Friday, June 29, 2007

Why You Should Wait to Date

Although there are newer and sometimes more interesting words to describe the activity, “dating” is still an issue in divorces. Problems can occur in two different arenas: in the emotional relationship with your spouse and in the legal system.

The simplest, although not necessarily the easiest, way to avoid problems is to not date before the divorce is final.

Many people seem to think that once they separate or file for divorce or once they have been separated for a period of time, it’s OK to date. Once people decide to leave a bad relationship, they often will consider dating for a variety of reasons, including, fun, companionship, romance, revenge, to enjoy freedom from the current spouse, or to battle loneliness.

Perceptive people often realize that dating another person while the divorce is pending may make their spouse really angry. It may not be a rational response by the spouse – it usually isn’t – but who said divorces were rational situations? People going through divorces are rarely rational. Jealousy and anger are often inflamed when a party discovers their spouse has been or is dating. Allegations of “adultery” carry an emotional punch and can lead to the friends and allies of the victim adding to the fire. Getting a spouse really angry over an emotional issue such as adultery almost inevitably makes negotiations much more difficult and severely reduces the possibility of cooperation and settlement.

In Texas, adultery can have legal consequences as well. If proven, adultery can be the basis for the court to award an unequal division of property favoring the victim of the indiscretion. It can also become a factor in a custody case, depending on how the dating impacts on children.

In his posting, “Divorce Preparation: Step 13 - Be Good”, based on a posting in the Alabama Family Law Blog, Grant Griffiths (Kansas Family and Divorce Lawyer) explains clearly how a variety of social activities, including old-fashioned dating or group activities or parties, can have negative consequences in a divorce. Exercising, enjoying time with children and/or focusing on getting one’s life in order are better alternatives for the time period before a divorce is final.

Grant’s advice – to Be Good – is the perfect understatement. In so many ways, it is both a solution to problems and the key to avoiding problems. Self-restraint, delayed gratification or maturity, whatever you call it – Be Good and you will avoid a lot of problems.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What to do If the Attorney General Knocks on Your Door (Figuratively Speaking)

A "knock on the door" from the Texas Attorney General can take several forms: a letter, a phone call to you, a call to your employer or service of papers on you, among other ways. The knock is to notify you that something is about to happen in court or by a court order. If you are a parent, or alleged to be a parent, the knock is probably to notify you either that you are a parent and have an obligation to start supporting a child or children or they want to examine your financial situation and maybe raise your existing child support or they want you to start paying the support that was previously ordered.

What should you do if you get notice in some form from the A.G.’s office?

Contact a family lawyer, and right away. Don’t delay, especially if you find out about a court date. You need to understand the law and what your options are. The A.G. is not involved to help or represent you. They can’t give you legal advice. They are not a completely neutral party in the process. You need your own counsel. You may be able to work out a better deal by resolving the matter before it goes to court, so you should hire an attorney as soon as possible. It may also take a while to gather information and prepare for court.

Why the A.G. Gets Involved

There are numerous ways for the Attorney General’s office to get involved in your business. A parent could request assistance from the A.G. to collect child support. The State of Texas may have initiated the action if some state assistance has been paid to a parent because of a child. Federal and state laws have forced the A.G. to become very active in collecting child support. They help parents who need to get an initial court order designating someone as the father and ordering the payment of child support. They may also help parents collect past-due child support owed sometimes by "deadbeat dads" (or moms), but also owed sometimes by dads or moms who lost their jobs or became ill or for some other reason could not work or had their pay cut. In addition, the A.G. may periodically review cases to see if support is being paid and to determine whether support should be raised or lowered. (They rarely act to get child support reduced.)

What are some of the things that can happen if the Attorney General comes knocking?

1. Obligations can be created. A court can order retroactive child support all the way back to the birth of the child. The obligation usually will extend until the child is 18 or finishes high school (whichever is later) and can extend beyond that in special circumstances. If there is a court order, you will likely be ordered to pay court costs and attorneys’ fees. There will probably also be an order for medical child support: providing or paying the cost for the child’s health insurance and paying a portion or all of the unreimbursed medical expenses.

2. There could be an increase in child support.

3. An enforcement action can have significant penalties.
If the court finds a child support arrearage (meaning there is past-due, unpaid child support), a judgment with interest may be entered against the obligor (a nice legalese term for the person previously ordered to pay the money) and there would be an order for payments to be made until the total was paid off. There can also be an order for confinement in jail for up to six months for each proven violation of the court order, although some judges will allow a person to be put on probation or community supervision. Probation permits a person to stay out of jail if they report at least once a month to a probation officer and comply with a long list of other requirements. State law also provides for possible suspension of various licenses issued by the state, including driver’s license and professional licenses, among others.


Several things with serious consequences can happen. You can do a lot of damage to yourself by proceeding without representation.

1. Don’t sign anything regarding children or child support without consulting an attorney. You may not understand things very well. The A.G.’s office does know what they’re doing. They are not necessarily trying to take advantage of you, but their objectives and your interests may be different and you may make bad decisions if you proceed without the assistance of an attorney.

2. You might think you can start out at a hearing or court date and then stop it if you don’t like how it’s going. That’s not likely to happen.

3. You may think you can agree to something outside of court and it won’t be binding on you, but it may be binding if you sign it.

4. If you think you can stop everything by just not showing up or by refusing to accept a set of papers, you are wrong and you may end up with a judgment or child support obligation owed by you.

Best advice: See a lawyer immediately!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

How to Keep Your Child Out of the Middle

Most everyone would agree that it is a good idea to shield children from most parental conflict. Nevertheless, there are many times during and after divorces when children get drawn into family disputes and end up in the middle, with both sides pulling on them. The following is a brief list of 5 "Don’ts" and a "Do" that may help avoid such situations.

1. Don’t ask the children to decide. In the heat of family disagreements, it may seem simple or fair to just let the children decide where they want to live, or what visitation schedule they want to follow, etc.; parents may feel that’s like having a neutral person make the decision. Unfortunately, that puts a lot of pressure on the children and sets them up for guilt feelings and/or angry parents.

2. Don’t disparage the other parent or his/her family. This can be by direct comments made to a child or it can be done indirectly, such as comments made to others, but overheard by a child. It can also include body language and gestures that indicate disapproval or other bad opinions of the other parent. A child will likely take such actions or words as an attack on him or her.

3. Don’t argue around the kids. Disagreements are normal, even in well-functioning, intact families. Discussions and arguments between adults should take place just between adults, if at all possible. The kids don’t need to be drawn in or manipulated by the situations.

4. Don’t ask the children about the other parent. It’s not necessary for you to know everything that goes on when your children are with the other parent. Children will often tell about things they enjoyed or about big events, good or bad. Children don’t like being grilled about what happens when they visit their other parent.

5. Don’t use the children as messengers. If you want to send a message to the other parent, talk directly by phone or in person, send a letter or send an email. Kids aren’t always dependable anyway. And if you send a message by the children and then the other parent reacts badly when the message is delivered, the children are likely going to feel that they caused the problem.

Finally, something you can Do:

Do take a co-parenting class, preferably with the other parent. There are several good classes available in this area in person and even on line. I recommend the "in-person" class because you can learn more and get specific questions answered.

If you can avoid the temptation to put your children in the middle of adult disputes, your children will be happier and you should have better relationships with them (and maybe the other parent as well). If both parents will take a co-parenting class, all of this advice may be unnecessary!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

5 Factors to Consider When Hiring a Lawyer

When you are about to start any kind of litigation (or Collaboration) in a family law matter –divorce, modification, child support collection, visitation, paternity, grandparent access, etc.– you need to have an attorney to help you achieve the best possible outcome. There are some things that people can do without attorneys, including divorce, but there is a risk that important issues can be overlooked or mishandled. At the very least, it is advisable to have an attorney review the situation and look over any paperwork to help you avoid problems in the future. Once you make the decision to hire an attorney in a family law matter, there are several factors which should be considered in selecting the attorney to work with.

Recommendations. Just as in most other important matters, it is often helpful to seek recommendations from people or organizations you trust. There is no comprehensive attorney rating service, so you need to talk to family, friends and others you respect to find attorneys who have worked well with and for others in the past. A good source is attorneys you may know, even if they don’t work in family law; they can usually recommend someone who is a quality attorney. Once you have some leads, you can also look on the internet, especially if an attorney has a web site, to find out about the attorneys.

Qualifications and Experience. If your legal issue is important to you, it is usually best to find an attorney who is a Board Certified Specialist in the field, such as Family Law. Being Board Certified means that the attorney has practiced for at least 5 years, has had substantial experience in the field, has been recommended by judges and attorneys and has passed a rigorous exam. In addition, it is appropriate to ask if the attorney has handled similar cases in the past. More experienced attorneys will not only know the legal issues, but how the local judges generally handle such cases. In other words, they can give you an educated opinion about what to expect.

Cost. Generally speaking, the more experienced and qualified your attorney is, the more the representation will cost. There are many fine attorneys who charge lower fees, so there is not an absolute correlation between the fees and quality. This is just to say that a Board Certified Specialist with a lot of experience will be expensive. Be sure to have a discussion about cost at the initial meeting with the attorney you interview. Make sure that the amount of money you are about to invest is appropriate to the objectives you have in mind and your ability to pay. Because there are so many attorneys available and a wide range of fees, you should make sure you are comfortable with the fee agreement for now and into the foreseeable future as your case proceeds.

Communication Skills. No matter how qualified and skilled your attorney is, if he or she can’t communicate effectively with you, you will not be well represented. It is essential that the attorney actively listen to what you are saying. The attorney should be able to give you direct answers to simple questions. A good attorney can speak plain English and not fall back on legalese. If the attorney cannot translate legal concepts into everyday language, it can interfere with your representation and decision-making. Check the attorney’s written materials, including the fee agreement, hand-outs at the office and the material of his or her web site. If you cannot get a clear understanding of what you are reading, expect problems down the line.

Chemistry. When you meet someone, there is an intangible feeling or impression you receive. For whatever reason, some people just automatically make you feel comfortable and with others, you may have a lingering doubt or concern that is hard to express. I refer to that as my "gut feeling". Others use different terms, such as intuition or instinct. Whatever you call it, you should pay attention. Usually, when you hire an attorney, it is for an extended time and it is expensive. Make sure you feel very comfortable and secure in that relationship. If you have doubts or something doesn’t feel right, you should check with other attorneys. One size doesn’t fit all, and an attorney who is a great match for a friend of yours may not be a great attorney for you. The bottom line is that you want to hire someone who feels like a good match for you.

Hiring the right lawyer is an important step in your efforts to achieve certain objectives through the legal system. You shouldn’t rush or be pressured when choosing a lawyer. Your outcome will be better if you select an attorney who meets your needs and with whom you feel comfortable. You can probably find several attorneys who are technically competent and able to do what you need done, but you should look beyond the basic competence and consider the factors mentioned above in order to find the best lawyer for you and your case.