Filing for Conservatorship and Possession in TX: 5 Steps

Before you begin the initial filing process, ask yourself how your family will decide conservatorship and possession:

All these options require one parent to open a family law case.

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If you hire an attorney, they will help you file the case.

If you decide to file on your own, follow the steps below. To ensure a smooth process, start with a free or low-cost consultation with an attorney, and have them (or another legal professional) review your paperwork throughout the case.

Step 1: Complete your paperwork

First, you or the other parent will open a case: either a suit affecting the parent-child relationship (SAPCR) or a divorce case, which automatically includes a SAPCR if you have children from the marriage under 18.

Your situation may require you to also file a paternity suit or an application for a protective order. They will be under the same cause number (another name for case number).

If you need the court to decide how your children should be cared for throughout the legal proceedings, file a motion for temporary orders. You can instead agree on terms for temporary orders with the other parent and submit them to the court for approval.

If you suspect the other parent will do something damaging in the coming days or weeks, file a motion for a temporary restraining order when you open your case.

Lawyers recommend being liberal with requests in your initial paperwork. For example, you might ask for spousal support when you open your case, even though you're undecided if you want to pursue it later. Opting out of something you requested is simpler — and cheaper — than amending your pleading to add a request.

When you complete your paperwork, use blue or black ink. Instead of leaving blanks when something doesn't apply, write "none" or "not applicable."

Divorce case

If you and your spouse have children under 18 or still in high school, the court will issue orders regarding conservatorship, possession and support of the children as part of your divorce.

Complete the following forms to open a case:

You are the petitioner. The respondent is your spouse.

In Step 2, you will file with the district court clerk in the county where you or your spouse has lived for at least the last 90 days.

Suit affecting the parent-child relationship (SAPCR)

File this suit to determine conservatorship, possession and support if you're not married to the other parent. A SAPCR can also be used for less common requests, such as child visitation for a nonparent.

Complete the following forms to open a suit:

You are the petitioner. The respondents are the other parent, whomever the child lives with (if not with you or the other parent), and anyone else who has a court-ordered relationship with the child.

In Step 2, you will file with the district court clerk in the county your child lives in.

Step 2: Turn in your paperwork

Once your forms are complete, go to eFileTexas to submit them online, or head to the appropriate district clerk's office.

Either way, you'll pay a filing fee, which varies based on the county and type of case. If you can't afford to pay, file your statement of inability to pay instead.

If you're filing in person, bring enough copies of each document for you, the respondents, the court and, if applicable, the attorney general's office (Step 3) to have one each.

Confirm with the district clerk that you filled in your forms correctly. While clerks cannot give legal advice, many will do a quick check for common mistakes.

Then ask the clerk if you need to follow or attach any standing orders, or if your court has special rules or procedures for your type of case.

The clerk will give you a paperwork for informing the respondents of the case.

Finally, the clerk will write your court number and cause number on the first page of your petition. They will stamp your documents, keep the originals and return the copies to you.

Step 3: Notify the attorney general's office (if required)

If your child has ever received benefits from Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or a food stamp program, the attorney general's office may be involved in establishing child support for your family.

If the above does not apply to you, skip to Step 4.

If it does apply, you must inform the attorney general of your case by submitting a stamped copy of your petition. Send it to the child support office in the county where you filed your case.

If you're notifying the office by email, attach your scanned petition to an email and write your cause number in the subject line. After you send the email, print a copy to bring when you go to court.

If you're notifying the office by mail, tell your post office you want to use certified mail with a return receipt. You'll get one receipt when you mail the petition and a return receipt after the child support office receives your document. Bring both when you go to court.

To fax your petition, include a cover page that states your cause number. Bring a copy of your sent receipt when you go to court.

Step 4: Have the respondents informed

You must inform each respondent of the case and their rights. You have two ways of doing this.

Ask the respondents to turn in a form

The simplest method is to ask the respondents to sign a form showing that they know about the case.

Give your respondents the following:

Ask the respondents to complete and turn in either form.

If a respondent won't cooperate or if there has ever been violence in your relationship, use the method below instead.

Have the respondents served

This means you ask law enforcement or a private process server to deliver the required court papers.

Start by calling a sheriff, constable or private server in the county where each respondent in your case lives or works. Ask what they charge as a service fee (usually $50 to $100).

When you've selected a server, send them your citation and stamped petition — one of each per respondent. Include a stamped, self-addressed envelope as well as your payment (or, alternatively, the statement of inability to pay that you had the clerk stamp).

The server will deliver the papers to your respondents in person and send the completed Return of Service form to you or the court. If they send it to you, file it with the court clerk.

If any of your respondents cannot be served in person, you may be able to notify them of the suit via mail, a newspaper notice, a courthouse posting or another method. Speak to your process server or a lawyer for more information.

Step 5: Wait for the respondents file

As petitioner, your role in the initial filing is now over.

If you served your respondents, wait to see if they file a response. If they don't file by the Monday following the 20th calendar day after they were served, you can finish your case without their input.

If you did not serve your respondents, wait until they file one of the forms you gave them; there's no deadline. If they take their time responding, you can have them served to force movement in the case.

Information for respondents

Once you've been given paperwork about a case, you have the opportunity to formally respond.

If you were served, file an Original Answer form by 10 a.m. on the Monday following the 20th calendar day after you were served. If you don't, a judge can rule without your input.

If you were not served, you can choose to file an Original Answer form or a Waiver of Service Only form. There is no deadline; in fact, if you are settling your case, you can submit either form at the time of your uncontested final hearing. However, if you do not respond at all, your case can not proceed unless the other parent has you served.

In the Waiver of Service Only form, you relinquish your right to be formally served with certain court papers. You must sign this in front of a notary.

The Original Answer form tells the court that you know about a case but does not give up your right to service. Lawyers generally recommend using an answer form instead of a waiver.

With both forms, you may add a counter petition, which specifies what you want the court to award. The Counter Petition form for opposite-sex divorce is available online. See an attorney for help creating a counter petition in other types of cases.

Filing a counter petition carries a fee that varies by county. If you can't afford it, fill out a Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs.

When your forms are completed, file them online with eFileTexas or in person at the court clerk's office.

If you're filing in person, bring enough copies of each document for the petitioner, any other respondents and the court to have one each. The clerk will stamp your documents, keep the originals and return the copies to you.

After filing, send one of the stamped copies of each document to the other parties in the case. If a party has a lawyer, deliver it to the lawyer instead. Use a method that gives you proof of delivery, such as:

  • eFileTexas (required if you use this service to file and the party or their lawyer is registered)
  • Email
  • Certified mail with a return receipt
  • Fax

Be careful to choose a method that does not violate any restraining orders that are in place.

Preparing for what comes next

The next step in the court process depends on your circumstances. Most cases go to a hearing or to court-ordered mediation, unless parents reach settlement first.

No matter what's next for you, take advantage of technology to be fully prepared.

The Custody X Change online app offers custom possession calendars, parent-to-parent messaging, an expense tracker and more.

You can use the app in many ways in Texas: to put together proposals for the other parent, negotiate, prepare settlement paperwork or organize evidence.

Be prepared for every step of your case with Custody X Change.

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