iStock-1033856542-300x200Some families choose to resolve custody manners informally.  When the parties are the biological parents, subsequent disputes can be resolved through a Texas custody case.  When one party is not biological parent, however, resulting disputes may be more complex. In a recent case, a maternal uncle and aunt appealed an order that required them to pay child support for their nephew.

When the child was born, the child’s biological mother asked her brother to act as the child’s father.  The brother signed an acknowledgment of paternity, birth certificate, and a verification of birth facts.  The birth certificate listed the brother’s wife as the mother.  Initially, they all lived together, but the mother moved out following a falling out with the couple.

Mother Files Paternity Suit

In August of 2016, the mother petitioned to adjudicate parentage, asking the court to adjudicate her as the mother and an identified man as the father.  The brother and his wife were named as parties, but they also intervened in the case, asking the court to name them the child’s managing conservators and terminate the mother and alleged father’s parental rights.

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“A scroll of a Divorce Decree, tied with a black ribbon on a mahogany desk, with a dead white rose buttonhole from the Wedding Day, with a black pen. Copy space..”

A Texas marriage can end through either death or a court’s decree.  If a party dies before judgment is rendered in a divorce case, the divorce case abates. In a recent case, a husband challenged a divorce when the decree was signed after the death of the wife.

The wife filed for divorce in October 2018, alleging insupportability, abandonment, and cruel treatment.  In his counterpetition, the husband alleged insupportability, cruel treatment, and adultery.

Final Trial

At the trial on September 17, 2019, the court informed the attorneys that it needed time to make its rulings regarding the property.  The court said it would email the parties with the decision. The proceedings resumed after a break on the record and the court pronounced the parties divorced and said the entry of the final decree would be ministerial.

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Insurance agent checking policy documents in office.

When parties to a Texas divorce case enter into a mediated settlement agreement (“MSA”) that meets the statutory requirements, the MSA is generally binding and the divorce decree must adopt the agreement.  An MSA may not be enforceable, however, if it was procured by fraud or other dishonest means.

A wife recently challenged a divorce decree incorporating  an MSA that she asserted was procured by fraud. A divorce decree was issued in Dubai and both parties appealed.  The wife subsequently petitioned for divorce and to modify the Dubai court orders in Texas. During discovery in the Texas cases, the husband disclosed one bank account.

The parties signed an MSA that gave the wife half of a retirement account in the husband’s name, $94,000 in cash, and the real and personal property and accounts in her own name or possession. The husband received the other half of the retirement account, real property in Florida, and the real and personal property and accounts in his name or possession. The parties also agreed to cease discovery, except as to issues involving the child.

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iStock-952098878-300x200When a trial court orders income withholding for Texas child-support arrearages, the amount withheld must either be sufficient to pay off the arrearages within two years, or must be an additional 20% added to the current monthly support, whichever would result in the arrearages being paid off sooner. Tex. Fam. Code § 158.003. The court may, however, extend the timeframe for paying the arrearages if it finds the two-year timeframe would cause the party, their family, or the children unreasonable hardship. Tex. Fam. Code § 158.007.  A custodial aunt recently appealed an order that would allow a father to pay off child-support and medical-support arrearages he owed her over 25 to 30 years.

Aunt Awarded Child Support and Medical Support

The child’s aunt intervened in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship in 2005 and was awarded child support from the child’s father.  The court found the father in contempt for failing to pay the child support and awarded the aunt a judgment for the arrearages in 2006.

The trial court ultimately appointed the aunt and the father joint managing conservators, but ordered that the child would live primarily with the aunt. Both the mother and father were ordered to pay child support to the aunt. The father was ordered to pay $160 in child support and $70 in medical support each month.  The support was to begin September 1, 2006 and continue until the child’s 18th birthday, graduation from high school, marriage, or death.

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iStock-545456068-300x184A trial court may order a post-divorce division of community property that was not divided or awarded to either spouse in a Texas divorce decree. Tex. Fam. Code § 9.201.  The court may not, however, order a post-divorce division of property that was already divided in the divorce. The legal doctrine of res judicata prevents a party from re-litigating issues such as categorization of assets or improper division in a new case.  Parties must instead address such issues through direct appeals. In a recent case, a wife sought a post-divorce division of certain bonuses the husband received after the divorce.

The parties married in 2014, and the wife petitioned for divorce the next year.  The husband included several bonuses in his asset inventory. He listed a $0 value for the bonuses that would only be payable after the divorce if he remained employed on the designated date. He testified they had no value because they were conditional on future events.

The wife argued the future bonuses were deferred compensation for work performed during the marriage and estimated their value at more than $4 million.

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5thingsdivorcecourt_header-300x163Tex. Fam. Code § 153.009(a) requires the court in a Texas custody case to interview a child who is at least 12 years old to determine their wishes regarding custody, “on the application of a party. . . “ A father recently challenged a court’s failure to interview the children in a custody case.

The mother petitioned to increase child support for the parties’ three teenage children and require the father to pay their extracurricular expenses.  The father asked to be named the primary managing conservator with the exclusive right to designate the children’s primary residence.

The parties stipulated that $2,760 was the amount the father should pay under the Texas Family Code’s “guidelines.” The trial court ordered the father to pay not only $2,760 monthly, but also half of the children’s extracurricular expenses. The trial court also denied his request to have the exclusive right to designate the children’s primary residence. Continue Reading ›

iStock-1287431987-300x200When a couple enters into a Texas pre-marital agreement or post-marital agreement, they may include an arbitration provision in the agreement. Arbitration can be a cost-effective way to resolve disputes, but an arbitration decision often cannot be appealed. In a recent case, a wife appealed a final divorce decree confirming an arbitration award, arguing the arbitrator exceeded her authority.

Husband and Wife Enter into Post-Nuptial Agreement During Marriage

During the marriage, the parties signed an agreement to make “what would otherwise be community property instead be separate property.” The agreement included an arbitration provision.

When the agreement was executed, the husband was president of a company and the wife was vice president. The agreement stated that the parties agreed each of them would “be guaranteed to receive equal pay and bonuses as both President and Vice President. . .”

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imagesFailing to respond to a Texas divorce petition can result in a default judgment with an unfavorable property division.  What happens, though, if the spouse who received the default judgment fails to take action to enforce the property division for several years?  A Texas appeals court recently considered a case involving that issue.

Wife Obtains Default Judgment

The husband bought a home before he met the wife.  They refinanced it jointly twice during the marriage. The wife subsequently filed for divorce and obtained a default divorce decree in February 2011. The decree listed the home as community property and stated that the wife owned it alone as separate property and that the court divested “any interest, title, and claim the Husband may have to [it].” The court further ordered the husband to sign any deeds necessary to transfer the property to her.  There was a remaining principal of $43,399.14 according to the bank statement for the next month.

The husband testified he had not been served and only found out about the divorce case and default divorce later that year. The wife moved out about four months after the divorce. She stated the husband did not want her to live there and tried to “kick [her] out in a very aggressive way. . .” She claimed “[t]here was a lot of violence. . .”  The husband testified the wife would yell at him that the house was hers and she was going to take it from him. He then went to court to see the divorce decree and learned it awarded the house to the wife.  He said he could not afford an attorney at the time.

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iStock-1125625723Parties to a Texas suit affecting the parent-child relationship may enter into a mediated settlement agreement (“MSA”) to resolve one or more issues in their suit.  An MSA is binding if it prominently states in bold or underlined font or in capital letters that it is not subject to revocation, is signed by the parties, and is signed by the parties’ attorneys who are present at the execution. Tex. Fam. Code § 153.0071. When these requirements are met, a party is entitled to judgment on the MSA. Because an MSA is a contract, it is construed according to the contract-interpretation principles.  If an MSA is ambiguous, there is a fact issue of the intent of the parties. A Texas appeals court recently considered what should happen when an MSA included a discrepancy between the stated amount of child support and the calculation for determining child support.

Mother and Father Enter into Settlement Agreement

Following mediation, the parents entered into an MSA that included an attached handwritten page with a child-support calculation as well as four W-2s showing the wages the father earned.  The parties initialed each page of the MSA, but not the W-2s.

The MSA identified the father’s child-support obligation as $1,062.60 per month. The attachment stated that “child support is based on [the father’s] representation that he has no rental income and is calculated pursuant to the attached calculations and Exhibits.”

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does-adultery-affect-alimony-in-idaho-1080x600-1Children’s medical and educational expenses can often be a contentious issue in Texas child-support cases. Parents may disagree on whether treatment is needed, what providers should be used, and whether the child should be in private school.  A father recently challenged an order to pay certain medical expenses, arguing the mother had not used preferred providers as required by the decree.

The final divorce decree appointed both parents joint managing conservators with the mother having the right to establish the primary residence with a geographical restriction. The mother was responsible for maintaining the children’s health insurance.  The father had an expanded modified possession order and paid child support and reimbursement of insurance premiums as additional child support.  Each party was responsible for 50% of additional health-care expenses.

Father Seeks Modification of Divorce Decree

The father petitioned for modification in 2018, seeking the exclusive right to establish the primary residence, as well as child support and certain exclusive decision-making authority.

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