Whether you are dealing with a divorce, custody issues, child or spousal support or an adoption, choosing a lawyer who you can trust that will support and guide you through the difficult legal process is paramount. Even for people who do not expect to have a disputed case, an experienced family law attorney can lead you through the court system, review your proposed agreements and draft all of your documents with an experienced and critical eye. By hiring a skilled attorney, many clients can save themselves additional time, expense and frustration by helping them to avoid unnecessary court appearances and handling issues that are often overlooked initially.
NOTE: Not certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization
Rarely do people enter into a marriage with anything less than an absolute belief that their marriage will be happy and successful. Unfortunately, as some statistics tell us, almost half of all marriage will end up in divorce. For any person considering divorce, it is vital to discuss the complex issues associated with a divorce in Texas BEFORE they proceed. Even the most civil and agreeable divorces can be painful and involve complex agreements between the separating spouses. Knowing your rights, the law and an idea of what the process looks like is an essential first step for any person considering divorce.
The Texas Family Code provides guidelines for appropriate monthly child support based on an obligor’s gross monthly income and the number of children that person has a duty to support. Many times child support is negotiated between separating spouses, but even that agreement is subject to approval by a judge. Additionally, there are certain deductions, offsets, or other compelling reasons that one may use to modify the monthly child support obligation.
In Texas, there are essentially two types of property to be considered in a divorce, separate and community property. What we normally consider as financial accounts, retirement accounts, real property, motor vehicles, business interests, partnership interests, personal belonging and others, the family code divides into separate and community property. The kinds of property that fall into separate property are actually quite limited and include, among a few other highly detailed situations, property held prior to marriage and property received as a gift or inheritance. For many divorcing couples, the broad definition of community property can be a shock. It is essential to have a thorough conversation with a knowledgeable family law attorney regarding the extent of your property, when you came into ownership of that property, how that property has been managed during the marriage and constructive methods to divide the property upon divorce. The Family Code instructs the court to divide community property in a manner deemed ‘just and equitable’. Working with a creative and skilled attorney to influence a court in what exactly ‘just and equitable’ means in any specific marriage can greatly benefit the ultimate division of property awarded to a divorcing party.
Conservatorship, Possession and Access (Custody)
Time with our children and control in their lives as minors is something most of us define as ‘custody’, however the Texas Family Code uses the terms conservatorship, possession and access.
Conservatorship deals with a parent’s involvement in the decisions affecting their child, such as educational, medical, and religious decisions, as well as, their primary residence and legal rights. There are essentially two types of court ordered conservatorships in Texas, joint managing conservators and sole/possessory managing conservators. For the most part, joint managing conservators share in the decision making in their children’s lives, whereas sole/possessor conservatorships are more likely to involve one parent with sole or independent decision making power and the other parent with little to no independent decision making power.
Possession and access more directly govern which parents will have physical custody of their child at any given time. The Texas Family Code has laid out a ‘Standard Possession Schedule’ that, with relatively few and minor changes, will govern a parent’s possession and access to children when such a decision is left for the court to decide. Working with an attorney to develop a unique possession schedule that accommodates both parents, given their work schedules, availability and preferences, can greatly reduce future legal battles. Parent’s whose possession schedule is not customized often face these types of battles down the road.
As any parent knows, issues involving our children are serious, personal, and can be highly contentious. Absent extraordinary circumstances, no matter what conservatorship, possession and access order you have, nothing will exactly replicate life with your child prior to a divorce. For parents dealing with separation, including those outside of marriage, representation by a dedicated attorney who personally holds the sanctity of family and children paramount can be instrumental in maximizing a parent’s time and involvement in their child’s life.
When life changes, even the most carefully crafted court orders can no longer function in a way that is practical. Moving, changing jobs, growing children, new romantic interests, or a parent no longer doing their part for the best interest of the children are just some of the reasons parties find themselves in need of modifying a previous court order. What is important to remember is that judges generally prefer when a party is considering a change in life circumstances, that the party seek the modification first. Dealing with a judge refusing to grant a modification after substantial changes have taken place can be costly and detrimental.
Most court orders regarding children will place some restrictions on where a parent may establish the primary residence of the children. Even orders that do not contain geographic restrictions often alter a parent’s possession time with their children based on the parent’s physical distance from the children’s primary residence. Nevertheless, a variety of issues, like aging family or better job prospects, can necessitate a parent to relocate out of a town, county, or state. If you are faced with a situation in which a parent under a court ordered possession schedule is considering relocating, it is important to seek the advice of an attorney. Unfortunately, parental relocation issues rarely resolve by agreement and most require the decision of a Judge. The Court will consider the present circumstances of the child and how the proposed relocation will affect the child. It will be important to show the court not just that the relocation will be a good move for the children, but also that the negative effect the move has on the remaining parent’s possession of and access to the children is outweighed by the positive aspects of the move.
Adoption/Termination Parental Rights
Adoptions can be happy events involving additions to a family or the formal creation of parental rights for a step-parent who has been fulfilling the role of a parent for years. However, many times, an adoption also requires the termination of parental rights for an existing parent. Often, this formal termination can cause a parent who has otherwise been non-existent to suddenly challenge an adoption in a last effort to preserve their parental rights. Additionally, an attorney ad litem, who is appointed by the court to represent the proposed adopted child, will make a recommendation to the court regarding the adoption. Working with an attorney during an adoption is very important for influencing the ad litem to make an appropriate recommendation, as well as, in making sure that the adoption is secure, and ties with the previous parent are completely severed.
Spousal Maintenance (Alimony)
Texas has strict rules on the availability of what the Texas Family Code calls spousal maintenance, or what many of us understand as alimony. Not all marriages will qualify for spousal maintenance and most of those that do qualify will only be granted spousal maintenance for a set, relatively short, duration of time. Consulting with an attorney can help you get a picture of whether you are likely to qualify for spousal maintenance, in what amount and for how long. An attorney can also help you to negotiate with your spouse, their attorney or the court to maximize or minimize the spousal maintenance paid in any given case.