A New Judge for the 360th District Court

Does it matter who the Judge is?

As of January 1, 2017, the Judge of the 360th District Court in Tarrant County, Texas is the Honorable Patricia Bennett. Judge Bennett replaces Judge Michael Sinha, who had been the Judge of the 360th and, the prior to that, the Associate Judge of the 360th for years.

Judge Bennett has chosen Matt Riek to be her Associate Judge, and Judge Riek will take the bench on or about January 16, 2017. Judge Riek replaces Judge Cynthia Mendoza.

Both Judge Bennett and Judge Riek are Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and each has years of experience in divorce, custody, and family law. Additionally, Judge Riek was one of the most sought after and well-respected family law mediators in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex prior to agreeing to accept the position of Associate Judge.

So, with these changes, one might ask: Does it matter who the Judge is?

The short answer, particularly in Family Law is Yes!!!

Family law – meaning divorce, custody, grandparent rights, child support, spousal support, alimony, etc. – is an area of the law that, unlike most areas, is governed by the “discretion of the court.” Under Texas law, the trial court judge has wide discretion in determining a number of items in family law. What that means in simple terms is that you are not entitled to have a jury make the decision, it has to be the judge, and your chances of getting an appellate court to overturn the trial court’s decision are extremely small.

Some of the things that a family court judge gets to decide with little chance of being overturned are:

  1. How the property will be divided in a divorce – Will the property be divided 50/50 or 60/40 or 80/20 or in some other ratio?
  2. What happens to the property in a divorce – Do you get to keep the house? Or does your soon-to-be Ex? Or is there a Court Order to sell it?
  3. Who gets to live in the house while the case is pending?
  4. Who has to pay which bills while the case is pending?
  5. Who gets custody of the children while the case is pending?
  6. How much child support will be paid and by whom to whom?
  7. How much temporary spousal support will be paid, if any, while the case is pending – even if it’s for years – and by whom, to whom?
  8. Does anyone deserve Spousal Maintenance – the Texas version of court-ordered alimony – and if so how much and for how long, within some limits?
  9. What will the rights and duties be with respect to the children? Do you have a say in who the children’s doctor is? Dentist is? Surgeon is? Will there be surgery? Will the children go to a psychiatrist?
  10. On what days and at what times will you be allowed to see your children?
  11. Will you be able to Facetime with your children? Call them? Email them?

These are just a few of the things that family court judges get to decide, and as long as that Judge stays on the bench and as long as the children stay in the county, the same judge will keep deciding these issues regarding your children until they age out of the system.

So what do you think? Does it matter who the judge of your court is?

Father’s Rights – Mother’s Rights: Naming the baby

Ever ask mom and dad what your name would have been if they had not chosen the one that you have? Or if you were born the other sex?

Naming a baby can be a fun topic or a stressful one. When mom and dad have different last names, and don’t get along, sometimes the court is called upon to decide a newborn’s name.

Texas Family Code Section 45.004 gives judges the power to change the name of a baby if the judge believes that doing so would be in the child’s best interest.

Either parent may file for the name change, so if mom and dad aren’t getting along at the time of the birth, and mom gives the child a name that dad doesn’t like, dad can file a petition with the court asking it to change the child’s name. On the other hand, if mom and dad are both happy with the name given at birth, and mom later changes her mind, she can file to have the child’s name changed.

Regardless of which parent files, they must give notice to the other parent of the filing. Theoretically, the name of a child cannot be changed without both parents being aware of it.

How a court decides whether it believes that changing the child’s name is in the child’s best interest depends upon the factors that the court considers. Judges are not allowed to prioritize one parent’s name over the other solely based upon whether the name belongs to the mom or dad.

Additionally judges are not allowed to decide solely based upon the tradition of giving children the father’s last name, since doing so would be consider gender biased.

Texas courts make their final decision based upon a case by case determination using factors that they believe are appropriate for a court to consider, such as:

1. Whether the changed name or the original name would best avoid embarrassment, inconvenience, or confusion for the custodial parent;

2. Whether the changed name or original name would best help identify the child with the family unit;

3. The length of time that the child has carried the original name;

4. The degree of community respect associated with the original and changed names;

5. Whether the change will positively or adversely affect the bond between the child and either parent or the parents’ families;

6. The preference, maturity, and age of the child;

7. Parental misconduct, such as support or nonsupport or maintaining or failing to maintain contact with the child;

8. Any delay in requesting or objecting to the name change;

9. Whether the parent seeking the name change is motivated by an attempt to alienate the child from the other parent; and

10. Assurances by the parent whose surname the child will bear that the parent will not change his or her surname at a later time.

Once the court has made a decision, the chances of getting the matter reversed by an appellate court are not great. So winning at the trial level is crucial.

A related issue to the naming of a baby is that of what can be done to make a parent use the name that the court has given a child, or that the child has been using up to the point that the parents split up.

On that issue, Courts have the power to order a parent “not to permit the child to use any other name while attending school except” the child’s official name.

This power derives from the fact that courts have determined that fathers have a “protectable interest” in the continued use of the name that the child has been using, so courts have the power to prevent moms from deciding that the child will use a new name after divorce or separation, such as that of a step-father.

To discuss any of this with the attorneys at the Beal Law Firm, call us at 817.261.4333 or 214.414. 0418 or write us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com. Our web address is www.dfwdivorce.com.

Cases referred to in this post:

In re A.W.G., 2011 Tex. App. LEXIS 6854 (Tex. App. Fort Worth Aug. 25, 2011)

In re Guthrie, 45 S.W.3d 719, 2001 Tex. App. LEXIS 2175 (Tex. App. Dallas 2001)

In the Interest of Baird, 610 S.W.2d 252, 1980 Tex. App. LEXIS 4267 (Tex. Civ. App. Fort Worth 1980)