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BSgavelx1200-768x432-1The trial court in a Texas family law case has only a limited ability to change its judgment once its plenary power expires.  Generally, plenary power lasts for thirty days from the date the final judgment is signed, but it may be extended if the court overrules certain motions or modifies the judgment while it still has plenary power.

In a recent case, a mother challenged the court’s authority to reform the judgment.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, she had petitioned for the adjudication of the parentage of her child.  Both the mother and the alleged father sought an order adjudicating him to be the child’s father.

The parties reached a partial agreement and went to trial on the remaining issues.

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retireRetirement benefits can be a complex and contentious issue in a Texas divorce case.  Generally, any income earned during marriage is considered community property unless proven to be separate property, including funds contributed to a retirement account or earned as pension benefits.  In a recent case, a husband challenged a court’s order awarding a portion of his military retirement benefits to his ex-wife.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the wife petitioned for enforcement of property division by contempt, alleging the husband had not paid her the retirement benefits awarded to her in their divorce decree.  The husband argued the military benefits had either been awarded to him or had not been divided at the time of the divorce.

The wife filed an amended motion to clarify, asking the court to enter a clarifying order if it found any part of the previous order was not specific enough for enforcement through contempt.  She specifically asked the court to clarify the order to reflect the length of the marriage and the husband’s dates of military service.  She also asked the court to sign a Military Qualified Domestic Relations Order.

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iStock-1252096710A parent’s behavior may affect their rights to access and possession of their child in a Texas custody case.  In a recent case, the trial court’s order provided that the schedule would change if the child had a certain number of unexcused absences or instances of tardiness while in the mother’s care.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the trial court entered a custom possession order (CPO) as part of a modification order at the end of January 2020.  Pursuant to the CPO, the father had the right to possession of the child from Wednesday morning to Friday morning each week and from Friday morning to Monday morning every other weekend, and the parents alternated holidays and school breaks.  The CPO also provided that the mother’s possession schedule would change to the Standard Possession Schedule if the child had a total of any combination of five unexcused absences and “tardies” from school, as determined by the school, while in the mother’s possession.

Father Moves to Impose Standard Possession Order

The father moved to confirm and clarify the order and requested an injunction in April 2020.  He alleged the child had been tardy five days and absent two days during the fall semester of 2019.  He asked the court to confirm and clarify that the standard possession schedule was in effect and to grant an injunction.

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imagesIn a Texas divorce case, property acquired during the marriage is presumed to be community property. A spouse claiming property is their separate property must show that it is separate by clear and convincing evidence.  Separate property is generally property that is owned before the marriage, property that the spouse acquired as a gift or inheritance, or property recovered as damages in a personal injury case.  Community property is generally property acquired after the marriage that is not characterized as separate property.

In a recent case, a wife challenged the court’s characterization of certain property as the husband’s separate property.  The wife filed for divorce. The parties agreed they had married in India in 1976, but disagreed on the date they stopped living together as husband and wife.

Husband and Wife Enter into Settlement – But Leave One Issue for Trial

The case went to trial, but, before trial, the parties entered into a Mediated Settlement Agreement (“MSA”).  In the MSA, the parties agreed their community property located in India would be divided by Indian courts.  The parties agreed to the characterization and division of everything except two pieces of land in India, referred to as the “Fifteen-Cent” property and the “One-and-a-half-Acres” property. The MSA stated they would “defer to characterization and confirmation of separate property” of those two parcels to the trial court.

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Premarital agreement

Some Texas premarital agreements may include a binding arbitration clause. A party may compel arbitration when the claims at issue are within the scope of a valid and enforceable agreement to arbitrate.  If the claim falls within the agreement’s scope and there is no defense to enforcing it, the court must compel arbitration. Fraud may be a defense against compelled arbitration, but the party must show that the fraud was specifically related to the arbitration provision.

A husband recently appealed a denial of his motion for arbitration in his divorce proceeding.  The parties signed a premarital agreement that included an arbitration clause. The wife filed a petition for divorce in July 2014.  In 2016, she filed an amended petition.  Neither petition mentioned the premarital agreement.  The husband filed an answer in 2016, but did not mention the premarital agreement either.

In a second amended petition, the wife stated there was a premarital agreement and requested it be set aside and vacated.  She alleged she entered into it involuntarily and that it was unconscionable.

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does-adultery-affect-alimony-in-idaho-1080x600-1In a Texas divorce, the court must divide the property in a just and right manner.  The requirement is that the division be equitable, but not necessarily equal. The Texas Supreme Court identified several factors courts should consider in Murff v. Murff. These factors include the parties’ physical conditions, education, financial condition, abilities, and ages.   A husband recently challenged a trial court’s division of the marital property following a mediated settlement agreement between the parties.

The parties married in 1999 and the wife initiated divorce proceedings in 2017.  Pursuant to a temporary order, the marital home was sold and about $500,000 in sales proceeds were put into an escrow account.  The court signed an agreed order allowing disbursement of an equal portion of the proceeds to pay each party’s divorce attorneys.  The rest of the proceeds was left in the escrow account.

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iStock-1139699594When a court considers Texas child custody and visitation, the child’s best interest is the primary concern.  The court considers certain factors, including what the child wants, the child’s current and future needs, any danger to the child, the parents’ respective abilities, programs available, the parents’ plans for the child, stability, any acts or omissions indicating the relationship between the parent and child is not proper, and any excuse for those acts or omissions.

A father recently appealed a denial of his petition for modification and grant of the mother’s counterpetition.  At the time of the divorce, the trial court ordered the parties not to move from a specific area without a modification order or written agreement filed with the court.  Neither parent was given the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence.  Nonetheless, both parents moved outside of the geographical boundary after the divorce.

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iStock-902725964-scaledIn Texas custody cases, it can be very difficult for a non-parent to obtain custody or visitation of a child over the objection of a parent.  In some circumstances, however, a non-parent (such as a grandparent) has the right to file suit seeking custody or visitation.  One such circumstance is when the person has recently had care, custody, and control of the child for at least six months.

In a recent case, a grandmother sought custody of her son’s child after her son’s death.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, the child was born in 2014.  From 2014 to 2020, the child and parents lived in various places, including the paternal grandmother’s home in Wilson County.  From 2017 to 2019, the child went to daycare in Wilson County.  From August 2019 to January 22, 2020, the parents and child lived with the paternal grandmother.

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When a spouse petitions for a Texas divorce, the other spouse must file an answer.  If the other spouse fails to do so, the court may render a default judgment.  Under certain circumstances, however, the other spouse may get the default judgment overturned.  In a recent case, a husband sought to overturn a default judgment entered against him.

According to the Texas Supreme Court’s opinion, the wife filed for divorce.  The trial court granted her motion for alternative service at the home of her husband’s mother.  The trial court ultimately entered a no-answer default judgment the following January.

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iStock-545456068-scaledA court must base its decisions regarding custody and visitation primarily on the child’s best interest.  In a recent Texas case, a father challenged a court’s modification of his prior possession order, restricting him to supervised visitation with his daughter.

The mother petitioned to be named the child’s sole managing conservator and asked the court to either deny visitation with the father or, in the alternative, to require it to be supervised.  She alleged the child had reported being spanked, being physically punished by her stepmother and her step-grandmother, being forced to stand in a corner, being underfed sometimes, being subjected to verbal abuse and threats of physical violence, and being required to stay in her room watching television for hours while she was in her father’s custody.  The mother also alleged the child’s foot had been injured by her step-grandmother and not given medical attention.  She further alleged the child’s stepmother repeatedly tried to put makeup on the child when she was allergic to it.

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