If you’ve found yourself in any type of lawsuit or even if you just like to watch legal dramas, you’ve probably heard the term discovery. If you’re anything like most of normal people that I talk to, you probably either have a general idea of what it is or no idea at all. This week we’ll take a look at what discovery is and how it is used in a case.

                Discovery is a tool lawyers use to get information from the other side that would likely not be provided otherwise. It comes in many forms such as: a request for production, interrogatories, and oral depositions. Each serve a similar but different purpose and are used to further a case.

                A request for production is the tool of discovery that is used to obtain documents from the other side. So in a divorce one could request bank statements from the last two years or journal entries about the other spouse or the kids. Basically you would request any document you could think of that would further your case. What you can’t do however, is request that a document that doesn’t already exists. So for example if you ask someone for a complete transcript of their Twitter feed from the start of their account to present, and they don’t already have that on hand; then they don’t need to provide it to you.

                Interrogatories are similar to requests for production, but instead of asking for documents, you are asking specific questions. They are a way to get the answers to pressing questions in writing and under oath. It will give you and your attorney an idea of what evidence will be presented at trial, and how the other side will try to frame their case. It will also let you know what the other side is trying to hide if they respond with many objections. However, it is important to choose your questions wisely, because in most cases you are limited to 25 written interrogatories.

                Oral depositions are like discovery in that your attorney is asking questions, but it is face to face with the other side. Think of depositions as a practice trial. The party being deposed is under oath, an attorney is asking them questions, but there is no judge present. What happens instead is a reporter is present to record the deposition, which becomes a piece of evidence that can be used when it comes time to head to trial.

We’ve all heard the Kanye West lyric “If you ain’t no punk, holla we want prenup!” But what was he talking about and why was it important to the song? Prenuptial (also known as premarital) agreements are contracts that are entered into by future spouses before they are wed. The reasons a couple may to enter into a prenup vary, but they are usually used to define how property will be divided in the event of a divorce.

Texas is one of nine community property states. This means that anything earned, bought, or comingled during a marriage is the community property of that marriage. Community property in Texas is usually split between the soon to be ex-spouses in a manner that is considered to be just and right. This usually takes the form of a half and half split. There are exceptions to these rules, but I will discuss those in a future article. A prenup can prevent its listed assets from being divided and split with your ex-spouse. For example, say you have a $5 million stock portfolio, you would obviously prefer that it and its growth during the marriage stay 100% your property after a divorce. What you would need to do is disclose this asset to your would-be spouse and insert a clause in the prenup stating that in the event of a divorce, your portfolio and any growth it gains during the marriage shall be consider your separate property.

Many people don’t like the idea of a prenuptial agreement as they believe it is planning for a failed marriage or only done for selfish reasons, but that is not the case. Nobody plans on getting in a car wreck, but it’s important to have car insurance if it happens. You can also protect your spouse in a prenup just as easily as you can protect yourself. Just like assets and income, debt accumulated during the marriage is also considered community property. With a prenup, you may also include provisions to shield your spouse from any debts you may accumulate through the marriage.

Additionally, you can simply include provisions as to how you want certain things done in your marriage. Of course, whether some provisions will be enforceable by the court is another question entirely. While you may insert a clause that states how many children you will have and how they will be educated, you aren’t likely to get away with a clause that says you will have all boys by a date certain or the marriage is void.

When you hire a lawyer, it’s because you need them to use their expertise to navigate the law in order to accomplish your goals. However, in order to do their job properly, your attorney has needs of you as well. This week we’ll talk about what a few of those needs are, and why they are so important for the success of your case.

The most important thing that I need from my clients is their trust and honesty. I tell each of my clients that there are two people that you need to be completely honest with, your attorney and your doctor. Without trust and honesty, I cannot adequately do my job. If there are bad facts in your case, I need to know them so that I can properly prepare to defend against them. You don’t want the first time your attorney hears about your assault charge to be in the middle of a trial. During your consultation tell your attorney all of the facts both the good and the bad. We’re here to help you, not judge you.

Next is your responsiveness. Your attorney will reach out to you for various reasons. Sometimes it is merely to update you on the status of your case, but other times it is because something important is needed. If you receive an email asking for documents, your signature, or questions pertaining to your case; you need to respond appropriately as soon as you are able. There are times where a case can come to a standstill because a client has gone MIA when something is needed from them.

On the other hand, your attorney also needs space to properly work on your case. If you are calling them every hour on the hour, they won’t have the time they need to do the work necessary for your case. As mentioned above you will need to trust that they are working hard in your favor, even when they are not talking you through each step.

Finally, sometimes your attorney just needs you to listen to their advice. For example, if your attorney advises you to stop communicating with the opposing party in writing, please listen to them. They are not trying to control you; they are trying to keep you from giving the other side evidence to use against you.

It’s not a secret that children are expensive. Making the effort to make sure their needs are met can often mean that you as a parent must go without. In a situation where parents are unmarried or divorced, it is even more important to make sure that both of you are on the same page when it comes to providing for the children involved.

Your children have a right to adequate support. If you are the parent that your children live with and you need a help providing for them, you can request the court to intervene. You can take the other parent before a judge with either an original suit affecting the parent child relationship or a modification to a prior order, and request that they pay you child support on that child’s behalf. If the court finds child support appropriate, a ruling for child support will be made based on a percentage of the net wages of the other parent. You will then be granted the exclusive right to receive that child support on behalf of the children until further orders from the court.

But what do you do when the other parent refuses to pay, or refuses to pay on time? There is an action you can take called an enforcement. What it allows you to do is petition the Court, to hold the party not obeying the order responsible. If they still aren’t willing to comply with the order, they may be held in contempt of court which can result in fines and/or jail time depending on the judge’s discretion.

But what if you’re paying child support and you suddenly lose your job or receive a substantial pay cut? You will need to file a modification and request that the court lower your child support obligation. Inversely, should the other parent get a significant increase in pay you can file a modification and request that the Court increase their child support obligation. Either way the Court will weigh the facts, and determine whether a decrease or increase is in the child’s best interest.

Your children deserve the support that is their legal right. If you are in a situation where the other parent is refusing to pay you child support do not let them deprive your child. Find an attorney who is ready and willing to fight for you and your family until the final bell rings.

So, you’ve popped the question, walked down the aisle, said I do, and celebrated those closest to you. Time ticks forward, the honeymoon phase passes, and you come to the unfortunate realization that you and your spouse may not be right for each other. Soon after you hear those four dreaded words “I want a divorce”.

While I hope none of you find yourselves in that position, the fact remains that it is very much a possibility. My own family has been plagued with divorces. It just seems to be one of those things that is prevalent in every community. But what do you do when you find yourself suddenly in the middle of one? What should your next steps be when you decide you want out or when your spouse slaps the papers on the dinner table? The short answer, call an attorney.

The long answer, find a competent attorney who will help you end things amicably, if possible, but will also fight to defend your rights if things go South. Personally, I’m of the belief that while divorce isn’t a fun process, it doesn’t have to be a terrible one.  So my priority is handling things as amicably as possible. Just because you and your spouse feel you are no longer meant to be together, does not mean you have to be bitter enemies through the process. An amicable divorce is the best way to make sure both sides get out without racking up large amounts of legal fees.

However, things can’t always go according to plan. Divorce is a very emotional time for people and sometimes no matter how hard you try to keep the peace, things can become contested. If that happens, I cannot stress enough the importance of having an attorney in your corner. If you can help it, don’t represent yourself. Ever. Just don’t do it. Without an attorney looking out for your interests, you risk signing off on a decree that serves your spouse much more than it serves you.

If you feel you need to consider the option of divorce, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Depending on the circumstances I may be able to facilitate your divorce amicably and keep the peace. But if not, O’Neil Wysocki and I will be on the front lines for you to make sure you aren’t taken advantage of.

Texas is one of the few states that recognizes common law marriage. Also known as an informal marriage, it allows a couple to be married without having to go through a marriage ceremony. Unless there is a declaration of marriage signed, there are set requirements that must be met to be apart of an informal marriage.

First, the couple must agree to be married. I know this one seems obvious, but it is a requirement that can be misconstrued by a party to the relationship. For instance, an engagement does not constitute a present agreement of marriage, but that the couple will be married in the future. The key difference being that the agreement to an informal marriage must be that the agreement is present and immediate. If a party tells others they are married, but the other party does the opposite, there is no present agreement. If a party uses the last name of the other party without the other party’s permission, there is no present agreement. The key is that there must be evidence that both parties to the relationship agree to be married to each other at the time of the agreement.

Second, the couple must live together as spouses. You cannot claim a common law marriage if you live in an apartment in the city, and your significant other lives in a townhome in the suburbs. There needs to be some evidence that they live together. Things such as shared names on the lease/mortgage, personal property of both parties present at the home, and a single bed for the couple. It is important that it is proved that the couple lives together as spouses and not just as roommates. If the party who denies the existence of a common law marriage can show that they slept in a separate bed in a separate room, it will help their claim. As a side note, contrary to popular belief the couple does not have to live together for a certain amount of time to be considered informally married.

The third, and arguably most contentious, requirement for common law marriage is that the couple must hold themselves out or represent themselves to the public as married. The most important part of satisfying this requirement is that the marriage cannot be in secret. Calling each other husband and wife in private will not suffice. Spoken words will help prove the existence of an informal marriage, but they are not required. On the other hand, actions and conduct alone will be sufficient to satisfy the holding out requirement. For example, if a couple claims each other on their taxes as their spouse, list each other as a spouse beneficiary on their insurance, or list the other party as a spouse on their mortgage, it can be said that they are representing themselves to be married. However, it’s important to note that one of these examples alone may not be enough. This is where telling family members, friends, and all of social media that you are married will tip the scales in favor of common law marriage.

These days more and more people are beginning to see and treat their pets as though they are their four legged or winged children. But no matter how much you love them and treat them like family, according to the state of Texas they are property and thus an asset to be divided during a divorce.

Unlike for your children, the Court is not going to set a possession and access schedule for your pets, at least not by default. If your pet is separate property, meaning it was adopted before the marriage, then you will likely be awarded the pet in the divorce. However, if it is determined that the pet is community property, meaning it was adopted during the marriage with community funds, things can become more complicated.

This doesn’t mean that the Court will decide the fate of the family dog the same way as the dining table. Judges are people too who are likely to understand that strong bonds form between people and their pets and vice versa. There are factors that a judge will consider when determining which spouse gets to keep which, pets. These factors include questions such as: Who actually takes care of the animal? Has a spouse been accused of neglecting or abusing the animal? Which spouse will have more time for the animal?

Additionally, if children are involved in divorce the Court will take into account how the pets factor into their best interest. For example, the Court may decide that the children have a very strong bond with the pet, thus the pet should go with the primary parent. Because no matter what, when children are involved their best interests are always the Court’s primary concern.

As I previously mentioned, a judge isn’t going to give a visitation schedule for your pet. What a judge will do is enforce any agreements you and your ex-spouse have regarding them. Meaning that if you have a prenuptial agreement, a postnuptial agreement, or a provision in your divorce decree regarding arrangements between your ex-spouse and the pets, a Court can enforce them against your ex-spouse.

If you want to make sure the dog, cat, lizard, bird, fish, or horse is coming home with you after a divorce, then  you need a competent attorney in your corner. One who will fight for you on any issue big or small.

From the time I was a personal injury attorney till the present day, there is one message that I strive hard to hammer into my clients. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU POST ON SOCIAL MEDIA. In all honesty I can end the article there and be satisfied that you got the message, but I’m going to continue to make sure the point drives home.

There is a surefire way to mess up your case, and that is posting something contrary to your claim or defense on social media. Fortunately, my clients seem to listen to my warning (at least for the most part). But there have been multiple times I have been able to get ammunition against the opposing party simply because they are not watching what they post. Recently, I tried a case against an abusive husband. He stated on the stand that he never broke or damaged his wife’s property. After a few set up questions on cross examination I hit him with his Facebook post which not only stated that he broke his wife’s cell phone, but why he did it. In another case, opposing party made claims of having no money or assets to pay his child support. Yet his Facebook and Instagram photos showed his extensive gun collection and wads of cash. Needless to say, when it came time for mediation he folded before lunch.

I tell my clients that if they insist on using social media during their case, it is imperative that they use all privacy settings. Set your Facebook and Instagram profiles to private, turn on protected tweets on Twitter, and limit your Snapchat to only people you approve. Even after these measures have been taken review your friends list. Are some of your friends also friends with the opposing party in your case? Do you think they would turn over screenshots of your post to the opposing party? If the answer to either of those questions is yes unfriend and/or block them.

You also need to be very wary about what pictures you are posting, sharing, and retweeting. Anything that has to do with drug use, alcohol, gambling, or any other potentially negative vice needs to be nowhere near your social media pages. Especially if there are children involved.

Which brings me to my final point, don’t post anything negative about your children, even if done in a joking matter. Because if it is presented as evidence, the Court is going to have to take that isolated post an examine it in a vacuum regardless of context. We all know a joke can be received differently when written instead of spoken because of the lack of tone and voice inflection. So, a joke about your seven-year-old son being “a pest” or how you’re going to “cut” the opposing party needs to be kept to yourself when you’re online. Because when your words are being read to you plainly on the stand in front of a judge and jury, they likely won’t seem like a joke at all.

Why I Do It

            From the day I decided that I wanted to go to law school I started to hear all the jokes. Things like “I hope you know how to lie.” and “How much will it cost to talk to you now?” But they’ve never really bothered me. Even when I was practicing personal injury and people would call me an “ambulance chaser” I never felt offended. Because from the time I started my journey to becoming an attorney I knew it was my purpose. And I decided, that no one was going to knock me off course.

I’ve been asked by just about everyone I know, why did I become and attorney and more specifically why did I choose family law? Usually, I’ll give a joke answer like “Because I want an Audi R8.” or “I didn’t choose family law, family law chose me.”. But in reality, I do this because it makes me feel good. There is something about when someone puts their trust in you, then you come through for them that makes the hard days and long nights worth it. I do this for the moments when you get the smile, handshake, or hug in appreciation after helping someone through one of the roughest times in their life.

My family has been plagued with divorce. From the time I was a kid till present day it always seemed like someone was splitting up. When I was younger, I would feel helpless. I wanted to do something about it, be able to help my aunts, uncles, siblings, etc. but there was nothing I could do. But now, I can. I may have been too late to help most of my family, but I’m right on time to help others in the city. Despite my jokes it’s not about the money for me, it’s about doing what I wish I could have done way back then. It’s about protecting single mothers against abusive husbands and boyfriends. It’s about helping fathers who just want to be in their children’s lives, when their mothers do everything they can to keep them out. It’s about keeping a divorce as amicable as possible, so children don’t have to see their parents fight. But most importantly it’s about inspiring the next generation of black attorneys.

prenups postnups and problemsIn this course, we cover premarital agreements, postmarital agreements/partition and exchange agreements, conversion agreements, and nonmarital conjugal cohabitation agreements. What are the differences? What are the similarities? How do you get in one, stay in one, or get out of one?

Watch the live video here: Prenups, Postnups, and Problems Facebook CLE

Download the ppt here: Prenups Postnups and Problems