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Friendswood Family Law Blog

Resolving custody through alternative dispute resolution

Child custody disputes bear the potential to cause families financial and emotional stress. In states like Texas, however, parents can turn to alternate dispute resolution methods that could allow them to maintain healthier relationships. Resolution techniques such as arbitration and mediation, for instance, may make it easier for parties with differing opinions to attain closure more swiftly and without incurring as much emotional damage along the way.

The Texas Family Code grants courts the right to send ongoing lawsuits to arbitration. In many cases, the parents initiate the process by submitting a formal written document signifying they agree to have their case arbitrated, and the court will decide whether the arbitration is binding or non-binding. Binding settlement agreements can't be revoked after they're made, but parents may seek official court judgments and modifications.

Private adoptions in Texas

When considering adoption, many couples choose to go through a private process, either through an adoption agency or by using the services of an attorney who has experience in these matters. Texas has some restrictions in place regarding private adoptions that must be followed.

Texas does not have a truly confidential adoption process. The birth mother or legal guardian has a say in who will adopt her child, and couples must deal directly with the mother if no child placement agency is involved. Intermediaries, such as attorneys or agencies, can function to introduce the parties to a private adoption.

Differences between military and civilian divorce

When Texas residents in the military choose to dissolve their marriage, the legal process is the same as it is for civilians. However, there are some key factors that can shift the process and change it in significant ways. One is the location of each partner. If the decision is made when one or both spouses are on active duty overseas or in remote areas, then the process may take longer. However, some states now have more lenient residency requirements for people who are stationed in the state and want a divorce.

The Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act is a federal statute that encourages military members going through a divorce to accept state statutes when it comes to certain issues, including retirement, spousal support and child support. Under this statute, states are able to classify military pensions as property rather than income, and that can change how the payments are distributed when the time comes. In order for one spouse to receive part of the retirement payment, the couple must have been married for at least 10 years with an overlap of 10 years of service. This means that if a couple is married for 20 years, but one member only served for nine, then the standard has not been met. However, a couple that was married for 10 years with the member serving during the entire marriage would meet the requirement.

Obtaining a divorce in Texas

The first thing to consider when filing for divorce is the jurisdiction where the divorce proceedings will take place. Texas law requires that either the filer or the other party must have resided in the state for the past six months and within the county for the past 90 days to be able to file for divorce in that specific jurisdiction. For the purposes of a divorce, the law considers a spouse working in service of the state or federal government to still be a resident of the state and county.

The next thing to determine is the grounds for the divorce. If either spouse committed adultery or severe cruelty against the other, the court will usually grant the divorce. The court will also grant a divorce if the couple has lived apart for at least three years or one abandoned the other for at least a year. Texas law also lists confinement in prison on a felony charge for at least a year or in a mental institution for at least three years without the possibility of adjustment as valid grounds for divorce.

Understanding adoption in Texas

Adults living in Texas may benefit from learning more about the adoption rights guaranteed under the state's family code laws. These laws prohibit the courts from considering military service as a negative factor for people applying to adopt. The law requires guardians who are putting children up for adoption to provide a comprehensive report that includes a history of genetic, educational, health and social information. The law also provides potential adoptive parents the right examine these records and other information pertinent to the child's history.

The adopted child also has a right to these records after becoming an adult, as does the surviving spouse of a deceased adopted child. Adults seeking to adopt are required to submit a criminal history report that is often provided by the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services. Petitions for adoption cannot be approved without the aforementioned information, unless permitted by the presiding court.

Child support calculations and parental rights

Non-custodial parents are required by law to monetarily support minor children through the age of 18 or graduation from high school. If that child is still in high school beyond 18, they must adhere to minimum requirements and attendance to remain eligible for child support. Child support can also extend beyond the age of 18 if the child is disabled in any way. Child support includes legal adoptions.

Child support calculations are generally a percentage of a non-custodial parent's net income. That calculation can fluctuate based on a number of family law matters, including number of children and if there are other supported children from a previous relationship. What is and isn't considered income in family legal issues can be tricky. Consulting with a family law attorney is the best way to establish what assets the court could include.

How grandparents can seek visitation of their grandchildren

Grandparents in Texas who do not see their grandchildren, whether due to a family dispute or for other reasons, may be interested to learn how they can go about seeking visitation. Although grandparents are not considered to have a constitutional right to visit their grandchildren according to a U.S. Supreme Court decision, there are some scenarios where court ordered visitation is granted to the grandparents of a child.

If a child's parent or parents have restricted the time a grandparent is allowed to visit their grandchildren, the grandparent might be able to schedule a court hearing to seek visitation. In most cases, a judge will not hear a grandparent visitation case unless at least one of the child's parents is mentally ill, deceased, incarcerated or not living with the child. A grandparent will not be allowed to seek visitation if adoptive parents have already been granted custody of the child.

Divorce laws for military families in Texas

Whether a service member wants to end a marriage or the spouse of a service member wants to file for divorce, they should know about the significant differences between civilian and military divorces in Texas. Differences include when the case can be heard, who is eligible to file and how property is divided in a military divorce. Grounds are the same regardless of military status.

The Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act gives family courts the ability to postpone divorce proceedings for military personnel while they are on active duty. Unless the divorce is uncontested and the military member waives their right to appear, a divorce cannot take place until they return. This rule prevents a spouse from getting a divorce while the service member is unable to appear in court. The delay can be extended for up to 60 days after they return.

Child custody in Texas requires careful planning

Child custody in Texas, referred to in the state as conservatorship, must be given careful consideration when a couple is in the process of divorce or ending a relationship. The two recognized types of conservatorship are joint managing conservatorship, which courts presume to be the ideal solution, and sole managing conservatorship. There are some responsibilities parents will jointly share while others are separate. Custody allows parents to make medical, educational and other decisions on the child's behalf. Visitation rights are dealt with as a separate issue.

In a joint custody or conservatorship arrangement, both of the parents share the responsibilities. Because the best interests of the child are at stake, there may be circumstances where the decision-making for some aspects of the child's care rests with one parent rather than the other.

Protecting separate property in a divorce

Property division between divorcing couples in Texas can become contentious, and most people are confused about what may belong to them and what is considered community property. Generally, anything one partner inherits or had before a marriage is not community property, and there are ways to protect gifts and inheritances when preparing for a divorce.

In Texas, marital property is divided equally in a divorce, absent an agreement between the parties. While gifts and inheritances usually do not fall under joint property, they can become shared property in certain circumstances. If one spouse receives an inheritance and puts it in the couple's bank account or buys something in both spouse's names, then the inheritance, or the assets purchased with it, could become community property. One can deposit money into a different bank account and keep those funds separate to protect an inheritance.