While many people think of child custody cases in the context of a divorce, it is possible for one parent to make a case to a judge regarding custody, visitation, child support, or medical support outside of a divorce case. In Texas, this is referred to as a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR case). In these instances, the parent who starts the case is called the petitioner, while the other parent is the respondent. 

If you are the respondent in a child custody case and have been served custody papers by the court, law enforcement, in the mail, or through a private process server, here are a few things you should know about your next steps. 

  1. Read the papers thoroughly. It is important to understand what the other parent is asking for and to determine whether you agree or disagree. Read the SAPCR papers carefully to determine if there is a standing order or temporary restraining order filed and to make note of any hearing dates. 

2. Determine the response deadline. You have until the Monday after 20 days from the day you were served (including weekends and holidays) to file a response with the court. If the 20th day is a Monday, your response will be due the following Monday. The type of response you give will be determined by whether you agree with what is laid out in the suit. You might file an answer or an answer with a counter-petition. If you do not respond, the other parent may finish the custody case without you in what is known as a “default judgment.” 

3. Speak with a family law attorney. Child custody cases and SAPCR cases can get complicated and stressful. An experienced family law attorney can review your case and provide legal advice, assistance with forms, or representation in court. While you do not need a lawyer to represent you in a SAPCR case, it is highly recommended, particularly in the event that you are afraid for your child’s safety, your child has a disability, or the other parent has a lawyer. 

4. File your forms. You will need to file your answer online or in person by the response deadline. You will also likely need to file a fee for your answer unless you cannot afford it and request a fee waiver. Your attorney can help you fill out your forms and submit them. 

This blog does not constitute legal advice. When it comes to determining conservatorship and possession and access for your child, it is important to work with a family law attorney so that you can make sure you are able to protect and maintain your relationship with your child. We encourage you to call us at 512-580-2449 to discuss your child custody case.