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childIn Ochsner v. Ochsner, the Texas Supreme Court ruled on a child support order that required the father to pay for his daughter’s school and to pay through a registry when she changed schools.

The couple had divorced in 2001, and the divorce decree included a child support order. The father was to pay the mother $240 each month in two installments and would also pay the daughter’s preschool directly. After the daughter stopped going to that preschool, the father was to pay the mother $400 in two installments and also pay a registry the school tuition payments. The order stated that his failure to comply could result in his not getting credit for making the payment.

The daughter stopped going to the preschool, and the father kept making the $240 per month payments to the mother. Instead of paying the registry, the father paid the new school directly, making payments that were $20,000 more than what was required by the original order. The mother was contractually obligated to pay the tuition.

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childIn the 2016 Texas case In re Morris, an appellate court considered a father’s request for a writ of mandamus after the mother and he agreed to the rendition of an order terminating the mother-child relationship. The adjudicated father of the child asked the appellate court to compel the lower court to vacate its order, which refused to render judgment in accord with the parents’ agreement to terminate the parent-child relationship between the mother and the child. He also wanted the court to render judgment according to their mediated settlement agreement.

In 2004, the trial court named the father and mother of a child the joint managing conservators of the child. In 2014, the child’s mother signed an affidavit voluntarily relinquishing her parental rights. She claimed that the termination of her relationship with the child was in the child’s best interests, but she didn’t provide facts in support. The mother didn’t expressly state she relinquished her parental rights.

In 2015, the child’s father filed a petition to terminate the parent-child relationship between the mother and child on the grounds that the mother had executed an irrevocable affidavit of relinquishment of parental rights and that termination was in the child’s best interests.

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coupleIn McCoy v. McCoy, a Texas husband appealed from a divorce decree, arguing that the lower court should not have denied his claim for reimbursement. The couple started dating in 2009. In the following year, they got engaged, and the husband moved to start law school. His fiancée joined him there in a rental house. They married in 2011. The wife worked full time during the husband’s first year in law school but then started going to law school as well. They both relied on student loans to cover their expenses and tuition.

Later, the husband claimed they had an agreement that the wife would pay him $700 every month and also pay for groceries and gas. He argued that she budgeted poorly and only sometimes paid this part of the expenses, and as a result he had to get supplemental student loans to cover her portion. They kept separate checking accounts related to their different law school loans.

In 2013, after the husband graduated, the wife filed for divorce. The husband responded by claiming he was entitled to reimbursement from his wife because he’d had to use his separate property to pay for her necessary living expenses. A bench trial was conducted, and the trial court divided the marital estate by awarding each of them the property they possessed and by ordering each spouse to pay his or her loans and debts solely in his or her name. The trial court also found that the husband’s request for reimbursement wasn’t supported by a preponderance of the evidence.

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ringsFamily law judges encourage those getting a divorce to enter into settlement negotiations rather than proceed to trial. Under rule 11 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, agreements reached during these negotiations are not enforceable unless they are written, signed, and filed with the divorce papers as part of the record, or the agreement is made in open court and entered as part of the record. In order to have the agreement be enforced, all material terms are supposed to be included, and they should be clear and unambiguous.

In Bush v. Bush, a Texas Court of Appeals considered the enforceability of a rule 11 agreement. The case was an appeal from a divorce decree in which the husband challenged the trial court’s award of two parcels of real property to his former wife. The wife sued for divorce in March 2013, and in response the husband filed a counter petition for divorce and moved to enforce a rule 11 agreement regarding the division of property, which his ex-wife and he had filed in a prior divorce case that was dismissed in 2006.

He subsequently moved to transfer and consolidate the current divorce proceeding with the previously dismissed case. The trial court came to the decision that the prior divorce had been dismissed by agreement of the parties and that since the parties agreed to the dismissal and signed the order, everything in the prior proceeding had been dismissed, and the prior case did not need to be reinstated into the current case. It also found that rule 11 agreements may be revoked until they are accepted by the court and incorporated in a final order, and this wasn’t done in the prior proceeding. The court also held that even if the agreement had survived, it didn’t have the specificity necessary to be enforced, although with respect to the sale of a particular piece of real property, the agreement might be enforceable through the application of contract law.

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Johnny Depp and Amber Heard are flooding the media with news of their divorce and allegations of family violence. This blog post is not here to pick sides between Team Amber or Team Depp, but we do want to explain the difference between a Protective Order and a Temporary Restraining Order, and what to do if you need either of those.

There is a lot of confusion about how to protect yourself from family violence in Texas. Many clients approach our law firm asking for a restraining order, but what they really want is a protective order. Here is the difference:

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In many families, one spouse takes primary responsibility for all the family finances, including the preparation of the joint income tax return. A joint income tax return may provide tax benefits to families that would not be available from filing two separate returns. However, in order to file a joint income tax return, both spouses are required to sign the return. The result of filing a joint tax return is that each spouse is joint and severally liable for any reported tax liability, along with any additional tax, interest, and penalties assessed on the return by the IRS. Even if the couple is later divorced, both spouses remain joint and severally liable for the total liability associated with the joint return. But is this fair to the spouse who did not handle any of the family finances? What if the spouse was also the victim of abuse or domestic violence and was prevented from accessing any of the family financial records?

Congress and the Department of Treasury have created Innocent Spouse Relief, which gives the innocent spouse the ability to request relief from the IRS for the joint liability associated with any additional tax, penalties, or interest assessed on the joint return. To qualify for Innocent Spouse Relief, the innocent spouse must meet all of the following conditions:

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Surrogacy is the process of a mother carrying a child for a family who can’t conceive. The process can be a godsend for parents who do not have the option of traditional conception. As surrogacy works in Texas, it involves a life-altering event for at least three parties– the intended parents and the gestational mother. Naturally, it is a delicate process with many emotions and moving parts. Surrogacy can be a great option for many reasons- whether the parents are a same-sex couple, medical issues prevent a mother from carrying a baby, or if either parent is concerned about passing down a genetic disorder or defect. For anyone thinking about growing a family through surrogacy, keep in mind that the legal process is just as essential as the biological process. Continue reading →

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If you’re in the middle of a divorce, it may seem impossible, but it is essential for you to healthily coparent with your spouse/ex-spouse after you split for the sake of the children. Luckily, there have been many celebrities publicly demonstrating this positive behavior such as Gwyneth and Chris Martin, Jennifer and Ben Affleck, and most recently Drew Barrymore and Will Kopelman. In addition, there are people who dedicate their careers to assist divorcees in post-divorce coparenting. Keep in mind, it’s best to start this positive behavior even prior to filing for divorce, but it’s never too late to start. Here are a few resources to help push you in the right direction:

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Alex Graves, award-winning director of “The West Wing” recently finalized his divorce from his wife of 19 years. Pursuant to the final order, the spouses’ property was divided evenly. Does the State of Texas mandate a fifty-fifty division of property upon divorce? The short answer is “no.” Continue reading →

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I know what you’re thinking…. “I’m already married; how is it not too late?” Don’t worry; the solution is a postnup! The Texas Family Code allows for couples to enter into a postnuptial agreement (or marital property agreement), which will offer many of the same protections and advantages that a prenuptial agreement offers.

Current Property. At the time of marriage, both spouses often have separate property interests and liabilities that were acquired prior to marriage. Without a prenup, the spouses’ separate property estates often become commingled and indistinguishable from the community estate of the spouses that begins upon marriage, especially if the spouses have been married for a substantial period of time. For example, during marriage, a spouse may inherit a large estate from a relative, gifts, buy a house, sell or trade property, or put separate property money in the same bank account. Although you and your spouse did not execute a premarital agreement, it is not too late to distinguish your separate property in a marital property agreement.

Chapter 4 of the Texas Family Code, Subchapter B, outlines the statutory requirements and guidelines for a marital agreement. Section 4.102 states: