Sometimes you know it’s coming. Other times, it’s a bolt from the blue. Either way, getting served with divorce papers can be a shock.

Texas is a no-fault state, which means that a spouse doesn’t have to prove that their partner did anything wrong to get divorced. The petitioner—the spouse who starts the divorce—just has to file an Original Petition For Divorce with the court. The petitioner can sometimes allege fault, which can have an impact on the divorce outcome depending on how the judge rules. But your case won’t be defined by who filed.

Here are some important steps to take if your spouse files for divorce:

1. Read carefully. The first thing to do if you are served with divorce papers is to read them carefully. It’s important to know what orders your spouse wants the judge to make. Has the judge issued a court order, or signed a temporary restraining order? Court orders might forbid you from any of the following: taking children out of state, changing their schools or daycare, closing financial accounts, or changing life insurance policies. You might also be provided with hearing dates.

2. Respond. The next thing to do is respond. In your response, you’ll state what you agree and disagree with in your spouse’s petition. Don’t worry about the nitty gritty details yet. This response is what protects your legal right to participate equally in the divorce. It is important to file your answer within the deadline.

3. Figure out the deadline. Find the day you were served on a calendar, count out 20 more days (including weekends and holidays!) then go to the next Monday. You must file your answer with the court on or before this date at 10:00 a.m. A divorce cannot be finalized until 60 days have passed after your spouse filed the divorce petition.

Divorce can be complicated and stressful, but hiring a family law lawyer helps. A lawyer can handle your entire case, if you like. You can also hire a family law lawyer to help you understand your rights and options, give you advice, or to make sure your forms are properly filled out.

A family law attorney can be especially helpful if:

  1. You plan on contesting the divorce
  2. You and your spouse have valuable property (a house, retirement, or business) or a lot of debt
  3. You need alimony
  4. You’re in a same sex marriage with a child, but without an adoption or court order naming both of you as legal parents.

An experienced law firm like Sandoval Family Law can help you navigate the confusing, stressful, and often painful process of getting a divorce, from providing the first answer through the settlement or trial. With professional help, the process will go a lot more smoothly.