Divorce more often than not means the division of finances. Whether it’s bank accounts and retirement funds being divided or merely no longer having a second income to rely on, divorce brings about significant financial change. Establishing a solid financial foundation post-divorce can help you regain control of your finances and keep you from sinking into debt. This week, we’ll discuss some essential steps to consider regarding your finances once your divorce is all said and done.

Take Stock of Your Assets and Liabilities

The first step in post-divorce financial planning is to assess your current financial situation. Make a comprehensive list of your assets, including bank accounts, retirement accounts, real estate, investments, and personal property. Similarly, identify any outstanding debts or liabilities, such as mortgages, credit card debt, and loans. Understanding your financial picture will enable you to make informed decisions about your next steps.

Create a Budget

After taking stock, develop a realistic budget that reflects your post-divorce income and expenses. Essentials expenses like housing, utilities, groceries, transportation, healthcare, and child-related costs need to come first. You should then consider savings, retirement, and potential investments. Whatever is left goes to expendables. It doesn’t matter if you were married for 50 years or 5 months. You now have a new financial reality and will need to prioritize your spending to reflect what is now likely a smaller budget.

Set Financial Goals

Take the time to establish short-term and long-term financial goals based on your priorities and aspirations. Whether it’s building an emergency fund, saving for your children’s education, or planning for retirement, having clear financial objectives can guide your decision-making and motivate you to stay on track. Break down your goals into manageable steps and monitor your progress regularly.

Review and Update Your Estate Plan

You will likely need to update your estate plan to reflect your new circumstances and wishes. Odds are, you probably don’t want to leave all or a majority of your estate to your now ex-spouse. Review your will, trust documents, and beneficiary designations to ensure they align with your current preferences. You also may need to update your healthcare directives and powers of attorney to designate new decision-makers in case of incapacitation.

Seek Professional Guidance

You may also want to consider consulting with a certified public accountant (CPA), financial advisor, or a certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA). Having a professional who can provide personalized guidance and expertise can help you develop a tailored financial plan that aligns with your goals and maximizes your financial well-being.

Like any other area of law, standing is required to bring a lawsuit. Standing is a fundamental part of the legal system in that it determines who has the right to initiate legal action and participate in court proceedings. In other words, it limits the participation in a suit to the parties who are actually relevant. Otherwise, any and every one would be able to intervene in a divorce or custody case. The law is very clear on the issue, if a party does not have standing then their case will be dismissed.

In the context of family law, standing revolves around the question of whether an individual has a sufficient connection or interest in the case to justify their involvement. When it comes to the issue of divorce it is fairly straightforward. A divorce case can be brought by either spouse. That means that if your in-laws don’t like you, you don’t need to worry about them filing for divorce on your spouse’s behalf.

Issues of standing usually arise in child custody suits. Parents generally have standing to pursue legal action related to child custody, visitation, and support, as they have a significant interest in the well-being of their children. Mothers have standing as soon as the child is born. Fathers (in cases where they aren’t presumed to be the father) must first establish paternity before they have standing. Other parties may also have standing to bring a suit regarding children, but they must first clear a few hurdles.

The Texas Family Code has a long list of who can file an original suit under § 102.003. One of the people on this list is a guardian of the person or estate of the child. This, as you can imagine, is similar to a parent filing the lawsuit because it is the child’s legal guardian. Another is a governmental entity or the Department of Family and Protective Services. This situation could arise if Child Protective Services receives a report and finds reason to have the children removed from the parents. This statute gives them standing to petition the Court so that they have the legal right to remove the children.

The code also provide standing for, a person other than a foster parent who has had actual care, control, and possession of the child for at least six months ending not more than 90 days preceding the date of the filing of the petition. An example of this situation could be one where one parent is in jail, and another parent has serious substance abuse issues. If the children have been living with, and raised by their uncle for a period of 6 months, the uncle can file suit with the court to get primary custody.

Understanding the concept of standing is crucial for anyone involved in a family law matter in Texas. Without standing, individuals risk having their case dismissed by the court, leaving them without recourse to address their concerns. It is essential to consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney who can assess your situation and determine whether you have standing to pursue legal action.

Contested family law cases involving children are without a doubt the most emotionally charged cases I deal with. Even once the final orders are entered, there have been times when client’s still struggle with the fact that they must deal with the other party for essentially the rest of  their children’s lives.  There have been several times where long after a case has ended a client has asked me for advice on how to deal with the other parent. This week we’ll go into five tips that can help turn a co-parenting nightmare into something more manageable.

1. Proper Communication: Open and respectful communication between co-parents is essential. Even if you cannot stand each other, discussions should focused on the children’s needs. Don’t waste your time speaking harshly or trying to one up each other as parents. Be cordial, be succinct, and stay on topic. It takes two to argue. If the other parent is trying to goad you into a fight, don’t engage. Be the more mature person. Let them know the pertinent information regarding the children and keep it moving.

2. Stick to the Plan: There is a reason that your final orders include a possession schedule. If you’re in a less than amicable co-parenting situation, you aren’t likely to agree with the other party on things like extra time or swapped weekends. Sticking to the schedule listed in your orders can help alleviate any potential miscommunications or disagreements that could arise. Having this structured plan in place can reduce conflict and confusion for both parents and children.

3. Be Flexible: On the other hand, flexibility can go a long way towards improving your co-parenting relationship. Now I’m not saying that you need to give in to every single thing the other parent asks for, that isn’t reasonable. But if they were to ask you for an extra half an hour of possession so that they can go to dinner and a movie with the children, there’s no need to get up in arms about that. Also, sometimes life happens for better or worse. Schedules may need to be adjusted from time to time due to work commitments, family visiting from out of town, funerals, or other unforeseen circumstances. Being flexible (to an extent) can go a long way to smoothing over a rough co-parenting relationship.

4. Respect Each Other’s Parenting Style: This is a tough one for most to come to terms with, but you cannot control how the other parent decides to raise the children during their possession time. In most cases they have the same rights to raise the child as you do. If you have a no sugar rule in your home, you cannot enforce that in their home. If they say no television after 8:00 pm, they can’t keep the children from staying up to watch Saturday Night Live with you during your weekends. You both have equal rights on how to raise the child in your home, and you both need to respect those rights. Once you adopt this mentality it can eliminate several problems.

5. Keep Children Out of Conflict: You may dislike or even hate the other parent, but your children should never know that. Your children are half you, and half the other parent. Negatively speaking about their mother or father in front of them can and will cause psychological harm. There is a reason courts often include the injunction to keep parties from disparaging the other parent and their families in front of the children. It does nothing but cause harm.

In conclusion, the most important thing to keep in mind when co-parenting is that you are to act on behalf of the child’s best interests, not your own. Too many times I have seen parents making decisions that best benefit them or spite the other party. It is very simple; put the children first at all times.

There are situations where you may require protection under the law, but the facts don’t rise to the level of a protective order. When a situation like this occurs in your case, your problems may be solved with a temporary restraining order (TRO). This week we will discuss what exactly a TRO is and how it can impact your case.

A temporary restraining order is a court order designed to prevent one party from taking certain actions that could cause harm to another party or their property. It differs from a protective order in that a protective order requires the court to make a finding of family violence while a TRO does not. This is because TRO’s can be granted to prevent a party from doing numerous things, not just enacting violence. In family law cases, TROs typically arise in situations involving domestic violence, harassment, infringement of rights, trespassing, etc. Because these orders are temporary they usually only last until a full hearing can be held to determine whether a more permanent restraining order is warranted.

One of the primary purposes of a TRO is to maintain the status quo and prevent further harm or disruption while the legal process unfolds. For example, if there are allegations of domestic violence within a family, a TRO may prohibit the alleged abuser from contacting or coming near the victim and any children involved. Another example could be if a third party is assaulting a child in a case. A TRO can prevent the third party from coming near the child or having any contact with them.

Obtaining a TRO involves filing a petition with the court outlining the specific reasons why the order is necessary. In emergency situations, which are cases involving imminent danger or threat of danger, a judge may grant a TRO ex parte, which means that it is without a formal hearing with the opposing party. However, ex parte TROs are subject to review at a later hearing where both parties have the opportunity to present their arguments.

TRO’s have a limit of two weeks without being extended. At the end of the two weeks a hearing will be had before the court. After hearing testimony from both sides and reviewing evidence, the judge will the decide whether the temporary restraining order will be granted and turned into a temporary injunction. If turned into a temporary injunction the order will be in place until further order of the Court, which usually occurs at final trial. When the judge makes their ruling at final trial, the orders will either be dissolved or turned into permanent injunctions.

It is very important to note that false accusations or misuse of TROs can have significant repercussions in your case. Because of this, it is crucial to have appropriate evidence to substantiate your request for a TRO. More often than not, your word will not be enough. You need to have evidence to support your claim.

A reader reached out to me recently and asked me what objections I usually run into, as well as how do they work. So, this week we’re going to talk about a few of the common objections, examples of what can trigger them, and how to get around/avoid them.

Just like in any other litigious case, objections are common occurrences in the world of family law. They serve as vital tools for attorneys to protect their clients’ rights and ensure a fair proceeding, while upholding legal standards. Understanding these objections can be crucial for both legal practitioners and parties alike.

1. Relevance: Objections based on relevance are frequently raised during trials. These objections are usually made to evidence or testimony that is not directly related to the case at hand. For example, if a witness is on the stand in a custody case, and is questioned about their issues with the IRS, an objection of relevance can be made. If an objection is made based on relevance, it is then on the other party to establish why the testimony or evidence is important to the case before the court.

2. Leading Questions: Leading questions are questions that suggest a desired answer. In general, they are not allowed during direct examination but are permitted during cross examination. For example, if on direct examination a party’s attorney asks, “You had to leave the home because you were being attacked, correct?” they will likely catch an objection for leading. As a remedy, the asking attorney must then rephrase the question. However, note that certain leading questions are permitted in direct examination. These usually take the form of foundational questions such as “Are you the mother of the petitioner?”.

3. Authentication/Lack of Foundation: Documents and exhibits presented during a trial must be properly authenticated to be admissible. Authentication objections challenge the validity or origin of the evidence. For example, if a photograph is offered into evidence without establishing who took the photo, when they took it, and whether it’s been altered, an objection will shortly follow. These objections can be addressed by laying down the proper foundation to establish the authenticity of the exhibit.

4. Speculation: Objections based on speculation arise when a witness offers opinions or conclusions without a sufficient factual basis. This usually occurs when a witness is asked a question similar to “What do you think was going through the child’s mind at this moment?” The question calls for speculation because there is no possible way to know what is going through another person’s mind. While family law trials frequently involve matters where opinions may be subjective, any question that asks a witness to guess what someone else was thinking or why they did something is likely not going to be allowed. To avoid these objections, a witness will need to give testimony about their firsthand knowledge.

5. Hearsay: Hearsay is probably one of the more complicated rules of evidence. In general, these objections occur when a witness offers out-of-court statements for the truth of the matter asserted. While there are several exceptions as to when hearsay can come in or when an out-of-court statement is considered non-hearsay, these rules have enough substance to be discussed in a separate article. To keep it simple here is a general example. If a witness were to be asked “What did the child’s teacher tell you about his behavior since his father has had primary custody?” you will likely hear an objection on the grounds of hearsay shortly after. It can be asked how the child has been behaving in school, but you cannot ask what the teacher said. If you want the teacher’s testimony to come in, they will need to be present as a witness. Again, you can also get around hearsay by way of an exception based on the rules of evidence, but we’ll go into that another time.

In conclusion, objections in family law trials serve as essential safeguards for fairness and justice. By recognizing and addressing these objections, attorneys and litigants alike contribute to the integrity and legitimacy of the legal system.

As a family law attorney, I understand that life circumstances can change unexpectedly. I also understand that these changes can drastically impact the financial dynamics of families. One area where this change often manifests is in child support arrangements. Whether due to a job loss, a significant increase in income, or changes in the needs of the child, a child support order may no longer be workable for a party. When these situations arise, seeking a modification of child support is likely become necessary to ensure the continued well-being of everyone involved.

As we’ve previously discussed, modifications are legal adjustments to the current orders of the court. They are triggered by a material and substantial change in circumstances of the child and/or the parties affected by the order. When the court makes a ruling in a case involving children there is usually a specific amount of child support in the order. When a situation arises where either the obligor (the parent that pays) cannot pay or the obligee (the parent who receives payment) requires more money, a modification is the appropriate remedy. The important note is that a modification for child support can be initiated by either parent when there is a material and substantial change in circumstances that warrants a review of the existing support agreement. However, just because a modification is requested does not mean it is automatically granted.

The most common reasons for seeking a modification of child support include changes in income, changes in custody arrangements, changes in the child’s needs, or changes in the cost of living. It will be the burden of the party requesting the modification to prove the change in circumstance is enough to warrant the increase, decrease, or flip of the child support obligation. For example, if the paying parent experiences a significant decrease in income due to job loss or medical issues, they may petition the court for a reduction in child support payments. Conversely, if the custodial parent’s income increases substantially, the receiving parent may seek a modification to increase the support amount accordingly. Or if it is a full blown modification for custody, then the parent requesting to be the new primary parent can request that the child support obligation shift to the other parent.

As with any case, it’s essential to provide evidence supporting the change in circumstances. This may include recent pay stubs, tax returns, medical records, or documentation of changes in the child’s expenses. The simple truth is if you can’t prove the need for a modification, the court isn’t likely to grant it.

Lastly, It’s important to emphasize that child support modifications must be approved by the court to be legally enforceable. Until a new court order is issued, the existing child support agreement remains in effect, and failure to comply with it can result in legal consequences. Therefore, it’s crucial to continue making payments according to the existing order until a modification is approved. Timing is also a critical factor when seeking a child support modification. Changes in circumstances should be reported to the court as soon as possible to avoid accruing unpaid child support obligations. Do not cease payments before a new court order is in place. Doing so can potentially lead to you being held in contempt of court.

Last time we discussed jury trials in a broad overview. We touched on what a jury can decide in family law cases, how to get a jury trial, the process of voir dire, and how the actual trial itself works. This week we will discuss finer details that may not be evident on the surface but are crucial to how the jury perceives you. Understanding these psychological aspects of jury trials can help you make the best impression possible. Below are common tips that I give to clients, to ensure that they put their best foot forward.

In a jury trial, your goal is to convince twelve random strangers that they should believe you over your opponent. The first key to this is remembering that these twelve represent the average everyday people in their are. So, they are likely going to have the same ideals and beliefs as others in the community. For example, if you’re in trial in a rural area, don’t put down small town or country living when you’re witnessing on the stand. If you’re in a very conservative county it is probably not the best time to speak on your pro-choice stance. I’m not saying you need to lie on the stand, but what you need to do is know your audience.

Next let’s talk about body language and facial expressions. This is just as important as what you say in your actual testimony. It’s important to remember that the opposing party is going to do all they can to paint you in the worst possible light. Don’t make their job easier by proving their point. You need to keep your physical reactions to testimony at a minimum. It’s never easy to sit quiet while someone is actively lying about you, but you have to keep in mind that the jury’s eyes will be on you. For example, if the witness is saying that you are overactive, quick to anger, and can’t control your emotions; don’t begin glaring at the witness or throwing your hands in the air upon hearing their testimony. If you do this, who do you think the jury is going to believe? In a similar vein, if the opposing party is testifying about something bad that you have allegedly done or said to them, don’t smile and laugh to yourself. The jury will examine you all trial to determine your credibility. Don’t give them any reason to doubt it.

You will also need to keep in mind how you speak to opposing counsel. Don’t be hostile or combative with them, and don’t try to dance around the questions they ask. If you are asked a yes or no question, you will need to answer with “yes” or “no”. If you continue to give nonresponsive answers, and they have to constantly object to you, it will look as though you’re attempting to hide something from the jury. If nothing else harms your credibility, looking like you’re trying to hide the truth definitely will.

When it comes to jury trials being genuine is key. Don’t make a script for yourself to follow when you’re on the stand. Don’t make a grand show of turning to look at the jury whenever you answer a question. And definitely don’t fake cry to get sympathy points. People can see through these actions, and can tell when an act is being put on. The key to jury trials is understanding the average person. If something doesn’t seem believable to you, it’s likely not going to be believable to them. Knowing your audience, being cognizant of your body language, and keeping your testimony genuine will all go towards how the jury perceives you, which in the end will go towards their verdict.

When it comes to family law matters in Texas, most people think that any and every issue is brought to the judge and the judge alone. However, certain issues can be placed in the hands of a jury. Unless you have prior experience in a jury trial, you may be unaware of what to expect should your case go that route. This week and next we’ll touch on jury trials. First looking at a broad overview of them, and second breaking down the psychology and small details that can effect the outcome.

Jury Trials in Family Law:

While the majority of family law cases are decided by judges, there are certain situations where it is strategically advantageous to request a jury trial. However, the jury is limited in what decisions they can make in family law cases. In cases regarding children, the Texas Family Code (§ 105.002 for those interested) states that a jury may decide conservatorship, which parent may designate the primary residence, and if there will be a geographic restriction for that primary residence. What they may not decide is a possession and access schedule, child support, or any other rights or duties of the conservators. In a divorce suit a jury can decide whether property is separate or community, and how much the property is worth. They do not get to decide how the property is divided in the divorce. These other issues are still in the hands of the judge

Initiating a Jury Trial:

Requesting a jury trial in a family law case is fairly easy. Simply file a written request and pay the required fees. Note that, there is a timeframe where this request must be made. The request must be made no later than fourteen days before the case is set for trial. What that means is that if you already have a trial date with just a judge, and you file a request for a jury twelve days before trial, you won’t receive one.

Jury Selection:

The first day of jury trial the jury selection process known as voir dire (Important note that was explained to me before I ever set foot in a jury trial: in Texas that is pronounced “vor di-ar” not “deer”). A pool of potential jurors will enter the courtroom and attorneys from both sides ask them various questions and gage their responses to determine their suitability for the case. Afterwards the judge will ask if there are any potential jurors that should be struck “for cause”. These are people who would present some kind of conflict with an unbiased jury. For example if one of the potential jurors was a party’s best friend, a family member of one of the attorneys, or clearly stated in their answers that they couldn’t be unbiased towards moms or dads primarily having their children they would be struck for cause. Next, each side gets to use six strikes to remove whatever jurors they want from the pool. The purpose of this is to ensure that an unbiased and fair jury is making the decision.

Trial Proceedings:

Once the jury is selected and any pretrial issues are taken care of, the actual trial begins. The judge provides instructions on the relevant laws, and the jury is tasked with applying those laws to the facts presented. The attorney for the petitioner presents their opening argument followed by the attorney for the respondent. After opening, examination begins. The petitioner presents their case in chief first by calling their first witness and questioning them on direct examination. Once this witness has been “passed”, the other side will then get the opportunity for cross examination. After that has finished the petitioner can then have a redirect examination. This process repeats until there are no questions left for that witness. Once all witnesses have been thoroughly examined by both sides, and all evidence has been presented to the jury, the attorneys will give closing arguments.

Deliberation and Verdict:

After both parties rest their case and close, the jury leaves to deliberate in private. In family law cases a unanimous verdict is not required. However, at least ten of the twelve jurors must all agree on the same verdict. This process can take anywhere from a few minutes to many hours. Once a verdict is reached, the jury informs the court, and the judge announces the decision.

Happy New Year everyone! Now that the holidays have passed we are back to your regularly scheduled programing. This week we’re going to zoom out a bit and look at one of the most basic requirements for your family law case, your participation. No matter what kind of case you have, it cannot succeed without you.

When you hire an attorney, you are hiring an expert in their field to handle your case so you don’t have to. However, that does not mean you can be completely hands off. While there are deadlines that are up to your attorney alone to meet, there are those that cannot be met without action on your part. For example, if the other side serves you with discovery responses must be given within 30 days. It is up to your attorney to meet this deadline, but they cannot do so if you don’t provide them with the responsive documents to production requests, or the answers to interrogatories.

Similarly, if you are involved in a divorce, regardless of if it’s amicable or contested, you will need to provide your attorney with an inventory of the community and separate property. This is needed to draft the divorce decree. If you don’t provide them with this information, they won’t be able to properly draft your decree because certain property may be left unaccounted.

Additionally, you will need to reach out to people who you feel will make good witnesses to your case and provide their information to your attorney. A specifically tailored examination for your witnesses cannot be prepared if your attorney is unable to get in contact with them. Another way to help with the process, is to give a short statement to your attorney that says who the witness is, and how they will be beneficial to your case.

You will also need to make sure that you stay in communication with your attorney. It can be easy at times to let an email or voicemail slip through the cracks. But odds are if your attorney is reaching out to you, they need something from you. It can be something as simple as clarification of a specific piece of evidence, or something as important as ensuring that a court order is followed. Keeping open lines of communication and staying responsive is crucial to make sure that no deadlines get missed, and that you have the strongest case possible.

Lastly, you need to make sure that you continue to provide your attorney with updated exhibits as your case progresses. Do not wait until right before trial to send over additional exhibits. This does not give you attorney enough time to review and supplement them before the relevant deadlines. Instead, when something becomes available send it then. Even if you aren’t sure whether or not it is relevant, send it over for your attorney to decide.

In conclusion, if you don’t take an active part in your case, you are setting yourself up to fail. I’m not saying you need to be in communication with your attorney every hour of the day or flood them with 10,000 pages of texts between you and the other party, because that could also potentially harm your case. But, you do need to be ready, willing, and able to do what your attorney needs you to do, and to get them what they ask from you.

Let’s face it, co-parenting can at times be very challenging. Sometimes two people just shouldn’t be involved with each other at all but have to be because they share a child. Fortunately, for those parents that cannot get along there is a solution. A neutral third party in the form of either a parenting facilitator or a parenting coordinator.

Understanding The Difference

Parenting facilitators and parenting coordinators play a crucial role in helping divorced or separated parents communicate and make joint decisions regarding their children. In Texas, they are typically appointed by the court to assist parents in resolving parenting disputes outside the courtroom. The primary goal of parenting facilitators is to promote effective communication and cooperation between parents, ensuring the well-being of the children involved. Both usually help parents with things like, dispute resolution, identifying problems with co-parenting, addressing misunderstandings, and developing healthy co-parenting strategies.

The major difference between a parenting facilitator and a parenting coordinator is confidentiality. Methods and procedures used by a parenting facilitator are not confidential. Meaning that if a parent is behaving poorly with the facilitator, and they end up back in court, the facilitator can testify against them. On the other hand, sessions with a parenting coordinator are confidential. They cannot testify in court regarding the sessions with the parents.

A facilitator takes more of a supervisory role, basically making sure that parents are following the orders of the court, and that everyone is acting in the best interest of the children. Coordinators take a bit more of an active approach in that they help parents make mutual decisions and agreements for the benefit of the children. However, neither a facilitator nor a coordinator can take power away from the court. By statute they cannot modify court orders, and they cannot determine issues of conservatorship, possession and access, or child support.

Benefits

One of the key advantages of utilizing one of these parties is the potential for quicker dispute resolution. Instead of relying on the court system, parents can work collaboratively with the facilitator or coordinator to address issues such as visitation schedules, holiday arrangements, and educational decisions. This can lead to more efficient and less adversarial solutions, benefiting both parents and, most importantly, the children.

Choosing the Right Approach

Deciding whether to engage a parenting facilitator or parenting coordinator depends on the specific needs of the family. If parents are generally cooperative but encounter occasional disputes, a parenting facilitator may be a suitable choice. On the other hand, if conflicts are more frequent and serious, a parenting coordinator with a more hands on approach might be necessary to ensure a things work out best for the children.

It’s important for parents to approach these processes with an open mind and a commitment to prioritizing their children’s well-being. While co-parenting after a divorce can be challenging, the assistance of parenting facilitators or coordinators can provide the guidance needed to navigate these complexities successfully.