Legal Aid and Volunteer Legal Services

There is help for those who cannot afford traditional legal services.  Beyond the other low-cost options many attorneys offer (flat fee, limited scope, etc.) there are more low-cost options.  Some parties cannot afford traditional attorney representation or a choice is made that funds would be better used somewhere else other than traditional attorney representation. 

Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, AKA "Legal Aid" is an organization to help those who cannot afford traditional attorney-client representation.  Their focus is on victims of family violence or in dire need of help due to unfortunate circumstances.  Legal Aid's website had information on applying for assistance as well as general information.  They can do phone screenings as well if you call 1-888-988-9996.  The best time to call is in the morning starting at 8:30am.  There is a huge demand for their services so be patient if the line is busy or goes unanswered.  Call back or go online to start the screening process.

Many will not qualify for Legal Aid's free assistance.  There are other options in the Central Texas area.  One option is Volunteer Legal Services (VLS).  They offer in-person clinics to help those dealing with a variety of issues, from family law, civil cases, and evictions.  They cannot help with criminal, immigration, or contested probate cases.  They do not take calls or answer questions at their offices.  You must sign up for a clinic and attend in person.  Here is a link to their website with information on the days and locations of the clinics in the Austin area.  Local volunteer attorneys are there at the clinics to consult with you for a limited period of time.  Have your case documents with you and be ready to take notes during the short time you have with the attorney.

The Travis County Law Library, located in downtown Austin, is another resource.  They have librarians who can point you in the right direction for various forms as well as help with research topics. This is a good second-step after consulting with attorneys or other legal experts to determine the issues of your case. 

Can my boyfriend/girlfriend pickup my child from the other parent?

After parties separate, it is highly likely that they will date other people at some point in the future.  When that happens, then another person is pulled into the orbit of the parent's custody arrangement.  This can be a emotional and contentious proposition, especially when children are involved.

In most Standard Visitation Orders, there are General Terms and Conditions that say who can be present when a child is picked up or dropped off.  This language usually says, "either parent may designate a competent adult to pickup and return the child, as applicable; a parent or a designated competent adult shall be present when the child is picked up or returned"  See Texas Family Code 153.316(6)

This means that if new boyfriend or new girlfriend, new husband or new wife,  is there for pickup or drop off that's generally OK.  A new boyfriend or girlfriend will usually qualify as a "competent adult" unless they have an extensive criminal background for violent offenses, drug offenses, have a protective order or a history of protective orders, or are a registered sex offender.  Most low-level misdemeanors will not be enough to exclude new boyfriend or new girlfriend from handling pickups and drop offs.  Contact an attorney in your area to determine the specifics in your case and what rises to an worrying level for the Judges that may hear your case.  Yes, this also means new partners can handle the exchanges alone without the actual parent present.

A word of caution: it is best not to let new wife, girlfriend, husband, boyfriend handle communications on your behalf about the children.  Concerns about the children's school or extracurriculars should be handled by the parents themselves.  Details about the visitation schedule and any modification requests should be handled by the parents themselves.  Allowing a new partner to handle these topics with the other parent is asking for trouble.  Judges prefer the parents to handle the communications about the children, not new partners.  If you are allowing your partner to handle these communications because you "just can't have a reasonable conversation" with the other parent, then that's going to be a mark against you in the future.  Finding a way to communicate for the good of the children is in everyone's best interests.  There are many short-term counseling seminars, online communication tools, and other options to explore before you throw in the towel.  Try these options and you will be in a better place for your next court hearing or maybe avoid one altogether.  If the other parent is being truly unreasonable and demanding in all your attempts to have a reasonable discussion about the children then reach out to an attorney in your area about options.  There are change that can be made if you are experiencing truly poor behavior from the other parent.

Can I go to my child's activity when it's not my day for a visit?

A common question is whether a parent can to to their child's sports game, school play, or classroom activity when it is not their day for a visit under their visitation schedule.  Parents should want to attend as many of these important milestones in their children's lives as possible.  Judges understand this and encourage this involvement after parents split up.

Sometimes the other parent will overstep their authority and claim one parent and/or their extended family cannot see the child at public/school/sports activities when it's not that parent's scheduled visitation day.  Only in rare cases where there's an active Protective Order, Restraining Order, or similar restriction on how physically close parties can be to one another will one parent be prevented from attending these important events in the child's life.

Texas Family Code section 153.073 lists the rights of both parents AT ALL TIMES. This means the parent has these rights regardless of what day of the week or visitation schedule they have elsewhere in the Order.  These rights are usually in your divorce/custody/child support order near the beginning of the document.  Check your court paperwork and verify that you have a list similar to the one I quote below.  If so, then you have the right to attend any school related event, i.e., school sports, band performances, choir performances, plays, classroom parties, and awards ceremonies.  Further, any club sports team's games are usually listed on the club's website along with the game's location.  Any member of the public can go to these games.

Disclaimer: You can attend the event but that does not mean you get to visit with the child for an extended period before/during/after the event. Respect the other parent's time with the child and keep interactions supportive but short.  

 

RIGHTS OF PARENT AT ALL TIMES. (a) Unless limited by court order, a parent appointed as a conservator of a child has at all times the right:

(1) to receive information from any other conservator of the child concerning the health, education, and welfare of the child;

(2) to confer with the other parent to the extent possible before making a decision concerning the health, education, and welfare of the child;

(3) of access to medical, dental, psychological, and educational records of the child;

(4) to consult with a physician, dentist, or psychologist of the child;

(5) to consult with school officials concerning the child's welfare and educational status, including school activities;

(6) to attend school activities;

(7) to be designated on the child's records as a person to be notified in case of an emergency;

(8) to consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment during an emergency involving an immediate danger to the health and safety of the child; and

(9) to manage the estate of the child to the extent the estate has been created by the parent or the parent's family.

How soon can I get remarried after my divorce?

In Texas, when someone asks, "How soon after my divorce can I get remarried?" or "Is there a waiting period for when I can remarry after my divorce?" I point out Texas Family Code 6.801.

"...neither party to a divorce may marry a third party before the 31st day after the date the divorce is decreed.  The former spouse may remarry each other at any time."

Some clients have been separated so long that they meet, date, fall in love, and plan a wedding with a new partner before their old divorce is finalized.  Wedding plans get made and then have to be rescheduled to avoid this prohibition.  There are judicial remedies available for emergency purposes, but for the most part it is good advice to finish your old marriage before starting a new one.

Access to Intestate's Financial Accounts

I receive calls from parties who, after a loved one has passed, have no idea what that balances are in their loved one's financial accounts.  They do not know whether the estate would be solvent (able to pay its debts) or insolvent (unable to pay debts).  They do not know if there is a small balance or large and how that would affect cheaper probate alternatives.  Not knowing the balance of accounts can make a difference as to whether a case qualified foraSmall Estate Affidavit or needs an more typical Probate or Heirship proceeding.

There is a way to look into balances on a decedent's accounts. Texas Estate Code 153.003 provides that an "interested person" (heir, spouse, creditor, claim holder) can request a probate court to order a financial institution to release the balance information on each account in the deceased party's name with their financial institution.  The court can do this only if: (1) at least 90 days have passed since the date of death, (2) no probate petition has been filed (yet), AND (3) no one has already been appointed as a personal representative of the estate. 

The exception to this is the bank does not have to provide information about a financial account that already has a beneficiary designation, payable on death (POD) account, a trust account, or an account that provides for a right of survivorship.  These types of accounts automatically transfer on death and become the property of the named successor, so you cannot invade that person's right of privacy in their newly inherited accounts.  You can only see balance for the accounts left hanging after a death with no where to go except through the probate process.