Sometimes one or both parents move after a custody order is issued. When parents move, they often want to modify custody and visitation. However, if both parents have moved out of state, issues of jurisdiction may arise. In a recent case, a father sought a Texas custody modification of a North Carolina custody order.
Courts often keep siblings together; however, in some Texas child custody cases, it is in the children’s best interest for them to be split up. When one or more children live with one parent and one or more children live with the other parent, each parent may be obligated to pay child support to the other. A father recently challenged how the court calculated the child support the mother would have to pay him after he received custody of one of their four children. In issuing its ruling, the appellate court’s opinion turned on the definition of “multiple households” under the Texas Family Code.
When a divorcing couple reaches a Mediated Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) that meets the statutory requirements, the parties are entitled to a judgment on that MSA. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. §§ 6.602(c). In some cases, however, things can change after the MSA is agreed upon. In a recent case, a wife challenged the way a court addressed changes arising after the MSA was executed, but before the final decree of divorce was entered.
Texas family law has a strong presumption that it is in the child’s best interest to give custody to a parent. Generally, the court must appoint sole managing conservatorship to the parent instead of a non-parent unless it finds doing so would not be in the child’s best interest due to significant impairment of the child’s emotional development or physical health. Tex. Fam. Code § 153.131(a). What if the parent lives in another country? A Texas appeals court recently considered this issue.
Fault in Divorce
Divorces may be granted without fault, but Texas still allows divorce to be granted on fault-based grounds in certain situations. For example, a Texas divorce may be granted in one spouse’s favor if the other committed “cruel treatment” that makes the parties continuing to live together “insupportable.” Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.002. Physical abuse can constitute cruel treatment, but physical abuse is not required for a Texas divorce court to find cruel treatment. When the court finds fault-based grounds for divorce, such as cruel treatment, the court may consider the fault in dividing the property. Specifically, the court can award a disproportionate share of the community estate to the spouse who is not at fault. A husband recently challenged such a disproportionate property division in his divorce.
The wife said the husband stopped paying attention to her after his business partnership went sour. She also said he had called her names and accused her of cheating, in addition to being violent against her around four or five times.
The wife alleged that, during one incident, the husband had closed a door on her arm after he had filed for divorce. She called the police, and the husband agreed to leave. The husband, however, claimed that he had simply closed the door after the wife left the room, but she forced it back open. He claimed the door hit him, then whipped back toward her and hit her elbow. He said he agreed to leave for a few hours after the police arrived, but ultimately decided to leave permanently so their child would not see them argue.
Many couples attempt to reconcile after breaking up or divorcing. Moving back in together can effect a parent’s obligation to provide child support. If the parent who is obligated to pay child support is contributing to the support of the household, he or she may be entitled to a credit for their child-support obligation. In a recent case, a mother challenged a court’s order giving the father a credit against back child support for the period of time when they had lived together with the children.
What is a Mediated Settlement Agreement?
A mediated settlement agreement (“MSA”) in a Texas divorce is binding if it meets certain requirements. It must state that it is not subject to revocation in bold letters, capital letters or underlined text. It must also be signed by each party and the party’s attorney, if present. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 6.602. Some Texas courts have held that an MSA may be unenforceable if it is obtained by fraud, duress or coercion.
A husband recently challenged an MSA, partly on the grounds that he allegedly signed it under duress.
The parties had been married since 1981. Some of the property acquired during the marriage was held by a limited partnership in which the parties owned a 95% interest. In August 2017, the husband was arrested after the wife reported he had threatened her with a firearm. The wife filed for divorce the very next day.
Texas, unlike many states, still recognizes common law marriage (also known as an “informal” marriage). Unlike with formal marriages, a common law spouse often has to prove that the marriage even existed before getting a divorce. A party may prove that an informal marriage exists by showing that the parties agreed to be married, then lived together as spouses in Texas, and represented themselves to others as married. TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 2.401(a)(2).
In a recent case, a woman challenged a determination that she and her former romantic partner had not established the existence of an informal marriage. After they broke up, the man filed for a declaratory judgment that there was no informal marriage, but the woman counter-petitioned for divorce, alleging that they were informally married. The woman argued they had an informal marriage starting in August 2014, but the man argued they had only been “boyfriend/girlfriend” or domestic partners.
A court may order one joint managing conservator to pay Texas child support to another joint managing conservator. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 153.138. The child’s best interest is the primary consideration in determining child support. There may, therefore, be occasions where a court orders the parent with primary physical custody to nonetheless pay child support to the other parent, when they are both joint managing conservators. A mother recently challenged an order to pay child support when she had been awarded the exclusive right to determine the child’s primary residence.
Texas custody disputes usually involve the children’s parents. When both parents unexpectedly pass away, however, their families may fight over who gets guardianship of the children. Generally, if the parents did not designate a guardian, a grandparent would be awarded guardianship. If multiple grandparents seek guardianship, then the court will appoint one of them, considering the circumstances and child’s best interest. If no grandparent seeks guardianship, then the court will appoint the next of kin, considering the circumstances and the child’s best interests if there are multiple people with the same degree of kinship. Tex. Est. Code Ann. § 1104.052. A minor who is at least 12 years old may be able to select a guardian, if the court finds the selection is in the child’s best interest and approves. Tex. Est. Code Ann. § 1104.054.