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 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 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...