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Divorce can be an emotionally draining and contentious process. However, it doesn’t always have to be a battleground. At the Dallas County divorce law firm of Guest & Gray, we often recommend divorce mediation as a viable alternative to traditional divorce litigation. This blog post will shed light on what divorce mediation is and when it might be an appropriate choice for your situation.

What is Divorce Mediation?

Divorce mediation is a process where a neutral third party, known as a mediator, assists the divorcing couple in negotiating and reaching an agreement on various aspects of their divorce. These may include child custody and visitation, property and debt division, alimony, and child support. The goal of mediation is to foster cooperation and compromise, resulting in a mutually agreeable settlement that meets the needs of both parties.

Advantages of Divorce Mediation

One of the key advantages of mediation is the control it offers to the parties involved. Instead of decisions being made by a judge, the couple has the opportunity to actively shape the terms of their divorce agreement. Mediation can also be less adversarial and stressful than traditional divorce proceedings, providing a safe space to discuss sensitive issues with respect and understanding.

Furthermore, mediation tends to be more time-efficient and cost-effective than litigation, which can often become drawn-out and expensive. Mediated settlements can usually be reached more quickly, reducing the emotional toll and financial burden on both parties.

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In Texas, a traditional, ceremonial marriage isn’t the only way a legally recognized union can be formed. The Lone Star State is one of a few places that recognize common law (informal) marriages. At Guest & Gray, our Dallas County divorce lawyers have observed that many people don’t fully understand how common law marriage works or how it affects the process of divorce. This blog post aims to shed light on these aspects.

What Defines a Marriage in Texas?

Firstly, it’s essential to understand what constitutes a common law marriage in Texas. Three key elements must be met:

In legal proceedings to terminate parental rights, the parent may have a different version of events from the caseworkers at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). When parents and the DFPS present conflicting narratives in court, the judge must reach factual findings by weighing each witness’s credibility. Appellate courts tend to defer to trial court findings because the trial judges directly heard the evidence. However, one party may appeal the trial court’s decision if they believe it relied on insufficient evidence. When the relevant issue is the best interests of the child, courts will more closely scrutinize the evidence the trial court relied on to support a “best interests” finding.

How Do Courts Weigh Conflicting Testimony in Termination Proceedings?

A recent Fifth District Court of Appeals case illustrates how appeals courts examine conflicting testimony between caseworkers and parents in termination proceedings. In this case, the appeals court upheld the trial court’s opinion terminating a mother’s parental rights to two of her children. According to the facts discussed in the opinion, the child’s mother had a history of substance abuse, criminal activity, and lack of stable housing an employment. There were also possible allegations that she was a victim of domestic violence and had physically abused the children, though there was no evidence of the latter. After DFPS placed the children in foster care, the agency created a compliance plan with the mother to reunite her with her children.

The plan included, among other things, submitting proof of stable housing and employment, joining an autism support group to help her child with autism, refraining from criminal activity, and submitting to frequent drug tests. Later, DFPS sought to terminate her parental rights, alleging that the mother failed to follow the plan. DFPS also explained that the children were thriving in their foster home, which led to improved grades and management of their behavioral issues. The mother, however, alleged that she diligently followed the plan, and DFPS had made no effort at reunification. After weighing the evidence, the trial judge found that terminating the mother’s parental rights was in the children’s best interests. The mother appealed, arguing the evidence was factually insufficient to support the trial court’s ruling.

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In a recent case before a Texas appeals court, the court affirmed the trial court’s final divorce decree finding that a house and 21 acres were the husband’s separate property. The wife appealed the decree to the appeals court, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion and made a legal error. The appeals court, however, disagreed.

Facts of the Case

As the court’s opinion explained, the husband had purchased a home on 23 acres over a decade before he and his ex-wife married. The husband also paid off the mortgage and sold two acres before their marriage. After the husband and wife married, they later repurchased the two acres and eventually paid off the mortgage. Two years later, the husband sued for divorce.

During the couple’s bench trial, the wife asked the judge to declare the 21 acres and the home as separate property based on a prior quitclaim deed the husband had drafted and signed before their divorce. However, the husband argued that the deed only conferred the two acres the couple later repurchased to the wife, along with a separate mobile home. Confusingly, the deed gave the husband rights to the property located at the 21-acre tract’s address, but it described the property as “2.0 acres.” The trial court confirmed the two acres and mobile home were the wife’s separate property, and the 21 acres and house were the husband’s separate property. Then, in denying the wife’s motion for a new trial, the trial court credited the husband’s testimony that his only intent when signing the deed was to transfer the 2 acres and mobile home to his wife.

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In a June 2023 case before the Texas Supreme Court, a mother appealed the trial court’s decision that allowed her children’s father to have the exclusive authority to decide where their four children should live. According to the mother, the judge had unfairly denied her request to have her 13-year-old child interviewed in the judge’s chambers, which ultimately resulted in an incorrect verdict. Looking at the record of the case, the higher court agreed with the mother and remanded part of the case in accordance with her request.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the father, in this case, filed for divorce, and he asked the court to make a custody decision for the couple’s four children. In Texas, Section 153.009(a) of the Family Code allows parents to request that judges interview their children privately in chambers to take their wishes into account when making a cursory decision. If a parent requests this interview, however, he or she waives the right to a jury trial and is only able to proceed under a non-jury or a bench trial.

Early on in this case, the mother requested an interview between the judge and her 13-year-old child. By conducting the interview, said the mother, the judge would be able to understand that her children preferred to reside with her. To request the interview, the mother emailed the court, called the court 20 times, made an oral request on the record during the hearing, and filed two briefs after trial. The court, however, did not interview the child, and it also failed to offer the mother a jury trial in the absence of granting her request.

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Texas law permits family courts to order one party to a marriage to pay spousal support, also known as alimony, to the other party under certain circumstances. In Texas, there is a statutory presumption to deny requests for spousal support, however, a divorcing spouse may be able to demonstrate that they are entitled to spousal support if certain conditions are met. The Texas Court of Appeal recently reversed a family court ruling that had awarded a woman the sum of $5000 per month in spousal support.

The parties in the recently decided appeal had been married for over 20 years when the husband filed for divorce in 2018. As part of the divorce proceeding, the wife requested that the family court grant her spousal support in order to help her support herself and the extensive bills that were owed to support the standard of living that was enjoyed during the marriage. In addition to the needs-based request, the wife argued that she was entitled to spousal support because the husband was unfaithful leading up to the parties’ divorce.

At trial, the family court judge accepted testimony that the wife had approximately $11,000 in monthly expenses and found that an award of $5000 per month in spousal support was appropriate considering the circumstances. The trial court considered the husband’s infidelity in issuing the spousal support award. The husband appealed this ruling to the Court of Appeal, arguing that the wife needed to demonstrate that she needed the funds to support her minimum reasonable needs and that she was capable of supporting those needs without the spousal support award.

In the event of a divorce, it is extremely common for each of the parties to have differing income-earning abilities during and after the divorce process. Often, one of the divorcing parents had stopped working full time during a marriage in order to care for children or otherwise maintain a household. In order to compensate for the value of the labor that a stay-at-home spouse has contributed to marriage and household, Texas courts regularly award spousal maintenance (commonly referred to as alimony) in order to equalize the parties’ standards of living and income-earning abilities. The Court of Appeals of Texas recently affirmed a family court’s ruling that granted alimony to the ex-wife while rejecting the ex-husband’s arguments that the alimony award was improper.

The parties from the recently decided case were married in 2007 and separated in 2020. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the husband had at least 2 affairs and fathered a child with another woman during the marriage to his wife. As part of her divorce claim, the woman requested both temporary spousal support to help her while the divorce moved along, as well as a spousal maintenance award to assist her with supporting herself and developing employment skills which she had put on hold during the marriage. In order to award long-term spousal support, Texas law requires parties to have been married for at least 10 years and also requires a finding that the beneficiary spouse lacked adequate property and income-earning ability to provide for their basic needs.

At trial, the court accepted the evidence as to the parties earning abilities and assets and divided the marital estate equitably. In addition to the division of property, the court awarded the woman spousal support in the amount of $250 per month for a period of eighteen months. Although the woman testified that she was able to pay her bills without the support, the court found that this admission was made only because the woman was on federal food stamp assistance and needed to borrow money from her family several times to make ends meet. Based on the woman’s testimony that she was able to pay her bills, the man appealed the trial court’s alimony award, arguing that she had adequate property and income-earning ability to survive without the support.

In a recent case before an appeals court in Texas, the plaintiff in a divorce case asked for a new decision regarding the credit card debt that the lower court directed him to pay. Originally, the lower court issued an order divorcing the plaintiff and defendant, and part of that decision decided that both parties were responsible for the debt accrued during the marriage. On appeal, the plaintiff took issue with this ruling, but the higher court ultimately kept the lower court’s decision in place.

Facts of the Case

According to the decision, the plaintiff and defendant in this case separated in early 2020, and the husband filed for divorce about a month later. While working out the issues in their divorce, the parties were able to agree over certain matters, such as custody of their three kids. They were unable to agree, however, on how to divide the credit card debt that they had accrued during their marriage. They thus took the case to trial and asked the court to decide who was responsible for paying off this debt.

After trial, the court decided that the husband, the plaintiff, would be responsible for 60% of the debt, while the defendant, the wife, would be responsible for the other 40%. Disagreeing with the court’s ruling, the plaintiff appealed.

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Texas courts consider various factors when determining how to award child support in cases of divorce or paternity. Generally, a child support award is based upon the needs of the custodial parent in caring for the children, as well as the ability of the noncustodial parent to pay for support. These determinations are usually made based on the needs and earning abilities of the parties at the time when the order is entered. Because circumstances change, the Texas code allows for a parent to seek a reduction or increase in child support based on a change of circumstances. A Texas man recently petitioned a Harris County Family Court to reduce his child support obligation based on a change in his employment situation, but the results were likely not what he expected or desired.

The Facts of the Case

The Petitioner in the recently decided case previously agreed to a divorce settlement with the Respondent, which included a child support obligation of $1893.00 per month to support the parties’ child. A final decree of divorce consistent with the agreement was then entered by the court in 2018. Since the decree of divorce was entered, the Petitioner had a change in his employment, as a contract job he had been working with was no longer available. As a result of his change in income, he filed a petition to modify the divorce decree. To modify a child support order, Texas law requires that the circumstances of the children or a person affected by the order have materially and substantially changed, and the support payments previously ordered should be decreased.

In response to his petition to modify his support obligation, the Respondent filed a counter-petition, arguing that the Petitioner’s income had actually increased and that her income was reduced, and that an increase in child support was justified. In evaluating the parties’ claims, the court noted that while the Petitioner did see a decrease in his overall employment income since the decree of divorce was entered, he had been receiving substantial other income that would need to be factored into his support obligation.

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In a recent memorandum opinion issued by a district court in Texas, the court dismissed one party’s claim because it decided there were no longer any issues to litigate in the state. Originally, a couple trying to get divorced filed claims in both Texas and Virginia and there was some confusion over where the divorce case should be heard. By the time the court of appeals issued its opinion, however, the couple had resolved all of the necessary issues about jurisdiction, and the Texas court dismissed the husband’s appeal.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the wife involved in this case first filed for divorce from her husband in Virginia in 2018. Later, she dropped the suit entirely, only for the husband to re-file for divorce three years later in Texas. At that point, it was unclear whether the divorce proceedings should take place in Virginia or Texas.

In the husband’s petition for divorce, he stated that he had been a resident of Texas for six months prior to filing for divorce. This was relevant for the court to know since a Texas divorce case can be filed in the county court where one of the parties has lived for the last 90 days as long as that party has also lived in Texas for at least six months.

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