Friday, July 26, 2013

Need Divorce - No Money

It is common for the party without access to money, a job or at home with the children to feel isolated and powerless.  Hiring a lawyer is expensive. Knowing you need a lawyer but don't have the money is frustrating and frightening. Family lawyers recognize the desperation in a person's voice when their story unfolds and they describe lots of problems, fears and no access to money.   When I get a call like this in my practice, I walk the caller through different scenarios to see what options they may have available.   

Many counties provide resources like LegalAid or a Community Justice Program. These programs provide attorneys who either work for the agency or who volunteer their time to help those in need.  Most attorneys take cases on a pro bono (without charge) basis and the challenge is to find one who has time to devote to your case.  If you qualify for a program such as Legal Aid, you go through an application process and if accepted, you may be placed on a waiting list before you get an attorney assigned to you. Call your local county bar association and ask what is available for people who need an attorney but can not afford to pay.  

If you hit a dead end, call every family lawyer in your city or surrounding cities until one agrees to take your case.  That attorney may ask the court to order the other party to pay your attorney's fees. If an attorney agrees to take your case at no cost, be respectful of his/her time, ask whether emailing is acceptable to ask questions and promptly respond to whatever the attorney needs from you to move your case along. Also, find a support group or a counselor to help you get through this very emotionally challenging time. 

I am family law attorney with a solo practice in San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas.    

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Simply put - it works! If your case settles (and the vast majority do) it saves you thousands of dollars. Mediation offers you the opportunity to talk through differences with a mediator who is often an experienced family law attorney.  The mediator listens to both sides and then begins to work on narrowing down the contested issues.  The parties generally go to different rooms and speak freely about the problems and obstacles.  The mediator will not reveal what is said unless given specific permission.  The ultimate goal is to give the parties one last chance to come to an agreement by participating in reaching a solution to their specific issues.  

The process is emotional and sometimes looks like it is not going to work. The mediator uses his/her skills and experience to get the parties moving toward resolution of the issues rather than face an unknown judge who will issue orders no one likes or wants.

Mediation can take a couple of hours, half a day, all day and then some are marathons and go on for hours and hours.  The mediator keeps working as long as he/she sees progress.  That may mean letting the parties cool off for a bit.  When it works, the parties sign off on a binding agreement and walk out knowing the fight is over.  There may still be some bumps in the road getting used to the other party as a former spouse, but it generally is a great weight off of your shoulders signing off on the agreement.

Consider mediation.  Get your lawyer to set it up or get an order requiring the other side to show up and mediate in good faith.  It is a great way to get your case off the litigation track and get you moving toward the next phase of your life.  Click here for additional  FAQs regarding mediation.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The dying Hybiscus

South Texas is rough on flowering plants.  My spring pilgrimage to the nursery results in a payload of beautiful robust flowering plants for our front yard.  I take pictures, water, apply Miracle Grow and then watch as they wither and die in the Texas sun.  By the middle of July, it is a wasteland of parched grass and
dust. I am particularly attached to the hybiscus plant this year.  The large lush flowers, dark  green leaves are a joy to see every morning.   The plant thrived until a business trip took me away for 10 days.  My college kids were home and admitted to watering it once. Upon my return I was horrified to see curled brown leaves and dead bulbs on the ground.  Before unloading luggage, I grabbed the hose and began resuscitation efforts.   For a week I pulled off the dead and dying and hoped for the best.

"As is the gardener so is the garden" echoed in my head.  With attention, food and stability - the buds began appearing.  The leaves are sprouting and one day soon I will see the lush orange-red beauties again.  Close call - but it is only early July.  The flowers make me smile.  The buds bring me hope.  I admit - I am attached and invested in its success.  Its me and the hybiscus this summer - and both are going to thrive.   For more information on this beautiful plant, click here.   Happy watering.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Child Support Increase for High Earners

On September 1, 2013 the cap increases to $8,550 net.  Currently, any net income over $7,500 is not  used in calculating child support for most people.  If your income exceeds the cap, the burden shifts to the other parent to prove additional funds are needed to support the child's expenses (private schools, travel, a nanny, etc.)  Child support is calculated based on the number of children, health insurance premiums and your monthly net income.  If you are at the top end of the pay scale, September 1 may mean an increase in your current child support.  An excellent article explaining this adjustment by the Texas Legislature appears here.

The adjustment is not automatic.  The parent seeking an increase must file a petition for modification and ask the court to set child support per the new guideline amount. Defenses to an increase in child support must be carefully discussed with your attorney. Bonuses and over-time are topics that should be addressed as well as lump sum pay-outs or cashing out 401Ks.

Be aware.  If you fit into the category of a high earner, you should consider making an appointment with an attorney whose law practice specializes in child support cases.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Child support is calculated based on income.  People paying it feel it is too much.  People receiving it feel it is never enough.  Parents paying daycare understand child support usually doesn't even cover those costs let alone clothes, shoes, haircuts, birthday parties, etc..

It is fairly common knowledge that Texas calculates child support based on the non-possessory parent's net income20% for 1child, 25% for 2 children, etc.  Their website provides information on how to calculate child support for your particular situation.  

Texas does not care how much the other parent makes, whether they are being supported by a boyfriend or others. It is all about income.  If the the non-possessory parent is unemployed, works part-time or is a student, child support is calculated at minimum wage.   

If parents are considering split custody (50/50), each parent's income is taken into considerationA 50/50 split requires good communication as well as living close enough so that getting the children to and from school and activities is not a burden on anyone.  

Medical costs are usually split 50/50 between the parents.  Make sure you submit the bills to the other parent promptlyContributing to the cost of providing health insurance is also seen as additional child support (but the cost must be the amount just to cover the children).  Parents are ordered to cover those costs regardless of who carries the insurance.  

Child support, possession, income, health insurance, out of pocket medical expenses are issues that you should become very familiar with.  The Attorney General claims they review child support cases every three years.  You can hire a private attorney to review your case and determine whether filing a modification or enforcement  action is appropriate.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

This time of year I get lots of calls from people desperate for information about divorce, custody, moving, etc. A great first step is to pick up the phone and call a lawyer!  If I am available, I talk directly with callers and try to reassure them that they are doing exactly what they should do.  Get information from a lawyer - it will help you sleep better.

One of the most urgent questions is often that the raging spouse threatened to take away the children and the caller is frantic to find out if that is even possible.  Usually, the couple is more intent on inflicting pain on the other person than rationally working out how the parties will share the kids.  I find myself stating over and over that in Texas, parents share their children unless there is something going on that is dangerous for kids to be around.  People know how to hurt each other and kids are used to inflict pain, fear and panic.  

I usually need to go over the child custody terms we use in Texas (joint managing conservators, sole managing conservators or even possessory conservators).  Each term comes with rights and duties specific to the name.  How much you see your child depends on many things such as age of the child, distance and work schedules.  Time with your child has more  to do with actual parenting than it does with who cheated, how many times or what you posted on Facebook. 

Things get very serious when I find out there is violence or drug use around the children.  If those things are happening, it is urgent that we work very quickly to protect the children and both parties. 

Without those two serious issues, parents share their children.  Judges love to remind parents that the kids have a right to see each parent and to love them regardless of whether the parents stay together or even speak to each other.  If you can recognize your child's right to see, talk to and love their parent you are on the right track for getting through a very difficult and challenging time if in your life.  

I am a family law attorney working in the San Antonio, TX area. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

April 1 - No foolin

If April 1 means more to you than playing tricks on your kids and jumping when they tell you there is a huge spider on your back, you know it also means giving notice to the other parent of when you plan to pick up/return the children for your 30 day summer possession period. (For those living more than 100 miles away, it is 42 days.)
If you remembered, you can choose to begin the summer by picking up the kidlings the day school lets out and keep them, feed them, entertain them and otherwise be the go-to parent for all stomach aches, ear aches, splinters etc. that you may miss out on otherwise. Or, you can break up your 30 days into two separate periods of at least seven consecutive days and take a break in between to re-fill the fridge, return all the movies, games and library books before the offspring return and repeat.
If April 1st got away from you, and the other parent likes to play by the book, your extended summer possession begins July 1 thru July 31. Better luck next year. Those smart phones have a great option when entering calendar reminders - select the "yearly" reminder and you will at least have a moment between pranks to send a quick text, email or fax about being first up with the munchkins next summer. Happy calendaring.