Navigating the complexities of family law in Texas can be challenging, emotionally taxing, and legally intricate. However, for the sake of your case and at times your children it is imperative that you think through everything you do. There are situations where just one mistake can leave your case dead in the water. This week I want to touch on five of these potential mistakes and how best to avoid them.

1. Not Hiring an Attorney: While sitting in the gallery of multiple family law courts, I’ve seen my fair share of pro se litigants. Unless it is something extremely simple, it never fails that they eventually anger the judge and/or fumble their case. It’s usually a mixture of not understanding the law, telling the judge half-truths, and simply not knowing when to stop talking. The practice of law is very nuanced, this is why it takes so much dedication and preparation to become an attorney. I never give anyone the advice to represent themselves, because it can lead to a horrendous outcome.

2. Allowing Emotions to Rule: As I’ve said before, family law matters are by nature emotionally charged situations. Hurt, anger, resentment, and sadness all come to the surface, but it is crucial not to let these emotions guide your decision making. I’ve seen situations where a party is so angry and wanting to punish the other side that they refuse to settle a case, only to have everything stripped away from them at final trial.

3. Failing to Document Your Case: I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve spoken with clients who will tell me “My ex said X” or “My husband did Y” but when I ask if they have any documents to help support their claims the answer is no. It is important to keep records of all communications, financial transactions, and interactions related to your case. These documents can be invaluable evidence in court and help you build a strong case. Without documentation it becomes much harder for your attorney to properly try your case.

4. Ignoring Court Orders: This should go without saying, but do not ignore direct orders of the court. While there are times where the court orders may seem just flat out wrong, that does not mean you can ignore them. There are proper legal channels to deal with these situations, but if you simply don’t do what the court orders you to do, you will find yourself in contempt and possibly jail.

5. Withholding Information From Your Attorney: I know I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but this is so very crucial. Your attorney is not there to judge you, the judge is. Though you may not want to tell your bad facts, if the other side knows about it those facts are coming out in open court anyway. It is best to give your attorney a heads up so that they can properly plan for how to deal with these bad facts and disarm the other sides argument.

I’ve started to notice a theme with some of my clients. They will give me a call or send an email with a question but will preface it by saying “This is probably a stupid question but…” or “Sorry to bug you, I know you’re busy, but I have kind of a stupid question”. And without fail the question they ask is completely valid.  Just because the answer may be obvious to an experienced family law attorney, does not mean it will be obvious to the everyday person. Though attorneys spend a good amount of time asking questions, we are also here to answer the questions of our clients. This week I’m going to share 10 of the “stupid questions” I’ve received and their answers just in case you have ever wondered about them yourself.

Question #1. Do I have to pay my child support through the Office of the Attorney General?

Yes. Under section 154.004 of the Texas Family Code, payments of child support, medical support, and dental support must be paid through the state disbursement unit.

Question #2. Do I have to pay child support until the children are 18?

It depends. While parties can agree to no child support or to cancel child support under certain circumstances, the ultimate decision lies with the Court. According to section 154.001 of the Texas Family Code the court may order either or both parents to support the child until the child is 18 years of age or until graduation from high school, whichever occurs later. However, if the child is emancipated before the age of 18, that will also end the requirement of child support.

Question #3. During the divorce, can I empty the joint bank account and stop my spouse from using the credit cards?

No. The exact rules that govern this question depend on the county your case is in. But in general you cannot liquidate your accounts or cut off your spouses access to community funds.

Question #4. If there are no orders for possession and access, can I file an enforcement/writ of habeas corpus?

No. Without an order signed by the court there is nothing that can be enforced. The same is true for a writ of habeas corpus. This is because without a court order establishing a possession schedule, neither parent has a superior right to the children. Instead the party who is having their possession withheld, will need to file the appropriate petition to get a court order in place.

Question #5. If possession is withheld from me, do I still need to pay child support?

Yes. In an order affecting the parent-child relationship, provisions on child support and possession and access are two different parts of the order. Just because the other parent is in violation of the possession and access provisions, does not mean you can violate the child support provisions.

Question #6. If I am the parent with the right to designate where my children live, can I move wherever I want?

It depends. If there is no geographical restriction in your orders, you are free to move. However, if there is you will have to stay in the designated geographic area. Some orders contain provisions that lift geographic restrictions. This lift usually occurs when the other parent leaves the restricted area first, leaving the primary parent free to move wherever.

Question #7. Since we have separate bank accounts is all of the money in each account separate property?

No. Even though the accounts are separate, money earned during the marriage will be considered community property under section 3.002 of the Texas Family Code. That being said, any amount of money in the accounts prior to the marriage will be considered separate.

Question #8. I inherited a large sum of money during the marriage, is that my separate property?

Yes. Under section 3.001(2) of the Texas Family Code property that a spouse acquires during the marriage by gift, devise, or descent is considered separate property.

Question #9. May I go and speak with/write a letter to the judge about my case?

No. This would be considered ex parte communication, and it is not permitted under the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct. This rule is in place to preserve the impartial nature of the bench.

Question #10. Does the judge decide anything in a jury trial?

Yes. Though it may seem like your fate is in the hands of the jury, there are certain things they cannot decide in a family law case. For example, in a case regarding children the jury can decide the issue of conservatorship, but they cannot decide possession and access or child support. In a divorce case the jury can decide what is considered community property and how much it is worth, but it is the judge who ultimately decides how that property is split.

Remember there are no stupid questions. Asking questions no matter how obvious they may seem to someone else, is how we learn.

An annulment in Texas is a legal process that declares a marriage null and void, as if it never existed. Unlike a divorce, which ends a valid marriage, an annulment essentially erases the marriage from legal records. However, unlike divorces, there can’t be a no-fault annulment, meaning that they are subject to specific requirements and eligibility criteria. In this blog post, we will explore the key requirements for obtaining an annulment in Texas.

Texas law provides several grounds for which an annulment can be granted, they are:

  • Underage Marriage: If one or both spouses were under the age of 18 at the time of marriage without parental consent.
  • Intoxication: If one or both spouses was so inebriated during the ceremony that it erodes their ability to consent.
  • Impotence: If one spouse was permanently impotent at the time of the marriage and the other spouse was unaware of this condition.
  • Fraud: If one or both spouses lies about or hides essential information to get the other spouse to agree to the marriage.An example of this would be a false pregnancy claim or marrying solely for immigration.
  • Duress: If the marriage was entered into under duress, coercion, or force.
  • Mental Incapacity: If one spouse lacked the mental capacity to consent to the marriage due to mental illness or other deficiency.
  • Violation of the Waiting Periods: If one spouse gets married within 30 days of being previously divorced (concealed divorce), or if the wedding ceremony took place before the expiration of the 72 hour waiting period.

There are also time limitations for seeking an annulment in Texas that depend on the grounds of your annulment. For example, if it is a marriage based on concealed divorce, the annulment must be filed within one year of being married. If the annulment is based on the violation of the 72-hour waiting period, then it must be filed within 30 days of the wedding. If the annulment is based on an underage marriage, it must be filed before the underage spouse is 18 or within 90 days after the marriage.

Unlike divorce, which addresses issues like child custody, support, and property division, an annulment does not automatically address these matters. If children are involved or there are property issues to resolve, separate legal actions may be necessary. Because to reiterate, an annulment makes it so a marriage never existed, whereas a divorce ends a valid marriage.

Sometimes a potential client has a case and there is no grand story with dramatic facts. No one has cheated and there is no abuse, there are just two people who have grown apart and do not want to be married anymore. Often they have already physically separated and divided up the property in a manner that they believe to be fair. What they are missing is the knowledge of how to complete the process legally. So, taking a step back from the unique situations family law can bring, this week we’ll look at a more common and simple occurrence and the steps taken to get it done properly.

As I have previously touched on, an uncontested, no-fault divorce means that both spouses agree to end their marriage without placing blame on one another. It’s often seen as a more amicable and straightforward way to dissolve a marriage. It is by far the easiest and least stressful way to get divorced. However, it will still require a slight bit of work from the client. The first step is one the attorney will take care of, filing the petition. The filing of the petition starts the 60 day clock, which is (generally) required before a divorce can be granted in Texas.

After the petition is filed one of two things will happened depending on whether or not the other spouse has also retained counsel. If they have, they will be served and they will file an answer to the petition. On the other hand, if the other spouse hasn’t retained counsel, the filing spouse can be provided with a waiver of service which they can signed, preventing them from having to be served and file an answer.

Next there are two documents that require the client to put in a little work, the initial disclosures and the sworn inventory. 30 days after either a waiver or answer is filed initial disclosures will be due. In this document you will list assets, evidence, and witnesses. These disclosures are automatic but can be waived just like service. The sworn inventory is not automatic but that doesn’t mean it should be waived or ignored. This is because it lists all of the separate and community property of the spouses. It is a vital document even in uncontested divorces, because it ensures that all property is rightly divided.

If there are children involved, the parents will also need to agree to a possession schedule, conservatorship, and child support. In an uncontested divorce, parents usually agree to be joint managing conservators with at minimum a standard possession order. Child support usually follows the guidelines.

Once all issues are agreed upon the last thing to do is put the agreement into a decree. After the decree is drafted it is filed with the court along with an affidavit of prove up. The Court reviews the decree and the affidavit, and if everything is in order the judge signs the decree finalizing the divorce. Once the judge’s signature is on the decree the marriage is officially dissolved.

In Texas family law cases, the concept of “nesting” has emerged as a distinctive and progressive arrangement, offering families an alternative approach to co-parenting during and after a divorce. Nesting, also known as “bird’s nesting,” involves maintaining a single-family home for the children while the parents take turns residing there. This allows the children to remain in a stable environment by not having to go back and forth between two homes. However, this arrangement raises novel legal considerations that both parents and legal practitioners should be aware of when exploring this option.

In Texas, custody and possession orders govern child custody arrangements post-divorce. Nesting doesn’t necessarily alter the fundamental legal principles surrounding these orders but instead introduces a creative living arrangement that needs to be carefully integrated into the court-approved plan. Courts in Texas prioritize the best interests of the child, and any proposed nesting arrangement must demonstrate that it promotes the child’s well-being rather than mere convenience for the parents.

The unique nature of nesting requires excellent co-parenting. The parents will need to establish clear guidelines and agreements to make the arrangement work effectively. Key considerations include defining each parent’s responsibilities when they are in the family home and ensuring an efficient method for communication. But given that this arrangement usually occurs because of divorce, proper communication usually isn’t at the forefront of the couple’s relationships.

Nesting can also have financial implications, because obviously the parent not at the family home will need to live somewhere else. This can take the form of an extended stay hotel, an apartment, or a different house. It all depends on the financial situation of the parents. Before attempting a nesting agreement, both parents need to ensure that they have their alternative living arrangements planned.

While nesting can provide stability for children during a difficult transition, it might not be a long-term solution for all families. Parents considering nesting should think about its viability over time, especially as circumstances change. As children grow older and parents move forward with their lives, the logistics of nesting might become more complex. Flexibility and a willingness to adapt are crucial components of a successful nesting arrangement.

In today’s interconnected world, our lives are intertwined with digital assets, ranging from social media profiles to cryptocurrencies and online accounts. However, these intangible resources often become a tangible concern when it comes to divorce proceedings in Texas.

Digital assets encompass a wide array of virtual possessions, including but not limited to: Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and yes even Dogecoin. Intellectual property such blogs, eBooks, and other creative works developed during the marriage may have financial worth and thus will need to be divided. Social media profiles such as a monetized YouTube channel or TikTok profile. And although they may not be worth much now, NFT’s would also be a digital asset that will need to be divided.

Of course, the key challenge in dividing digital assets is determining their value. Unlike physical assets, their value is often subjective and extremely volatile. Some NFT’s were worth millions when the craze first began, but now those same NFT’s may only be worth a few hundred dollars. Cryptocurrencies can rise and fall based on the tweets of a billionaire. And how much a joint vlog YouTube channel brings in depends entirely on the view count. In a case where digital assets are at issue expert appraisal might be necessary to establish a fair assessment. Just as it is with physical property digital assets will need to be will need to be properly logged in an inventory. This important document will help your experts and attorneys when it comes to properly dividing the property.

As it stands the Texas Family Code does not explicitly address digital assets, which means their treatment can vary based on individual cases and court decisions. Factors such as ownership, source of funds used to acquire the assets, and community property principles can all influence the division.

Every now and then in matters of divorce the issue of paternity arises. A husband during a divorce may question whether they truly are the father of the child subject to the suit. While at times this may be a valid question, under Texas law he is the father until proven otherwise. This is because Texas has what is called a presumption of paternity. This week we’ll discuss what this means and how to overcome it.

The presumption of paternity in Texas is a legal concept that assumes a man is the father of a child if he meets certain criteria. These criteria are listed Section 160.204 of the Texas Family Code, which include the following:

  1. Being married to the child’s mother when the child is born.
  2. Being married to the mother and the child is born before the 301st day after the marriage is terminated
  3. Marrying the mother after the child’s birth and making an assertion of paternity with the vital statistics unit or he voluntarily names himself as the child’s father on the birth certificate, or he promises in a record to support the child as his own.
  4. Continuously living in the household in which the child resided and representing to others that he is the child’s father during the first two years of the child’s life.

Should any of these situations apply, the Court will treat the man as the father until proven otherwise.

While the presumption of paternity provides a legal foundation, it is not set in stone and can be challenged. Individuals seeking to challenge this presumption have the opportunity to present evidence to the contrary. This could involve providing proof of biological non-paternity, demonstrating that the man did not meet the criteria for presumed paternity, or showing that someone else is the biological father. The key is that enough evidence has to be provided to the court in order for a finding to be made that the man is not the father. Genetic testing plays a crucial role. Modern DNA testing has made it possible to conclusively determine whether a man is the biological father of a child. Courts in Texas often rely on such evidence to make informed decisions in paternity disputes.

In family law the presumption of paternity goes beyond just determining biological relationships. It affects matters such as child custody, visitation rights, and child support obligations. If a man is presumed to be the father, he has a legal responsibility to provide financial support for the child and could also have a right to seek custody or visitation rights, but if he is not the father these rights and obligations go away. However, this does not happen automatically. A petition to terminate the parent-child relationship must be filed in order to ensure those rights and obligations are removed.

No matter the what type of lawsuit you may find yourself a part of, the role of evidence cannot be overstated. Testimony is important, but solid evidence is the foundation of a well-constructed case. Evidence provides the necessary support for your testimony. Without it trials would be nothing more than he said/she said. Whether it’s a divorce, child custody dispute, or enforcement of child spousal support, the quality of evidence presented can make all the difference.

Evidence in family law cases can take various forms. Documentary evidence, such as financial records, emails, text messages, and medical reports, can provide a factual foundation for arguments. Witnesses, including family members, friends, therapists, or experts, can testify about their observations or provide professional opinions. Photographs, videos, and even social media posts can also serve as evidence, especially when they pertain to issues like parenting capabilities or a party’s lifestyle.

The primary function of evidence in family law cases is to establish facts and credibility. In matters such as child custody disputes, where the court must determine the best interests of the child, presenting strong evidence can sway the decision in a particular direction. This might include records of each parent’s involvement in the child’s life, documentation of a stable living environment, as well as documentation of the other parent’s negative qualities.

Effective evidence lends weight to legal arguments, making them more compelling and persuasive. For example, when dealing with the division of property in divorce cases, how the court splits contested property often hinges on factors like financial contributions, earning capacities, and the length of the marriage. Providing concrete evidence of financial transactions, employment history, and even medical records can lend credence to claims made during legal proceedings.

Sometimes in family law cases emotions can cloud judgment. Good evidence acts as a buffer against emotional bias, ensuring that decisions are based on objective information rather than subjective feelings. In the instance of a protective order, presenting a history of police reports, medical records, photographs, and witness statements can help the court assess the situation without being unduly influenced by emotions.

Strong evidence ensures that all relevant information is considered and that judgments, based on that evidence, are fair to all parties involved. Without credible evidence, the court might be forced to rely on assumptions or incomplete information, leading to unjust outcomes.

Texas is a community property state, which means that any property or debt acquired during the marriage is generally considered community property, and both spouses share an equal interest in it. However, it’s important to note that not all debts are divided equally during divorce. Instead, Texas courts aim for a just and right division of debts, taking various factors into account.

The first step in handling debts in a Texas divorce is to identify and classify them as community or separate. Separate debts are those that either spouse incurred before the marriage, through a gift, or inheritance specifically designated for one spouse. These debts typically remain with the spouse who acquired them, sparing the other spouse of the separate liability.

On the other hand, community debts are those accumulated during the marriage, and both spouses are equally responsible for repaying them, regardless of who actually incurred the debt or whose name is on the account. These debts can include mortgages, credit card debts, and car loans.

Once debts are classified, the next step is to determine how to divide them. In Texas, the division of community property and debts is done through a just and equitable distribution. But that doesn’t always mean they will be split 50-50. Courts consider various factors, such as each spouse’s earning capacity, financial needs, and contributions to the marriage, when making this determination.

In some cases, spouses may decide to settle their debts through agreement, either informally or by mediation. This allows for a more personalized resolution, while also reducing the financial and emotional toll of litigation. If it is a matter that cannot be settled without court intervention, the judge will step in to make a final decision on the division of debts.

Handling debts during a Texas divorce can be complex, but with proper understanding and professional guidance, it is possible to navigate this challenging aspect successfully. Identifying and classifying debts, considering the unique circumstances of each spouse, and exploring negotiation or mediation options are all essential steps to ensure a fair and equitable resolution of debt-related issues during divorce proceedings.

Grandparents hold a special place in our hearts, offering unconditional love, wisdom, and support. However, in certain situations, such as divorce, death, or family disputes, grandparents may find their access to their grandchildren restricted. To address this concern and preserve the vital intergenerational connection, Texas has specific provisions regarding grandparents’ rights. article, we’ll explore grandparents’ rights in Texas and the factors that influence their ability to maintain a meaningful relationship with their grandchildren.

Texas law recognizes the significance of the bond between grandparents and their grandchildren and that this relationship can contribute significantly to the emotional and psychological well-being of the child. However, grandparents’ rights in Texas are not absolute and can be subject to certain limitations and conditions. For example, parents generally have the right to make decisions about their child’s relationship with extended family members, including grandparents. If the parents don’t agree to allow visitation or access to the grandparents, then they won’t be able to spend time with their grandchildren without legal action.

Grandparents may seek court intervention to establish visitation rights with their grandchildren. Texas law allows grandparents to file for visitation under §153.432 of the Texas Family Code. As usual, the court’s primary consideration in granting grandparents’ rights is the best interest of the child. The language of the statute requires that the allegation of denial of possession or access by the grandparents must significantly impair the child’s physical health or emotional wellbeing. Grandparent’s filing a suit have the burden of overcoming the presumption that the parent’s refusal to allow them possession and access are in the best interest of the child.

In a case where grandparents have been cut off from the children due to some feud between them and the parents, the Court will give weight to a strong pre-existing relationship between the grandparent and grandchild. The Court will not punish a child because of a spat between grandparents and parents. Thus, grandparents who have actively been involved in the child’s life before any dispute are more likely to have their visitation rights upheld.

Grandparents play an indispensable role in a child’s life, offering love, care, and a unique perspective that enriches their growth and development. The state carefully weighs the best interests of the child and parental rights before granting visitation or access rights to grandparents. It’s crucial for grandparents seeking visitation to understand the legal process, including when and how to petition the court for visitation rights.

In many cases, open communication and cooperation between parents and grandparents can lead to an amicable arrangement that benefits the child. Remember, the focus should always be on the child’s well-being, ensuring they continue to receive the love and support they need from both their parents and grandparents, fostering a nurturing and stable environment for their overall growth and happiness.