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 party to open a family law case.

Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and possession schedules you can file with the court.

Make My Texas Plan Now

If you hire an attorney, he or she 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 a legal professional review your paperwork throughout the case.

If you have questions, see our resources.

Step 1: Complete your paperwork

First, you or the other parent will open a case: either a suit affecting the parent-child relationship (SAPCR, for short) or a divorce case, which automatically includes a SAPCR if you have children from the mariage 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 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. And 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 also agree on terms for temporary orders with the other parent and submit them to the court for approval.

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 later.

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 proceedings.

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 non-parent.

Complete the following forms to open a case:

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.

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.

At the clerk’s office, you’ll pay a filing fee, which varies based on the county and type of case. If you cannot afford to pay, you’ll file your Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs instead.

Confirm with the district clerk that you've included all necessary information. While district clerks cannot give legal advice, many will do a quick check for common mistakes.

The clerk will give you a citation sheet for informing the respondents of the case. If you have a non-violent relationship, and you know the respondents will sign forms required by the court, you do not need the citation form.

Next, 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.

Finally, the clerk will write your court number and cause number on the first page of your petition. He or she will stamp your documents with the date, 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 (TANF) or a food stamp program, the attorney general’s office may be involved in establishing 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’s office of your case by submitting a stamped copy of your petition by email, mail or fax.

Call the attorney general’s child support division at (800) 252-8014 and ask for the contact information of the office in the county where you filed your case.

If you’re notifying the office by email, scan your file-stamped petition, attach it 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 will 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

Each respondent needs to be informed of the case and his or her rights. Usually, you’ll inform respondents by having them served, but if you have a non-violent relationship, you can instead ask them to fill out a form that tells the court they’re aware of the proceedings.

Having a respondent 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 Afford Payment of Court Costs 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 publication, a courthouse posting or another method. Speak to your process server or a lawyer for more information.

Asking the respondent to complete an alternate form

The alternative to having respondents served is asking them to sign the Original Answer form or Waiver of Service Only form (below). If there has ever been violence in your relationship, or if you’re uncertain whether they’ll sign, have the respondents served as described above.

Give your respondents the following:

  • A copy of your petition stamped by the clerk
  • A blank Respondent’s Original Answer form (Use the form for your case type: divorce or SAPCR)
  • A blank Waiver of Service Only form (Use the form for your case type: divorce or SAPCR)

Ask the respondents to complete and sign either form.

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 in what is called a default divorce or default SAPCR. If they do file by that day or before you finish your case, your next step in the court process is usually a hearing or mediation.

If you did not serve your respondents, wait until they file one of the forms you gave them; there’s no deadline. After they file, your next step will also be a hearing or mediation. If your respondents delay in responding, you can have them served to force movement in the case.

Information for respondents

Once you have been given paperwork about a suit, you have the opportunity to formally respond.

If you were served, file an Original Answer form (above) 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.

The Original Answer form tells the court that a respondent knows about a case. Lawyers generally recommend using an answer form instead of a waiver, to ensure your rights are fully protected.

In the Waiver of Service Only form, a respondent relinquishes his or her right to be formally served with certain court papers. This form must be signed in front of a notary.

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 or our resources for help creating a counter petition in other types of cases.

Filing a counter petition requires a fee that varies by county. If you cannot 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 with the date, keep the originals and return the copies to you.

After filing, you have to 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 a party’s email address or their lawyer’s is registered)
  • Email
  • Certified mail with a return receipt
  • Fax

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

Preparing for what comes next

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

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

The Custody X Change app offers a parenting plan template, personalized possession calendars, a shared expenses tracker and more. Use it to negotiate, prepare evidence, or file for settlement.

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

Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and possession schedules you can file with the court.

Make My Texas Plan Now

Custody X Change is software that creates customizable parenting plans and possession schedules you can file with the court.

Make My Plan