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.

Using Social Media as Evidence in a Divorce – What you can and can’t do.

By | Custody and Conservatorship, Divorce, Just and Right, Marital Property Division, Trial Issues

Spouse is cheating, doing drugs, being a bad parent and Facebook can prove it right? All you need is for your lawyer to show the judge. Right?

There are 845 million monthly active users of Facebook and each profile has 40 potential entries of personal information. It goes without saying that a party’s activity on social media sites could be a lightning rod in a family law matter. Case in point: Anthony Weiner’s pictures on Twitter could have affected a would-be divorce brought by his pregnant wife.

Unlike financial records, where information reflecting detailed transaction activity over decades can be discovered via a subpoena, social media and networking sites are protected by federal law from forced disclosure.

Federal law prohibits electronic communication services from disclosing “contents of a communication while in electronic storage by that service” and prohibits remote computing services from disclosing “the contents of any communication which is carried or maintained on that service.” 18 USC § 2702.

Courts have interpreted the meaning of “electronic communication services” and “remote computing services” to include Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and Linkedln as well as email providers such as Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail. Therefore, you can subpoena the records until you are blue in the face, but they are not required to produce anything more than basic information. Even if it were possible, it would be the most expensive route because many of these companies are out of state and a subpoena wouldn’t be considered until the lawsuit is domesticated.

Fear not, there may be another way.

A court in Connecticut recently and quite boldly ordered divorcing parties to exchange Facebook and dating site login and passwords. Although Texas doesn’t have any reported cases involving this kind of exchange, it is within the realm of possibility considering applicable discovery rules.

A party in a Texas lawsuit is entitled to discovery of non-privileged information that is relevant to the subject matter of the case. Even if the information would not be admissible at trial, it may be discovered if it appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Tex. R. Civ. P. § 192.3(a). For more information on discovery, refer to my blog: Finding Hidden Assets in a Divorce.

In the divorce or custody context, this means information relating to fault in the marriage, parenting, child support and everything in between could lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Content on Myspace or Facebook depicting you behaving like a single person is likely to lead to admissible evidence that you committed adultery. Match.com or eHarmony is a little more obvious. A statement regarding drug use is likely to lead to admissible evidence that you do not have a stable home environment for your children. Therefore, a strong argument can be made that content on social media sites are relevant and in fact valuable in proving your case.

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google 2001-2011.

The best way to discover social media activity is to request it through discovery from the party who controls the account. As you can imagine, your spouse may object and do whatever is necessary to prevent the disclosure of the so-called “private” posts and communications. The privacy argument has been heavily debated but ultimately, the argument is weak in light of how slight the expectation of privacy is on these sites.

There are no bright line rules or tests in Texas that will guarantee you can force disclosure or prevent it. The argument to force disclosure is strengthened by the connection it has to subject matter in the case. It is weakened if there are other means to get the information or if it is out of scope, unduly burdensome or not likely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

Facebook has made it somewhat easier to discover this information by allowing users to download a copy of all their facebook data online. Myspace will allow the production of data with the consent of the account holder. As it gets easier to produce the information, courts may be more inclined to order its production.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that there is a solution to discovering deleted posts so it’s worth hitting the print button on posts you foresee being useful down the road. In situations where crucial information may have been deleted by the user, it may be possible to have a forensic exam of the party’s hard drive.

As always, the analysis will turn on the specific facts of each case and court. Check back for more information as case law in Texas develops.

Finding Hidden Assets in a Divorce

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

In order to effect a just and right distribution of the martial assets, it necessarily follows that the first step is to find all the assets and debts. A divorce lawsuit has the same tools any other commercial lawsuit would have when it comes to finding assets belonging to your spouse or to the community.

There are four basic tools to finding assets: inventories, written discovery, oral discovery and third party discovery.

Each party typically discloses assets and liabilities in an inventory which commonly initiates the exchange of financial information. Inventories list common assets such as real estate, securities, an other interests as well as debts such as mortgages, credit cards and personal loans. They are typically filled out by each party under oath and then exchanged between the parties or their attorneys.

Written discovery is a useful tool for seeking more detailed information regarding assets and debts. Written discovery is comprised of interrogatory requests, production requests, requests for admission and requests for disclosure.

Interrogatories are questions asked of opposing parties that require answers under oath. For example a common interrogatory is, “Please list each and every bank account in which you or your spouse owns an interest.” The responding party is obligated to disclose each bank account in response to this question.

Requests for production often seek corresponding documents to interrogatory responses. For example, a common request for production is, “Please produce bank statements for the preceding 3 years from each account your claim separate property is held.” Requests for production can also include a request for inspection, which could be used to inspect a hard drive or books and records.

Requests for admissions are questions that would typically require a yes or no answer. Although not as popular as other requests, they can be valuable in narrowing the issues. An example of a request for admission is, “Admit or deny that the account ending in 123 is comprised of separate property funds belonging to wife.”

A request for disclosure is a standard set of requests that seek information regarding parties with knowledge of relevant facts, the amount in controversy as well as identification of experts among other essential issues in every lawsuit.

In deserving situations, phones and computers could be required to be produced to conduct forensic discovery on the hard drive. Electronic discovery is expensive as is any other situation in which an expert is needed to analyze data. In more and more situations, the expense is justified.

Discovery is permitted from third parties just as it is from parties in the case and is especially valuable if a party is not forthcoming in the discovery process. For example, the power of subpoena can require a bank, employer, partnership or any entity or person with information pertaining to the debts and assets in a case to produce documents or sit for a deposition.

Oral discovery a/k/a deposition discovery can be used to elicit testimony from a party or any other person or entity that may have information pertaining to the proceedings. A deposition is similar to the questioning one might have at trial except that it is typically performed in an attorney’s office, in front of a court reporter and or videographer. The testimony is still under oath the same as if it was in front of the court and can be used as evidence at trial. A deposition could be used in situations where interrogatories are not sufficient for determining the factual complexities of the issues. For example, if a spouse has a complicated partnership interest and more information is needed to explain partnership documents, a party can take the partner’s deposition to resolve the complexities.

Child Support Caps for the Wealthy – UPDATED

By | Child Support, Custody and Conservatorship

For those who’s net monthly resources are $8,550 or more, you may be able to enjoy a cap on child support. The term “net resources” is a complicated legal term that generally amounts to all resources less certain deductions such as federal taxes and social security but not 401(k) contributions. There are of course various exceptions not discussed here.

The cap or more specifically, the “presumptive amount” of child support, was $7,500 until 2013 when it was changed to $8,550. It essentially means the obligor’s child support will be based upon the first $8,550 of monthly net resources. For example, if you have one child living in one household, child support will be 20% of the first $8,550 in monthly net resources. In other words, if the obligor earns a million dollars per year, child support would not be 20% of a million dollars but rather 20% of the first $8,550.

Millionaires and billionaires, don’t get too excited. The presumptive amount is not an absolute. The court may order additional child support over the presumptive amount if it would be in the best interest of the child. Being presumptive in nature means it can be overcome with evidence that the child has needs for a nanny, travel, tutor, bodyguard and so on. The best interests of the child may not be only served with food and shelter. In any case, determining the best interest of the child is a highly subjective standard and can be difficult to prove and disprove.