Articles Posted in Family law

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.

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.

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?

Can I appeal my divorce while still accepting benefits from the parts of the judgment that work in my favor?

As with most questions asked about the law, the answer to whether you can appeal a part of your divorce while accepting benefits from the parts of the divorce you do like is, it depends.  More accurately, the answer is, probably not. This is because of a legal concept called estoppel.

What is estoppel?

The Texas Family Code requires that a child in the conservatorship of DFPS attend all permanency hearings. This section also requires that if the court determines it is in the best interest of the child, and the child is older than four, that the court must consult with the child in a developmentally appropriate manner regarding the permanency plan. However, Texas courts do not consistently require children to attend permanency hearings.

Why aren’t children attending the hearings? 

The code has an exception that states that judges can make an individual determination that excuses a child from attending a specific hearing. Apparently,  many judges are deciding that it is not necessary for the children to be at the hearings. Of course, issues with school attendance and actually getting children to court are factors that contribute to children not being able to attend permanency hearings, but options like video conferencing and the fact that a child attending court while in foster care is an excused absence should help to alleviate any of these problems.

Family Law Discovery Issues:

If there is one aspect of practicing law that a consensus of attorneys will agree is a mental beat-down, it would be the discovery process. Since discovery is a necessary evil, discovery is a tool that attorneys must effectively wield in order to adequately represent their client.

Very often, we have men and women who are attempting to battle through a divorce on their own, and once they are served with discovery requests they come looking for help. That is the smart move. An experienced family law attorney will know exactly what needs to be done and will get your case on track.

The Texas Family Code has a lot to say on what it means to be a father, what rights fathers have in regards to their children, and what obligations come along for the ride.

So first off, who is considered to be the father?

It is “a man legally determined to be the father, a man who has been adjudicated to be the father by a court of competent jurisdiction, a man who has acknowledged his paternity under applicable law, or an adoptive … father.” TFC § 101.024.

A trial court has plenary jurisdiction (complete control) over a case for 30 days after the judge signs the final judgment in a divorce decree. During those 30 days, one of the parties may file a motion for a new trial or a motion to modify, correct, or reform a judgment. That is, either party can file a motion to have the divorce re-tried before a court or if a party is not satisfied with the final judgment given by the court, then the party can file to have it changed. But, each party only has 30 days from when the judge signs the final divorce decree to do so. Rule 329b(c) requires that these motions be in writing and signed by the court for them to be enforceable. Parties cannot give their consent to allow the court to have more control than what it specified in the rule.

Take, for example, the Dallas Fifth District Court of Appeals Case, In the Interest of M.A.C. and M.T.C. Here a Final Decree of Divorce was rendered on August 28, 2013. The Mother filed motions for a new trial and a motion to modify, reform, and correct the judgment on September 6, 2013, well within the 30 days set out in the rule, but the record did not contain a written and signed order from the trial court on either motion. Because there was no written and signed order, both motions were overruled by law on November 11, 2013. But, the record in the case contained a “First Amended Decree of Divorce” signed on January 22, 2014. Thus, the father here filed a motion for a new trial January 27, 2014 were he argued that the trial court’s plenary power had already expired when the First Amended Decree was signed.

The two motions the mother filed were overruled by law November 11, 2013, seventy-five days after the final divorce decree was signed. When she filed the motions, the court retained control over the matter for 30 days after the law overruled the motions. Therefore, the court here had control over this case until December 11, 2013, one hundred and five days after the Final Divorce Decree judgment was signed. The First Amended Decree signed on January 22, 2014 was void because the court no longer had jurisdiction or plenary power over the matter.

What is a Discovery Control Plan? 

Three levels of “Discovery Plans” are found under Texas Rules of Civil Procedure Rules 190.2-190.4. Each section has its own requirements for who falls under what level and how discovery will be organized and completed. In order to get a better understanding of what a “Discovery Control Plan” is, we will discuss three pertinent questions about them: (1) What are they?; (2) Why?, and; (3) How do they work?

What Are Discovery Control Plans?

Usually, it is in the best interest of a child to live with their parent. This is not always the case though, and there are times that a court may need to terminate the rights of a parent. The court will terminate a parent-child relationship if it finds it to be in the best interest of the child and if the parent committed one or more of the statutory acts set out in Texas Family Code 161.001. Abuse and neglect will not always be the only reasons that a parent’s rights have been terminated. Instead, each case that is brought before the court will be determined on a fact based analysis considered by several factors.

How does the court determine the best interest of the child?

In 1976 the court came up with several factors that determine the best interest of the child in Holley v. Adams, and are now termed the Holley factors. These factors include 1) the desires of the child; 2) the emotional and physical needs of the child now and in the future; 3) the emotional and physical danger to the child now and in the future; 4) the parental abilities of the person seeking custody; 5) the programs available to assist the person seeking custody in promoting the best interest of the child; 6) plans for the child by the person seeking custody; 7) the stability of the home or proposed placement; 8) the acts or omissions of the parent that may indicate the parent-child relationship is not a proper one; and 9) any excuse for the acts or omissions of the parent. Not all of the factors listed above will apply to each case brought before the court. The court will use the factors on a case-by-case basis to decide if termination of the parent’s rights is in the child’s best interest.