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During its most recent session, Texas lawmakers adopted and passed several amendments and updates to the Texas Family Code, which were then formally signed into law by the Governor.

These revisions and additions to the Texas Family Code impact numerous areas of family law, including but not limited to: (1) suits for the dissolution of marriage; (2) suits affecting the parent-child relationship; (3) protective orders; and (4) discovery in cases filed under the Texas Family Code.

Ranging from modifications to elements necessary to prove a claim, clarifications to existing codified law, and the removal of automatically triggered disclosure requirements, family law practitioners throughout the State of Texas should familiarize themselves with these changes and how such changes impact their practice.

iStock-1033856542-300x200When a mother is married at the time of her child’s birth, the husband is generally presumed to be the father under Texas family law. There are two ways to rebut the presumption: with a proceeding to adjudicate parentage or with the filing of a denial of paternity along with the filing of an acknowledgement of paternity by another person.  Suits to adjudicate parentage of a child with a presumed father generally must be brought by the child’s fourth birthday. There is an exception, however if the mother and presumed father did not live together or engage in sexual intercourse at the probable time of the child’s conception.  There is also an exception if the presumed father mistakenly believed he was the biological father based on misrepresentations. Tex. Fam. Code § 160.607.

Alleged Father Challenges Adjudication of Paternity

An alleged father recently challenged a trial court’s determination that his adjudication of parentage case was time-barred.  According to the appeals court’s unpublished opinion, the alleged father petitioned to adjudicate parentage of two children, one born in 2014 and the other in 2015.  The mother was married to another man when the children were born.

The mother moved for summary judgment, arguing the alleged father’s suit was time-barred and none of the exceptions that toll the statute of limitations for adjudication of parentage applied.  She attached her own affidavit and an affidavit from her then husband as summary judgment evidence.  Her motion was granted.

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iStock-483613578-300x204Some people may assume that property held in only one spouse’s name is that spouse’s separate property, but that is not necessarily the case.  In Texas, property’s character is determined based on when and how it is acquired.  Additionally, in a Texas divorce, property acquired during the marriage is presumed to be community property.

In a recent case, a husband challenged a court’s characterization of certain property held in his name as community property and awarding it to the wife.

According to the appeals court’s opinion, the parties acquired multiple pieces of real estate, some in both their names and some in only the name of the husband, while they were married. When they divorced, the three properties that were the subject of the appeal, referred to by the court as the “Three Properties,” were held by the husband, but the wife alleged they were the community property.

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On December 23, 2020, the Texas Supreme Court finalized its amendments to the discovery rules set forth in the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. The changes to the discovery rules will undoubtedly impact family law cases filed on or after January 1, 2021.

Of the amendments, the mandate that certain pretrial, expert, and initial disclosures be made under Rules 194 and 195, will require the compilation and exchange of documents and information early in the litigation phase and without the necessity of a formal request from the opposing party. While this early exchange of information may lead to resolution and settlement of issues and claims, failure to respond in accordance with the Rules may result in exclusion of evidence as set forth in Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 193.6.

In order to preserve your claims and ability to present evidence, it is imperative that you comply with the amendments to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. For convenience, please find the amended discovery rules below.

On June 26, 2020, the Supreme Court of Texas issued a ruling that is sure to have a major impact on future non-parent custody cases in the state of Texas. In the case of In re C.J.C., the Supreme Court of Texas found that the presumption that it is in the best interest of a child to award possession to a fit parent versus a non-parent extends to modification cases.[1] This decision is certain to be seen as a major win for parents, as the Court reinforced the long-held notion that in most cases, a parent having custody of their child is best for the child.

The case involved grandparents of the child and the boyfriend of the child’s deceased mother attempting to modify the possession of the child and gain at least some court-ordered possession from the child’s father. The trial court found that the boyfriend was entitled to some possession and even some rights, such as the right to consent to emergency medical decisions.[2] The child’s father appealed this decision. Continue Reading ›

The short answer is “yes.” The Courts are still open for business and so are most family law firms, albeit remotely- to protect your health and safety.

Below are answers to the most recent frequently asked questions:

How do I conduct a consult if my spouse is in the next room?

As cases of COVID-19 are continually popping up in the North Texas region (currently 155 confirmed cases in Dallas County and growing) and with the recent “Stay Home Stay Safe” Order that went into effect at 11:59 PM on March 23, 2020, parents are scrambling to find reliable answers to their questions regarding possession schedules and quarantine, as well as concerns about child support. These are questions that are relatively unprecedented in today’s world, and with the courts recently ruling on several of these topics, this blog seeks to provide helpful updates during this difficult time.

In its March 17, 2020 emergency order, the Supreme Court of Texas, ordered that court-ordered possession schedules remain in accordance with any original published school calendar regardless of the newly extended Spring Breaks or school closures. This order is effective until May 8, 2020 or until further notice. However, as the situation continues to ramp up, and fears about this pandemic are at an all-time high, many parents want to take precautionary measures to keep their family safe.

Various concerns have arisen regarding possession schedules when one parent is quarantined for possible contraction of COVID-19. The Dallas County family courts have recently released a statement encouraging parents to keep open lines of communication with and one another and to make all decisions with the well-being and health of the child as the primary concern. This communication should include notifying the other parent of any exposure to or a positive diagnosis of COVID-19, as well as discussing any actions necessary to ensure the child’s safety. Unfortunately, disagreements regarding the custody or possession of a child may arise, and it is imperative that you consult with your attorney to discuss questions about establishing alternative schedules before making any decisions with your co-parent or ex-spouse

Although it can be difficult, in certain circumstances, Texas family law may permit a grandparent to obtain custody even when a parent wants custody. In a recent case, a mother appealed an order giving the grandparents the exclusive right to determine a child’s primary residence.

In 2014, the trial court named the mother managing conservator of her 18-month-old son with the exclusive right to determine his primary residence. The mother and child lived in Lubbock for about a year, and then moved to live with the mother’s brother for about a year.  After that, however, the mother and child moved multiple times.  The mother dated men who had violent criminal histories.  Child Protective Services opened an investigation and developed a safety plan. The child’s paternal grandparents petitioned for the exclusive right to determine the child’s primary residence, and the court granted the petition. The mother appealed.

The mother argued the trial court erred because the grandparents did not have standing to move for modification.  She also argued the trial court abused its discretion when it found there was a material and substantial change in circumstances justifying a modification.

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In a recent Texas domestic violence decision, the plaintiff appealed from the lower court’s judgment granting his divorce petition. The couple had married in 1999 and had eight kids. After 15 years of marriage, the husband sued for divorce.

At the divorce trial, the primary issue was who should have conservatorship of the eight kids. The parents and a counselor who prepared a social study testified. The father argued there was credible evidence showing that the mother had a history of past or present physical abuse against him and that the lower court was prevented from appointing him and the mother as joint managing conservators. The father also argued the lower court should appoint him sole managing conservator. Alternatively, he argued the lower court should appoint him joint managing conservator with exclusive right to determine their primary residence.

The mother argued that the lower court wasn’t prevented from appointing her and the father as joint managing conservators. The mother also argued that the lower court should appoint her the joint managing conservator with exclusive right to decide the primary residence.

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In a recent Texas appellate case, a wife appealed from a final divorce decree that incorporated the terms of the couple’s mediated settlement agreement. After she and her husband entered into the agreement, she asked the trial court to set it aside.

The couple had married in 1997 and had no kids. They decided to divorce in 2015 and mediated their differences. They signed an agreement dividing up their property and debts, but it was contingent on a short sale of a house they owned. The husband was awarded the interest in the property, and the wife had to sign certain documents. She would be paid a portion of the proceeds from the sale. Meanwhile, the husband got all of the interest in their two trusts.

A few weeks later, the wife tried to withdraw, and the trial court granted the motion. The husband asked the court to sign a final divorce decree, while the wife tried to quash the agreement. The husband asked a receiver to be appointed, claiming that the wife refused to sign the papers in order to facilitate the property sale.

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