Posts

Texas Court Includes Father’s Personal Injury Annuity in Resources When Calculating Child Support

Texas Court Includes Father’s Personal Injury Annuity in Resources When Calculating Child Support

Originally published by Kelly McClure.

By

The Texas Family Code provides guidelines to assist courts in calculating child support that are based on a percentage of the parent’s net monthly resources.  The statute sets forth what types of income are included and excluded from the parent’s net monthly resources.  In many families, it is fairly straight-forward to determine what is included in the calculation.  If a parent’s only income is from the wage or salary he or she earns from employment, it is relatively simple to identify the net monthly resources.  Some families, however, have more complicated financial circumstances making it less clear what should be included.

In a recent case, a father appealed the inclusion of an annuity payment in his net monthly resources for purposes of the child support calculation.  Prior to the marriage, the father settled a claim for a work-related accident with his employer.  As a result of the settlement, the father receives $6,970 per month from an annuity.  The payments will continue until either the the father’s death or June 1, 2044.

The couple had one child during the marriage.  The mother filed for divorce less than a year after the couple was married.  Although the couple reached agreement on some issues, they were unable to agree on child support and medical support.  The trial court found the annuity payments were “resources” under Texas Family Code 154.062 and included them in the father’s resources when calculating the child and medical support payments.

 

The father appealed, arguing the trial court erred in including the annuity payments in his net resources and therefore erred in calculating the amount of child support and medical support.  The appeals court considered the plain language of the statute defining resources.  The statute specifically addresses annuities, stating, “Resources include…all other income actually being received, including… annuities…”  Although previous cases distinguished between settlement annuities and other types of annuities, the appeals court declined to draw such a distinction.  The appeals court pointed out that the statute included “annuities” within “resources,” and did not differentiate between types of annuities.  Furthermore, the statutory language did not differentiate between the portion of the annuity payment representing repayment of premiums and the portion that represented earned interest.  The appeals court therefore found no error in the trial court including the full amount of the monthly annuity payment in the father’s resources.

The appeals court in this case found that the entire annuity payment could be included in the parent’s net monthly resources.  However, this holding is inconsistent with the previous holding of another Texas appeals court.  Although the language in the statute provides that annuities are included in net monthly resources, there is also language stating that the “return of principal” is not included.  The issue, therefore, may not be completely settled.  Different facts or a different court could lead to a different result.  If you are anticipating a child support dispute involving an annuity, the skilled child support attorneys at McClure Law Group can help.  Call us at 214.692.8200 to schedule an appointment to talk about your case.

Curated by Texas Bar Today. Follow us on Twitter @texasbartoday.



Read More –>

Prenuptial agreements: Do They Stand up in Court?

Prenuptial agreements: Do They Stand up in Court?

You’ve probably heard a lot about prenuptial agreements from various celebrity engagements and divorces. But are they legally binding? And are they something that ordinary folks really go ahead with?

The post Prenuptial agreements: Do They Stand up in Court? appeared first on Divorce Magazine.

Read More –>

Texas Appeals Court Upholds Permanent Injunction Prohibiting Contact Between Father’s Girlfriend and Child

Texas Appeals Court Upholds Permanent Injunction Prohibiting Contact Between Father’s Girlfriend and Child

Originally published by Francesca Blackard.

By

Generally, a permanent injunction is difficult to obtain and requires proof that certain requirements are met.  In Texas child custody cases, however, a court may be able to issue a permanent injunction, even if those requirements have not been met, if it finds that the injunction is in the child’s best interest.  In a recent case, a father appealed an injunction prohibiting him from allowing contact between his girlfriend and his child.

The parents had agreed to temporary orders prohibiting any unrelated adult in a romantic relationship with one of the parents from spending the night in a home with the child.  The temporary order also stated that the father’s girlfriend would not be around the child while the father had possession.

Following a mediated settlement agreement addressing all other issues, the trial court held a hearing to address this issue. The trial court granted an “injunction” prohibiting contact between the father’s girlfriend and the child without hearing evidence.  The mother’s attorney stated they had been unable to serve the father’s girlfriend with notice of the hearing.  The court indicated it was entering a “permanent morality clause” based on the girlfriend not testifying. The father’s attorney argued there was no evidence to support a permanent injunction.  The court stated it was a “moral clause,” not an injunction, but then heard evidence from the mother, the mother’s other daughter, and the process server.

 

The process server testified regarding his attempts to serve the girlfriend.

The mother’s 15-year-old daughter testified the father’s girlfriend had contacted her on Instagram and made negative comments about her mother.  The court allowed screenshots of the Instagram communications into evidence over the father’s objection that they were hearsay and had not been authenticated.

The mother testified the girlfriend had contacted her about her affair with the father.  She alleged the girlfriend had posted nude photos of herself online and had made social media posts about marijuana and alcohol.  She also testified the girlfriend and child got along well and she had no evidence that the girlfriend had ever harmed the child.

The father moved for rehearing after the court granted the “morality clause.” After the hearing, the trial court entered both a morality clause and an injunction.  The morality clause provided that no unrelated person of the opposite sex in an intimate relationship with a parent could spend the night when the child was in that parent’s care.  The permanent injunction enjoined the father from allowing the child to have any contact with his girlfriend.

The father appealed, arguing the injunction was not supported by proper evidence.  He argued the trial court should have excluded the daughter’s testimony because she was not disclosed as a witness.  Evidence that is not properly disclosed can generally not be admitted just to satisfy the interest of justice, but may be admitted if there is a good cause.  The mother argued that the Instagram messages were sent during the week before the hearing, and this timing constituted good cause not to supplement the discovery responses before the hearing.  The father argued he was unfairly surprised and prejudiced.  Some Texas appeals courts have held a trial court should admit testimony despite unfair surprise or lack of good cause for a delay in disclosure if admission of the evidence is in the best interest of the child.  Based on this standard, the appeals court found no abuse of discretion in the admission of the daughter’s testimony.

The appeals court also rejected the father’s argument that the Instagram messages should have been excluded as hearsay.  A statement is only hearsay if it is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted.  The messages were not presented to prove the truth of the matter asserted.  The mother presented the negative statements about her not to prove they were true, but to show the communications had been made.  The communications were therefore not hearsay.

The father also argued there was not sufficient evidence to support a permanent injunction.  Generally, to get a permanent injunction, a party must show there is a wrongful act, imminent harm, irreparable injury, and no adequate remedy at law.  In child custody cases, however, a court may grant a permanent injunction that is in the best interest of the child even if all of these elements are not met.  The appeals court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s granting of the permanent injunction upon finding it was in the child’s best interest.

The father also argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the injunction.  The appeals court noted that sufficiency of the evidence was not an independent ground to overturn the injunction.  It is instead a factor in determining whether the trial court abused its discretion.

The mother’s daughter testified the father’s girlfriend made negative comments about the mother and the screenshots she provided reflected the nature of those messages.  The trial court could have found the child was at risk of being exposed to similar comments as those directed at her 15-year-old half-sister.  The mother had also testified she had spoken to the father about the girlfriend’s drug-related posts, and he indicated he was aware of her drug use.  The trial court could have found the girlfriend had used illegal drugs, that the father was aware of it, and that he was not opposed to the drug use.  The trial court also could have found the girlfriend presented a risk of promoting parental alienation.  The trial court could therefore have found that it was not in the child’s best interest to allow contact with the girlfriend.  The appeals court found no abuse of discretion in the issuance of the permanent injunction and affirmed the judgment.

If you are involved in a child custody matter, a skilled Texas custody attorney can help pursue any necessary court orders.  Set up an appointment with McClure Law Group by calling 214.692.8200.

Curated by Texas Bar Today. Follow us on Twitter @texasbartoday.



Read More –>

Texas Court Finds Prenuptial Agreement Was Enforceable

Texas Court Finds Prenuptial Agreement Was Enforceable

Originally published by Robert Epstein.

By

Texas law generally favors the freedom of contract.  This principle also applies to prenuptial agreements.  In Texas divorce cases, prenuptial agreements are generally valid and enforceable unless they were involuntarily signed or were unconscionable and signed without proper disclosures.

A wife recently challenged the enforceability of a prenuptial agreement. The couple met online while the wife lived in Vietnam.  When the husband visited Vietnam, he gave her a copy of the prenuptial agreement his attorney drafted.  The wife did not speak English, so she had it translated.  She requested a change to the agreement.

The wife came to the U.S. and told the husband she was pregnant a few months later.  He told her she needed to sign the agreement before they got married. The husband stated a paragraph was removed from the agreement based on the wife’s request.

 

He took her to a Vietnamese-speaking attorney for a consultation. The husband paid the fee, but was not there for the consultation.  The parties signed the prenuptial agreement in the attorney’s office after the consultation.

The wife filed for divorce in 2015.  The trial court found the prenuptial agreement was enforceable and incorporated it into the final divorce decree.  The wife appealed, arguing the agreement was unconscionable, involuntarily signed, and violated both federal law and the Texas Constitution.

In support of her unconscionability argument, the wife asserted she was pregnant “when it was made clear” she had to sign or go back to Vietnam.  She also argued it was unconscionable to “forc[e] a mother to accept a likely future in which her child would seldom see his father,” especially when both “would be at risk of shame and humiliation” in Vietnam.  She said she thought her child’s life would be better in Texas.  She argued it was unconscionable to require her to sign to avoid having to go back to Vietnam. She claimed taking her to a lawyer found in the yellow pages was just “window dressing.”  She asserted she was more unsophisticated than the husband and did not speak English.  She also argued he had not disclosed information about his assets and liabilities.  Finally, she argued it was a one-sided agreement.

When reviewing unconscionability, courts consider the circumstances, including available alternatives, bargaining ability, illegality or public policy against the contract, and whether it is “oppressive or unreasonable.” When reviewing prenuptial agreements, courts may consider age and maturity, business and educational backgrounds, and prior marriages.  The court will generally enforce a voluntarily-entered contract unless there is mistake, fraud, or oppression.

The wife knew the husband expected a prenuptial agreement before she met him in person. She testified they commonly discussed it after their engagement.  He gave her a copy when he was in Vietnam in the summer of 2007.  They executed the agreement in August 2008. The appeals court found she knew about the prenuptial agreement long before she arrived in the U.S. and became pregnant.

The court found the wife’s various reasons for not wanting to return to Vietnam did not make the agreement unconscionable. There was no evidence the mother or the child would be in danger there.

The appeals court also rejected the mother’s argument regarding her attorney. She argued the attorney could not have performed independent due diligence, such as finding out the property values.  The appeals court found no evidence that information was necessary or the wife did not already know it.  She testified she understood the terms of the agreement.

The wife argued the husband had not disclosed information about his assets and liabilities.  There was testimony the husband had disclosed.  Even if he had not, it would not make the agreement unconscionable.  Lack of disclosure is the second prong of the test and only matters once the agreement is found unconscionable.

The appeals court also rejected the wife’s argument she was less sophisticated and had less bargaining power.  Both parties were mature adults.  Although she had less formal education, the wife had owned and operated two businesses in Vietnam.

An agreement is not unconscionable just because it is one-sided or unfair. The appeals court found no evidence of mistake, fraud, or oppression.

There was no error in the trial court’s finding the agreement was not unconscionable.

The wife also argued the agreement was not voluntarily executed. In reviewing voluntariness, courts consider whether the party had an attorney’s advice, whether there were misrepresentations, what information was provided, and whether anything was withheld.  She argued her attorney had not had opportunity to study the agreement, analyze the information about the assets and liabilities, and “review the immigration agreements.”  The appeals court found no evidence the attorney did not have sufficient time to review the agreement.  Both the wife and the attorney testified she understood the agreement’s terms. She did not claim she received incompetent legal advice.

The appeals court rejected her claim the agreement was involuntary because it contained material misrepresentations regarding whether it disclosed the value of assets and liabilities.  There was evidence the husband had disclosed the information regarding the assets and liabilities.

The wife also argued she was under duress because she did not want to return to Vietnam.  The appeals court noted duress is only a defense to a contract if it involves a threat to do something the party has no right to do.  The husband did not have a legal duty to marry the wife, so his threat not to marry her if she did not sign did not constitute duress.

The wife argued the agreement violated federal law because it conflicted with the affidavit of support the husband signed.  She argued the affidavit created an obligation requiring the husband to use all of his assets to support her, while the prenuptial agreement only obligated him to use community property.  The appeals court found any obligation created by the affidavit ended when she became a citizen.  The appeals court also rejected the wife’s argument the agreement violated the Texas Constitution.

The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

If you are facing a divorce involving a prenuptial agreement, an experienced Dallas divorce attorney can assist you.  Call McClure Law Group at 214.692.8200 to set up a consultation.

Curated by Texas Bar Today. Follow us on Twitter @texasbartoday.



Read More –>

modify child custody agreement

Can I Modify My Child Custody Agreement Myself, Without Going to Court?

modify child custody agreement

 

As an experienced Somerset, NJ divorce and family law attorney, I can tell you that the answer is yes, of course! But I don’t advise it, because when you and your ex alter your child custody arrangements on your own, you are creating more problems than you are solving.

Who suffers? Ultimately, your children.  Read on to find out how you can best protect your children and your parental rights.

Can I Modify My Child Custody Agreement?

The Child Custody Agreement

How a child custody agreement is reached varies by state, but in general, it is negotiated as part of your divorce and a court decree is entered setting forth the child custody terms. When parents agree on what living and legal arrangements are best for their children, the process goes smoothly.

When parents disagree, this is where the court steps in, attorneys negotiate, and a compromise is reached. Most often, compromise satisfies neither party and there are continuing ill feelings. But at least there is a court order in place, and either you or your ex could ask the court to step in if one of you fails to comply with it.

Generally, the initial child custody agreement will establish who has physical and legal custody, and whether there is joint custody shared between the parents or one parent has sole custody.

Physical vs Legal Custody

In most states, legal and physical custody are different rights. The child lives primarily with the parent who has physical custody. Either parent or both may have the right to make decisions for the child, and this is called legal custody.

When parents are married, both have physical and legal custody of their children.  When married parents divorce, these rights must be either divided or shared.

Joint Custody vs. Sole Custody

These are what they say they are:  where children live with both parents, this is called Joint Custody. In this situation, both parents as a practical matter often retain joint legal custody.

Sole Custody is the term for when one parent has both physical and legal custody of a child. Usually, for the other parent to lose these rights, there is a hearing and the judge will make that determination based upon factors that vary by state.

Asking the Court to Alter The Child Custody Agreement

Parents who change the terms of child custody through the courts are doing the most they can to protect their rights as parents because the court issues an order memorializing those changes.  Thereafter, the new child custody terms can be enforced by the court should one party fail to keep to them.

Altering the Terms of Child Custody on Your Own

Of course, you and your ex can agree to change the child custody arrangement outside of court.  It’s quick, easy (assuming you both agree), and cheap in that there no attorney fees or court filing fees. But beware of the following pitfalls of changing the child custody agreement on your own:

The court will not and cannot enforce your new child custody terms.

If your ex wakes up one day and decides not to stick to the new child custody arrangement, there is nothing you can do about it. Only a court order is legally binding on your ex. There is no way to enforce your informal agreement with your ex.

Your ex can get the court to enforce the terms of the original child custody agreement.

You might be acting in good faith and sticking to the changes you and your ex worked out.  But your ex could still haul you in front of the judge and demand that the court enforce the original child custody order.  That would be well within his rights, and the court would find that you are the party who violated the order.

Changes in child custody may work out at first, but if you allow one informal change, where does it end?

It is common for an ex to take advantage of the situation when you are willing to make informal changes, either planned or on-the-fly.  Your life could become a hell of variables and resentment, with your ex constantly demanding little changes to the child custody schedule and you feeling powerless to say no because you allowed such changes in the past.

In short, making informal changes to child custody might seem convenient and harmless at the time but you end up laying the groundwork for future conflict between you and your ex. Didn’t you go through the pain of divorce to end that conflict? Your children also suffer, not only from the revived conflict between you but from the uncertainty in their parenting schedule. Parents who remain civil, a calm, stable environment, and a predictable schedule all help children heal from divorce.

Let the court help you and your children, and your ex, move forward in an orderly and predictable way by memorializing any needed change to a child custody agreement with a court order.

The post Can I Modify My Child Custody Agreement Myself, Without Going to Court? appeared first on Divorced Moms.

Read More –>

Child Support Custody And Visitation

Guidelines The Court Uses To Determine Child Support, Custody, And Visitation

Child Support Custody And Visitation

When going through a divorce with minor children or determining paternity, one of the many decisions you will need to make is how much time each parent will spend with the minor children.

It is important to note that the amount of time spent with the children can also affect child support.

The goal of any agreement affecting children should be to protect the children’s best interest.

However, due to the emotional nature and financial implications of custody and visitation, many parents struggle to reach an agreement.

In the event parents are unable to find an agreeable solution the Court will intervene and create child custody and visitation orders based on several factors, including the children’s best interest.

Once the Court determines child custody and visitation, it will then use guidelines dictated by statutes and a child support worksheet to determine which spouse owes the other child support.

Determining Child Support, Custody, And Visitation

Child Support

In California, both parents are financially responsible for minor children. However, child support can be ordered to help provide for the children’s housing, clothing, food, extracurricular activities, and other needs.

Child support is based on several factors including each parent’s gross income, mandatory deductions, tax deductions, amounts paid for healthcare, time spent with each parent and more.

Most often, the higher-earning parent will pay child support as they have more disposable income. For families who have 50/50 or close to equal timeshare with the children, the parent who claims the minor children as dependents could be ordered to pay the other parent support.

With so many factors and variables in determining support, it is important to speak with a professional to review all available options and develop the best child support agreement for you and your children.

Imputing Income

If you or the other parent is unemployed or underemployed, the Court can still order child support. In either situation, the Court will review employment records and education history to determine if gainful employment is feasible and determine what their earning capacity may be.

The Court may also consider other factors, including the length of time you have been out of work and the current state of the job market.

If the Court finds one parent is underemployed or willfully not working, the Court could assign income to that parent based on previous salary or current earning capabilities determined by work or educational experience.

The assignment of income, also known as imputing income, can result in Court-ordered child support.

If a parent fails to meet their financial obligation and does not pay child support as ordered, arrears will accrue, and the parent could face additional penalties.

State Disbursement Unit (SDU)

In the past, child support was paid directly to the receiving parent. When a child support order dictated automatic deductions, the paying parent’s (payor’s) employer would withhold the amount ordered and send it directly to the other parent.

However, in 1996 the federal government passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Reconciliation Act, requiring states to create a centralized location where parents pay child support. The creation of State Disbursement Units facilitated payment by collecting child support and distributing to the receiving parent.

When a child support order utilizes SDUs to facilitate payment through employers, payors can have up to 50 percent of their wages deducted.

In addition to facilitating payment, the 1996 Act changed how payment was distributed if a payor had more than one child support order.

Prior to the implementation of the SDUs, child support orders were prioritized by date. For instance, if a payor had orders to pay child support for children from a previous relationship and for the most recent relationship, and the amount ordered for the first relationship more than 50 percent of their income, the first family would get the full amount while the second family would receive partial payment or nothing.

After 1996, a paying parent’s child support amount can change based upon how much the payor parent earns or if there are other child support orders or arrearages are owed by the payor parent.

The SDUs can adjust the distribution of child support to ensure all children receive support. This can result in a reduction of child support received if the amount owed for all orders exceed 50 percent of the payor’s income.

However, the original amount ordered is still due and arrearages will build up unless the paying parent pays the difference directly to the SDU.

Child Custody and Visitation

California recognizes two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody.  Legal custody refers to the ability to make decisions that affect the child’s health, welfare, and safety. Legal decisions include what doctors the child sees, what school the child attends, participation in religious activities, when the child can get a driver’s license, and more.

If one parent has sole legal custody, they are not obligated to consult the other parent when making decisions.

However, if parents have joint legal custody, they will both be able to make decisions. Ideally, both parents would communicate and agree on any decisions that affect their children.

Physical custody refers to the time spent with each parent and where the child resides. Joint physical custody, when children live with both parents, is the most common arrangement and the goal of California Courts.

However, it is not the best solution for all families, especially if domestic or substance abuse is an issue. If one parent has primary or sole custody, the other “non-custodial” parent has visitation.

Visitation schedules can vary depending on the relationship between parents and their children and work or school schedules. Common visitation schedules are unsupervised visits every other weekend, bi-weekly visits, alternating major holidays, or supervised visits once a week.

It is highly suggested that both parents work together to create a parenting plan detailing visitation, pick up/drop off times and more.  If you are unable to reach an agreement, a family law attorney can help you create a parenting plan that not only benefits the children but considers the parents’ schedules. In the event, you are unable to come to an agreement the Court can hear your concerns and create custody and visitation orders.

However, court orders will dictate the amount of time each parent spends with the children, which can result in orders that neither you nor the other parent agree with and have financial ramifications for many years.

Custody Disagreements

In some cases, the parents may not be able to come to a custody agreement. Regardless of how you feel about your spouse, you should not bring your children into the argument.

Nor should you try to dissuade your children from seeing the other parent. The Courts will consider this when making a custody decision.

In most cases, the Court will not let a child testify as to which parent the child wishes to stay with as it is not fair to make the child choose.

When determining custody, the Court will review several factors such as the amount of time each parent spends with the children, domestic violence issues, substance abuse, involvement in educational or extracurricular activities, and general care.

Child Custody Evaluations

In some situations, the Court may order a child custody evaluation to help resolve a custody dispute. If ordered, the court can appoint an evaluator, or the parents can choose a private evaluator.

In either situation, both parties are responsible for the cost of the evaluator. The evaluator’s role is not to treat patients, but to provide an objective evaluation with informed opinions to help the Court determine the most appropriate custody outcome. The evaluator will conduct an investigation and interviews to decide which parent can provide the best situation for their children.

Evaluators weigh several factors to make their decision, including reviewing interactions between parents and their children, if the parents allow contact or visits with the other parent, and how the children behave in front of each parent.

Spoiling a child will not get you extra points!  Once the evaluator has completed their investigation, they will submit their opinion to the Court for consideration.

An Attorney for the Child

In addition to a child custody evaluation, or in place of an evaluation, the Court may appoint an attorney for the child, referred to as Minor’s Counsel.

The role of Minor’s Counsel is to protect and advocate for the child’s best interest. As with the evaluator, both parties share in the cost of the child’s attorney. While the Minor’s Counsel generally has wide discretion in their investigation, it often involves multiple interviews with the children, and sometimes the parents.

Upon conclusion of their findings, Minor’s Counsel will present their recommendation and the children’s wishes to the Court for consideration when creating orders.

Following Court Orders

Parents who fail to follow court orders can be in contempt of the Court, resulting in fines or worse.

Parents of children who refuse to visit the other parent according to their visitation orders can also be held in contempt and face financial fines or even jail.

However, the success of contempt charges depends on several factors, including the child’s age and the concept of parental control. If your children are refusing to see their other parent, it is imperative you contact a family law attorney as soon as possible.

An experienced attorney can listen to your situation, advise the proper course of action to protect parental rights, and against contempt charges.

The Best Outcome

Even if you and your spouse cannot get along, it is better if you are able to create a parenting plan with the help of your attorneys.

The focus of any agreement should always be protecting the best interest of your children.

Consistent, cordial communication with your co-parent can help you and your children transition to the new family dynamic.

Additionally, discussing decisions surrounding the children’s health, safety, and welfare together can help avoid the stress of costly court appearances. In the event an agreement can’t be reached, an experienced family law attorney can help you protect your children and your parental rights.

The post Guidelines The Court Uses To Determine Child Support, Custody, And Visitation appeared first on Divorced Moms.

Read More –>

Want to resolve your Texas family law case outside of court? Remember these rules of engagement

Want to resolve your Texas family law case outside of court? Remember these rules of engagement

Originally published by The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC Blog.

Going to court to resolve a family law case is not a fun experience for anyone involved. You probably didn’t need me to tell you that, but it is the absolute truth. There is nothing glamorous about it. You will not have the moment in time where you get to call out your ex-spouse for the bad behavior he engaged into the delight of your family watching in the audience and the shock of the judge. If you are after truth, justice, and the American Way, then a family court is not the place to go.

What you are more likely to experience is a judge who is engaged but not sympathetic and an opposing party who is slinging mud at you based on issues that may or may not have ever occurred. Do not expect your ex-spouse to be contrite in response to any of the accusations that you hurl at him. I’ve seen enough men and women who have done bad things go on the offensive against a “victim” ex-spouse enough times to know that family court doesn’t deliver results in the way that you may anticipate.

With all of that said, it would make some sense to attempt to appeal to your spouse’s reasonable side and attempt to settle any family case outside of the courtroom. Mediation is a great resource for parties and attorneys alike when it comes to attempting to reach a middle ground on the important issues of your case. The nice part is that the judge in your case will likely require that you mediate your case at least once before you get anywhere near a courtroom. Odds are good that your case will settle and a potential courtroom drama can be averted.

What happens from the beginning part of your case until you get into mediation can have a lasting impact on the chances of your case settling. When it comes to co-parenting with a person who you may not see eye to eye with, getting along may not be an option. In these high conflict family court cases can you do anything to avoid disagreement and disaster?

Today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan will seek to answer that question. We actually took up the issue at the conclusion of yesterday’s blog post and we will continue to run with it in today’s blog. This is an important subject that you need to know about sooner rather than later. Learn what will work when it comes to co-parenting and avoid problems before they occur.

Be accountable to your co-parent

Whether you were married to your child’s other parent or not, you now have a sizeable amount of history with that person. You should feel some degree of responsibility to be held to your word. Basically, you should do the things that you say that you’re going to do. Just as importantly, you should avoid doing the things that you have said that you will not do. That shows that you take seriously the responsibility you have in raising a child with this person.

Even if you couldn’t care less how your child’s other parent views you, remember that everything you do in this case should be done to benefit the life of your child. Do not put your child in a bad position because you cannot be trusted or because you think it’s unimportant to be held to account for your actions. Taking the easy way out may seem better at the time (especially if doing so could harm your ex-spouse) but remember that in a co-parenting relationship you will often find yourself facing similar circumstances down the road.

Although you cannot control what your child’s other parent will do in response to your actions in the future, you have complete control over how you act at the moment. If you say that you are going to do something- do it. It’s as simple as that. Even if it means going out of your way or doing something that doesn’t seem like much fun if you said something your actions need to back those words up.

Keep a journal of interactions with your ex-spouse

If you are not a big fan of organization you may want to pay particular attention to this section of our blog post. Keeping notes of what you say and what your ex-spouse says in relation to your child is an important trait to pick up. For one, it will help you to remember better what was said so that you do not operate under mistaken assumptions and memories of things that did not occur. We’ve all been there- absolutely sure something happened, but as it turns out nothing close to that having occurred.

Before you consider filing a family lawsuit- whether that is a modification or enforcement lawsuit- I would recommend that you review those notes to determine how your memories line up with the reality of the situation. You may find that your emotions are not justified by past events as they actually occurred. It is a good practice to be able to check yourself by keeping notes of your meetings, interactions, phone calls, etc. Better to know exactly what took place than to run off to an attorney for no good reason.

Mediate, and mediate again (if necessary)

As I noted at the outset of today’s blog post, your case will very likely be decided in mediation rather than in a courtroom. Family court judges in most courts will mandate that you mediate your case at least once before stepping foot into their courtroom. When you and your ex-spouse find yourself facing a situation that is too big for you to resolve on your own, it is a good idea to push your attorneys to schedule a mediation early in your case.

Many times I will encourage clients to mediate their case even if an agreement is in place before the case is filed. Let me explain. Suppose that you and your spouse are getting a divorce. You know that you are getting a divorce- there is no chance to reconcile with your husband and divorce is the only alternative that you can seek at this point. You feel good that you all sat at the kitchen table and hammered out an agreement that will allow you to avoid having to go to court.

The next thing one of you does is walk into our office and tell one of our attorneys that you have an agreement for your divorce. All you are looking to do is have a lawyer draft order based on the agreement and you will be on your way. This sounds reasonable and in many ways is exactly what you should have done before coming to see a lawyer. However, I will add one thing to this discussion that should encourage you to seek advice from an attorney and mediator.

Here is that information- even if you have an agreement with your spouse in place for a divorce settlement, there is nothing guaranteeing that your spouse will stick to their word and honor that agreement. A lot can happen in between the time you all agreed to something at the kitchen table and the time where a judge can sign an order. An order has to be drafted, both sides must review the draft and signatures from you and your spouse must be collected. We’re talking at least a couple of weeks.

In the event that you or your spouse change your mind on the terms of your agreement, there is nothing to protect you. You could come up with an agreement only to see your spouse change their mind at the last minute. As long as he hasn’t signed the divorce decree he can turn his back on the process. This is completely legal and happens all the time. Before you start to worry, here is where mediation can solve this problem.

By going to mediation and resolving your issues there, you assure yourself of two things. For one, any agreements that you reach are going to be memorialized by a Mediated Settlement Agreement (MSA). You, your spouse and your attorneys will sign the MSA along with the mediator. This is significant because once it is signed there is no going back. I will tell clients that you cannot call me the next morning in a panic and tell me that the MSA needs to be tossed out because you realized you made a mistake of some sort. The final decree of divorce will be drafted off of that MSA.

Next, not only will you have an agreement in place that is unbreakable, but you also will ensure that you have accounted for all of the areas that are necessary for a divorce. Divorces can be complicated and touch on a range of issues. By coming up with your own settlement you are possibly missing out on a number of subjects that you had failed to account for. By having multiple attorneys and an experienced mediator look at the MSA you are almost guaranteed of having an agreement that takes into account all the areas you needed to account for.

What happens if you cannot agree on compromises after an order is established?

Once all the parties and the judge have signed off on an order it is set in stone. In the future, if there are any disagreements between you and your ex-spouse you can go back and refer to the order to see what your responsibilities are. That is reassuring to have a guidepost like that, but it can also be frustrating due to the fact that your family may “outgrow” the order.

In the future, you and your ex-spouse are free to resolve issues on your own without even filing a lawsuit. This is what judges assume will happen- the two of you will work together and resolve problems on your own without too much difficulty. You will save money and time by not filing a lawsuit and in the end, you will reach conclusions that are better tailored for your family than anything a family court judge could have come up with.

In the event that you have a problem that cannot be solved by negotiation and compromise, remember that the order is what controls the situation. Think of the order as your fall back provisions. Whatever you cannot agree upon means that your order takes center stage. As long as have a mutually agreed upon solution to a problem, you can go off of that solution. However, once one of you no longer agrees to abide by the compromise you must go off of what the order has to say.

This is important for you to know since you cannot be assured that you will always be able to come up with solutions to your problems on the fly. So, what you should take away from this discussion is that your orders had better be workable for your family- both now and in the future.

Questions about visitation problems? Come back to our blog tomorrow to find out more

As children age, and as your own circumstances evolve it may become apparent to you and your child’s other parent that your visitation orders need to be re-worked. What can you do in situations like this? If you find yourself in this sort of position, I would recommend that you return to our blog tomorrow. We will spend some time discussing this subject and how you can work around problems like this.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about today’s blog post or anything another subject in family law please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys can schedule you for a free of charge consultation six days a week. These consultations are a great opportunity to ask questions of our experienced attorneys and to receive direct feedback about your particular circumstances.

Curated by Texas Bar Today. Follow us on Twitter @texasbartoday.



Read More –>

Texas Court May Not Make Substantive Change When Clarifying a Custody Order

Texas Court May Not Make Substantive Change When Clarifying a Custody Order

Originally published by McClure Law Group.

By

Most Texas custody cases are between a child’s parents, but in some cases other family members may be involved.  In a recent case, an uncle challenged a modification of the access and possession terms of a court order related to his brother’s child.  Although the trial court expressed an intention to clarify the original order, the appeals court found it had improperly made a substantive change.

The child’s father is deceased.  In 2016, the father’s brother filed suit to be named as the child’s primary conservator.  The uncle and the mother ultimately reached an agreement, which was incorporated by the court’s order.  The order gave primary possession to the uncle and periodic possession to the mother.  The uncle had the right to request the mother undergo drug testing once a month.  She was required to appear for drug testing at a designated location within 24 hours of the uncle sending notice.  The uncle was prohibited from sending notice Friday through Sunday at 9:00 a.m. If the mother failed to appear within 24 hours, the results would be deemed positive.  If the drug test results were positive or deemed positive, the mother’s periods of possession would be suspended until there was a further court order.

The mother moved to enforce the order a month after it was entered.  She alleged the uncle did not make the child available to her during her time.  She sought criminal and civil contempt, additional periods of possession, and attorney’s fees.  She also asked the court to clarify the original order if it found any part of it was insufficiently specific to be enforced through contempt.

 

The trial court found the terms of the order were not sufficiently specific to be enforced by contempt.  The court added language requiring the uncle provide notice of the drug test “at a reasonable time” and give the mother 24 hours notice to comply. The court found the uncle in violation of the original order by failing to give the child to the mother on two occasions.  It also ordered him to pay $1,500 in attorney’s fees to the mother’s attorney.

The uncle moved for review of the attorney’s fees.  The judge confirmed the award but also specified it would be enforceable as both a debt and as child support.  The uncle appealed, arguing the court had not merely clarified the order but had made substantive changes to the terms.

A court may clarify a previous custody order, but may not generally modify a previous order unless certain conditions are met and the modification is in the child’s best interest.  A clarification cannot make substantive changes to the order.  Although a clarification can correct an error in the original judgment, it can only correct a clerical error, not a judicial error.  The clarification, therefore, cannot correct an error resulting from judicial reasoning.

The appeals court found the original order’s “possession and access terms were specific, non-ambiguous, and could be enforced by contempt.” The order allowed the uncle to request a drug test once a month.  It provided the method of the request and limited the times when he could request it.  The appeals court found the trial court had used judicial reasoning to add the requirement that the uncle send the request within reasonable time that gives the mother 24 hours notice.  The appeals court found the original text was unambiguous so the trial court did not have the authority to clarify.

The original order provided that a level of marijuana higher than 3.66 picograms would be deemed positive, but the modification added language limiting this provision to ingested marijuana. The appeals court found this was a substantive change.  The original order was unambiguous.

The appeals court struck the language purporting to clarify the previous order.

The uncle also argued there was no evidence that the enforcement of the order was necessary for the child’s physical or emotional safety or welfare, which would be required to enforce the attorneys fee award as child support.  The trial court did not find the uncle in contempt or enter a finding that enforcement of the original order was necessary to ensure the child’s health or welfare.  There was no evidence supporting characterizing the fee award as child support so the appeals court struck that portion of the order.

This case serves as a reminder that a Texas trial court’s ability to change a custody order is limited.  The court may not clarify an order by making a substantive change to its provisions, even if those provisions seem unfair.  An experienced Texas custody attorney can help you seek or oppose a clarification or modification of a custody order.  Call McClure Law Group at 214-692-8200 to schedule a consultation.

 

 

Curated by Texas Bar Today. Follow us on Twitter @texasbartoday.



Read More –>

Court Must Assign Value to Lease in Texas Divorce

Court Must Assign Value to Lease in Texas Divorce

Originally published by Robert Epstein.

By

A trial court in a Texas divorce must divide community property in a just and right manner.  Property can be somewhat broadly defined as it relates to property division in a divorce case.  Many people do not realize that a lease of someone else’s property is subject to division in a divorce, unless the lease is shown to be separate property.

In a recent case, the wife challenged a property division that did not include a recreational lease held by the husband.  The wife appealed the property division, arguing error in the trial court’s division of property.  She argued the court failed to include a recreational lease in the community estate and that the court unfairly allocated the husband’s tax debt.  The court had allocated all of the tax debt to the husband, but the wife argued the court erred in using it to offset the value of the assets awarded to the husband.

At trial, there was evidence the husband signed a written lease for a ranch during the marriage.  The husband’s friend owned the property and testified the husband had helped him build or enhance some of the improvements on the property.  The owner testified he would sell the ranch to the husband for a significant discount and indicated he would extend the lease to the husband indefinitely as long as he paid the rent.

 

The wife argued the husband was an owner of the ranch and was hiding his ownership interest from the IRS.  The trial court found the husband did not own the ranch.  The wife moved for reconsideration, arguing the court should assign value to the lease.  The court rejected her argument.

The wife did not argue the husband had an ownership interest in the ranch on appeal.  She argued that the leasehold interest should have been included in the property division.  A lease of property acquired during marriage is generally subject to division unless it is shown to be separate property by clear and convincing evidence.  The ranch lease was executed during the marriage and extended beyond the divorce; therefore it was presumed to be community property.  No evidence otherwise was presented.  The appeals court found it was not within the trial court’s discretion to find the lease was not community property.  The court, however, should have determined if the lease had enough value to affect the division of the estate.

The trial court did not assign any value to the lease, and there was not sufficient evidence presented for it to do so.  Community property is generally valued at “market value.” That is, the amount a willing buyer who wants to but has no obligation to buy would pay a willing seller who wants to sell but is not obligated to sell.  If there is no market value, the parties may show the property’s actual value to its owner.

There had been evidence at trial of the market value of the ranch itself, but not the value of the lease.  The only related evidence was the amount the husband paid for rent, but there was no evidence regarding whether that amount represented the actual value of the lease, or if the husband had possibly received a good deal due to his relationship with the owner.  The appeals court also noted it was possible the nearly $200,000 the husband would pay in rent over the 10-year lease term could be greater than the value of the lease.  The appeals court found there was insufficient evidence to determine if the lease was a community asset, community debt, or was too inconsequential to have an effect on the property division.

The appeals court noted both parties have a responsibility to provide sufficient evidence regarding the community estate’s value to allow the court to divide the property in a just and right manner.  In some cases, courts have held that a party who fails to provide sufficient evidence of property’s value cannot later challenge the trial court’s division of the property on the grounds it had insufficient evidence.  The appeals court noted this type of waiver may be appropriate where there was some evidence of the property’s value or where the unvalued property would have little effect on the total division.  With no evidence of the lease value and its total omission from the property division, the waiver would not be appropriate here.  Without evidence of the value of the lease, the trial court could not achieve a “just and right” property division.

The appeals court affirmed the divorce, but reversed the property division.  Because the appeals court reversed and remanded for a new property division, it did not address the challenge regarding the tax liability.

If you are facing a complex high-asset divorce, the skilled Texas divorce attorneys at McClure Law Group can help you fight for a fair property division.  Call us at 214.692.8200 to talk about your case.

 

Curated by Texas Bar Today. Follow us on Twitter @texasbartoday.



Read More –>

Picture

Contra Costa Protests Catch More CPS and Family Court Staffers in Child Abuse and Trafficking Rings

Picture


A former member of the Contra Costa County Grand Jury has leaked information that indicates  2018 parent protests  and new laws  mandating the termination of privately run foster homes resulted in an investigation of staff employed in the county’s CPS and family court services.  That investigation found that CPS workers were not following the law when they acted to remove children from their family homes. 

A recall effort that had wiped Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky off the bench was threatened by parents in Contra Costa, which caused an immediate investigation of three of the county’s judges.

Turns out, parents were right.  The investigation revealed Judge Hardie and Judge Fannin had direct ties to money laundering operations that take children from loving parents and sell those children into sex trafficking rings, while non- profits collect fees for the children placed into foster care. 

” It was the parents protesting in the streets that was very embarrassing to the upscale Walnut Creek community, that protest launched not only a criminal investigation by the FBI. but also the local grand jury.’ said the former grand juror who asked to speak off records. 

The juror also expressed frustration in the lack of media coverage on the topic. ” We never saw this coming because mainstream media never covers what is really going on in the county’s family courts,

Judges in the county appeared rattled over the investigation, which is leading to supervised visitation  and reunification camps where judges hold financial interests through their spouses and family members to avoid disclosure. 

Of the $153 million budgeted for foster kids. less than 1 percent was determined to be going to benefit foster youth. Worse were the judges who ignored the law and took children from their parents for no legal reason. 

SANTA CRUZ – Judge Hell

A Santa Cruz mother described the year  a CPS worker took her 2 year old, causing the mother to pay $40,000 she paid to get her child back.  

” The payment felt like a ransom” , explained the young mother, “we had to pay to defend  CPS worker’s allegations’: 

The Grand Jury didn’t investigate the use of supervised visitation, where several judges have a financial interest. 

Read More –>