served with divorce papers and don’t file an answer, your spouse can finish the divorce without you. This is called a “default judgment.” You will not have a say in any of the issues involved in your divorce, including decisions about your property, money and debt. If you and your spouse have children, you will not have a say in decisions about custody, visitation and child support.
What if I don’t want to be served with divorce papers?

If you don’t want to be served with the divorce papers, you can voluntarily file an answer (or waiver of service only form). Filing an answer (or waiver of service only form) tells the judge that you know about the case and have received a file-stamped copy of the Original Petition for Divorce. Your spouse will not need to have you served if you voluntarily file an answer (or waiver of service only form).

What is an answer in a divorce?

An “answer” is a legal form you (the respondent) file with the court to protect your right to have a say in the divorce.

If you file an answer, your spouse cannot finish the divorce unless:

  • you agree to and sign a Final Decree of Divorce or
  • your spouse gives you written notice of a contested hearing date.
Where can I get an answer form for a divorce?
What is the deadline to file an answer in a divorce?

If you have been served with divorce papers (Citation and Original Petition for Divorce), there is a deadline to file an answer.  

To calculate 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, your spouse can finish the divorce without any further notice to you (as long as any other applicable waiting periods have passed). This is called a “default judgment.”

Can I file my divorce answer late?

Maybe. If your spouse has not finished the divorce, you can file your answer after the deadline. If your spouse has finished the divorce, it is too late to file an answer.

To learn if your spouse has finished the divorce, call the district clerk’s office in the county where your spouse filed the divorce. Ask the clerk if the judge signed a Final Decree of Divorce in your case.

Note: If your spouse has finished the divorce without you, you may be able to ask the judge to set aside or cancel the Final Decree of Divorce. Read this article to learn more: How to Set Aside (Cancel) a Default Judgment.

How much does it cost to file an answer?

Filing an answer is free.

What if I'm afraid of my spouse?

Divorce can be a dangerous time. If you are concerned about your safety or the safety of your children, call the National Domestic Violence 24 Hour Hotline at 1-800-799-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:

If you are an immigrant, you can also call:

In an emergency, please call 911.

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

Do I need a lawyer to help me with my divorce?

You do not have to have a lawyer to file or respond to a divorce case. However, divorce cases can be complicated and your rights as a parent, your property and your money may be at risk.

It’s a good idea to talk with a family law lawyer about your particular situation. Family law lawyers specialize in cases involving families, like divorce. A family law lawyer can explain your rights and options.

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.
  • Your spouse has a lawyer.
  • You or your spouse have a house, retirement, business, other valuable property or a lot of debt.
  • You need spousal maintenance (alimony).
  • You and your spouse have a child with a disability.
  • You or your spouse have an ongoing bankruptcy or are planning to file for bankruptcy.
  • You are in a same sex-marriage and you and your spouse have a child but there is no adoption or other court order stating that you are both legal parents.

If you need help finding a lawyer, you can: