Short answer: Yes, absolutely!
Let’s assume you’ve just been served with divorce papers. So you call your wife and you ask her why she filed for divorce. In her answer, she tells you it’s time to move on and she wants the divorce to be agreed. She says she will give you 50/50 custody or “expanded possession”. You agree to pay child support for $600/month. You think you are working out your divorce without any need for legal help. A few months later, she presents you with a divorce decree that does exactly what she said she would do. It has you getting expanded possession and provides for joint decision making (otherwise known as Joint Managing Conservator). She asks you to sign it and you do. You tells you she’s going to go down to the court in a couple of weeks with her lawyer to get it entered.
A month later, you get the final decree in the mail and you don’t look at it. Some more time goes by and you receive a letter from the Office of Attorney General insisting that you are $10,000 behind in child support. You believe this must be some sort of mistake. So you call your ex-wife, who, of course, doesn’t answer your call. Then you open up the Final Decree and see that the order looks nothing like the one you signed. Your heart starts racing. You read more of the Decree. The Decree awards you professionally supervised visitation and orders you to pay back child support of $10,000 for 8 months. It then puts your current child support at $1,200 per month and orders you to reimburse her $200 for “cash medical support”. This means your real child support amount is $1,400 a month. “She can’t do that”, you think to yourself. This is outrageous and wrong. You agreed on the divorce and then your wife files something completely different.
This is a real life nightmare scenario that has happened before and if you don’t file an ANSWER to your divorce case, it could happen to you. The reason it happens is because when you don’t file an answer to a divorce case, your spouse can get anything she (or he) plead for in her petition, and in this case, she plead for Sole Managing Conservatorship. When this person came to see me, he was distraught and he didn’t understand how it happened to him. I explained that once you get served, you have 20 days to file an answer and if you don’t file an answer you are in what’s called Default. This means that the court thinks you don’t care what happens in your divorce so they give the other side whatever they want. In his case, we ended up filing a Bill for Review. In the Bill of Review, we asked the court to vacate the Decree. The opposing counsel wouldn’t agree to simply vacate the decree and insisted that he did nothing wrong. And, the truth is, he didn’t. This client just didn’t file an answer which put him in default. The answer is typically a 1-2 page document that will take someone with no legal experience about 2 hours to Google, Draft, and e-file. Fortunately, we ended up getting the Decree vacated, but it took alot of time and effort to get there and it wasn’t necessary. Just remember, if you’ve been served with a legal case in Texas, you have a little over 20 days to respond (the deadline falls on the first Monday after 20 days). If your spouse has filed for divorce and served you with the papers, do yourself a favor and file a simple answer. It will save you a lot of heartache years down the road.