Settlement Week

How do I settle my divorce case quickly?  How do I settle my custody case quickly?  How can parties work out their child support case without the need for costly litigation and court hearings?

These are some of the questions I get after potential clients understand the possible costs of litigating a case.  A full on fight in a divorce, custody, modification, or child support case can be financially and emotionally draining.  Most people would prefer to come to the table, air out their issues, and try to find creative solutions to their problems.  The best solution is mediation.  In mediation you have control and can walk away from the table if you feel the discuss is not being productive, taking the case to court instead.  Mediation can happen early on in a case or later after hearings and/or discovery is conducted.

Williamson County, and many Counties throughout Texas, have something called "Settlement Week."  Settlement Week is when parties can find inexpensive mediators to assist them in reaching an agreement on their case, if possible.  Williamson County offers settlement week twice per year, once in the Spring and once in the Fall.  There are only so many slots available so usually they are reserved on a first come first served basis.  The program is usually run by the courthouse or local bar association.  Your local attorneys or court staff will know if a Settlement Week, or similar low-cost mediation program, is offered in your area.

Settlement Week is mediation, just a rose by another name.  Sometimes cases have too many complex issues to be solved in a short, low cost, mediation setting like settlement week.  There are many experienced mediators throughout the state who can spend extra time or use their unique expertise to assist you in resolving your complex case.  These might be good options if you believe your case might be too complex for a shorter mediation session.  Check with the local bar association in your area for experienced mediators for familiarity in your needed area of law.

Registration of Out-of-State Order in Texas

I receive calsl asking whether a parent can register an out of state order here in Texas.  The answer is, yes, but to what end? 

In Texas, to register an our-of-state Order, you follow the steps listed in Texas Family Code 159.602.

Registering an Order from another state is usually accompanied with a request to modify that order, or enforce it.  Rarely are out-of-state Orders just registered in the local court's files just for good measure. 

When parties are living in different states it can become very complicated very quickly to enforce or modify a court order.  You run into problems with Jurisdiction and proper Venue that may restrict where and how you can proceed with your case. 

If you live in a different state from the other parent and/or the children then it is vital for you to consult with an experienced attorney.  UIFSA, UCCJEA, and the Uniform Parentage Act will need to be consulted and applied to your specific case facts. 

Joining a Child Support case with a Divorce

In Texas, when there is an old Child Support/custody case from before the Divorce was filed, the old child support/custody case needs to be transferred and joined up with the divorce case.  See Texas Family Code 6.406 & 6.407

Child Support cases are sometimes filed by the Attorney General or when parties initially separate.  Parties might let these child support or custody cases run their course before turning their attention to the divorce and dividing marital property/debts.  It's better to handle all the child-related issues and Divorce all at the same time, but sometimes people just put off the divorce and let the child support and visitation case take care of the immediate need for child support to start.  If you settle the child support and custody before tackling the divorce issues, then you might lock yourself in to something you might not want when later dividing assets and debts in the divorce.

If you have an old custody or child support case, and then later file the divorce, you MUST mention the old custody or child support case in the divorce filing.  A Motion to Consolidate is the best way to join the two cases up if they are both filed in the same County.  If the old custody case is filed in a different county than where the divorce is filed, then a Motion to Transfer, filed in the old county where the custody/child support case is filed, would be the best step.  Failure to bring together the older custody/child support case into the divorce might result in delays and increased costs. 

For these reasons, it is highly advisable that when you meet with an attorney or attempt to file a divorce on your own, that you disclose prior court actions that might effect your divorce case.  It is always easier to tackle such issues in the beginning than to have to back up and redo major paperwork and court hearing dates.  If you have this type of problem, just bring your old paperwork along with you to the consultation or at least mention the old case and where it was filed to whomever you are consulting with on your divorce.


Holographic Wills

In Texas, someone can make a Will on their own, but it must be in the person's own handwriting and show "testamentary intent," which means they intended the document to be their last will and testament. 

Texas Estates Code 251.052 allows that a Will, written wholly in the testamentor's handwriting, is not required to be attested by subscribing witnesses.

This means that if the decedent wrote out a Will then as long as it's in their own handwriting, and there's someone to testify in court to the authenticity of that handwriting, then that handwritten document can likely be used as a Will in a Texas Probate Court. 

Caution should be used in using this as an Estate planing technique.  A Will is a specific, special document that needs to be tailored to meet your needs.  Consultation with a Wills and Estates attorney is advisable before undertaking such a task on your own.

Spousal Maintenance

Texas permits Spousal Maintenance, other states call it Alimony.  To qualify for Spousal Maintenance under the Texas Family Law, you need to be married for at least 10 years or there was spousal abuse, AKA family violence, within 2 years of the divorce, or a medical issue during the marriage that prevents a spouse from finding employment.  See Texas Family Code 8.051

It is a rebuttable presumption that spousal maintenance is not warranted unless the spouse requesting the maintenance has exercised diligence in attaining suitable employment (and been unsuccessful thus far) OR they are developing the necessary skills to support themselves during separation.  See Texas Family Code 8.053.  This means a Court would start from the presumption that spousal support is not warranted.

If you are married for ten years or more, or have been the victim of family violence or have medical complications the prevents you from working, then you have the right to request spousal maintenance.  Whether you receive any, and how much you would receive for what length of time, is highly dependent on your circumstances.  The length of time for any support is between 5 and 10 years, depending on the length of marriage.  You should contact an attorney who knows the details of the law and local judicial demeanor in order to assess your situation.