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?

Guideline Child Support: How does it work?

The Texas Family Code is an amazing legislative work. It covers divorce, annulment, how to divide stock options, rules regarding whom you can marry and when, provisions for child custody, grandparent rights, and more. There may not be any part of the Family Code, however, that causes as much heartache as child support.

For those getting child support, it is often either not enough or far more than necessary. For those paying it, the amount is almost always more than desired.

Texas courts typically award child support using the Guidelines for Child Support found in Chapter 154 of the Texas Family Code.

The use of the Guidelines is “rebuttably presumed in best interest of child.” That means that a court can use the guidelines and will virtually never be reversed by an appellate court for having done so. (For a discussion of Best Interest, see this previous blog post.)

The basics of the Guidelines are this:

  1. Determine the number of children for which support is being considered.

The amount of guideline support varies based upon the number of children in the case being considered. For one child, the starting percentage is 20%. For two, it’s 25%. And it continues to go up by 5% for each child, up to five children. For six or more children, the guideline amount is to be “not less than” it would be for five.

  1. Determine how many total children the obligor is responsible for.

The person paying the child support is known as the obligor. The next step to determine the guideline amount is to determine how many children the obligor has a legal duty to support. That number includes the children in the case for which support is being calculated, and any others that he or she is legally obligated to support, whether the support is currently order or being paid. The number does not include step-children. The percentage determined in step 1, gets reduced if there are additional children for whom support is ordered.

  1. Determine the Net Resources of the Obligor.

In Texas, for Guideline support, only the income or other resources of the obligor are considered. That means that even if the obligee – the one getting the support – is a multi-millionaire and the obligor is making minimum wage, the obligor must still pay. “Net Resources” basically includes all income of the obligor, regardless of the source of the income. There is often a misunderstanding about how “net” resources, as opposed to “gross” resources are determined. In short, the net amount is the amount that the Attorney General’s chart says should be the net, not what the net is in reality.

  1. Apply the appropriate percentage to the amount of the net resources to which guidelines apply.

There is not a maximum amount of child support – a court can order a person making $5,000.00 per month to pay $4,000.00 per month in child support. But, there is a “presumptive max” of child support, and that is the percentage obtained in 1 and 2 applied to maximum amount specified in the Family Code. The maximum number is designed to go up over time.

There are provisions in the code for the court to disregard the guidelines, and for the court to award more or less than what the calculation detailed above would lead to. Additionally, as with virtually everything in family law, this just covers the basics. There is a lot more to it.

To discuss any of this with the attorneys of the Beal Law Firm, call us at 817.261.4333 or 214.414.0418. You can write us anytime at lawyers@dfwdivorce.com or find us on the web at www.dfwdivorce.com.