Divorce and Custody: Changed your address? Why ask for trouble

If you have a Texas Divorce Decree involving minor children or a Texas Custody Order, it no doubt has the following language:

Each person who is a party to this order is ordered to notify each other party, the Court, and the state case registry of any change in the party’s current residence address, mailing address, home telephone number, name of employer, address of employment, driver’s license number, and work telephone number. The party is ordered to give notice of an intended change in any of the required information to each other party, the Court, and the state case registry on or before the 60th day before the intended change. If the party does not know or could not have known of the change in sufficient time to provide 60‑day notice, the party is ordered to give notice of the change on or before the fifth day after the date that the party knows of the change.

The duty to furnish this information to each other party, the Court, and the state case registry continues as long as any person, by virtue of this order, is under an obligation to pay child support or entitled to possession of or access to a child.

Failure by a party to obey the order of this Court to provide each other party, the Court, and the state case registry with the change in the required information may result in further litigation to enforce the order, including contempt of court. A finding of contempt may be punished by confinement in jail for up to six months, a fine of up to $500 for each violation, and a money judgment for payment of attorney’s fees and court costs.

You may have never read your decree or order carefully, and you may have especially not read this section. But it’s worth taking a look. Why? Because it imposes a duty on you that, if violated, can lead to jail time.

Is it likely that you will go to jail for failure to provide the notice required by this provision? There is no way of knowing for sure. But why take a chance.

So, in order to help eliminate any chance that this provision will lead to trouble, follow these links to forms that you can use to meet your obligation. – .pdf versionWord version.

If you need legal help with any other Divorce, Custody, or other Family Law related issues, you can call the attorneys of the Beal Law Firm at 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418. You can also write us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com or find us on the web at www.dfwdivorce.com.

Divorce and Custody: Possession Schedules for Children Under Age Three

When couples go through a divorce with children or just a custody case, one of the most important things to be determined is the possession schedule for the children.

If the parties cannot agree to a schedule that is in the Best Interest of the Children, the court will order a schedule.

As discussed in a prior blog post, Texas has established a Standard Possession Schedule (SPO) for use by divorce and custody courts in ordering the possession of children. By law, however, the SPO is designed to be used for children age three and over.

So what about children under the age of three?

Neither the Texas Family Code nor case law establish a standard schedule for children under the age of three.

For children that young, the Family Code states that “The court shall render an order appropriate under the circumstances” and then gives a non-exhaustive list of factors that courts are obligated to consider.

The factors detailed in the Code are:

(1)  the caregiving provided to the child before and during the current suit;

(2)  the effect on the child that may result from separation from either party;

(3)  the availability of the parties as caregivers and the willingness of the parties to personally care for the child;

(4)  the physical, medical, behavioral, and developmental needs of the child;

(5)  the physical, medical, emotional, economic, and social conditions of the parties;

(6)  the impact and influence of individuals, other than the parties, who will be present during periods of possession;

(7)  the presence of siblings during periods of possession;

(8)  the child’s need to develop healthy attachments to both parents;

(9)  the child’s need for continuity of routine; and

(10)  the location and proximity of the residences of the parties.

The code also states that the court shall consider “the need for a temporary possession schedule that incrementally shifts to” an appropriate schedule beginning at age three, with the incremental shifts based upon what would be appropriate, given the child’s age, and any evidence of “minimal or inconsistent contact with the child” by either parent.

Finally, the Code mandates the Courts consider “the ability of the parties to share in the responsibilities, rights, and duties of parenting” and “any other evidence of the best interest of the child.”

So what does a “a temporary possession schedule that incrementally shifts” (a “stairstep schedule” or “stairstep possession schedule”) look like?

With respect to Weekday and Weekend Possession, it may provide that the non-primary parent’s possession schedule is as follows:

  1. Tuesdays – On Tuesday of each week, beginning at 5:00 p.m. and ending at 8:00 p.m.
  1. Thursdays – On Thursday of each week, beginning at 5:00 p.m. and ending at 8:00 p.m.
  1. Saturdays Until the Child’s Second Birthday – Until the child reaches two years of age, on the first, third, and fifth Saturday of each month, beginning at 10:30 a.m. and ending at 5:00 p.m. on that same day.
  1. Sundays Until the Child’s Second Birthday – Until the child reaches two years of age, on the first, third, and fifth Sunday of each month, beginning at 10:30 a.m. and ending at 5:00 p.m. on that same day.
  1. Weekends Beginning on the Child’s Second Birthday-When the child reaches two years of age, on weekends, beginning at 10:30 a.m. on the first, third, and fifth Saturday of each month and ending at 6:00 p.m. on the following Sunday.

In addition to these terms, it would likely have additional time for holidays and the child’s birthday.

But, remember that stairstep schedules like that above are not mandatory. Even after considering all of the factors found in the Family Code, the Court may order that the non-primary parent have a standard possession schedule or even a 50-50 schedule, such as a week-on, week-off schedule.

If the parents don’t agree, it is up to the discretion of the court. Just because an SPO or more is not presumed the correct choice, does not mean that a court cannot decide, in its discretion, that it is the best choice.

There is a lot to know about possession schedules, as well as all of the other components of a custody order. To discuss any of this with the attorneys at the Beal Law Firm, call 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418, or write us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com. You can find us on the web at www.dfwdivorce.com.

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)

Divorce | Custody | Support: What do I have to do if I get served?

Many divorce and custody cases begin amicably. Some stay that way.

Even some of those that begin amicably have one party or the other served with papers at the beginning of the case. Sometimes it’s a strategy move, sometimes it’s a miscommunication between the attorney and the client, and sometimes it’s a mistake.

Most of the time it’s none of those. Most of the time the service is done because the filing party does not want the case to be amicable or is not sure that it can be.

Service of Process means service of the Petition that has been filed along with a Citation from the court. The Petition plus the Citation equals Process.

In Texas State Court, if you are served with Process, you have a certain amount of time in which to answer the suit. That amount of time is until “10:00 a.m. on the Monday next after the expiration of 20 days from the date of service.”

This time period is different for cases filed outside of Texas, and for Federal Cases. Virtually everything in family law – divorces, custody cases, child support cases, grandparent cases, etc. – is done in State Court.

So, if you get served with a Texas divorce or custody petition, even if you are outside of Texas, your deadline to answer is 10:00 a.m. on the “Monday next after the expiration of 20 days from the date of service.” Failure to answer by that time can put you in default.

If you are in default, you are subject to a default judgment. A default judgment is like losing by forfeiture in a sporting event.

In sports, if you are scheduled to play and you don’t show up, you lose by forfeit. In law, if you have been served and you do not answer, you can lose by default.

If you lose by default, it means that only the opposing party is presenting evidence to the court. In a divorce, a person in default could end up with little or none of the assets of the marriage – including his or her own 401K or pension. In a custody case, including a custody case within a divorce, a defaulted party may end up with little time with the children, higher than ordinary child support, and few rights.

It doesn’t take much to not get defaulted. If you have been served, all you have to do is answer the suit. An answer is basically any filing with the court that puts the court on notice that you do not want to have a default judgement taken against you.

If an answer is filed, it must be filed with the court in which the case is pending, and should be served on any other parties to the case or their attorneys. To serve it on the other party, if he or she has an attorney, all you have to do is fax it to them. Keep your proof that you sent the document by fax.

But, there are times when you don’t want to file an answer. There are times that you want to file more than an answer. And there are times that you need to file something prior to your answer and then an answer. It can get confusing.

If you need to discuss your situation with an attorney, contact the Beal Law Firm, PLLC at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com or call 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418. You can find us on the web at www.dfwdivorce.com.

Child Custody: What is a Standard Possession Schedule?

A key part of any custody order is the possession schedule. Understanding it is the key to understanding when you have the right to have possession of your children and when you don’t.

In Texas, Family Code Section 153.312 specifies what the Standard Possession Schedule is.

By law, the Standard Possession Schedule (also known as the SPO) sets out the minimum amount of time that is presumed to be reasonable for a fit parent to have with his or her children. Meaning that unless evidence is introduced proving why it would not be in the Best Interest of the Children to spend at least that much time with a parent, a judge must give a parent at least that much time. For a discussion of the Best Interest standard, see this previous blog post.

At the outset of virtually any possession schedule, whether it is an SPO, Modified SPO, or something else, you will find a statement that “the parties may have possession of the child at times mutually agreed to in advance by the parties.”

If the parties don’t agree on something different, then the terms of the possession schedule in the order control. The basics of the Standard Possession Schedule for the non-primary parent – when the parties live within 100 miles of each other – are this:

  1. First, Third, and Fifth Weekends.

In an SPO, the non-primary parent has the right to have possession of the children on each of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends, from 6:00 p.m. on Friday until 6:00 p.m. on Sunday. The number of the weekend in a month is determined by the Friday. So the 1st Friday of the month starts the 1st weekend of the month. There are usually only four 5th Weekends per year, and often two of them get “trumped” by holiday or summer schedules.

  1. Every Thursday evening, during the school year.

It is critical to note that the Thursdays are only during the school year, even if the child does not attend school. In that case, the calendar of the school in which the child primarily resides is used for the dates of the beginning and ending of the Thursday night possessions. In the SPO, the times for the Thursday evening are 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

  1. Every other Thanksgiving and Spring Break.

The parents alternate the Thanksgiving Breaks and the Spring Breaks each year. In the past, some schools only allowed Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday off for Thanksgiving, but now most schools appear to take off an entire week. Regardless of the length, the parent that has the children for Thanksgiving gets them for the entire time that they are out of school, per the SPO.

  1. Christmas Break alternates 1st part and 2nd part.

Under the SPO, Christmas break is divided into two parts. The first part is from the time school is out until noon on December 28th, and the second part is from noon on the 28th until school starts again. In years past, the SPO provided the dividing line on December 26th. Regardless, one parent gets the 1st part in even-numbered years, and the 2nd part in odd-numbered years and vice versa.

  1. Summer Break.

In the summer, the SPO provides that the non-primary parent keeps his or her weekends – subject to some other rules – loses their Thursdays, but gains an extra 30 days. The 30 days have to be exercised in no more than two groups of no less than seven days each. If the non-primary parent fails to give notice of what days he or she wants the children for the summer, there is a default provision, which is basically all of July.

Keep in mind that there is a lot more to it than this. And the terms talked about above do not include the Expanded or Extended provisions, which will be covered in a future blog post. Additionally, be aware that the Standard Possession Schedule only applies to children age three and over.

If you need to discuss any of this with an attorney, you can contact the Beal Law Firm attorneys at 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418 or write us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com. Our website can be found at www.dfwdivorce.com.

Stages of a Divorce, Custody, or other Family Law Case

All family law cases with opposing parties are lawsuits. That applies to divorces, custody battles, child support cases, grandparent rights cases, child support cases, modifications, and others. It doesn’t really apply to uncontested matters like an adult name change or adult adoption.

All lawsuits end one of two ways, either a settlement or trial. If the parties can agree on all issues, the case can settle. If the parties cannot agree on all issues, the only way to get to the finish line is to go to trial. There is no way to make the other side agree with you, if he or she doesn’t want to.

Most cases settle, and some settle quickly. Some settle immediately, some settle after a couple of weeks, some don’t settle until the parties are right outside the courthouse door waiting to go in for trial, but almost all cases settle.

The closer that the parties get to trial, the more the case has cost, almost invariably. The further down the litigation highway the parties have traveled, the further their attorneys have traveled as well. Getting down that highway takes work, and attorney work takes attorney time. Attorney time is paid for with client money. So going to trial, or even getting close to it can be expensive.

One thing that can help a case settle is for the parties to understand how a case progresses. If the parties know what is next, if they don’t settle at the stage they’re in, it may help them decide to go ahead and resolve their differences. So, here are the typical stages of a family law case:

  1. Negotiation between the parties.

This is sometimes known as a “kitchen-table” settlement, e.g. a “kitchen-table divorce.” The parties simply come to an agreement on all issues and have an attorney write up the paperwork to make sure that their thoughts get translated into reality by using the correct legal language.

  1. Negotiation between the attorneys.

If the parties are unable to resolve the case themselves, they will typically authorize their attorneys to negotiate on their behalf. The attorneys may negotiate via letter, email, or telephone. Sometimes, the attorneys prefer to send “bullet-pointed” offers back and forth. Sometimes they send entire orders or decrees back and forth in an attempt to reach an agreement. Sending a proposed full agreement is good sometimes, but not always, as discussed in this prior blog post. If the attorneys can reach an agreement, they may enter into a “Rule 11” agreement or a Non-revocable Settlement Agreement. It is important to know the revocability of those, prior to relying on them.

  1. Discovery.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement after some period of time, one side, the other, or both may decide that it’s time to engage in formal discovery. Discovery can be written or oral, and it can be addressed to the parties and other witnesses. Settlement talks may be taking place during the discovery stage. Discovery can become very expensive, but can also be almost invaluable in some cases.

  1. Mediation.

In this day and age, almost all cases are ordered to Mediation prior to trial. Sometimes, the attorneys will agree to go to mediation, even without a court order. Sometimes, the parties will agree to go, then enter into an agreed order of mediation, to be sure that the other side does not back out at the last minute, and to be sure everyone is clear on the deadline and payment of the mediator. Mediation is not arbitration, and it is just one form of Alternative Dispute Resolution intended to help the parties settle.

  1. Post-mediation discovery.

If the parties are not able to settle in mediation, they will often engage in further discovery post-mediation. Sometimes, depositions are saved until after an attempt at mediation, since the cost of depositions of the parties can be extremely high in contentious cases. Often during this stage there will be Motions to Compel, meaning the parties will file motions alleging that the other has not fully answered the discovery questions, and asking for a court to order that they do. Sometimes parties will seek or the court will order another mediation after the first has failed.

  1. Trial.

If all efforts at settlement have failed, the parties end up in trial. In Texas, most family law cases are tried to the Judge alone – a bench trial – but some are tried to juries. Family law trials can take anywhere from 1 hour to weeks to try. The length of the trial depends upon the issues and the court. Even during trial the case can settle, and what is surprising to some people is that a case can even settle after trial, based upon the threat of a Motion for New Trial or appeal.

That’s right, even if your case makes it all the way to trial, it may not be over. Although rare, cases can be set aside and ordered to a New Trial or appealed, which can sometimes lead to an order to go back and retry some or all of the case.

To discuss your case with the lawyers at the Beal Law Firm, call us at 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418 or write us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com.

What if I don’t like the way it is? The basics of Child Custody Modification

In Family Law, children’s issues are very different than property issues. When dealing with children’s issues, Courts are allowed to redo their orders over and over and over again. With property, pretty much once it’s done, it’s done.

Issues involving a child are decided in what is known as a SAPCR. That stands for Suit Affecting Parent-Child Relationship.

SAPCRs can be stand-alone cases, e.g. if two unmarried people have a child together, or they can be a part of a divorce.

Children’s issues include:

  1. Custody – Joint Managing Conservator, Sole Managing Conservator, and Possessory Conservator
  2. Residency
  3. Rights to make medical decisions, educational decisions, and psychological decisions
  4. Possession schedule, including holiday schedules, summer schedules, etc.
  5. Rights concerning extracurricular activities
  6. Electronic access, including texting, phone calls, Face Time, and Skype
  7. Child Support
  8. Health Insurance payments
  9. Payments for uninsured healthcare expenses

The results of a SAPCR case – whether a stand-alone SAPCR or a SAPCR that is a part of a divorce – can be re-litigated repeatedly. Either party can file for a modification of the orders, if certain criteria are met.

In order to properly seek a modification of any non-support issues, one of three things needs to have happened:

  1. There must have been a material and substantial change in circumstances; or
  2. A child for whom modification is sought must be over the age of 12 and ready to tell the judge that he or she wants to move to the other parent’s house; or
  3. The conservator who has the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child has voluntarily relinquished the primary care and possession of the child to another person for at least six months.

Texas Family Code Section 156.101.

In addition to having at least one of these three things, in order to win, the person asking for the change must prove to the court that the change is in the best interest of the child.

As you might guess, there is a lot more to it than this. Keep an eye on our blog for more information, and if you would like to discuss your case with the attorneys of the Beal Law Firm, you can call us at 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418 anytime, or write us at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com. We are on the web at www.dfwdivorce.com