You have been served with a Petition for Divorce or any family law petition by either a private process server or constable and you wonder what to do at this point. You have never been through something like this before and you do not know when or if you even need to respond. But, if you were served with anything you must file a response. You cannot allow the case to proceed forward without your response because if you do, you will be setting yourself up for failure. In not filing a response, the other party can secure what is called a “default judgment” against you. If they do this, that means that the judge can entertain and sign any order that the other party presents to the court without further notice to you. You definitely do not want this to happen in a family law case because unfortunately there will not be anything to reverse that awful one-sided order once it is entered because you had ample notice to participate once you were served.
So, to avoid that catastrophe it is important that you, at the very least, file what is called a “general denial” or what some people call an “answer.” This puts the court on notice that you have received the petition (though they will also see that in the return of service filed after your service by the process server and constable) and that you are contesting the case. Therefore, if any additional actions are taken in the case like a hearing or order presented to the court you will be entitled to notice before any of that can occur.
Deadline to Respond – 10 AM on the Monday after 20 Days
The important issue in this situation is your deadline to file an answer in a family law case. That is correct, you not only have to get an answer on file but you also have to make sure it is timely. Texas Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 99(b) and (c) state that you must “file a written answer to the plaintiff’s petition on or before 10:00 am on the Monday next after the expiration of twenty days after the date of service thereof.” So, that means that you look at the date you were served and then you county twenty days and if the twenty days expires in the middle of the week (for instance, on a Tuesday-Wednesday) then you have until the following Monday by 10:00 am to file your answer. The good news is the citation that you are served with (attached to the petition) contains this information on it. It will also state your date of service so that the Court also knows when to start counting from.
When you meet with your attorney, always take a copy of the petition and citation that you were served with so that they can review it and determine when your answer should be filed. As discussed, you never want to miss that deadline. Be sure to contact Guest & Gray if you are ever served in a family law matter to schedule a consultation. Our family law team is ready to help you.