You Have Been Served with Divorce Papers: What Now?

torn photo of divorcing couple in Texas

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Brett Pritchard Law

Updated on July 20, 2023

Often, couples come to the difficult conclusion together that they need a divorce. Even when divorces are more one-sided, the spouse who is less enthusiastic usually sees it coming. However, in some cases, divorce papers can come very unexpectedly.

If you have been served with divorce papers out of the blue (or what seems like out of the blue to you), you are likely experiencing shock and probably do not know what to do next. Your children’s ongoing welfare and your financial future most likely top your list of concerns, and facing the unknown can be extremely frightening.

However, there are some steps you can take that will help you protect your and your children’s rights throughout the divorce process. A skilled Killeen divorce attorney will guide you through the divorce process and help you defend your rights, even in an unexpected divorce situation.

Try Not to Panic

Suddenly facing divorce papers is never easy, but it is important to remind yourself not to panic. Such a reaction can lead to errors in judgment and mistakes that can jeopardize the results of your divorce case. While you should share your feelings with close friends, family, and loved ones, now is also the time to gather your strength and address the issue of divorce head-on.

If your spouse files for divorce without telling you, it is a sign that he or she is interested in approaching this matter from a legal perspective instead of a personal perspective. Often, this tactic means that your divorcing spouse is determined to make things go his or her way no matter how much contention it causes, which makes getting your bearings essential.

Gather Documentation

Being served with divorce papers is your signal that it is time to begin compiling financial papers. If your spouse blindsides you with divorce papers, chances are good that he or she has a jump on you in terms of financial documentation, which is the basis of determining divorce terms like the division of your marital property, child support, and spousal maintenance.

A spouse who will go so far as filing for divorce without giving you the courtesy of discussing it with you ahead of time may take things further by making it more difficult for you to gather the documentation you need to protect your financial rights. If this is the case, work closely with your skilled Killeen criminal defense attorney to get the documents you need.

Steel Yourself

Divorce is the dissolution of the marriage contract, which is legally challenging, but it is also the end of a primary relationship, which is emotionally challenging. The path forward will be difficult, but you will make it to the other side. Setting an intention at this juncture to take the high road and act thoughtfully instead of simply reacting will serve you and your case well.

All of the following tactics can help you stay centered and focused on your post-divorce goals during the turbulence of divorce:

  • Work closely with a seasoned divorce attorney from the start.

  • Use your attorney as a sounding board to firm up your divorce priorities – those divorce issues that are most important to you – and allow them to guide your actions.

  • If communications with your divorcing spouse are not productive, communicate via text or other electronic means. If that tactic gets you nowhere, communicate through your respective divorce attorneys.

  • Do not stoop to your spouse’s level. He or she has already demonstrated a willingness to go lower than you would, and the stress of divorce can amplify such behavior. By setting standards for yourself, you help ensure that you can make clear-headed decisions as your divorce proceeds.

  • Do not expect perfection of yourself – divorce is hard.

Do Not Be Duped by Your Spouse’s Predictions

If your spouse served you with divorce papers unexpectedly, it may seem like he or she has the upper hand in the matter, but this is simply not the case. Do not give in to your feelings that the information your soon-to-be ex is feeding you is accurate or even truthful.

Allow your attorney's legal expertise to guide you, and do not give credence to statements such as, "You better sign this, or my attorney says you'll lose everything." This threat is a common tactic that you should do your best to ignore. Instead, contact a divorce attorney for knowledgeable guidance throughout your divorce.

Read the Divorce Notice

You have been served with divorce papers, and your urge may be to stuff them in a drawer and put them out of your mind as quickly as possible. As understandable as this is, it is not going to do you or your legal rights any favors. You are going to need to read your divorce papers.

There are two primary points to keep in mind in relation to divorce service:

  • In Texas, there is a deadline for filing your answer. You must file your answer by 10 AM on the first Monday after 20 days have passed – including weekends and holidays – from the date you were officially served.

  • While it is your right not to respond, failing to do so means that the divorce will proceed without you, and your spouse could obtain a default judgment without any input from you.

To better understand the divorce papers you have been served, it is important to keep in mind that your spouse is the petitioner, and you – by default – are the respondent. The Original Petition for Divorce that you have been served will address the following divorce factors:


The vast majority of divorces in Texas are no fault, and yours likely will be as well. If your spouse does seek a fault-based divorce, they will be called upon to prove that their accusation of fault is true.

Child Custody

Child custody in Texas involves both legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody determines who will make big decisions on behalf of your children. Physical custody determines how you will divide overnights with your kids.

Child Support

Child support is Texas’ way of ensuring that both parents contribute to their children’s financial well-being. Generally, the higher earner is responsible for making child support payments, even when overnights are divided evenly.

Protective Orders

Protective orders are orders for one person to abstain from stalking, harassing, threatening, or assaulting another person. Your divorce papers will inform you if your spouse is seeking a protective order, if there is a protective order already in place, or if a protective order is pending.

The Division of Marital Property

Those assets that you and your spouse came to own while you were married are marital assets that must be divided between you fairly upon divorce. Your divorce papers will lay out the action your spouse wants to take to divide your marital property between you.

Separate Property

The line between separate and marital property can be hazy, but assets that either of you owned prior to marriage and kept separate throughout can be claimed as that spouse’s property. Your divorce papers will lay out information your spouse has provided about separate property.

By reading the divorce papers, you will have a far better understanding of the terms your spouse is seeking in your divorce, which will inform your next steps.

Find an Experienced Divorce Attorney

Before you begin catastrophizing about the impossible twists and turns your and your children’s lives are going to take, find an experienced divorce attorney with whom you are comfortable sharing the details of your situation.

The single most important step you can take is committing to working closely with an experienced divorce attorney from the outset, which will help ensure that your divorce stays on track and that you obtain the best possible outcome.

You are looking for a divorce attorney who checks several important boxes. The attorney you ultimately choose should be someone who does all of the following for you and your case:

  • Someone who inspires your trust and whom you are comfortable talking to

  • Someone who is responsive and timely

  • Someone who has considerable experience in divorce law

  • Someone who takes the time to carefully explain the divorce process to you every step of the way

  • Someone who does not pull any punches when telling you what lies ahead and what needs to be done

  • Someone who is willing to go the distance for you and your case

  • Someone who has time for your case

If the attorney you are consulting with is not the one who will be handling your case primarily, you also want to know that.

While time is of the essence, you do not want to settle for an attorney who is not a good fit for you and your case. Hiring a divorce attorney in whom you are confident will help you rest easier as you move forward.

Respond to the Divorce Petition

By responding to the divorce papers that you have been served in a timely manner, you let the court know that you will be involved in the divorce process.

Generally, your best path forward is accepting that the divorce is proceeding but objecting to the proposed terms – it is highly unlikely that your spouse who surprised you with divorce papers included terms that are acceptable to you or that uphold your rights and best interests.

This action will begin the discovery process, or the exchange of financial documentation, which precedes negotiations.

Consider Each Divorce Term Carefully

The terms of your divorce will pave the way for your future, making it critical to consider each one carefully.

Your Child Custody Arrangements

Both legal custody and physical custody must be resolved, and either can be sole or joint. Texas courts are guided by the children’s best interests, and they generally find that – barring a reason for ruling otherwise – children’s best interests are best served when the amount of time they spend with each parent is maximized.

The kind of parenting decisions that legal custody addresses include those related to the following matters:

The factors that Texas courts turn to when making child custody determinations include the following consideration:

  • Each child’s needs, including any special needs, and each parent’s ability to address these needs

  • The preferences of the children – for those deemed mature enough to weigh in

  • Each parent’s level of involvement with raising the children thus far

  • Each parent’s level of investment in supporting the other’s ongoing relationship with the children

  • Each parent’s level of investment in keeping the lines of communication with one another open

  • The degree to which the status quo is working for the children, which means how well they have adapted to their current home, community, and school

Child Support

Both you and your divorcing spouse will remain financially responsible for supporting your children as they grow up, and child support helps balance this responsibility between you.

The primary custodial parent – the parent who has the children for the majority of overnights – is generally the parent who receives child support. However, even when parents divide their parenting time straight down the middle, the higher earner usually has the child support obligation.

The Division of Marital Property

Your marital property will need to be divided fairly – or equitably – between you. Consider these factors that help guide this division:

  • The length of the marriage

  • Each spouse’s age, relative health, earning potential, and employability

  • Each spouse’s debt load and the relationship of the debtor to the spouse – close family members, for example, may not require or even expect repayment

  • Tax considerations in relation to a proposed property division

  • Either spouse’s attempt to hide assets or engage in any other form of financial divorce fraud

  • Whether fault played a role in the divorce

The division of marital property has the potential to get complicated very quickly. Keep this divorce term under control with the help of a skilled Killeen divorce attorney.


While alimony may or may not play a role in your divorce, it is an important consideration in some divorces. Alimony is reserved for those divorces when one spouse’s ability to live at or near the standard of living achieved during the marriage takes a hit while the other spouse has the financial ability to help. The following factors help determine the need for alimony:

  • The marriage’s duration

  • Each spouse’s current earnings and earning potential

  • The inclusion of alimony terms in a valid prenuptial or postnuptial agreement

  • The contributions that the spouse requesting alimony made to the other’s career, education, and overall earning power

  • The contributions that the spouse requesting alimony made to the marriage in terms of homemaking and childcare

  • Any extenuating circumstances that preclude the spouse requesting alimony from working, such as a child with special needs who requires care and attention

Served with Divorce Papers? You Need an Experienced Killeen Divorce Attorney

If you are facing divorce papers that you were not expecting, it is a lot to take in, and you may have no idea where to turn for the help you need. However, it is important to know that help is available.

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a compassionate divorce attorney whose impressive background guiding challenging cases like yours toward advantageous outcomes speaks to his unwavering commitment to his clients’ rights and best interests.

Our distinguished legal team recognizes the difficulty of your situation and has the experience, resources, and legal insight to help. Your case is important, and we are here for you – so please do not hesitate to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 for more information today.

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