Don’t you dare – I have a protective order.

By | Domestic Violence

Look to your left and look to your right. Chances are you are looking at a victim of domestic violence. Man or woman. Don’t argue with the statistics. It’s true.

Here I sit behind the white ivory tower of my keyboard and tell those who are abused to get out of the relationship, get safe and get a protective order. I read the articles. I know trying to get out could get you killed. Stay safe but don’t lose hope.

Once a judge grants a protective order, and it is served, violations could result in a year in jail and fines. Repeat violations are 3rd degree felonies. It’s a big deal. It’s there to help you reclaim your liberty. Use it.

It’s not easy to get. The hardest part is showing a “clear and present danger with a likelihood of future family violence” per the Texas Family Code. The police, the District Attorney and your lawyer can help you with this. Pack a bag, get a temporary phone, have extra keys, have a lawyer, know where the shelters are.

Four Women Who Need a Pre-Nup in Texas

By | Community Property, Divorce, Just and Right, Marital Property Division, Pre-Marital Agreements, Separate Property

1. The Business Owner. A properly created business has exhaustive company agreements, succession planning and creditor protection. Unless you have every confidence in your documents, you may want to consider a pre-nup to set up agreements between you and your spouse. I see many family-owned businesses severely disrupted by divorce, especially by the temporary orders phase. Image a couple in crises and both spouses are signatories on the company checking account. Perhaps each believes he/she runs the business and should be able to continue to run it exclusive to the other spouse. Where does a court begin to do what’s in the marital estate’s best interest? It is much easier on the Court if there is an agreement in place.

2. The Second Wife and Step-Mother. The reason wife No. 2 needs a pre-nup has everything to do with the probate code. When a spouse dies without a will and has children from a different marriage, Texas law requires that the majority of the estate goes to the deceased’s children. This is a huge problem for second wives.

Imagine a second wife who has young children being left with almost nothing. She will have her community interest in property earned or acquired during the marriage except for property her husband inherited, but that’s it.

A pre-nup can avoid this problem in two ways. One, a pre-nup can provide for trusts, bequests and contingent awards in a highly tailored manner. Typically, these provisions satisfy the needs of children from prior marriages as well as the spouse and children from the second marriage. Because a pre-nup is created before marriage, it provides answers to these issues before the challenges of marriage influence decisions. Secondly, a carefully drafted pre-nup can trump a will that leaves out a spouse. Yes, that’s right. Spouses do not have to leave their estate to their surviving spouse unless they have a pre-nup.

3. The Stay-At-Home Mom. As you may have read in previous articles, a stay-at-home mom is the most common penniless woman in the family courthouse. If the plan is for you to stay at home — the flexible one, the one who doesn’t climb the corporate ladder and so on — you won’t have much of a launching pad for a career should you divorce or your spouse pass away.

There isn’t a way to provide for a launching pad in divorce, but you could at least ask for yearly retirement savings in the likely amount you would have earned had your career not been the priority. For example, if you leave your advertising job of $80,000 per year to raise children by your never-home regional manager husband, consider asking for him to agree that the family will deposit 10 percent of your forgone salary into a retirement vehicle that would be considered your separate property upon divorce or death. Your resume may not be prepared, but at least you wouldn’t have to start all over on retirement planning.

4. The young (and dumb). Please do not take offense. I say young and dumb because undisclosed credit card debt is a very big and growing problem. Refinancing, consolidating, co-signing … can be very confusing and often misleading to the young and in love. A key element to pre-nups is that they require full disclosure of assets and liabilities. Younger people simply do not have the skills to confirm the credit worthiness of their fiancé. I suppose a good liar would also lie about their liabilities before marriage, but at least with the majority of people, a meaningful conversation can be started about debt, who is paying for it and how to get out of it.

Going Back to Court Over the Kids

By | Child Support, Co-Parenting, Custody and Conservatorship, Divorce

Even after the fat lady sings, it’s still not over. Half of my business is made up of cases where parents need to change their custodial agreements and orders due to changed circumstances. The agreements that worked at the time of divorce won’t necessarily work even 5 years down the road when parents have moved, remarried, had more children, lost jobs and so on. Despite the fact that these life events are common and you would think parents would not have to go back to court over these issues, I find modifications to be the most contentious.

Child support is probably the most obvious reason to modify a prior order. Just today I represented a child support paying mother whose income is steadily decreasing. Although I am sure the father feels that she is intentionally scaling back to avoid additional support, the income was what it was and the Court lowered her support based upon her reduced income. Keep in mind that child support is generally not based on the needs of the child but on a percentage of the parent’s net income up to a certain point.

Another reason why parents end up back in court is because the child decides they would prefer to live with the other parent. After the child turns 12, the court has to interview the child in cases where the right to determine the primary residence is at issue. Although the court does not have to do what the child requests, the child’s input could play a role depending upon the circumstances.

In some cases, the right to determine the primary residence is not at issue but visitation is. When parents can’t agree on their own, they will come to us lawyers and the courts to handle visitation issues. For example, if one parent lives just far enough to make it very difficult to see mom for 30 days in the summer and train for high school football. Or when a daughter wants to spend Thanksgiving doing missionary work and some other time with Dad needs to be arranged. These examples are minor. What gets to be more serious is when mom or dad’s social drinking devolves into alcoholism or other life events that need to be dealt with.

Parents often move over 100 miles from the other parent. When that happens, visitation needs to change from the standard 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends during the school year for parents that reside less than 100 miles apart to something more flexible or specifically tailored to the family’s needs.

The problem with all these common occurrences is that modification actions can cost quadruple what you paid in the divorce. Typically, divorcing parents just want the divorce done. They disregard a lot of advice from their lawyers advising them to be very specific and forward thinking in their agreements so that they anticipate future problems and therefore avoid costly litigation. But by the time the divorce is being finalized and the documents are being drafted, parents stop caring. They want it DONE.

The reason why these modifications cost so much more is that more than one hearing is needed to walk the court down the road of explaining the basis for the modification. One hearing for child support, one hearing to have the child interviewed, one hearing to argue over what school records are admissible, one hearing to force a parent to go to specific counseling or other parenting classes. This can go on and on and on depending upon the stubbornness of the other side. This of course only hurts children and destroys pocket books. Unfortunately for others though, it is the only way to make a change.

“Mom, I want to live with Dad”- A Mother’s Problem

By | Co-Parenting, Custody and Conservatorship, Divorce

“Does my child get to pick who she wants to live with when she is 12?” I get that a lot. The answer is “yes and no.” I know, I’m a big help.

The Texas Family Code allows a child to be interviewed by the judge in chambers so that he or she can express her wishes, but that does not mean he or she is the decider.

This is a mother’s problem. Fathers don’t worry about this near as much as mothers do. Mothers feel that when their children “live” with dad, that the world must think they are a terrible mother. Think about it. People wonder, “How did she lose her children?” or “what did she do?” If a mother “loses custody,” then she must have been arrested or getting treatment. When a child decides that they would prefer to live primarily with dad, mom does not lose custody. She actually practically gets the same amount of non-school time, weekends, and a long period in the summer.

At the risk of losing my reader’s attention, here is the specific statute allowing a child to be interviewed.

Texas Family Code § 153.009.

(a) In a nonjury trial or at a hearing, on the application of a party, the amicus attorney, or the attorney ad litem for the child, the court shall interview in chambers a child 12 years of age or older and may interview in chambers a child under 12 years of age to determine the child’s wishes as to conservatorship or as to the person who shall have the exclusive right to determine the child’s primary residence. The court may also interview child in chambers on the court’s own motion for a purpose specified by this subsection.

(b) In a nonjury trial or at a hearing, on the application of a party, the amicus attorney, or the attorney ad litem for the child or on the court’s own motion, the court may interview the child in chambers to determine the child’s wishes as to possession, access, or any other issue in the suit affecting the parent-child relationship.

(c) Interviewing a child does not diminish the discretion of the court in determining the best interests of the child.

(d) (f) (omitted by author to save attention spans)

If you haven’t stopped paying attention or gone to another article, hopefully I can get you back.

Since everyone knows children need meaningful relationships with both parents, let’s not make this a statement on motherhood. Be informed that when a child wants to “live” with dad, it means he or she wants to be with him more. Since when is it a bad thing for children to want to be with a parent? Sometimes children need one parent more than the other during certain times of their lives. If you and your spouse get along, then most likely your child will never have to be interviewed by the judge. If you can agree that the child should spend more time with the other parent, then crisis is averted.

Yes, if a Court determines that the child should live with the other parent, it could have child support implications. But, if your reason to fight your child’s wishes to live with the other parent is because of child support, you need to re-consider the fight.

Obviously, there are other fact patters worthy of the fight. Let’s say the child gets away with smoking pot or cutting school when he or she is with dad. I’m sure the child will tell the Court all about why dad is better, but fighting that makes sense.

In conclusion, a court must interview a child who is 12 years old or other to hear who they would select as the parent with the right to determine the primary residence and may interview a child to hear their take on possession and access or other issues, but it does not mean that the judge will turn around and order who or what the child selected. It does not mean that the child is in charge. Conservatorship, visitation, parental rights and obligations depend on the best interest of the child. The best interest of the child depend upon countless factors, one of which is the child’s wishes.

It’s important, as a mother, to know the difference between your child genuinely needing their father and a situation where your child wants to go clubbing with dad. Be kind to the mothers who are emotionally evolved and can support their child in wanting to be with dad more. Even if he lives with a homewrecker and her evil children.