Pro Se litigants, which simply means people representing themselves, need to take care and make sure to file an answer. Without an answer on file after a party is served, the opposing party can enter a Default Judgment, getting everything that they want without notice to the pro se litigant. Almost every family law case involves children or assets that make it worth to at least be a part of the process. Filing that answer makes sure a litigant is noticed of hearing and gets to participate.
What constitutes an answer is given a lot of leeway. ”A defendant, who timely files a pro se answer by a signed letter that identifies the parties, the case, and the defendant’s current address, has sufficiently appeared by answer and deserves notice of any subsequent proceedings in the case.” Smith v. Lippmann, 826 S,W, 2d 137, 138 (Tex. 1992).
An example of just how much leeway this gives is evidenced by the appellate decision in Beard v. Uriostegui. Here, the Father filed to modify custody of one of the children, giving himself the right to designate the residence of the oldest child. Mother was served and sent in a letter to the Court, stating she was not going to contest the change, but wanted the Court to take into consideration certain financial matters, including the fact the Father had failed to support the children under the prior order.
The District Court granted a default judgment against Mother. She appealed and the Appellate Court reversed the decision, stating that the letter, based upon Smith v. Lippmann, constituted an answer and that Mother wanted to present evidence on the child support issue. This allowed her to challenge the child support findings and hopefully she will hire an attorney to address the past due child support.
Overall, use the free consultations many attorneys offer. At least you will have a better idea of what is at stake, the process, and if filing an answer is worth it.