Published on:

Parties sometimes realize they have different understandings of a Texas divorce decree.  The trial court may issue a clarifying order if the decree is ambiguous.  In some cases, the decree may be facially unambiguous, but have a latent ambiguity when read in context of the surrounding circumstances.  In a recent case, a husband challenged a clarification order.

The final divorce decree included a provision setting forth the amount of his bonuses the husband would pay to the wife.  It further provided he would provide her a 1099 tax statement for each payment if allowed by his employer.  If he could not provide the 1099, “then the payments made to [the wife would] be the amounts above net of taxes paid in [his] tax bracket.”

The wife later petitioned for enforcement, arguing the husband was not dividing the bonuses “net of taxes paid in [his] bracket,” but was instead dividing them after the tax withholding by his employer.  She requested a clarifying order if the court found the decree was not specific enough to enforce by contempt.

Continue reading →

Published on:

Under Texas family law, a court may grant grandparents reasonable possession and access to a grandchild if three conditions are met.  First, at least one of the child’s parents, whether adoptive or biological, must have parental rights to the child.  Second, the grandparent must overcome the presumption the child’s parent is acting in the child’s best interest by showing that denying the grandparent possession or access would result in significant impairment to the child’s health or well-being.  Finally, the grandparent must be the parent of the child’s parent, and that parent must have been incarcerated during the past three months, have been found incompetent, be deceased, or not have possession or access to the child.  TEX. FAM. CODE ANN. § 153.433.

In a recent case, a father challenged an order allowing the maternal grandparents possession and access to his children.  The parents and children stayed with the grandparents while they looked for a house when they moved to Texas from California.  The grandparents supported the family so the parents could save up to buy the home.  After the parents bought a home nearby, the children regularly visited their grandparents, sometimes overnight.  The grandparents would take the children to school and attend school functions.  The grandmother testified she felt she had assumed the role of parent.

The grandmother testified both parents were alcoholics.  The mother’s friend testified the parents had a tense and unhealthy relationship.  There was testimony that the mother sent the children to stay with the grandparents when the situation at home grew tense.  The father’s friend testified the father left the children with the grandparents when he went to bars and nudist colonies.  He also testified the father told him he often argued with the mother, but did not state the arguments ever turned physical.

Continue reading →

Published on:

Under Texas family law, a court may order a child’s name be changed if doing so is in the child’s best interest.  Neither parent is specifically granted the right to name the child under Texas law, but generally a child’s name will not be changed unless the party seeking the change shows a good reason for it.  In a recent case, a mother challenged a court’s order to change the child’s name to include the father’s last name.

The parties appeared to have a good co-parenting relationship.  According to the appeals court’s opinion, the child lived with the mother, but the father had always been a part of his life and assisted financially with his living expenses.  The father’s family was also significantly involved in the child’s life, helping the mother financially and with child care.

The mother had been adopted as a young child.  She grew up in Virginia and moved to Texas when she was 18.  She did not have any family other than her son in Texas.  Due to the distance, the child did not have the same amount of interaction with his mother’s family that he had with his father’s family.

Continue reading →

Published on:

The Texas Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is responsible for certain child support services, including collecting and enforcing Texas child support orders.  Recipients of certain public assistance programs may automatically qualify for the OAG’s child support services, but others have to apply for the services.  The OAG has a variety of ways to enforce child support, including filing liens, issuing writs of withholdings to the parent’s employer, suspending driver’s licenses, and intercepting tax refunds or other money from state or federal sources.

In a recent case, a father challenged the OAG’s enforcement actions against him.  The father was ordered to pay child support beginning in December 1996.  The court also issued an Order Enforcing Child Support Obligation in October 1999, including a cumulative money judgment for $15,000 plus interest against the father in favor of the Attorney General.

In 2015, the OAG sent a notice of child support lien to the father’s bank and issued administrative writs of withholding to his employers.  The OAG also filed a petition with the State Office of Administrative Hearings for the father’s driver’s license suspension.

Continue reading →

Published on:

Texas family law allows the parties to a divorce to enter into a binding mediated settlement agreement (MSA).  If the agreement meets certain requirements, a party is entitled to judgment on the agreement.  In some cases, however, one party may wish to challenge a mediated settlement agreement.  In a recent case, a wife challenged the enforceability of a mediated settlement agreement.

The couple was married for about 10 years when the wife decided to end the marriage.  She sought a mediator, and the parties attended mediation without attorneys and executed a written MSA.

The MSA made the parents joint managing conservators, with the husband having the right to designate the kids’ primary residence.  The parties agreed the husband would keep the marital home and the wife would not pay child support.  The MSA required the wife to file the divorce petition within 10 days.  The MSA further provided the case would be finalized any time after May 1, 2015.

The husband filed a divorce petition nine days after the MSA was executed.  He asked the court to approve and render judgment consistent with the MSA.  The wife filed an answer with a general denial.  The husband and his attorney appeared in court, but the wife did not receive notice of the hearing and did not appear.  The trial court rendered oral judgment on the MSA at the hearing.

Continue reading →

Published on:

Although it can be difficult, in certain circumstances, Texas family law may permit a grandparent to obtain custody even when a parent wants custody. In a recent case, a mother appealed an order giving the grandparents the exclusive right to determine a child’s primary residence.

In 2014, the trial court named the mother managing conservator of her 18-month-old son with the exclusive right to determine his primary residence. The mother and child lived in Lubbock for about a year, and then moved to live with the mother’s brother for about a year.  After that, however, the mother and child moved multiple times.  The mother dated men who had violent criminal histories.  Child Protective Services opened an investigation and developed a safety plan. The child’s paternal grandparents petitioned for the exclusive right to determine the child’s primary residence, and the court granted the petition. The mother appealed.

The mother argued the trial court erred because the grandparents did not have standing to move for modification.  She also argued the trial court abused its discretion when it found there was a material and substantial change in circumstances justifying a modification.

Continue reading →

Published on:

The Texas Family Code provides guidelines to assist courts in calculating child support that are based on a percentage of the parent’s net monthly resources.  The statute sets forth what types of income are included and excluded from the parent’s net monthly resources.  In many families, it is fairly straight-forward to determine what is included in the calculation.  If a parent’s only income is from the wage or salary he or she earns from employment, it is relatively simple to identify the net monthly resources.  Some families, however, have more complicated financial circumstances making it less clear what should be included.

In a recent case, a father appealed the inclusion of an annuity payment in his net monthly resources for purposes of the child support calculation.  Prior to the marriage, the father settled a claim for a work-related accident with his employer.  As a result of the settlement, the father receives $6,970 per month from an annuity.  The payments will continue until either the the father’s death or June 1, 2044.

The couple had one child during the marriage.  The mother filed for divorce less than a year after the couple was married.  Although the couple reached agreement on some issues, they were unable to agree on child support and medical support.  The trial court found the annuity payments were “resources” under Texas Family Code 154.062 and included them in the father’s resources when calculating the child and medical support payments.

Continue reading →

Published on:

Generally, a permanent injunction is difficult to obtain and requires proof that certain requirements are met.  In Texas child custody cases, however, a court may be able to issue a permanent injunction, even if those requirements have not been met, if it finds that the injunction is in the child’s best interest.  In a recent case, a father appealed an injunction prohibiting him from allowing contact between his girlfriend and his child.

The parents had agreed to temporary orders prohibiting any unrelated adult in a romantic relationship with one of the parents from spending the night in a home with the child.  The temporary order also stated that the father’s girlfriend would not be around the child while the father had possession.

Following a mediated settlement agreement addressing all other issues, the trial court held a hearing to address this issue. The trial court granted an “injunction” prohibiting contact between the father’s girlfriend and the child without hearing evidence.  The mother’s attorney stated they had been unable to serve the father’s girlfriend with notice of the hearing.  The court indicated it was entering a “permanent morality clause” based on the girlfriend not testifying. The father’s attorney argued there was no evidence to support a permanent injunction.  The court stated it was a “moral clause,” not an injunction, but then heard evidence from the mother, the mother’s other daughter, and the process server.

Continue reading →

Published on:

Texas law generally favors the freedom of contract.  This principle also applies to prenuptial agreements.  In Texas divorce cases, prenuptial agreements are generally valid and enforceable unless they were involuntarily signed or were unconscionable and signed without proper disclosures.

A wife recently challenged the enforceability of a prenuptial agreement. The couple met online while the wife lived in Vietnam.  When the husband visited Vietnam, he gave her a copy of the prenuptial agreement his attorney drafted.  The wife did not speak English, so she had it translated.  She requested a change to the agreement.

The wife came to the U.S. and told the husband she was pregnant a few months later.  He told her she needed to sign the agreement before they got married. The husband stated a paragraph was removed from the agreement based on the wife’s request.

Continue reading →

Published on:

Sometimes, a parent may face significant changes in his or her financial circumstances that affect the ability to pay a Texas child support obligation.  If the change in the parent’s financial circumstances is both substantial and material, the court may modify the obligation.

In a recently-decided case, a father sought to modify his child support obligation after he was determined to be disabled.  The original support order was entered in 2006.  The court entered an agreed order in 2012, ordering the father to make payments on the support he owed and increasing his monthly obligation based on his net resources.

Soon after the 2012 order was entered, the father had a stroke.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) found him to be disabled and awarded him Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.  He moved to modify the support order on the grounds his circumstances had materially and substantially changed.

Continue reading →