The decision to end a marriage is often a joint decision; however, one spouse can choose to file for divorce without consulting the other spouse. That means that divorce papers can be served on an unsuspecting spouse at any time. If you are that unsuspecting spouse who was just served with divorce papers, Fort Worth divorce lawyer Jon Boyd explains what you need to do next.
The Texas divorce process starts when one spouse files an Original Petition for Divorce. The spouse who initiates the divorce process is the “Petitioner” and the other spouse is referred to as the “Respondent.” The Petition, along with a Citation (a court summons telling the Respondent what was filed and how long he/she has to respond) must be served on the Respondent who then has 20 days within which to file an official Answer with the court.
If you find yourself blindsided by divorce papers it can be tempting (and understandable) to want to ignore the situation. Ignoring the Petition by failing to file an Answer can result in a waiver of your right to participate in the divorce process at all. Moreover, if you do not file an Answer, the Petitioner can eventually request a default judgment based solely on his/her original Petition. Ultimately, you are just giving your spouse what he/she wants out of the divorce by ignoring the divorce papers when you are served with them.
If you were just served with a Petition and Citation, the most important thing to do first is to read through the documents you were given and contact an experienced divorce lawyer as soon as possible. Your lawyer will ensure that your rights are protected and help you navigate the often-complex judicial system. One of the first things your lawyer will do is respond to the Petition filed by your spouse. This will involve filing a written Answer with the court that agrees with, denies, or alleges a lack of knowledge regarding each of the allegations set forth in the Original Petition. You may also decide to file a Counter-Petition of your own. This is usually only necessary if you wish to allege fault grounds of your own for the divorce.
Your lawyer may also request temporary and/or emergency action on the part of the court to address issues such as child custody, child support, and possession of the marital residence. For example, if you are worried that your spouse will hide assets or that he/she might be a physical threat to you, you can ask the court to issue an injunction and/or order of protection. Likewise, if you have minor children from the marriage, a hearing may be set to decide who will have temporary conservatorship over the children and to set a temporary possession and access schedule to be used while the divorce is pending. Keep in mind that until a judge issues an order stating otherwise, both parents have equal legal rights to the children which can be problematic if the divorce is contentious. By the same token, each party has equal rights to marital assets until the court says otherwise.
These are among the many reasons why it is imperative that you not ignore divorce papers if you are served with them. Responding to the Petition preserves your legal rights and often prevents a less than amicable divorce from turning downright adversarial by getting the court involved in disputed issues as soon as possible.
If you have recently been served with divorce papers in Texas it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced divorce lawyer immediately to ensure that your rights are protected. Contact an experienced Fort Worth divorce lawyer at Boyd Family Law to schedule your appointment today.