What happens in a Texas divorce when a petition is filed? Learn the steps and what to do.
After being served with a Divorce Petition, you become the “Respondent” in the Divorce case. Most lawyers will advise you to immediately obtain an attorney and to not agree to anything and certainly don’t sign anything. If you do not respond in writing, with particular language and within approximately twenty days (actually, by the “Monday next following the expiration of twenty days”), then a Default can be taken against you. At the Default hearing, your spouse will oftentimes receive anything and everything they request in Court.
What you have in your hand is a packet that will usually include: (1) the complaint for divorce (filed by your spouse) and a summons; (2) a blank financial statement; (3) a tracking assignment (this document tells you who your judge will be): and (4) information about the automatic restraining order on assets (which prohibits you and your spouse from selling or transferring certain marital assets during the pendency of the divorce proceedings). The packet may also contain a Motion for Temporary Orders, along with information about when and where the Motion will be heard. You and your spouse may agree to certain orders or, if no agreement is possible, the judge will decide.
At this point, I think it is a good idea to stress the importance of contacting a Texas divorce lawyer. Not only are you now required to file your answer and any counterclaims, as discussed below, but you need to deal with the temporary orders and the issues they raise. Once an order is in place, it will typically stay in place for the duration of the divorce proceedings. Because these orders may deal with a range of issues, including legal and physical custody of the minor children, child support and spousal support, use of the marital home during the divorce and who pays the expenses, and who is responsible for certain medical and other costs related to the children, it is CRUCIAL that your interests be adequately represented at the hearing(s).
As mentioned above, you have twenty days to file a written answer to your wife’s complaint for divorce (and to serve a copy on her or her attorney if she is represented). At the same time, you may file a counterclaim, a pleading that will be contained within the answer and will spell out the relief you are seeking from the court. You may also file a Motion for Temporary Orders.
Once all the pleadings are filed and served, if you and your wife cannot reach a settlement, the litigation will begin, and discovery (including interrogatories, depositions, and requests for financial records and other documents) and pretrial motions (regarding such things as court dates and discover disputes) will likely follow. If you have children, the whole process may be even more involved, as you and your spouse works through issues related to custody and support.