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Austin TX Family Law Blog

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Divorce Filings Reveal Startling Domestic Strife for 'Affluenza Teen'

By now, many people nationwide have heard of the “affluenza teen” – a Fort Worth-area teen who obtained a shockingly light sentence after killing four people while driving drunk and underage. Citing the poor parenting skills of his mother and father, along with the irreversible effects of being spoiled his entire life, the child’s counsel somewhat successfully invoked the “affluenza” defense to help his client avoid the maximum possible adult sentence for his actions.

The perpetrator has since garnered additional nationwide scrutiny after apparently fleeing to Mexico with his mother, who is also facing charges for absconding with her child in violation of his probation. Now, after being thrust into the limelight, details of the parents’ 2006 divorce have emerged, shedding light on a little-known concept occurring with increasing frequency in divorces nationwide: adultification.

What is ‘adultification?’

When two parents go through a divorce, it is not uncommon for one or both to experience loneliness or isolation – particularly if the divorce was especially troublesome or came about unexpectedly. In some scenarios – as is alleged in this story – parents begin to treat their children as adult friends rather than vulnerable children, often asking them to fulfill inappropriate roles as the parent’s confidant and mentor. For a child enduring adultification amidst a divorce, the unsuitable changes in dynamics can create a confusing and dangerous mental health scenario for the child.

In the case of the “affluenza” teen, details of a divorce-related home study have been made public, revealing startling instances of adultification between the then nine-year old and his mother. More specifically, the psychologist detailed that “[the mother] has [the child’s] bed in her room and considers [the child] to be her protector….[the child] has a bedroom but prefers to sleep in a separate bed in his mother’s room.” The psychologist further noted that this arrangement was “very unusual and highly questionable.” The counselor further noted that the child commented he wished his parents wouldn’t “put him in the middle” – and was not surprised the child’s life had run its course the way it did.

If you are looking for help in ensuring the best possible arrangement for your children post-divorce, please do not hesitate to contact a reputable child custody attorney today!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Grandparents' Visitation Rights

What are the grandparent visitation laws in Texas?

Divorce has many ramifications for families. The divorcing spouses must work through all the usual issues involving child custody and support, spousal support and the division of property. While child custody is usually handled jointly, there are other important people in a child's life who may have visitation rights, such as the grandparents.

In many families, bonds between children and grandparents are strong and can last a lifetime. In recognition of this fact, every state now has some type of grandparent visitation law. In Texas, a court can authorize visitation rights for grandparent, provided that such visitation is in the best interest of the child. Texas is viewed as a restrictive state in this regard, because the grandparent must overcome the presumption that a parent's barring visitation is in the best interest of the child.

This requires the grandparent to prove that denying visitation would significantly impair the child's physical health or emotional well being. This is also known as the harm standard and it is a higher burden of proof than in other states. The Texas standard, however, adheres to federal requirements established by the United States Supreme Court. In short, the Court has ruled that, as long as a parent adequately cares for his or her children, there is no basis for the government to impose in private family matters.

In addition to meeting this standard, one of the following conditions must exist in order for the court to authorize visitation:

• The parents divorced
• The parent abused or neglected the child
• The parent has been incarcerated, found incompetent, or died
• A court-order terminated the parent-child relationship
• The child has lived with the grandparent for at least 6 months

In the final analysis, the visitation laws in Texas do not give grandparents an absolute right. As with many child visitation issues, the courts will make decisions based on a determination of what is in the best interest of a child. There are also other issues that can affect a grandparent's visitation rights, such as adoption. On the other hand, in situations where a child lives with a grandparent, he or she may decide to seek custody of the child.

As with any other matter involving divorce, child custody and visitation rights, these are complicated legal issues. If you are a grandparent seeking visitation rights, you should consult with a qualified family law attorney.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Federal Government to Step In to Help State's Ailing Foster Care System

What is the latest news concerning the foster care system in Texas?

As practitioners of family law – which necessarily requires a keen awareness of issues impacting parents and children – we remain steadfastly dedicated to keeping abreast of advancements in applicable Texas and federal laws. In December, a federal judge issued a startling ruling concerning the current status of the foster care system in Texas – citing the system as violative of the constitutional rights of children. In a gut-wrenching opinion, the U.S. District Court in Corpus Cristi stated as follows:

Years of abuse, neglect and shuttling between inappropriate placements across the state has created a population that cannot contribute to society, and proves a continued strain on the government through welfare, incarceration or otherwise.

The ruling came approximately one year following the filing of a lawsuit against the state’s foster care system by child welfare advocates who decried the deplorable conditions many children were allegedly forced to endure. Specifically, the lawsuit targeted children placed in long-term foster care arrangements in the state, and argued that caseworkers are assigned too many children to properly monitor their progress. Moreover, children were allegedly placed in homes too far away from their families, and were not receiving appropriate supervision – especially in group homes lacking round-the-clock awake monitoring.

As a result of the ruling, a Special Master will be appointed to oversee the mandatory changes imposed by the District Court judge. As part of the process, the system must implement a complete overhaul, including mandatory maximum caseloads for workers across all 254 Texas counties. Moreover, children must have private access to their caseworker, and counties must implement services for children on the brink of aging out of the system.

Currently, Texas maintains one of the largest child welfare teams in the United States, with 8,000 full-time employees and a $1.2 billion budget.

If you are facing a difficult child custody or visitation situation, please do not hesitate to contact Stinson Moyle, PLLC today: 512-320-9070.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Time Magazine Reviews 'Alimony Reform' in Light of Surge in Breadwinning Women

What are the latest trends concerning alimony and spousal support on a national level?

According to a recent article posted in Time magazine, a record number of women are paying alimony to their former spouses – an arrangement once unheard of just 40 years ago. As more and more women are stepping into the role of “breadwinner,” this change in family dynamics has led to a similar change in post-marital spousal support orders – and a growing number of opponents are seeking to have alimony and spousal support laws totally upended, if not eliminated altogether.

Historically, the lower- or non-earning spouse was eligible for alimony payments from the higher-earning breadwinner for an indefinite period of time – provided the recipient did not get remarried or begin cohabitating with a romantic partner. Over time, however, the existence of the dependable alimony payment became almost a hindrance for the recipient partner in gaining valuable work experience – and payors began to complain that paying alimony for decades on end was not exactly fair.

In recent years, several anti-alimony lobbying groups have come to the forefront, demanding either strict limitations of alimony awards or an elimination of the practice (provided the lower-earning spouse would not be left destitute or impoverished). According to alimony opponents, the concept of “permanent alimony” should be erased from the law books completely. Instead, alimony orders should be for a limited period of time, perhaps to allow the recipient enough time to pursue an education or gain valuable work experience.

While opponents would still advocate for permanent alimony on behalf of disabled or elderly ex-spouses, the vast majority of the 400,000 Americans currently receiving alimony payments could – and should – find stable, gainful employment post-divorce. However, if an award of permanent alimony is already in place, it can be difficult to obtain a modification or revocation of the award unless the parties either consent to the change, or the financial situation of either party changes dramatically.

If you have questions about alimony or other aspects of the divorce process, please do not hesitate to contact Stinson Moyle, PLLC today: 512-320-9070.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Child Custody in Texas

How are matters of child custody decided in Texas?

In Texas, child custody is referred to as "conservatorship," and the parent is referred to as a "conservator," rather than a custodian. Unless both parents agree on a custody plan, the court will establish such an agreement. The governing principle of child custody arrangements is always the "best interest of the child." There are two types of conservatorship in Texas: joint managing conservatorship (JMC) and sole managing conservatorship (SMC).

What are the rights of being a conservator?

Conservatorship entitles the parent designated to:

• Access information from the other parent re: the child's health, education, welfare
• Have access to the child's medical, dental, psychological and educational records
• Talk to the child's physician, medical specialist, dentist or psychologist
• Talk to any school personnel regarding the child's education or school activities
• Consent to medical, dental, or surgical treatment during emergency situations

What is joint managing conservatorship (JMC)?

In Texas, both parents are presumed capable of being part of a joint managing conservatorship, sharing the rights and duties of parenting, unless there is evidence to the contrary. Still, the judge may decide that, "in the best interests of the child," certain decisions are best left to one particular parent.
The decisions regarding visitation and custody are made separately, during the creation of a standard possession order.

What is sole managing conservatorship (SMC)?

SMC means that the judge decides to grant only one parent the ability to make certain decisions for the child, such as:

• Deciding on the child's primary residence
• Consenting to the child's medical/dental/psychological or psychiatric treatment
• Being the child's designated emergency contact
• Being allowed to attend the child's school activities
• Making decisions concerning the child's education

What possible reasons might the court have for awarding SMC rather than JMC?

In a few cases, one parent may not want to take on the responsibility of parenting. More frequently, the judge orders an SMC because the other parent:

• Has a history of domestic violence or other criminal activity
• Has a history of alcohol or illegal drug abuse
• Has been neglectful of the child, or absent from the child's life

It is also possible that the court will order an SMC because there is a history of extreme conflict between the parents in regard to educational, religious, or medical issues.

How does child visitation work in Texas?

In Texas, visitation is referred to as "possession and access." Unless the court deems it unwise because of a likelihood that contact with the noncustodial parent will endanger the child physically or emotionally, a schedule will be set up to provide both parents access to the child.

How does child support work in Texas?

In Texas, child support is almost always paid to the custodial parent by the noncustodial parent. This responsibility typically ends when the child reaches the age of 18 years. If the child is disabled, however, the judge can order child support to continue for a longer period. If you are contemplating divorce, and confronting issues of custody and child support, you should consult with a knowledgeable and compassionate family law attorney.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Texas Man Sleeps on Front Lawn for Five Months in Fierce Divorce Stand-off

Texas Man Sleeps on Front Lawn for Five Months in Fierce Divorce Stand-off

Divorce can be difficult, but working with the right attorney can help stave off situations like that out of Seabrook, Texas. According to reports, a 69-year old divorce litigant was reduced to sleeping on the front lawn of his multi-million-dollar home – a situation which went on for nearly five months before being finally resolved in the divorce courts. While undoubtedly a wild example, it is not uncommon for seemingly simple divorces to take a turn for the worse, which is why working with an experienced family law attorney is an essential step in the process. 

Allegedly, the 69-year old was facing allegations of spousal abuse by his wife, which he has staunchly and publicly denied. Nonetheless, a Texas judge ordered him to stay out of the marital home for the duration of the divorce proceedings. In protest, the man has remained a permanent fixture in the front yard of the home, living out of the family dog house, and encouraging the neighbors to inquire into the situation. In a statement to the media, the man stated that he remains on the lawn as an embarrassment to his wife, and so that “[p]eople will know, the neighbors and everything else. Everybody will ask her, put her down, let her know what you’re doing to your husband.”

While stories like this serve as fodder for the news media, this is certainly not an ideal for couples facing divorce – particularly if abuse allegations are involved. With the help of a competent and knowledgeable divorce attorney, you can navigate the divorce process with as little conflict as possible – without anyone having to sleep on the lawn!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Child Support in Texas called “Purgatory” by Some Custodial Parents

Why has my child support payment been collected by the state, but not then distributed to me?

Recently, some are calling the massive number of undistributed payments in the Texas Office of Attorney General “purgatory.” This is because the custodial parent is put in the precarious position of waiting for money needed to make ends meet. This is money that has been allocated by the noncustodial parent to the state of Texas, but has not thereafter been distributed to the custodial parent. This can be a poverty-inducing experience for some parents in the system. Often, after the custodial parent fights the noncustodial parent for payment, the former faces a second fight with the state for the disbursement of funds.

In the third quarter of the 2015 fiscal year, Texas did not distribute $55 million in child support payments. This pales in comparison to the $21 million figure from this time last year. Clearly, this dismal situation, damaging to so many families, is getting worse.

The state has given a variety of reasons for this delay in distribution.of monies intended to support dependent children, including:

• Custody disputes regarding the amound of payment
• State interception of millions from the IRS that must then be verified as legitimate
• Erroneous information about the custodial's parents personal information, such as
home address or place of employment

In many instances, hiring an attorney can speed the process along.. Attorneys can petition the court for a hearing, and thereafter push the state to provide answers as to why the payment has been delayed. This may be especially helpful if the state is not providing answers to the distributee through the normal channels. If you are having troubling getting responses from the state's 800 telephone number, for example, or have had no success even when you visit a state office, it may be time to hire a family law attorney who is familiar with precisely how to expedite the process.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Basics of Spousal Maintenance in Texas: How Much & How Long?

Must I keep paying spousal support after my ex gets remarried?

Spousal support is a component of many Texas divorces, and is designed to ensure that neither spouse experiences significant financial hardship nor impoverishment in the months or years following the dissolution of the marriage. Historically, one spouse had served in the primary “breadwinning” role while the other tended mostly to domestic matters, childrearing and homemaking. In the event of a divorce in this situation, the homemaker spouse often experienced an inability to find gainful employment – prompting the advent of spousal support laws to ensure that divorce did not necessarily lead to financial ruin to the spouse unprepared for the job market.

In Texas, a court may order spousal maintenance only if the “spouse seeking maintenance will lack sufficient property… to provide for the spouse's minimum reasonable needs.” Moreover, the court must find that the spouse seeking maintenance also fits into one of the following categories:

  • Has been a victim of domestic violence at some point during the marriage
  • Has a physical or mental handicap making self-support impossible or unduly burdensome
  • Has been in the marriage for at least 10 years and “lacks the ability to earn sufficient income to provide for the [his or her] minimum reasonable needs”
  • Is the primary custodian of a child of the marriage who needs continual care due to a mental or physical handicap

In most instances, spousal support does not last forever. Undoubtedly, the recipient spouse foregoes the right to support upon remarriage – and, possibly, cohabitation in a subsequent romantic relationship. In many cases, a divorce decree will specify a definite length of time for support payments, and will generally require the recipient to make reasonable efforts to secure a regular income.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Divorce: Facts, Myths and Explanation

Please tell me more about divorce law in Texas: what do I need to know?

A good place to start learning about divorce law is during the period before the divorce is filed. Some people believe that gathering evidence that casts your spouse in a negative light, such as listening in on your spouse’s phone calls, intercepting your spouse’s emails, or tracking your spouse’s movements via use of a GPS tracker, is beneficial But be forewarned -- such actions can expose you, and whomever assists you, to civil and criminal penalties. This is because such actions violate privacy laws. It helps to understand where the line is drawn in the law on this topic.

Another major consideration at this time is one of finances. Can you afford to file for divorce? Know now that, even if your spouse is the one who controls the finances, you can still file for divorce without apprehension. This is because the court is authorized to grant temporary orders of support while the divorce is pending, effectively prohibiting the other spouse from financially cutting you off. These orders can also prevent a spouse from damaging the marital finances by doing such things as stopping any sale of marital assets or by forcing the payment of marital bills.

Lastly, before filing for divorce you have to consider whether you are in a situation where domestic violence exists. Such a situation may make the contemplation of filing for divorce frightening. The law, however, has specific provisions allowing the court to grant various kinds of protective orders to restrict the offending party. Such protective orders come with serious penalties, civil and/or criminal, to ensure compliance.

During the period when the divorce is pending, Texas has a few laws that may make the process smoother. You may be interested in learning about collaborative law, as well as equitable distribution of assets. Also, you should be aware that Texas judges will consider the wishes of the child in determining child custody. Be sure to remember that experienced and trained legal counsel from knowledgeable attorneys, like those at Stinson Moyle, will be able to assist you as you navigate these points of law and the process as a whole. Call us today at 512-320-9070.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Why and How to Pursue a Supervised Visitation Order

I am concerned about my child’s safety with the other parent. Can I require supervised visitation?

In some families, there exists an unfortunate reality that one parent simply isn’t as well-suited to the parenting role as the other. Sadly, children are made to endure issues like domestic violence, substance abuse, neglect, or abandonment – requiring the imposition of a supervised visitation order. With supervised visitation, the child is not completely cut off from spending time with the other parent, however the visits are fully monitored and often take place at a state visitation center.

The reasons to pursue a supervised visitation order are varied, and the family court will require some kind of evidence to support the notion that the parent should not be left alone with the child. If the parent has a history of intoxication, violent behavior, or of leaving the child with strangers, this could serve as proper underlying evidence to support a petition for supervision.

Likewise, the format of supervised visitation can vary from family to family. In some families, a strict weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly schedule at a state visitation center is necessary to ensure the parent is at all times cooperating with the terms of the order and the law. In other situations, supervision at the parent’s home by a trusted family member (e.g., grandparent) may be all that is needed to maintain the child’s safety.

While it may seem easier to try and avoid visitation with a wayward co-parent all together, it is still important for the child to maintain a positive relationship with that person – provided this goal can be accomplished safety and is in the child’s best interests.

If you are considering establishing a visitation arrangement and you would like discuss your questions and concerns with a reputable family law attorney in Texas, please do not hesitate to contact Stinson Moyle, PLLC today: 512-320-9070. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Reluctant Texas County Grants First Same-Sex Divorce

With the nationalization of same-sex marriage, are spouses also guaranteed equal rights to the divorce process?

In June, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its historic ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which opened the doors for same-sex marriage in all 50 states. For states like Texas, which did not officially recognize marriage between same-sex partners, this ruling clarified the status of marriage as a fundamental right that cannot be denied to consenting, unrelated, unmarried adults – regardless of their gender.

With that issue out of the way, the ruling also brought to light another seemingly fundamental right within the marriage context: divorce. Intuitively, same-sex partners who are now allowed to marry should also be allowed equal access to divorce, right? Well, for one Texas county, the dissolution journey was a long one – and finally reached its conclusion in August, 2015.

Several years ago, two current Tarrant County women were lawfully wed in New Hampshire – a state which has recognized same-sex marriage for several years. After moving from the Northeast to the Fort Worth area, the couple opted to split – and filed the requisite paperwork to seek a divorce. Problem was that, at the time, Texas did not recognize same-sex marriage – and accordingly refused to grant a same-sex divorce. Moreover, the spouses tried an alternative option known as annulment – which nullifies a marriage as if it never took place. Unfortunately, this attempt was also struck down by the county court, prompting the women to appeal the rulings.

After nearly four years of legal wrangling, the Supreme Court’s holding in Obergefell finally solidified the notion that a state required to issue same-sex marriage licenses is also compelled to issue same-sex dissolutions – paving the way for equality in both marriage and divorce.

If you are considering a divorce and would like to discuss your options under current Texas law, please do not hesitate our experienced and dedicated family attorneys at Stinson Moyle, PLLC today: 512.320.9070.

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