Understanding the standards used to make a decision when a CPS termination has been started can be crucial. Whether you are attempting to adopt through foster care or you are facing a termination hearing yourself, understanding the way the judge is going to make their decision is very important. Many people have misconceptions about the rights a parent has to their children and, for a variety of reasons, many people have a mistrust of the legal system when it comes to deciding where a child should live and who should have the right to see a child.

Depending on who you talk to, some people feel that courts are too quick to take children away and it also seems that an equal amount of people feel that courts take too long to terminate parental rights. The Texas legislature has attempted to strike a balance in the standards used to make decisions in a termination hearing between these two complaints. This blog post is going to attempt to break down the often complicated standards used when a judge is faced with the task of deciding whether or not to terminate parental rights.

What standard is used in a termination hearing?

Pre-nuptial agreements, called premarital agreements under Texas law, are frequently in the news and even in pop culture references (shout-out to Kanye West).  You may think that living in Dallas, Kaufman, or Rockwall County that you don’t need to worry about a premarital agreement, but they can be a very valuable tool. No one likes to think about divorce at the beginning of their marriage, but with the amount of marriages that end in divorce it can be extremely helpful to get an agreement in writing ahead of time to make sure that a divorce can be as painless as possible.

What are the requirements for a premarital agreement in Texas?

In Texas, a premarital agreement must be in writing and signed by both parties. It is pretty much that simple. There are many things that may be contracted for in a premarital agreement but one major thing that is NOT allowed to be modified in certain ways in a premarital agreement is child support. You can’t completely get rid of (the statute says, “adversely affect”) child support. It makes sense because it seems like bad policy to have a child suffer because of an agreement of the parties that was possibly made before they were even born.

This may seem crazy to most people, but under current Texas law children under the age of 16 can get married in Texas with consent of one parent and approval from a judge. There has been no floor on the age that a child can get married in Texas meaning that it is entirely up to a judge as to whether it is appropriate for a child to get married. After September 1st of this year that will no longer be true as a result of the signing of Senate Bill 1705 by Governor Abbott. Texas will have an absolute floor of 16 years old for marriage. People under the age of 18 but older than 16 will have to have a judge consent to marry under the new law.

If you are involved in any type of dispute involving child support in Texas you have probably been given advice from well-meaning family and friends about what your options and rights are. Unfortunately, some advice that may have been accurate in the past may not be accurate now and because each family law case presents a unique fact situation even completely accurate statements about something that happened to another person may not matter in your case. So, here are 10 child support misconceptions that we would like to clear up:

  1. The guy is always going to be ordered to pay child support.

The Family Code in Texas is gender-neutral. There is nothing in the code that presumes that the mother should be with the child the majority of the time and there is nothing in the code that says that the father should be the one paying child support. In many cases parties are able to prove that it would be in the child’s best interest to spend the majority of the time with the father and the mother should be the one paying child support. This is obviously a very fact-sensitive issue and it may seem to a lot of people that the dad is always the one ordered to pay child support, but that is not a requirement under Texas law.

What is a Mediated Settlement Agreement?

If you reach an agreement in a mediation, more precisely called a Mediated settlement agreement or MSA for short, the agreement is binding on you and all other parties you are agreeing with in a family law case as long as the MSA is drafted in the way that is required under the Texas Family Code. The agreement must be the result of a mediation, hence the name, which is basically just the meeting of both parties with a neutral third person facilitating the conversation so that the parties can come to an agreement. Texas law encourages mediation as a cost-efficient and time-efficient way of settling disputes. One of the benefits of mediation is that instead of a judge who has only a glimpse into the lives of parties based on evidence presented to him or her, during a mediation the parties who know their situation and family the best get to come to an agreement that works for them and is custom to their situation.

One downside to a mediation could be that as opposed to a judge who should know what the consequences of their decision could potentially be, parties could be making agreements in a mediated settlement agreement using language that will have consequences after the agreement is entered that they did not intend. One of the reasons that we trust judges to make decisions for us in legal matters is that in general they have years of experience dealing with similar matters and they should understand what all of the legal jargon that goes into an order actually means.

What is a standing order?

New standing orders were issued from Dallas County on January 1, 2017. If you are familiar with any type of family law case in recent years, especially in Dallas County, hopefully you are familiar with what “standing orders” are in general. If you need a refresher, they are basically orders that the judges agree are a good thing to apply to all family law cases that must be attached to any petitions filed in the county. The standing orders apply to the parties while the case is pending. In the broad sense, the standing orders are meant to prevent the parties from acting badly while a divorce is ongoing.

To see the full standing orders, please follow this link: Dallas County Standing Orders.

What is Jurisdiction?

Jurisdiction is the ability for a court to hear a case. When two states are involved, the states must decide which court more rightfully has jurisdiction to hear the case so that there are not conflicting orders out of two different courts in two different states. Under the uniform child custody jurisdiction and enforcement act, which Texas has adopted into its family code, a trial court can have jurisdiction over a child custody case under certain circumstances laid out in section 152.201.

Even when a trial court has this jurisdiction under 152.201 of the family code, the court can still defer jurisdiction to another jurisdiction if the court considers itself an “inconvenient forum.” This inconvenient forum provision is codified in section 152.207. The court is supposed to consider certain factors when making this determination that include: (1) whether domestic violence has occurred and is likely to continue in the future and which state could best protect the parties and the child; (2) the length of time the child has resided outside this state; (3) the distance between the court in this state and the court in the state that would assume jurisdiction; (4) the relative financial circumstances of the parties; (5) any agreement of the parties as to which state should assume jurisdiction; (6) the nature and location of the evidence required to resolve the pending litigation, including testimony of the child; (7) the ability of the court of each state to decide the issue expeditiously and the procedures necessary to present the evidence; and (8) the familiarity of the court of each state with the facts and issues in the pending litigation.

What is the Maximum Amount of Child Support I Can Be Ordered to Pay in Texas?

 
            It would be really easy to answer the question of what the maximum amount of child support possible is if the Texas Legislature had decided to put an absolute cap in the family code on the amount of child support, but unfortunately or fortunately depending on where you may be situated in a family law case, there is not absolute cap on child support in Texas. This issue was taken up before the Court of Appeals for the Fifth District of Texas at Dallas on March 9, 2017 in the case In the Interest of V.J.A.O., A Child, where the court re-affirmed that the statutory guidelines allow for courts to consider relevant factors when setting child support and that trial courts have discretion to set child support amounts above what is presumed to be in the best interest of the child under the family code.

What are the Statutory Guidelines?

Why is everyone talking about fault and no-fault divorce lately?

Fault divorces have been in the news lately in Texas because Representative Matt Krause from Fort Worth authored a bill that would get rid of so-called “no-fault” divorces in Texas. Right now, all fifty states allow for a no-fault divorce. Currently under the Texas Family Code a Judge can grant a divorce based on either “fault” or “no-fault” grounds. This fault or no-fault option is something that only 17 states and the District of Columbia currently allow. “No-fault” is known by family law attorneys as insupportability, basically there is no proof required to obtain a divorce based on the ground of insupportability. Section 6.001 of the family code simply states, “[o]n the petition of either party to a marriage, the court may grant a divorce without regard to fault if the marriage has become insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities that destroys the legitimate ends of the marital relationship and prevents any reasonable expectation of reconciliation.” Most family law attorneys say the majority of divorces that they file are based on insupportability because it speeds up the process and reduces the stress related to divorce for many parties.

According to Representative Krause, the bill in its current draft would not actually get rid of all no-fault divorces. The bill in its current form would only apply to divorces with children or “unilateral” divorces. Basically, if there are no children of the parties seeking the divorce and both parties agree that they want to get divorced this bill would not apply and the ground of insupportability would still be available to obtain a divorce. The idea behind this according to proponents of the bill is to promote stability for children and prevent quick acting divorces. Opponents of the bill worry that this bill would increase the cost of divorce and lead to an increase in domestic violence as a result of parties being unable to easily obtain a divorce.

Can I ask a Texas Court for visitation rights for my grandchild?

Texas allows grandparents to gain court-ordered visitation of grandchildren in very limited circumstances. The reason that the statute allowing grandparent visitation is so limited is because the United States Supreme Court has decided that parents having the ability to make decisions about raising their children is a fundamental right that should not be interfered with by courts. Basically, in the United States we want parents to be able to decide whether their kids get to see their grandparents or not even if the parents don’t seem to have a great reason for keeping their kids away from their grandparents. A parent’s right to decide how their kids are raised is more important under the law than a grandparent’s desire to see their grandchildren.

How does Grandparent visitation work in Texas?