Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Name changes for minor children

If you want to change your child's name, both parents must agree to changing the child's name.

A legal document called a Petition must be filed at the courthouse requesting that a judge change the child's name.

The judge will sign a document called an Order that officially changes the child's name permanently.
After the judge signs this document, there is more that you need to do to get a new birth certificate. You then contact the Bureau of Vital Statistics for a new birth certificate.

The cost to do this varies.  The filing with with the county is approximately $300.  If both parents are willing to sign all the papers then that will save you money.  If the other parent will not sign the paperwork to approve the child's name change then the parent needs to be served with the Petition that was filed at the courthouse opening the file.  This can cost approximately $100.

Once the other parent is served with the legal papers by a process server then they have a certain amount of time to file a legal document at the courthouse called an Answer.  A parent would normally object to the name change in the Answer.  You now have a contested case.

It is up to the judge whether or not the judge will grant a child's name change.

If there has been a case involving this child before, you will be assigned to the same judge again.

If the father objects and is active in the child's life then many judges will not do a name change.

So I highly recommend that you talk to the other parent before beginning this process.

You must have very good reasons to change a child's name.  Generally in Harris County most family court judges do not like to grant these name changes unless there is a very compelling reason.  But if both parents approve of the name change then the judge will sign the paperwork.

You then take the Order signed by the Judge and ask the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Austin to issue a new birth certificate with the new name.  To get a new birth certificate can take up to 6 months and costs approximately $65.  You must fill out all of the required paperwork from the BVS Office in order for them to issue a new birth certificate.

You can attempt to do this yourself.  It is not easy.  You might be able to find the forms at the Harris County Law Library.  You would take the master form and fill it out.  You would need to re-type the master form that you find so that it applies to your case.  You will need a Petition and an Order at the minimum.  Both parents need to sign at the bottom of the Order acknowledging that they want the name change.

If the parents don't agree then it is a contested case and there will be a trial in front of the judge.  Both of you will have to put on evidence.  If it is contested I strongly encourage you to hire an attorney.

You do not automatically get a hearing in front of the judge.  Normally you have to ask for one.  You will need to talk to the judge's head clerk to get a date for a hearing to see the judge.  Judges calendars are very busy and you might have to wait several weeks to get a court date.

I encourage people to hire a family law attorney to assist them with name changes.  They can be tricky.
Most attorneys charge at least $1,000 - $1,500 for these type of cases if uncontested.  They can take a time of attorney time.  If contested and there is going to be a hearing, then you need to anticipate spending a lot more than $1,500 - attorneys charge a lot for trials.

I hope this blog post has been helpful.

Good luck!

Ordering New Birth Certificate in Texas after an adoption

After the judge has signed the paperwork approving an adoption, you will need to get the child a new birth certificate.  This takes quite long time.  I've heard that it is taking as long as 6 months.  So be patient.

Eventually the clerk of the court will send in paperwork to Austin, Texas Bureau of Vital Statistics.  This can take up to 6 weeks since the clerks wait until they have a large stack and the forms all get mailed to Austin at one time.  You have no control over how the judge's clerks handle their correspondence with BVS.

You can get a certified copy of your decree signed by the judge.  It costs approximately $1 per page for a certified copy.  Again, it takes awhile for the papers to be scanned into the Harris County Clerk's computer.  You usually cannot get the paperwork the day that you get the adoption finalized - but sometimes you can - you just never know.  If you are in a county outside of Harris County, each county handles certified copies differently.  You will need to talk to judge's clerk or an employee of the district clerk's office to find out how to get a certified copy.

Fill out the proper forms off the Bureau of Vital Statistics website.  Send the certified copy of the court order along with $62.  Their mailing address is P O Box 12040, Austin, TX 78711.

If you have any questions, you can call the BVS office in Austin.  Hopefully they can help you.  When I have called them in the past they have been very helpful.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Houston Pro Bono (free) Attorney Clinics

Houston Pro Bono Centers

Whether your case relates to adoption, custody, divorce, support, domestic abuse or special education matters, there are people that can help for free (pro bono). 
Houston is home to several pro bono clinics, for those who are in need of free legal services. 
Check out these Houston pro bono centers:
Aid to Victims Legal Services
1001 Texas Avenue, Houston, Texas 77002 (713) 224-9911
Lone Star Legal Aid1415 Fannin Street, Houston, Texas 77002 (713) 652-0077
Houston Volunteer Lawyers 712 Main Street, Houston, Texas 77002 (713) 228-0732
University of Houston Law Center100 Law Center, Houston, Texas 77002 (713) 743-2100 http://www.law.uh.edu/clinic/
Southeast Texas Legal Clinic
3400 Montrose Blvd Ste 400, Houston, Texas 77006 (713) 523-7852
Legal Advocacy and Outreach
405 Main Street, Suite 911, Houston, Texas 77002 (713) 224-9911

Thursday, November 21, 2013

I can tell that the holiday season is almost here!

I can always tell when the holidays are almost here!

No it's not the cooler weather...it's the number of frantic phone calls for people wanting to see their children for the upcoming holidays & the other parent won't cooperate.

How sad for the children...

Around November 15th, I start receiving lots of phone calls from desperate people that are having problems arranging their Thanksgiving and/or Christmas vacation time with their children and the number of questions asked on free sites jumps up dramatically!

Each of these people think that they are the ONLY people on the planet with these problems.
They need help right now!  They are desperate!  They expect to see a judge NOW!

Ah the holidays!  When children of parents no longer together get to see their parents behaving badly.  When the police get called out to homes and many parents get arrested for assaulting the other parent!  It brings out the worst in many parents!  Again, how sad for the children.

Unfortunately, the courts close down for the holidays and the judges go home to spend time with their families.  So it is impossible to get an "emergency hearing" in front of a judge if you cannot arrange to see your child for the holidays at the last minute.

If you have been having problems with the other parent for months, then you need to document this very carefully and plan on hiring an attorney.  You will probably get a hearing in January or February and you will get make-up visits.  The other parent might be punished by having to pay your legal fees and/or jail time.

Of course, you might consider asking for custody of the children.  But you need to document, document, document.  You need to build a strong, solid case -- not just one violation but a series of violations -- the more the better.  Hire a tough, smart family law attorney to help you - then sit back and follow your attorney's advice.  It will probably take months -- but it's worth it.

As a mediator, I am always willing to try to resolve these matters...but I cannot force the other parent to participate in mediation!

Many people call me & somehow think that I have some "magic fairy dust" that will suddenly make the other parent a reasonable and caring parent.  I don't.  If I did...I could sell it for a lot of money and be very, very wealthy!

I always encourage mediation before litigation...but you cannot force a person to cooperate.

Happy Holidays!

Please be reasonable!  Think of your kids!  They are watching you!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Harris County Law Library Information

The Harris County Law Library is now located at 1019 Congress Street on the first floor of the building.  It is in the building where people when when they were called for jury duty.  Their phone number is 755-5183.  They are open Monday through Friday from 8 am - 7 pm.

They have free wifi, e-filing service, and computers for everyone's use.

There is a privately owned company, ServiceDocs Inc. that runs a full reprographic services company in the Law Library.  They provide notary services for a fee.  Black and white copies cost 10 cents per copy.  If you want color copies, then it costs 50 cents per copy.

There is also a privately owned coffee shop with light snacks, The Congress Cafe, located in the lobby of the Law Library.

There are 5 computers with free access to WestlawNext for legal research databases and LexisNexis Shephard's Citations.  HeinOnline including hundreds of journals and law reviews. IntelliConnect legal research databases.  RIA's CheckPoint databases, including federal and state tax resources and Harris County Law Library's Online Public Access Catalog.

Anyone with a Harris County Public Library Card can check out books that they have reserved from the Harris County Public Library at this location.  Any books that have been checked out can be returned at this location.

But the books belonging to the Harris County Law Library cannot be checked out by anyone. Everyone is free to use books belonging to the Harris County Law Library but none of their books are able to be removed from the Law Library.  

Apparently since they moved into this new location, the Harris County Law Library has seen an increase in people coming into the library of over 60%.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Warning if you are using the new Supreme Court Do It Yourself Forms!

At the October, 2013 Houston Bar Association luncheon for family law attorneys, one of the Associate Judges mentioned to the group in attendance that the biggest problem with the new Do It Yourself divorce forms approved in January 2013 by the Texas Supreme Court is that the Waiver of Service is often not completed properly and therefore he is unable to approve the divorce.

So be very careful when checking the boxes on this form - apparently it is a very confusing form.  If you check the wrong box then the judge cannot accept your divorce and you will have to do the Waiver of Service over again in front of a notary.

I do not use these forms so please do not call me & ask me how to fill out these forms.

If you want to come into my office and have me help you will out these forms then I will charge you my normal hourly rate of $175/hour to do this.  I assume it will take less than 2 hours to fill out these forms.  It will depend on how fast you can write & if you have all the required information in order to fill out the forms.

You need to read these forms carefully.  They are tricky!  Good luck!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Mediation Thoughts

Note: I might use the term "divorce mediation" but it applies to all form of mediation!
Mediation uses a mediator which a trained neutral third party. In other words, mediation is a process in which parties to a dispute (say, a divorcing couple) communicate about their conflict with the help of a trained neutral, called a mediator, with the goal of reaching a settlement. This agreement is something that the parties reach by themselves voluntarily.  The mediator does NOT force them to come to an agreement.  Some divorcing couples may be able to work out all issues dividing them without help. Sometimes the agreement maybe a partial agreement & then the parties go before the judge for only a limited number of issues - in order to save time and money.  However, it is usually the case that people going through a divorce (or other family conflict) will need some assistance to reach an agreement that most effectively meets their needs and the needs of any children who may be involved.
Effective family mediation requires a discrete & unique set of skills and attitudes that is quite different from the set of skills and attitudes characteristic of an effective litigation-oriented lawyer. Attorneys making the transition to mediation frequently must un-learn behaviors that made them successful as litigators. In short, some attorneys are wonderful mediators; others are not. Whether a mediator is an attorney is just one factor to consider among others, such as the mediator’s reputation, mediating style, fee structure, availability, and overall compatibility with the clients. Mediators must be flexible & carefully listen to the needs and wants to the parties.  The parties control the mediation.  
Some mediators offer an informational interview, either in person or by phone, during which potential clients may meet the mediator and ask questions about the process. The purpose is for potential clients to gather information about mediation process and to assess whether the particular mediator consulted is a good fit for them, before signing an agreement to mediate.  The mediator must be careful in order to remain a neutral during the entire process.  However, both parties must feel that the mediator is "listening" to them.  
The primary benefit of mediating a divorce is that the parties control the terms of their agreement. In essence, they create their own customized agreement, tailored to their unique situation. While there are certain statutory items that must be considered, agreements made in mediation can cover a wider spectrum of issues, with more creative, individualized results, than would be possible if a judge were to control the process. In addition, mediation is confidential. Everything said during mediation, any draft resolutions or unsigned mediated agreements are considered settlement negotiations, and therefore will NOT be admissible in court. There are some very narrow exceptions to confidentiality that are beyond the scope of this article.  
In Texas, the judges must follow the Texas Family Code.  The mediation process allows for more flexibility.  In the courtroom the judge must follow the TX Rules of Evidence.  The mediation process allows for more flexibility.  The parties just talk.  People are allow to share their feelings, concerns and worries.  A judge can only allow testimony about concrete evidence in the courtroom - a party's worries about potential future events is not allowed into evidence at a trial before a judge since it is only an potential event in the future.  
Research indicates that when the parties are involved in crafting their own agreements, the long-term compliance rates are much higher than when a court imposes terms on a couple. This is a big plus when there are children involved. Also, once parties have come to agreement in mediation, if circumstances change, they are more likely to return to mediation to modify their agreement rather than resort to litigation about the changed circumstances.  Parties feel empowered because they were able to make decisions about their future and their children's future.  They also understand the agreements they made - rather than the orders that the Judge orders from his bench that most people don't understand.  
The Process
Couples can enter divorce mediation at any point during the litigation process.  Some couples complete mediation of their entire agreement before they file the petition. Others file the petition, mediate their settlement agreement, and then complete the rest of the statutory process. Some couples start out litigating with attorneys, and then enter mediation with or without their attorneys present. There is no one right way.  Many paths may lead to agreement.  Every mediation is unique because the parties are different and the parties control the process.  
I personally prefer that a petition be on file at the courthouse before the couple come to me for mediation. That way if we reach an agreement, our signed agreement can be filed at the courthouse and it is binding on the parties and the judge.  I also prefer that the parties have attorneys representing both parties.  Even though I am an attorney, if I act as a mediator, I am not supposed to give legal advice.  In family law cases, TX family law is complex.  Most parties do NOT understand Texas family law.  TX family law has changed a lot in the past 10 years and an attorney is need to explain all of the options available regarding child visitation - which has many variables available in the mediation process.  Often when I begin to explain some of the options available, pro se litigants eyes begin to "glass over" and I lose them.  It is much quicker and easier for me, as a mediator, if the parties have attorneys so that the mediation process can move quicker.  
If the parties have the monetary resources, then outside experts might even be brought in for their input, such as for pension evaluations or business valuations, appraisals of the family home, or various kinds of economic analyses. There may even be times when outside experts are desirable for evaluating what is best for the children.  
The scope of the mediation is up to the parties. In a typical comprehensive divorce mediation, all of the statutory requirements are addressed: identification and division of property and debts, parenting plans, and child and/or spousal support. In addition, the parties may choose to mediate topics that a court would not necessarily consider on its own, such as visitation by children with extended family, consequence of one parent moving far away, unique arrangements for payment of the spousal support obligation, and many more. The divorce mediator aims to find ways for each party to meet his or her needs. In popular terms, mediators strive to facilitate the clients in thinking outside of the box, so the clients can develop solutions appropriate to their unique situation and to accommodate their new family arrangement.  As I often tell parents, you are divorcing, but you will be co-parenting your children for the rest of your lives.
In the State of Texas, most courts require mediation before a trial can be held.  What most attorneys do NOT tell a client when they first walk into their office - 95% of cases settle before trial.  Why not? Because when a person first walks into an attorney's office that person wants a fight.  They are mad and angry.  The attorney knows it.  So the attorney initially prepares for a fight and going to trial.  Gradually, if the client is sane, the anger will diminish and the person will recognize that settlement is healthier & also less expensive.  After the client receives a few hefty monthly legal bills and their pocketbook is much lighter the client will begin to recognize that litigation is NOT the way to go - the client will beg the attorney for an alternative.  A smart attorney will then mention mediation and the advantages of mediation.  As a mediator, this is when I like to see parties come to mediation...when the parties have fought for awhile, they are tired & they want this case to be settled.  They are now pliable and ready to settle.  They have been separated for several months, been co-parenting in two households, the children have adjusted and things have settled down.  Now they are ripe for mediation.  
The actual process of mediation is highly variable, depending on the issues brought by the parties and the style of the mediator. I have done one session that lasted 12 hours and I have done multiple sessions.  Most people want to do one session.  Sometimes multiple sessions are needed.  Why?  If the parties do not have the information necessary to reach an agreement and more homework is needed to be done or one of the parties needs time to ponder the offer.  I have found that all of the multiple sessions have been very productive.  
The end product of divorce mediation is an agreement, in writing, that addresses all of the issues required or desired to be settled by the parties. It may take the form of a  which sets out all of the terms of the agreement, or a Mediated Settlement Agreement (MSA), which is filed with their judgment of divorce.
The Paperwork
Typically, the mediator is responsible for preparing a written document that sets out the terms of the mediated agreement, Mediated Settlement Agreement (MSA). The actual petition for dissolution of marriage and subsequent legal paperwork is a separate task. Although some couples try to handle the divorce paperwork themselves, it can be a daunting project. Filing the petition for dissolution is fairly straight-forward, but filing and serving all of the papers required to complete the process and obtain a valid judgment is more complicated and can be stressful. Obtaining competent assistance is essential in most cases. Frequently, court clerks return self-prepared documents for corrections, sometimes more than once.
One party may retain an attorney to file the case as an uncontested default, either after a mediated agreement has been reached, or in anticipation that an agreement will be reached. Some clients opt for a legal document assistant to help them with the paperwork. The quality of service provided by legal document assistants can vary widely, so careful selection of an assistant is essential.
Even though I am an attorney, if I act as a mediator, I cannot do your paperwork in the State of Texas.  You must have another attorney do your paperwork.  I can refer you to someone or you can find someone to do it for you.  There are many attorneys that will do this for you.
I do NOT recommend the internet kits since most are sold by out-of-state companies that do not comfort with
TX laws.  Also, they do not contain the REQUIRED TX and local forms that you will need.  Plus, in Texas one of you must stand in front of the Judge and under oath ask for the divorce to be granted in order for the Judge to actually sign the Divorce Decree.  Why? Because it is the law in the Sate of Texas.  You have to do it or the divorce paperwork will not be signed by the Judge - the case will be dismissed and all the work you have done and the money you spend will have been wasted!
Costs of Mediation?
Typically, when one household is splitting into two, money is tight. Fees for mediators can vary widely, ranging from $150/hour up to $700/hour or more divorce mediators. Other costs include the court filing fees for the petition - Harris County charges approximately $300. There will be fees for experts for necessary services such as pension evaluations, appraisals, and fees for consulting attorney.  Preparation of special orders known as qualified domestic relations orders (QDROs) for division of certain kinds of pensions cost approximately $500. 
My rates are purposely low even though I am one of the few Credential Advanced Mediators in the Houston area by the Texas Mediator Credentialing Association.  Why? Because kept my over-head low and I have kept my fees low because the Harris County judges like it!  I get referrals from the judges because of my low rates.  Also, the local family law attorneys like my rates.  My rates are under $300 per side for 4 hours.
There is no exact way to predict how long  a mediation might be. The bottom line is that the higher the level of conflict in the relationship, the more it will cost because more sessions will likely be necessary to come to agreement. Equally, if the couple’s financial situation is complex, more sessions may be required, and more expert opinions may be necessary. If there are minor children, probably at least a couple of sessions would be devoted to developing a parenting plan and appropriate child support.
People want a mediation to fly!  It does not go that way.  People need to get their feeling out.  That takes awhile.  Usually one party is much further along in the emotional process that the one party.  The mediator must let the process unfurl as necessary.  The mediation process is a process.  It cannot be hurried.  The mediator is the person in charge of this process - not the parties.  Often the parties are put into two separate rooms in order to allow them to share their feelings openly and honestly with the mediator.  Even if no resolution is reached at the end of the mediation process, most participants feel that they have been heard and that they were treated with dignity and respect.  Mediation can be a magical process where healing can begin to happen.  It is not therapy and it cannot fix the past.  It can encourage people to look forward and not backward.  
In order for mediation to be successful, the parties must negotiate honesty and with integrity.  All assets and debts must be revealed.  Normally a paragraph is included in the Mediated Settlement Agreement that is anything is "hidden" that it dealt with in the future or it goes to the "innocent" spouse.  That encourages the parties to be honest in their dealings.  Both parties must negotiate in good faith.  Mediation is also not appropriate if one party intends to intimidate or "force" the other to settle.  I have only stopped one mediation in my career when one party wanted me to "force" his spouse to sign the Mediated Settlement Agreement - he then threatened to hurt me & I had to have him removed.  I then had to have his wife taken to a shelter for abused women.  
Not Therapy
Mediation is not therapy.  I am not a therapist.  I encourage people to go to a counselor or therapist. But mediation is not designed to be therapy.  I cannot solve problems in a 4-hour session.  
Mediation provides many benefits over litigation or court-ordered settlements. Mediation is client-centered. The parties control their agreement, which they may shape to accommodate their unique set of circumstances. Mediation is forward-looking, and can plan for the future of the changing relationship between parents and their children. Because long-term compliance rates for mediated agreements are higher than for litigated cases, mediation provides more stability for the children. As circumstances change, the couple is more likely to return to mediation to modify their agreement rather than resort to litigation about the changed circumstances. Finally, mediation tends to be much less expensive and less stressful than the litigated divorce. Mediation reduces the physical and emotional costs of litigation, as well as the financial costs.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Effective 9/1/2013 child support increase if you make more than $7,500/month

If your net income is more than $7,500 per month, effective September 1, 2013, your child support can be raised the next time the other parent wants a child support modification.

The new maximum net income that the Texas Legislature is going to look at is now $8,550/month.

Net income is defined as looking at all sources of a person's income such as employment as well as other sources of income including overtime, bonuses, interest on investments, rental income, etc.  You will need to be able to produce copies of your last 2-3 years of tax returns in order to help the judge (court) determine your gross income so that your net resources can be adequately determined so that your child support can be established.

So the maximum of amount of child support based on the percentage for one child will increase from $1,500 per month to $1,710 per month.

The net monthly income figure to which the above percentages apply are calculated as gross income minus taxes and minus any amounts paid for the child's health insurance insurance.

Generally, in addition to child support, you will be responsible for covering the child on health insurance or reimbursing the other parent for health insurance for the child.

Then there is the uninsured medical expenses for the child - generally shared 50/50 with the other parent.

Child support is calculated as follows:
20% for one child
25% for two children
30% for three children
35% for four children
40% for five children

If there are additional children being supported (not step-children) then these percentages are reduced a small amount.

You can look at my older blog posts on this blog site for these charts where I have shown the calculations when there are other children.

There are some other changes that the TX Legislature made when they met in 2013 to the Texas Family Code.  Overall the 2013 changes were not dramatic to the TX Family Code.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Adult Adoptees in Texas - Opening Adoption Records

Update January, 2015:

A couple of people have emailed me that the suggestions I made have not worked for them. I'm sorry if my ideas have not worked.  I open my adoption file in 2003 and perhaps some things have changed.

I still have not found the file.  I continue to look for my adoption info from 2003.

Original blog:

I moved over a year ago and I cannot find my file with all my information containing what I did to open my adoption file!  I've looked everywhere!  I'm hoping that I will find it soon - maybe if I quit looking it will "pop up"!

In the past 8 months, at least 5 people have called or emailed me about my old blog post regarding my journey to open my adoption record.  The blog post I am referring to is probably 7-8 years old.

Here is a quick summary of 2 of my ideas:

1.  If you are over the age of 18 the State of Texas has a Texas Central Adoption Registry for you to try to locate your birth family.  It costs $30.  Their phone number is 888-963-7111 extension 6279.  Their address is Central Adoption Registry, Department of State Health Services, P O Box 149347, Austin, Texas 78714-9347.

You can "google" this information and all the information regarding how to register for this site will show up.

Please be advised that I registered for this site over 10 years ago when I tried to find my birth family.  Due to some incorrect information, my birth family and I did not connect.  So if you and your birth family incorrect information and/or slightly different information, the employees will not connect you.  I suspect that they don't want to be held responsible for "connecting" the wrong families.  But it is certainly worth a try and it is not a lot of money.

2.  The other idea is to apply for a "Non-certified copy of your original birth certificate" for $10. This is done by writing the Department of State Health Services, Texas Vital Statistics, P O Box 12040, Austin, Texas 78711-2040.  They say on their website to allow 2 months.

You can "google" this information and read all about this birth certificate and get a copy of the forms that you will need to send into Austin.  They do ask for your adopted parents names as well as your birth mother's name.  So if you have not accessed your adoption file, you might not have this information.

Other ideas:

1.  If you had an adoption through an adoption agency, begin there.  Even though they will "black out" a lot of information.  It is the easiest place to begin.

2.  Hire a private investigator.  I did.  I am thankful that I did.  She specialized in helping adoptees. I do not have her name.  It's in the missing file.

3.  Be prepared for the worst.  I'm sure that are happy reunion stories.  Mine was not.  Another friend of mine did not have a happy one either  - she located her bio mom in a homeless shelter.
DO NOT GIVE ANY OF YOUR RELATIVES MONEY!  YOU DO NOT OWE THEM ANYTHING -- a bio mom gave me this information as I started the search for my bio family & it was good advice -- follow it!

4.  Going to Court to Opening Your Sealed Adoption Record --

I recommend hiring an attorney to help you do this!  Please don't do it on your own.

A lot of people attempt to go to court and ask a judge to open their "sealed" adoption records after they turn 18.  Even with a medical necessity, some judges do not want to open adoption records.  Judges in Texas have a lot of discretion.  Once a file is assigned to a specific court, it is impossible to get the file transferred to another court.  Therefore, if you attempt to handle this matter yourself without an attorney and the judge refuses to open the file - DO NOT DO ANYTHING TO UPSET THE JUDGE.  It will come back to haunt you in the future.

I strongly urge you to retain an attorney that knows the judge.  How do you find an attorney that knows the judge?  Great question.  This is often difficult to determine.  It must be done very discretely.  Patience is required.  Do not be a bull in a china shop.  Quietly ask around for the best lawyer to use in that judge's courtroom.

I know that you feel that you are "entitled" to see your adoption file.  Unfortunately, there are some judges do not agree with you.  In fact, they feel strongly that you are never entitled to see the file ever - no matter if you feel it is a life and death matter.  (Somehow your file might suddenly "disappear" - it could suddenly get misfiled somewhere in their voluminous court files never to be found or it might disappear in the bottom of a locked desk drawer -- you never want something like this to happen to your file because it could be "lost forever"!)

That said, there are some judges that will easily & gladly open a person's adoption file.  If  you are one of the lucky ones, count your blessings.  I only get the phone calls from the people that are hitting the brick walls.

5.  If you expect to be greeted with open arms - you probably won't be -- you might be the "secret" that no one talked about in the family!  If you were the product of a rape, an affair or incest do you really want to know?  Be sure you are prepared for the worst before you open this can of worms!  You might consider counseling before beginning this journey.

6.  I do not recommend anyone under 25 years old search out their bio parents.  I was almost 50 years old when I found my bio family.  They were really a screwed up bunch.  I'm really glad that I did not try to locate them when I was younger - they would have really played "head games" with me if I'd been younger and innocent!  I understand why judges don't want to open adoption records for people -- they are actually trying to protect you from yourselves!

Good luck on your journey.  I wish you only happiness and love at the end of your trail.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I cannot control "Google"!

Apparently Google lists me as a Texas Attorney General office!!

I apologize!

I do not work for the Texas Attorney General and never have worked for that agency.

I cannot control Google or any search engine.

I cannot fix this error.

I do not have the phone numbers for the TX A G office memorized.

I also am receiving phone calls for other mediators to schedule appointments.

While I find this amusing, it is frustrating.

Some people are very rude.

While I know the other mediators, I do not know their phone numbers by heart and people get angry that I am not able to schedule appointments.

One lady actually cussed me out for not knowing Doug Warne's phone number.  Ouch!

QDROs in Texas

If you are getting a divorce in Texas and there are retirement benefits to be divided, mentioning these benefits in the Final Decree of Divorce is not enough.

The company will want paperwork that ORDERS them to divide the retirement benefits.  A divorce decree is not enough.  The company's legal department wants to be legally ordered to do certain things. There are special legal forms that ORDER the corporation to divide the money!  (They don't want to be sued by their employee.) You can call the corporation and talk to the human resources department or their legal department for details.

You need a Qualified Domestic Relations Order  (or QDRO) signed by the Judge!

Most attorneys will no longer prepare them.  Why?  Because most attorneys that have been practicing over 10 years have been burned (like me!) because we used to do QDROs and eventually if you do enough of them one of them will blow up!

So there are attorneys that like to do paperwork that gradually evolved that only specialize in doing this sort of paperwork.

I was going to list them -- but once I started looking them up -- I noticed that there are a lot of them & I don't want to forget to list a good one!

So just "google" the terms "QDRO and Texas" and a bunch will pop up.  I'd pick one in your area.

Every major city appears to have one or two companies -- Houston (Spring/the Woodlands), Austin, Dallas, etc. all have attorneys that have ended up specializing in QDROs.

Remember if you don't do the paperwork now then you are only hurting yourself and potentially costing yourself thousands of dollars later!  Or, you could be putting these retirement benefits at risk.

If they are not divided properly now they could be gone later!

So do not delay!  Do it now.  It normally costs around $500 to do a QDRO.  It's money wisely spent now.

Don't put it off.  The judge will sign it as part of your divorce now.  If you don't do it now, the judge might wonder later why you did not do it at the time of the divorce...so just do it!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Update on free (Pro Bono) Legal Clinics in Houston

Here is the latest "gossip" on the free (pro bono) legal clinics in the Houston area regarding family law cases --

Update:  Some of this info might not be correct -- so you need to call & find out what is going on with each of these agencies!

Family law is defined as divorce, child support, child custody, paternity, etc.

Cases such as wills, powers of attorney, living wills, probate, guardianship of an elderly parent, guardianship of a disabled child over the age of 18 are handled in probate court and are not considered family law cases -- these are probate cases.

Texas South University Law School -- no longer has a family law clinic - :(
I'm not sure what is happening at TSU - call them for details regarding their free clinic.

South Texas College of Law -- does not accept contested family law cases & they only accept cases that their students can handle within one semester because they are a teaching clinic-- so they must be easy family law cases. You will be dealing with law school students supervised by professors that are licensed attorneys.

I think they handle uncontested divorces, wills & probate matters, name changes & social security disability cases -- they used to do so -- but sometimes their policies change without notice.

South Texas Legal Aid Clinic

University of Houston Law School -- will accept contested family law cases, but they must fit within the one semester rule (just like STCL) because they are also a teaching clinic.

University of Houston Law Center Clinical Programs

Houston Volunteer Lawyers (formerly known as Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program) -- has a 6 month waiting period if you are accepted into their family law program.  If your case is not a family law case, then the wait time will be shorter probably.    (I worked there many years ago & was a volunteer for many years - now I only mediate so they have not used my services even though I have offered my services repeatedly.)

Houston Volunteer Lawyers

Lone Star Legal Aid - not accepting any new family law cases at the present time but they will give "advice".

ADVA - Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse - accepts domestic violence cases only.

Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse

Disability Rights Inc - accepts special education cases.
I don't know anything about this group - it's a new group to me.

Houston Volunteer Lawyers at 713-228-0732, they will try to refer you to other legal service providers.


Houston Bar Association legal Line
Ask a lawyer a simple legal question
5 pm - 9 pm - 1st & 3rd Wednesdays each month

Houston Lawyer Referral Service
Get the name of 3 attorneys in any area that you need & you get a discount 15 minute consultation then you decide if you want to hire this attorney.
(FYI: I did this in another state when I had a legal problem & it worked wonderful.  I "googled" the 3 attorneys & researched them before I contacted them.  I hired the one that I thought fit my needs the best. )

Houston Bar Association - Family Law Handbook
Excellent handbook - well written in easy to understand language
Available for free on-line - look under "publications" - available in other languages too!
Several other handbooks on other popular topics too!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Will & other estate planning documents

I recommend that every Texas resident over the age of 18 think about have the following legal documents - especially if you are single:

  1. Medical Power of Attorney for Health Care with the Required Disclosure Statement
  2. Statutory Advance Medical Directive (commonly known by most people as a "Living Will") also known as "Directive to Physicians and Family"
  3. Declaration of Guardian in the Event of Later Incapacity 
  4. Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains
  5. Texas Department of Health Standard Out-of-Hospital Do-No-Resuscitate Order -- this is discretionary - do you want to be put on life support? - if you don't, then you need one of these documents! 
  6. A Texas will – probate in Texas is easy & expensive if you have a well written will (for example – the executor must be “an independent executor to serve without bond”.)
I will try to very briefly try to explain these complex legal documents.  I encourage you to talk to an estate planning or probate attorney about these wonderful forms.  

So what are these forms?

The medical power of attorney allows someone to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to speak for yourself.  So if you are in an automobile accident and in a coma, you need someone to speak for you if you are unable to do so.  You don't want the doctors to have to go to court and have a judge appoint a stranger to make medical decisions for you.  What if all of your siblings cannot agree?  So select one person that you know & trust to make decisions for you.  Once you are awake then you are back in control again over your life.  You can select more than one person just in case that person is unavailable.  

The living will tells the doctors what you want or do not want regarding extending your life.  It only applies if you are at the point of death.  Do you want to be hooked up to life support?  You can designate what you want done - pain killers? fluids? anything special or unique? 

The do not resuscitate order - if you don't want to be resuscitated -- you need to remind your family not to call 911 - If 911 is called then they will resuscitate you. EMS is not going to come out and watch you die! However, if you go into hospice this is relevant.  

The guardian form says that if for some reason you are found to be incompetent by a court  of law then who do you want to be named as your guardian. You can select one person to be guardian of your physical body and one person to be named guardian of your money.  Or they can be the same person.  You can also specify the people that you want to be excluded (omitted) as people to be your guardian.  So if you have a friend or relative that you don't trust, be sure to execute this legal document.  You need to be sure that anyone you select can get insurance to be a guardian.  So if the person has bad credit and/or a criminal record, they might not be able to get insurance. I recommend that you select more than one person, just in case.  Plus, they need to be Texas residents.  

The person to control your remains (body) will be the person to handle your funeral arrangements.  Unfortunately, sometimes people "fight" about funeral arrangements. Death/grief can make people behave badly. So select one relative or friend that you trust.  Also, this person has to be willing to pay for the funeral if your other friends and/or relatives don't agree.  So if this person has no money, that might be a problem. Be sure to select someone that is truly willing to assume this burden.  If the person is meek and afraid of fighting with all of the other relatives, perhaps you should not select this person.  I also encourage you to talk to this person about what you want.  Lastly, if you don't have a lot of money, then don't discuss a "diamond" funeral - be realistic. Funerals are expensive.  They can easily run $10,000 or more.  I encourage your family to shop around for smaller funeral homes willing to negotiate - there are some "cheap" companies available if you look on the internet or consider cremation.

In Texas, probate is very inexpensive & easy if you have a properly executed will. (PLEASE READ THAT SENTENCE AT LEAST 3 TIMES!!!) Otherwise, probate is a nightmare - AKA expensive.  The TX legislature, has determined how your estate will be distributed if you do not have a will.  The State does NOT seize your property if you do not have a will.  However, your possessions might not go where you want them to go without a will.  Therefore, please prepare a will and have it witnessed and notarized. Texas has some "strange" requirements that the on-line forms do not include so probate will be more expensive if you try a do-it-yourself will sold on the internet by an out-of-state company that claims they know what they are doing --I bet their guarantee is for 30 or 60 days -- it's worthless when the person is dead!  I urge you to use a TX form and save your heirs a lot of heart-ache!  The executor needs to include the "magic words" --  "an independent executor to serve without bond" or the judge will have to approve everything action the executor does -- that costs a huge amount of money & might wipe out your estate! Hopefully, that will scare you into doing it properly! Just those 7 little words could cost you thousands of dollars if not done properly -- lawyers make thousands of dollars every month because people try to save a couple of hundred dollars! 

Everyone over the age of 18 in Texas needs to have forms prepared and notarized -- some of these forms don't technically need to be notarized -- but I like to have them notarized since it makes them look more "official" and you already have to have a notary there for the will & it shows that you took the time & effort to do it! It impresses your friends & relatives & they tend not to argue if forms are notarized & they were prepared by an attorney. 

These documents should be reviewed every 5 years or whenever you have a life cycle event (like a baby born, marriage or death). 

Why do it every 5 years?  Because you change, people come & go in your life, and your income changes -- if the person that you chose to be your executor is dead -- you need to select someone else -- so every 5 years have a glass one wine & read your documents & celebrate that you are still alive!  

Additionally, if you have more than one will, if the last will is held to be invalid, then the will before it becomes valid.  Therefore, if you anticipate a will contest, having more than one will if often part of estate planning.  Having similar wills shows that you truly intended to leave your estate to the same person & that there was no undue influence. If you anticipate a will contest, hire an experienced probate/estate attorney to assist you.  PLEASE. 

Don't dread revising these documents -- make is a fun, celebration that you are still alive & kicking! Make it a fun, celebration with your friends & loved ones!  Preparing these forms are worthless unless your friends & loved ones know that they exist -- so tell them where the copies are located!  Give someone copies.  Why not turn the execution ceremony into a celebration of your life every 5 years!  Make sure that your medical care providers have copies.  Copies are as valid as originals - except for the will. 

There are some other forms that you can execute -- but I have not listed them.  There is a Statutory Power of Attorney for Financial Affairs.  It is very powerful.  I don't recommend executing this form.  Talk to an attorney before you execute this form. Many people that execute this form regret doing it.  Many financial institutions refuse to honor it unless executed in their office, on their approved form by their notaries because there has been so much abuse.  They are tired of getting sued so their attorneys have refused all forms not executed outside of their offices.  If you are interested in knowing about the other estate planning forms, then meet with an attorney & discuss your particular situation.  I only listed the basic forms above.  

Keep the forms where they can be located in an emergency – such on your refrigerator in an envelope marked – “emergency”.  Don’t put them in a safety deposit box!  Never put them in a safety deposit box - your friends & family need to be able to find them -- I have them on my bulletin board by my back door -- marked in red "EMERGENCY DOCUMENTS" so that anyone can see it if there is a crisis!  It's not a bad idea to keep an extra set in an envelope in the car in the glove box marked in large letters "EMERGENCY DOCS!". 

CAUTION:  Beware of kits sold on-line or in bookstores!  If they were not prepared by a Texas attorney, they might not meet Texas laws.  Probate is a state issue and each state has different laws and requirements regarding a properly prepared legal document.  Don’t try to save a couple of bucks and end up costing your heirs thousands of dollars!

I recommend Attorney W. Kevin Alter at 713-526-2333
I get no money from this referral.
He is very pleasant & gentle.
His rates are reasonable.
He is located at 2020 Southwest Freeway#225 (77098) 
(59/Shepherd Drive)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mediation rocks!

I love mediation!

People come into my office scared.
Some are so stressed that their bodies are rigid.
They look tired and ragged.

I get to let them vent.

I listen.

I want people to have win-win situations.
I never try to set up a mediation where they are winners & there are losers.
I try to set it up so that both parties are set up to win the in future.
I try to do it as fairly as possible.

Sometimes I get to plant some "seeds" about putting the past behind and moving forward.

I encourage people to think creatively.
To be flexible.
To think outside the box.
To develop a sense of humor.
To not allow others to tell them how to parent with their ex.
To throw out the rulebook.
To develop a thick-skin.
To put their kids first.
Love their kids even when they are a huge pain.
Remember when they loved their ex & try to forget the pain their ex caused.
Go into therapy & learn to be a better,stronger person.
Let their kids see a healthy relationship so they develop relationship when they grow up.
Don't let their kids walk all over them.
Set high expectations for their kids.
Don't be a doormat for anyone - learn to set boundaries.
(Lots of advice like that!)

The smart ones listen.
You can see it in their eyes when it "clicks".
They "get" it!

Occasionally, their shoulders soften, they take a deep breath, they actually realize that there is life after their lawsuit is over.  They realize that this situation is temporary.  They want to put the past behind and begin fresh. They feel "lighter".  They have hope for the future.

The smart ones want to quit paying huge legal fees and want their lives to get better.  They want a better life for their children.  They want to do whatever it will take to accomplish this.

Sometimes even I'm amazed at the "crazy" ideas that I've come up with in the middle of a mediation.  The really top-notch attorneys will even get on board & start throwing out ideas!  The attorneys that have practiced law for many years (or are divorced themselves) truly want what is best for the family too.

I've had many people give me big hugs and kisses at the end of a long mediation.  These are the folks that I have the most hope for.  They truly put their kid's interests ahead of anything else.  They are creative and willing to think outside of the box.  They realize that even though their relationship is ending that they will be co-parenting for the rest of their lives.  They just have to figure out how to do it in a new and unchartered way.

I'm proof that it's possible if you have a good sense of humor, be flexible & can think creatively.

My fiance and I just had dinner with my ex's family to celebrate my son-in-law's return from Afghanistan! (Go army!) We had a great time!

Rocket Lawyer website

I've been answering questions for free on Rocket Lawyer for the past few months.

I noticed that they give away free forms.

I looked at their "Waiver of Service" for Divorce.  It will NOT work in the State of Texas.  It does not comply with the laws of the State of Texas.  No Texas judge will accept it.  Please do not use it.

I have not looked at their other divorce forms.

The have a form called Marital Property Division.  Normally we don't use this in Texas.  You will still need a form called Final Decree of Divorce for the Texas judge to sign.  Usually the property division is included in the FDofD - not a separate document - you are truly complicating something that is normally simple!

It appears that Rocket Lawyer is based out of California & their forms appear to be CA forms.  (I don't know this for sure because they are impossible for even me to contact & talk to a real human being! Again this makes me nervous.) Please don't use these forms without talking to an attorney first.  You might be wasting your time.    They appear to not be Texas approved forms!  They might be free - but they are not forms based on Texas laws. Judges like TX forms!

I have only been answering questions to point people in the right direction.

It seems that every answer is - hire an attorney!

The people that ask post questions are asking very complex legal questions that require a personal consultation.

I've said it before & I'll say it again--I don't do my own dental work.  I had breast cancer and I did not do my own surgery - I hired a cancer surgeon.

If you are getting a divorce with retirement benefits or home equity, this usually involves thousands of dollars.  Please don't try to do it yourself.  If you don't do the paperwork properly, you are only hurting yourself.  The judge cannot "fix" it later if you did not word the property division properly.

In an attempt to save money, you might be hurting yourself.  You might be trying to save $1,000 but you might be costing yourself $10,000!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Excellent free website - Texas Young Lawyers

Texas Young Lawyers Website


This website has a wealth of information buried in it regarding numerous topics.

It covers family, probate, adoption, disabled children, etc.

It is an excellent free website for the public.

Check it out...

Divorce Handbook by TX Young Lawyers On-Line for Free

A Texas divorce handbook was written several years ago by the Texas Young Lawyers Association in 2010.

Web site located at 


Look under - Resources then look for General Public then look for Family Law publications  & scroll down --  it is under "pro se divorce" (a small gray booklet that is several pages long)

It is kind of "buried" on their website -- but it is a pretty good booklet & has pretty good free Texas forms for pro se litigants.

The forms were prepared 2 legislative sessions ago so they might not be completely current (I have not reviewed them to see if they are current) but they are going to be better than the out-of-state kits sold on the internet & at office supply stores.  Additionally, it will show you how the forms should appear and how the Texas judges want the forms to look like in their courtrooms.

Do not just print the forms & fill them in.

You need to just use these forms as a sample & then prepare the forms on letter size paper!

Do not "scratch out" or leave blanks -- judges do not like blanks!

You need to fill out the forms completely & accurately.

Remember, you and your family are going to have to follow the orders that the judge signs. These are important forms so don't take these forms lightly.

You and your ex are ORDERED by the judge to follow the instructions in these legal documents.

These are not merely "suggestions" by the judge.  These are court orders by a judge.  You can be held in contempt of court by the judge.  CONTEMPT means that you can be FINED hundreds of dollars and/or jailed if you do not follow the judge's orders.  So, if you don't understand what these forms say, I highly recommend hiring an attorney to help you.

In the long run, trying to save money could end up costing you thousands of dollars in a couple of years trying to "fix the mess" that you have made trying to save a couple of hundred of dollars!

I just did a mediation and found a mistake in the paperwork.  The man had not carefully read his paperwork before signing.  Neither had the TX A G attorney because it was a typo. (I don't know if his ex-wife and her attorney knew or not. ) The man had been overpaying his child support by $200/month for 3 years!  It had been simple math error!  He had not hired an attorney because he thought he could not afford it!  It cost him $7,200! OUCH!

It's a lot like my plumber told me years ago -- he loved "macho men" that tried to fix their plumbing themselves -- he got to charge them a lot more because they "always" mess it up then their wives called him on Monday morning when their house was a total mess -- he said I actually saved myself a lot of money because I called him on a Thursday at the first sign of trouble & I let him do his "magic" !

Harris County Family Forms on-line

Judge Roy Moore, presiding Judge of the 245th Judicial District Court, has on his website many useful forms for pro se litigants.

Look at the bottom of the page (in very small print).

Even if you don't have a family law case in his court, if you have a case pending in Harris County, look on his website if you need a form.

I looked at all of the Harris County judge's websites & he is the only judge to post the most forms.

Thanks, Judge Moore!

To find the Harris County courts, I recommend "googling" -- "Office of the Harris County District Clerk" & "Family Courts".

I noticed that the 308th Court posted a list of court rules -- that would be very helpful if you have a case in that court.

The 309th court a form posted for cases in that court - so if you are set for trial be sure to check that website before you appear in that court.

Judge Moore has the standard Financial Information Statement (aka as FIS) that you will need if you have a Temporary Order Hearing set.

Print it out & fill it out before going to court.  Make 3 copies - one for you, one for opposing counsel & one for the Judge.

By the way, in most of the courtrooms, they have blank forms that you can go by and pick up copies.  So if you have a pending case in a court, I highly recommend going by the court and asking a clerk what forms you might need if you have a hearing pending.  The clerks are not attorneys so they are not allowed to give you legal advice.

Also, sometimes they run out of forms so you might have to go to more than one courtroom to get the forms that you need.

Additionally, just to make it more fun, each judge is allowed to use different forms.  But all they generally use the same FIS form.  They also all use the same BVS Form required by the State of Texas in Austin.

Harris County District Clerk's Office Mailing Address

Harris County District Clerk
P.O. Box 4651
Houston, Texas 77210-4651
Attention: Correspondence

State of Texas BVS Form Link




You need to print the form front & back on the same sheet of paper

This form is required for all cases in the State of Texas to be finalized 

If something is NONE do not leave the space empty -- mark it NONE or draw a line in the space,
otherwise the clerk reviewing the form will be unhappy

Print neatly

Use dark ink

The Costs of Litigation in Family Courts

The Cost of Litigation

Litigation is expensive. Period.  
For example, to be ready for court, your attorney will typically have to prepare for an average of at least three hours in his/her office for every hour spent in court. 
Most clients don't recognize this and they get upset when they receive their legal bills. Many clients complain their attorneys "did not do anything on their case". However, this is not true from the attorney's perspective - the attorney talked to opposing counsel, prepared legal documents, talked to their client either on the phone or responded to their emails/text messages.  Attorneys bill for their time. They expect to be paid for their time.  
This is one of many reasons why it’s in the client's interest to resolve cases through negotiation whenever a good result can be obtained by doing so. Those negotiations can take place in the form of informal discussions between spouses, through settlement discussions between the attorneys or through mediation. 

The Emotional Price of Litigation

In addition to the obvious financial costs of litigation, there are also profound emotional costs for clients and their children. 
Children can be emotionally scarred for life by their parents litigation.  It does not matter if the children are 3, 13, 23, or 33. Divorce is hard for children.  Watching their parents marriage unravel is horrible for children.  Watching their parents behave  and rip each other to shreds is horrible for children.  Children do not want to choose sides.  Children do not want to be placed in the middle.  
I had a case with a suicidal 10 yr. old boy.  He was so tired of his parents fighting that he decided to kill himself.  He kept jumping off his parent's roof.  He kept breaking body parts.  His parents kept screaming at each other "look at what you did" -- neither could see what they were doing to him!  It was a heartbreaking case.  
People going through divorce may experience anger, resentment, sadness and other challenging emotions. It can be hard for spouses to cope with these stresses while also attempting to make rational decisions about the case itself. That’s why experienced and smart attorneys guide clients to make wise choices. The cost of letting emotions drive litigation can be extremely high, both financially and emotionally.  I've seen people spend thousands of dollars fighting over worthless kitchens pots & pans. I resolved a case because a woman wanted the children's turtle -- she wanted just one more thing & the children's turtle was the only thing left to divide.  

Considering the Costs

A spouse seeking to punish the other punishes himself. Consider what such revenge costs – in harm to children, in funds expended unnecessarily, in time wasted – often months or years that could have been invested in recovery and getting on with life. A contentious divorce impacts everyone. Emotion-driven litigation that is aimed at punishing the other spouse will harm you and your children too.

The Attorney's Job

Part of your attorney’s job is to help you determine what is in your best interest and the best interests of your children. In some cases, a "legal battle" may be necessary. If so, the decision should be made based on the facts of the case. Litigation should not be driven by emotion (though such emotions are normal and understandable).  Hire an attorney that you feel comfortable talking with -- someone that listens to you.  Hire an attorney that you trust and have confidence in.  
At the end of the day, the attorney is going to guide you through your divorce and you need have hopefully hired a wise and grounded attorney that look out for your best interests in the long run -- not the short-haul.  
You are going through one of the worst times of your life.  If you have hired a smart and well-respected attorney, the attorney will also counsel you and look out for your best interests when you are perhaps being at your worst. 
When you feel like you are drowning in a sea of doubt and confusion, the attorney should rise about the entanglements and serve as your life-saver to guide you through the unknown,rough waters of divorce.  
When I litigated, I told my clients...I am thinking about where you will be in 2 years...you will be in a much different place...I am here today to protect you.  In two years if you go into therapy and work hard, you will be in a much better place.  
I have actually had 2 people call me and thank me for protecting them from themselves.  They told me that everything that I told them during their divorce came true.  They went into therapy, worked hard and in two years, they were in a much better place...their lives were wonderful, they were co-parenting with their ex's, and their children were happy.  They told me that they had referred everyone they knew to me & that I'd been the best thing that had ever happened to them. Both of them said that I had literally been a life-saver. 
That is why I mediate today...