Thursday, November 19, 2015

2016 rates

My rates for 2016 will remain (unless something changes) at my rate for mediation will remain what it's been for the past several years:

$300 per side for 4 hours - 2 people then $600, 3 people then $900, 4 people then $1,200. This is non-negotiable. The more parties -- the more work.

If we go longer than 4 hours then it's $75 per person per hour.
The parties control the process.  At the end of 3-1/2 hours if people want to end then I can declare an impasse. If they want to continue, then I expect to be paid for my work.

No personal checks accepted.

I accept cash, debt or credit card or attorney check.

No billing - payment is due at the time the service is performed.

I expect a $150 per side non-refundable deposit per party paid at least 3 hours before the actual mediation.

Due to the no shows for pro se (no attorneys) mediations, I have been forced to require a non-refundable deposit of $300 BEFORE I will even schedule the mediation on my calendar.  (Sorry but I've been abused my no shows and I want to know that you are committed to the process.)

I do offer discounts, totally at my discretion.

Example, if a person is disabled military on limited income, on disability with no assets then I have been known to discount my rate.  No freebies. I find that people need some "skin" in the game.  During the mediation is I determine the person has financial resources then I reserve the right to eliminate my discount or terminate the mediation due to misrepresentation.

I do lots of pro bono through the Dispute Resolution Center, Lone Star Legal, Houston Volunteer Lawyers and South Texas College of Law -- I don't do involuntarily pro bono (free) work.  So don't ask.

Based on my level of experience and training my rates are way below market price. I know it.  My husband says that I'm worth much more.  So do not attempt to negotiate with me. I know the market, I know my competition and I'm really good at what I do.  If you want to negotiate or get a freebie, look elsewhere.

I have shown a commitment to keeping my prices affordable to everyone.

Contacted again to be on a pilot t.v. show

Approximately 4 hours years a production company (that actually has shows on cable t.v.) contacted me about being their "mediator" on a new tv show.  Unfortunately, they wanted a "Judge Judy" type.  I tried to explain to the gentleman that mediation is not yelling at people - it's helping people resolve their issues in creative and non-aggressive ways.
Mediation is no 5 minutes and done -- it's a slow process that often takes time and patience to fully develop. I actually made it through 3 rounds with the "producers" but they lost interest in me.  So far no "mediator" tv show has made it to my cable provider so I suspect that what the producers wanted and what competent mediators could actually produce were in conflict.

Today I received a call from another company that does similar shows. (I have actually watched several of their productions on my local Comcast cable tv). They want to do a show about teenagers and emanipation.  I told them that obviously they don't understand the Texas Family Code since emancipation of minors is extremely limited and very difficult.

I talked to a very nice gentleman for over 15 minutes and I have agreed orally to proceed with "discussions".  Since it's a national show I would not appear as an attorney and give legal advice. I would give "common sense" advice to families with teen-agers.  I suspect these families would be in "crisis".  We are going to "skype" soon -- he promised me that he could help me "skype" since the last time I tried "skype" it did not work.  I prefer Facetime.

After being a lawyer almost 25 years - 5 of which were at Houston Volunteer Lawyers where I handled anything that walked in the door - I feel, at my age and on my third marriage, being a parent and, briefly, a step-parent,  that I can easily give people advice! As I always say on my free phone consults -- my opinion is worth what you pay me.

Of course, if they don't like me I highly recommended Attorney Rose Cardenas.  She is often interviewed for Spanish speaking tv (not just in Houston) and she is the "queen of sound bites".  I've watched a couple of her interviews and she "nails" it every time.

Maybe Rose and I should be the dynamic duo!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

2015 Top Houston Family Law Attorneys by Houstonia Magazine

Here is the list of attorneys listed by Houstonia Magazine as a "top family law attorney" in Houston:

Benee Bellue

Paul Calzada

Lennea Cannon

Shannon Cavers

Thomas Conner

Laura Dale

Holly Davis

Cynthia Diggs

Judy Dougherty

Thea Fabio

James Gilbreath

Shari Goldberry

Daniel Gray

Liza Greene

Erin Groce

Hal Hale

Debra Herndon

Michael Hiller

Reginald Hirsch

Joseph Indelicato

Denise Khoury

Lacy LaFour

Diana Larson

Erik Larson

Allecia Lindsey-Pottinger

Luis Midence

William Moore

Susan Myres

Stephanie Proffitt

Mary Quinn

Mary Ramos

Judy Ritts

Leonard Roth

Donald Royall

Barbara Lynn Schnack - no longer takes private cases - works for Harris County DRO

Lindsey Short

Matthew Skillern

Christopher & Spofford

Angela Stout

Harry Tindall

Norma Trusch

Hilary Unger

K Nicole Voyles

Laurden Waddell

Brian Walters

Sam "Trey" Yates

Most I know & many of them I've mediated with -- a few I do not personally know. 

When hiring an attorney you need to be aware that the Harris County Family Lawyers group is a tight-knit "family".  We might be on opposite sides, but if someone has a problem or issue, the other family law attorneys will always work together to handle the matter in a professional and ethical manner. In Texas, attorneys are held to a professional code of conduct and all judges expect us to follow it.  

If you need a family law attorney, check on, look on the State Bar of Texas website to see if your attorney has any discipline issues with the State Bar and visit their websites.  Also, check with friends and family on who they used and liked.  

Be aware that Texas law is changed by the Texas legislature every 2 years and what happened in your friend's case 10 years ago might not happen today.  So hire someone that goes to court often, knows all the judges and their personalities and is reasonably priced.  Family law is expensive and can run into thousands of dollars.

What no one tells you is that over 90% of all cases settle at or before mediation since most people cannot afford to go to trial.  If you want a trial anticipate $15,000 minimum and more if you want a jury trial.  Plus, judges dislike jury trials because they back up their docket so they will put you off until their calendar is clear - could be over a year to get a first trial date with a jury trial.  

Many judges now require mediation prior to even setting temporary orders and definitely before trial.  I often mediate a case 2-3 times before a trial setting.  I don't settle them all but I save folks a ton of money and a lot of time.  Always consider mediation before litigation.  

How much does a case cost? At $350 

2015 Houston Magazine lists top Houston mediators

Here is the list of mediators listed as "Top Houston Mediators" by Houstonia Magazine:

Jeffry Abrams

Ron Bankston

W. Robins Brice

Fran Brochstein - me!!

Sherri Cothrun

Tammy Manning

Michael Wilk

That's 7 out of the hundreds of mediators that live in Houston!

Plus, I did not pay any money for this endorsement.

I am proud to be included on this short list of mediators that I know & respect.

Thanks Houstonia Magazine - my 3rd year in a row being listed on their attorney lists!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

9 things to consider when hiring a family law (divorce) mediator

There are many people that advertise on the internet as mediators.

No one "licenses" mediators. Therefore, anyone can call themselves a mediator.
So do your research before hiring a mediator.

Anyone that has completed the basic 40 hour mediation training can call themselves a "certified mediator" since they received a "certificate" when they completed this basic course.

I take approximately 25 hours each year in Texas family law and another 25 hours in mediation training.

So...would you hire a 16 year old that just received their driver's license to drive your car or would you want someone that has extensive training and years of experience to borrow your car?

This is what I look for when I personally need to hire a mediator:

1. Knowledge of the laws of the state that I live in.

Many mediators are former attorneys.

A person does not have to be an attorney to be a mediator.

However, it's important to pick someone that understands current laws in your state.  It's time consuming and difficult to keep current on state laws.  I suggest that you hire someone that has current up-to-date information on your area of conflict.

2. Someone that is familiar with the judge and how the judge usually rules.  The Texas Family Code is used throughout the State of Texas -- but each judge is different and has a lot of latitude in their interpretation of Texas laws. So what works in East Texas probably won't work in Harris County.  So know your judge!

Even though the mediator does not give legal advice or make decisions for you, they should be there to offer you "common sense" advice and "reality test" the issues that the parties are discussing.

I've seen many people offer to pick the kids up on Friday at 6 pm but they don't get off work until 7 pm - there is no way that is going to work and the parties need to discuss these decisions before entering into unworkable arrangements.

Some mediators just write down whatever the parties say and no one takes the time to actually think about how the family is going to function AFTER this matter is finalized.

3.  Someone what is not "afraid" of issues regarding potential domestic violence.

I see a lot of mediators that will not touch any case where there might be a sliver (or potential) of physical or verbal abuse.  Unfortunately, abuse and possible abuse is the reality of the practice of family law.

Hire someone that has taken advanced training in domestic violence and conflict resolution.

I mediate cases where there is a protective order in place -- but I take pre-cautions and have the parties arrive and leave at different times.  They are never allowed to interact with each other at the mediation.  I keep the parties separated.

Don't assume that a mediator will automatically do this - many mediators always have the parties in the same room and that might not be appropriate for your case.

4. Someone that does not want to "deal" with "feelings" of the parties.

Every relationship that ends has hurt feelings involved. Anger, fear, panic, retaliation occurs in family law cases - it's something that might need to be addressed.

How can a person make major life decisions unless their fears (or concerns) have been addressed?

Some mediators are "lazy" and only want the easy cases.  They don't like people getting vocal or difficult to deal with -- I don't use these type of mediators.

5. Price - a mediator can charge whatever they want to charge.  So shop around for pricing.  Prices can vary from free (Dispute Resolution Center) to over $2,5000 per side for an 8 hour mediation.

6. Location - Pick a location convenient for everyone. Harris County is huge and you could select a mediator over an hour away from you - so look before you book.

7. Availability - Mediators pick their own schedules.  Some will only do one mediation per day. Others only work at their mediation practice on a part-time basis.

Some mediators do 3 mediations per day - that limits you to a short 4 hour session.  If you don't finish then you will need to pay for and schedule a second session.

8. Flexibility - Each mediator is different.  Some are more flexible than others.  So look around before booking a mediator.

9. Involvement - some mediators just write down what you agreed to do.

If they are not an attorney, then they will not file the Mediated Settlement Agreement with the court.

The burden falls upon you to do so.  If it's not entered at the courthouse then the value is limited.  If the judge is unaware a Mediated Settlement Agreement has been signed then it's worthless.

Also, a Mediated Settlement Agreement needs to contain certain "magic" words.  I've seen some mediators that are new forget these essential words - if not done then it's revokable.

In summary, select your mediator carefully.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

New TX Family laws now include electronic communication

Effective /1/15 expands the scope of prohibited actions that may be contained in a temporary restraining order granted during a Texas divorce proceeding. 
The list of prohibited actions will now include prohibiting parties from communicating and threatening each other via electronic voice transmission, video chat, or electronic messaging such as email, social media, etc. 
The definition of property now includes intellectual property and electronically stored or recorded information.
Once a divorce is filed and these orders are put in place, divorcing parties are prohibited from cussing each other out in email, opening the other spouse’s email and reading it, forwarding the other spouse’s email to anyone, deleting any email or other electronic evidence, using the password of the other spouse to access any electronic information, and/or deleting anything off of social media.
COMMON SENSE ADVICE - Don't post anything on social media that you don't want the judge to read! Basically, stay off social media entirely! And, if you post beware that even if you delete it is information that can be shown to the judge.  Judges don't like people that post "nasty" things on social media. 
So, here is the "basic" list of the usual things to avoid doing -- effective 9/1/15. 
(1) intentionally communicating in person or in any other manner, including by telephone or another electronic voice transmission, video chat, in writing, or electronic messaging, with the other party by use of vulgar, profane, obscene, or indecent language or in a coarse or offensive manner, with intent to annoy or alarm the other party;
(2) threatening the other party in person or in any other manner, including by telephone or another electronic voice transmission, video chat, in writing, or electronic messaging, to take unlawful action against any person, intending by this action to annoy or alarm the other party;
(3) placing a telephone call, anonymously, at an unreasonable hour, in an offensive and repetitious manner, or without a legitimate purpose of communication with the intent to annoy or alarm the other party;
(4) intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to the other party or to a child of either party;
(5) threatening the other party or a child of either party with imminent bodily injury;
(6) intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly destroying, removing, concealing, encumbering, transferring, or otherwise harming or reducing the value of the property of the parties or either party with intent to obstruct the authority of the court to order a division of the estate of the parties in a manner that the court deems just and right, having due regard for the rights of each party and any children of the marriage;
(7) intentionally falsifying a writing or record, including an electronic record, relating to the property of either party;
(8) intentionally misrepresenting or refusing to disclose to the other party or to the court, on proper request, the existence, amount, or location of any tangible or intellectual property of the parties or either party, including electronically stored or recorded information;
(9) intentionally or knowingly damaging or destroying the tangible or intellectual property of the parties or either party, including electronically stored or recorded information;
(10) intentionally or knowingly tampering with the tangible or intellectual property of the parties or either party, including electronically stored or recorded information, and causing pecuniary loss or substantial inconvenience to the other party;
(11) except as specifically authorized by the court:
(A) selling, transferring, assigning, mortgaging, encumbering, or in any other manner alienating any of the property of the parties or either party, regardless of whether the property is:
(i) personal property, real property, or intellectual property; or
(ii) separate or community property;
(B) incurring any debt, other than legal expenses in connection with the suit for dissolution of marriage;
(C) withdrawing money from any checking or savings account in a financial institution for any purpose;
(D) spending any money in either party’s possession or subject to either party’s control for any purpose;
(E) withdrawing or borrowing money in any manner for any purpose from a retirement, profit sharing, pension, death, or other employee benefit plan, employee savings plan, individual retirement account, or Keogh account of either party; or
(F) withdrawing or borrowing in any manner all or any part of the cash surrender value of a life insurance policy on the life of either party or a child of the parties;
(12) entering any safe deposit box in the name of or subject to the control of the parties or either party, whether individually or jointly with others;
(13) changing or in any manner altering the beneficiary designation on any life insurance policy on the life of either party or a child of the parties;
(14) canceling, altering, failing to renew or pay premiums on, or in any manner affecting the level of coverage that existed at the time the suit was filed of, any life, casualty, automobile, or health insurance policy insuring the parties’ property or persons, including a child of the parties;
(15) opening or diverting mail or e-mail or any other electronic communication addressed to the other party;
(16) signing or endorsing the other party’s name on any negotiable instrument, check, or draft, including a tax refund, insurance payment, and dividend, or attempting to negotiate any negotiable instrument payable to the other party without the personal signature of the other party;
(17) taking any action to terminate or limit credit or charge credit cards in the name of the other party;
(18) discontinuing or reducing the withholding for federal income taxes from either party’s wages or salary;
(19) destroying, disposing of, or altering any financial records of the parties, including a canceled check, deposit slip, and other records from a financial institution, a record of credit purchases or cash advances, a tax return, and a financial statement;
(20) destroying, disposing of, or altering any e-mail, text message, video message, or chat message or other electronic data or electronically stored information relevant to the subject matter of the suit for dissolution of marriage, regardless of whether the information is stored on a hard drive, in a removable storage device, in cloud storage, or in another electronic storage medium;
(21) modifying, changing, or altering the native format or metadata of any electronic data or electronically stored information relevant to the subject matter of the suit for dissolution of marriage, regardless of whether the information is stored on a hard drive, in a removable storage device, in cloud storage, or in another electronic storage medium;
(22) deleting any data or content from any social network profile used or created by either party or a child of the parties;
(23) using any password or personal identification number to gain access to the other party’s e-mail account, bank account, social media account, or any other electronic account;
(24) terminating or in any manner affecting the service of water, electricity, gas, telephone, cable television, or any other contractual service, including security, pest control, landscaping, or yard maintenance at the residence of either party, or in any manner attempting to withdraw any deposit paid in connection with any of those services;
(25) excluding the other party from the use and enjoyment of a specifically identified residence of the other party; or
(26) entering, operating, or exercising control over a motor vehicle in the possession of the other party.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

FIND GOVERNMENT OFFICES IN YOUR COUNTY is an internet database of county government offices in the United States. 

Use this site to locate your county assessor, board of elections, chamber of commerce, child support offices, colleges, coroner, courts, and much more, with all relevant details.

Texas websites for info on family law and divorce in Texas - lots of resources about family law in Texas - a short informational guide about splitting financial assets, like annuities, during a divorce - a more general website about divorce with many articles, blog posts and a community forum - all forms on this site have been approved by the Supreme Court of Texas and judges must accept the form if properly filled out.  Also, a lot of excellent information for Texas residents on many topics. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

What is child abandonment in the State of Texas?

I get asked this question almost weekly from folks.

So I looked it up in the Texas Family Code.

Chapter 262 - Procedures in Suit by Governmental Entity
Subchapter D - Emergency Possession of Certain Abandoned Children
Section 262.301-307

This is the only chapter that the General Index of the Texas Family Code addresses "abandoment of children".

It basically covers what happens when a child is abandonment at a hospital or other emergency care provider.

I often ask a follow-up question when I'm asked this question - what do you hope to accomplish?

The answers are basically one of the 4 below:

1. I want to terminate his/her parental rights.

Ok. Generally in Texas (not 100% -- but it's not easy) a judge will not terminate a parent's rights unless there is a new person in the wings ready, willing and able (must be able to pass a criminal background check and the child has to want to be adopted by the person if the child is old enough to speak).

In Texas, normally a fiance cannot adopt. If you want the new person to adopt then get married and wait approximately a year.  Why? Because if the new person adopts and then you divorce since that person is now the "father/mother" you will be co-parenting with that ex-spouse.  And that spouse would be paying child support and carrying health insurance just like the prior parent did.

Most courts frown on "bastardizing" children. If you were to die then your child would be an orphan without anyone to raise the child.  Judges don't like leaving a child a possible orphan.

If the parent is current on child support then it is very hard to terminate a person's parental rights.

Parental rights are taken seriously in Texas and there are several hurdles to overcome this basic human rights presumption.

Termination normally requires a lot of work and an attorney to represent the child's interests. You have to pay for it. It is not cheap. Most attorneys that do this sort of work charge several thousand dollars. I normally warn people that if they don't have $5,000 for legal fees and expenses then they need to think a long time before filing a lawsuit to terminate parental rights.

I'm not saying it's not impossible -- but it's not easy.

Also, merely because you want to terminate your parental rights a judge will probably not do it.
Both parents are supposed to financially support their children.

2. I want to make all the decisions regarding the child.

Again, most judges expect parents to co-parent with the other parent.  You might be apart but it does not mean that the other parent is "forgotten".

The child is 50% you and 50% of the other parent.

I have seen in some pretty horrible custody cases where a judge will change custody if one parent refuses to co-parent effectively with the other parent. Again,. it's not easy to lose custody but it has been done in Texas courts.

3. I want him/her out of my life.

See #2 above.
That is not a valid argument.

4. He/She is difficult and is "controlling".

See #2 above.
This is not a valid argument.
If the other parent is "controlling" there are options like for communication between the parents to avoid nasty and hostile communications.

You might also seek counseling to learn how to work with difficult, controlling people.

In summary, abandonment is a term that lay people use but that family law attorneys rarely use.

If you need more information, you need to schedule a meeting with an attorney in person to discuss your options.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

La Porte Police offer safe exchange for children & to meet strangers to sell/buy items

Exchange Safety Zone now offered by LPPD to area residents

July 2015 marks a new era in camera-monitored safety for La Porte residents. 

Now placed along the front parking lot of the LPPD Police Facility, located at 3001 North 23rd street, is a citizen exchange safety zone, which will allow area residents to make property exchanges and on-line initiated sales transactions in a well-lit public area which is monitored by police surveillance cameras. 

Additionally, while civil in nature, child custody exchanges can also occur in the digitally monitored section.

The exchange zone is LPPD’s response to a national trend in violence and theft offenses during the exchange of property, stemming from various on-line exchange sites, such as Craigslist, E-Bay, and others. 

Essentially, some criminals pose as traders, then rob or assault other parties when an exchange of property was initially agreed upon. Now, with safety zones popping up across the nation, various transactions can occur in relative safety. 

Moreover, with police facility zones, such as the one offered by the City of La Porte, should a citizen experience any problems during the transaction, they are but a few feet away from the front door of the police department. 

Equally important, police can immediately ensure video evidence is secured for any investigations and/or criminal prosecution.

For more information on LPPD’s citizen exchange safety zone, or if you have been a victim of crime related to a property exchange, please contact the LPPD Criminal Investigation Division at 281-842-3173.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

$300 per side for 4 hours - mediation fees

My 2015 mediation fees are:

$300 per side for 4 hours ($600 total)
Then if we go longer than 4 hours, $75 per side per hour ($150 total)

I do not bill so payment is due at the time of the mediation.

I also charge a cancellation fee of $300 if the mediation cancels with less than 72 hours notice.

No discount if the mediation settles in less than 4 hours.

I offer free parking, snacks, drinks & a safe secure environment in which to discuss your concerns.

If you need a free mediator, try the Harris County Dispute Resolution Center or the Harris County DRO.

Montgomery County and Ft. Bend counties have their own free mediation services.

Need to divorce someone in Mexico or South America - call this attorney!

If you need a family law attorney to handle a case in Mexico or another South American country, I would call...

Don E. McClure, Jr., PLLC
Attorney at Law
8866 Gulf Freeway, Suite 440
Houston, Texas 77017
(713) 571-7777 phone 
(713) 223-0501 fax

I recently was appointed by a court to find a missing husband in Venezuela. Don represented the wife who lived in Harris County. He did an outstanding job sending all the papers via Federal Express to Venezuela along with having all documents sent in English and Spanish.

I wish every attorney that I worked with was a responsive, quick and professional as Don McClure. He was a true pleasure to work with on this unusual case.

Not many Houston attorneys will do divorces that involve people in other countries. Don did an outstanding job representing his client.

We were able to get his client divorced easily and quickly in front of the judge.

I told Don that I would add him to my blog so that hopefully other people could find him.

Tell him that Fran sent you when you call him!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

List of DWI attorneys in Houston area

A friend needed a DUI attorney and I got a bunch of names.
I don't know most of these folks  -- so call and see if you like them & what they charge -- I'm listing them because other attorneys recommended them from a post on a facebook attorney group that I belong to.

Tim Greene

Johnny Venza

Sean Darvishi

Eddie Cortes

Johnny Papantonakis

Allen Cease

Wilvin Carter

Larry McDougal

Jeff Heintschel

Steve Shellist

Elan Levy

Grant Scheiner

Mark Theissen

Allette Williams

C A Palumbo

3 types of mediation exist

Understanding the three styles of mediation can help you understand the mediation process better.

There are pros and cons to each and many mediators use one or more types during the mediation process.

There is not one form that is better than another.

Most family law attorneys prefer the evaluative style. 

Facilitative Mediation:  This was the original style of mediation and is still in use today. The goal is to help parties reach an agreement based on information and understanding. Attorneys might participate, but the disputing parties are in control of designing the resolution. 

Evaluative Mediation:   Mediators point out weaknesses in each case and predict the outcome of litigation. Disputing parties have a bit less control, but this is still an effective way to settle a dispute because it provides a no-nonsense view of the situation.

Transformative Mediation:  This is the newest style of mediation and is based on empowering and recognizing each party’s concerns and needs. The benefit of this style is its ability to transform the relationship of the disputing parties. Parties are in control of the outcome, there is no pressure or threat, and when all is said and done, the relationship could continue and flourish.

I tend to use evaluative with a bit of facilitative and transformative thrown in. In family law mediation, I find that emotions run deep and that they must be dealt with before true negotiations can occur. It is not my job to determine who is telling the truth - the judge does that. I only give people options to move forward in the future with less frustration and aggravation. I often say "I don't have a horse in this race" so I'm not truly invested in the final outcome. I like to "reality test" -- if you spend $10,000 on a trial but only get $2,000 back then how is that a good use of your money?

I recently did a mediation between a consumer and the owner of an automotive repair shop. The owner of the shop was livid because after 25 years of being in business with only happy customers he was being sued. Sure it was a business lawsuit but he could not discuss settlement until I listened to his hurt emotions at being sued. His reputation meant everything to him and being sued hurt him deeply. We eventually settled but not until he got all the "stuff" off his chest. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Spousal Maintenance aka spousal support in Texas

When deciding whether to order an award of spousal support, also known as alimony, in the state of Texas, the family court will examine a number of factors, such as if domestic violence has occurred within 2 years before filing,  the parties’ financial conditions, their family situations, and the length of the marriage.  

To learn more read the Texas Family Code Chapter 8 on Maintenance. 

Texas law provides that one of the several factors the courts should consider when ordering an alimony award is whether the parties have been married at least ten years, and whether without spousal support, the party seeking it will not otherwise be able to earn an income or have sufficient property to provide for the persons minimum reasonable needs.

Generally, the length of the marriage impacts the duration of spousal support payments. In most cases, if the parties were not married more than ten years, spousal support payments will not be ordered for a term of longer than five years. If the parties were married for at least twenty years, spousal support may be ordered for up to seven years. If the parties were married more than thirty years, spousal support payments will typically cease after a maximum of ten years.

Of course, these factors are considered with a multitude of other elements, and each case will be decided differently. The duration of the marriage, however, is carefully considered.

Texas also imposes a limit on the amount of maintenance – usually around 20% of the spouse’s average monthly gross income.

At mediation, parties can vary from the Texas Family Code regarding the duration and amount of spousal maintenance aka spousal support. 

spousal maintenance.  

Child custody and Child Visitation in Texas

Resolving custody and visitation issues is the most emotional phase of a Texas family court case.  

In most cases, the parents are nervous and scared as they await the court’s decision on the issues involving custody and visitation.  

Many parents may be unaware as to the factors the Texas family courts consider in these decisions. No case is won or lost on one issue. The parent complaining will need to show an ongoing and repeated problem. And the mistake must be within the last 2 years. I've seen men that have felonies get custody of their children because their prison time happened 15 years ago and they have been employed and leading a clean life since getting out of prison. 

The best interests of the children take priority in any family court decision.  

The Texas Family Code does not define "best interests" so it's left up to the judge to determine what that means. Each judge has their own opinion of what this term means. Plus, appellate courts have limited grounds to reverse a lower court judge. Appeals are expensive and take a long time.

To determine which arrangement is in the children’s best interests, the family courts examine a number of factors.  These include the parent’s relationship with the children, the health of the parties and the children, the residences of the parents, whether there is any history of abuse, and the ability of the parents to provide financially for the children. 

Texas law also allows children over the age of 12 to meet with the judge in chambers and state their preferences.  However, it is left to the discretion of the family court judge whether to consider the child's opinion when making the final decision.

For example, one judge met with the kids and came out with a piece of paper hand-written by the Mom on what they were to say to the judge. The mom did not get custody.

Many judges will appointed an attorney to represent the child's interests in contested family law cases. This attorney is called an amicus.  Both parties pay for this attorney's services. Their fees start at $500 and go up to $25,000 or more. Many run $1,500 - $5,000. It's a lot of work. And both parties usually hate the amicus if the person tries to do their job. Normally the judge appoints an attorney they know and respect. Even when the amicus charges a reduced legal rate because there is so much work involved it can easily run thousands of dollars. Judges expect these people to be paid in full. 

Issues involving the children are never set in stone.  After custody and visitation issues are finalized in a case, should a substantial change in circumstances occur, the parents may seek a modification the family courts.

Often when a child reaches puberty, custody changes. This happens all the time - especially when boys want to see their Dad's more.

Many people are unaware that it's important to get as many "rights and duties" as possible regarding the children. You can ask that most of the rights be independent or by agreement with a tie-breaker if the parents cannot agree.

And a parent can elect for an EXPANDED POSSESSION ORDER - this gets the non-custodial parent around 45% of the time with the kid. It does not mean that the non-custodial parent won't pay child support! 

It is presumed JOINT MANAGING CONSERVATORS in Texas. This term does not mean that one person won't pay the other child support.

Child support is for the child - the custodial parent is not getting rich off of child support - especially a parent that is paying for daycare and diapers then usually their child support is less than diapers, formula and daycare.

Both parents are expected to contribute to their child's needs. So many stay-at home parents have to go out and get a paying job. 

Many times the stay-at home parent ends up living in poverty because they cannot make what the other parent used to make. It's not fair but I've seen it happen many times. I often suggest that people stay married if they want their lifestyles to remain the same. 

When a family breaks up, there are now 2 rents, 2 utilities, higher grocery bills, higher clothing costs for the kids, etc. Breaking up a family is expensive. (It's cheaper to keep her/him.)

I encourage people to read the many Texas family law websites out on the internet. Please don't talk to your friends and family unless they are family law attorneys - corporate attorneys tend to give poor advice! 

Look on the Houston Bar Association's website for their free family law booklet.  Look on for some good basic Texas family law information. There is even the Texas Attorney General website. There are many Texas child support calculators on the internet.

If you are from another country or another state, you are in for a huge surprise. You are now in Texas and Texas is not in step with many states regarding allowing our children to leave the state.

If you re-marry, get transferred or want to move to be closer to family, then the other parent will be given custody and you can "visit" your child and pay child support. It does not matter if your new spouse is in the military and being transferred, if the other parent was an active parent then the kids might go to that parent. And women do not always get primary custody just because they gave birth. Texas is a gender neutral state. When I litigated I represented 50% men and I got many men custody. For example, I mediated a case where Mom traveled all over the world on a weekly basis and dad stayed home with the kids for 15 years. Dad never worked. Mom could not believe that she would not get custody and that she had to split all assets 50/50. Welcome to Texas! 

I've seen judges on many occasions issue a writ of habeas corpus for the child when one parent has left the state and not appeared at the Texas hearing. Most Texas judges want the children to live close to both parents so that both parent can co-parent their child.  If a child was born in Texas, then the child remains a Texas resident for 6 months after he/she leaves the state. Texas will win the jurisdictional argument in the new state. (And yes I've been involved in a case where the Texas judge called the judge in another state and demanded "his child back now"! Much arguing and screaming occurred but the child was returned to Texas within 2 days.)

In child custody and child visitation cases, never assume anything. Otherwise you might look like make a huge mistake. 

Before you do anything, talk to an experienced family law attorney in YOUR county.

If you want a creative resolution to your child custody or child visitation case, then consider mediation. Mediators do not have to follow the Texas Family Code which Judges are required to follow.

Termination of Parental Rights in the State of Texas

The termination of parental rights is a decision that is not taken lightly by the Texas family courts.  

In fact, the person whose rights are going to be taken away is given every opportunity to try to maintain them. Being a parent is a fundamental right in the US and courts frown on removing a person's parental rights.

When a parent’s rights are terminated, that individual’s parental duties cease as well.  The parent becomes a "stranger" to the child. They have no rights to ever see the child again until the child is 18.  However, when the child becomes an adult at 18 then the child can reach out to them.

Therefore, the family courts must have clear and convincing evidence that certain events have occurred before parental rights will be terminated, and the parental duties will end.

Due to several reversal of cases many years ago where a person's parental rights were re-instated by a higher court, the trial court judges bend over backward now to make sure everything is done properly to avoid appeal. It destroyed several children that were returned to their bio parent many years after the termination was done -- the kids were "ripped away" from the only family they had known and placed with the bio parent. At least one judge told me he would never ever have that happen again as long as he was on the bench! He saw the destruction of the children first hand and it impacted him years later. 

Many judges will not terminate a parent's parental rights - why? Because if the one parent left dies then the child is an orphan. Sometimes a bad parent is better than no parent.

If a person has made bad decisions such as drugs, alcohol, driving drunk with the kid in the vehicle, shop-lifting with the child, child endangerment, etc. the parent might have their rights limited and their visits supervised.
Many large counties in Texas have agencies that supervise visits. Normally the other parent does not do the supervising.

I've seen the judge on very rare occasions make a list of things that a parent must accomplish before any visitation of any kind occurs - such as successfully complete a long drug treatment, successfully complete anger management classes, complete some intensive parenting classes, random drug tests for 1-2 years, etc.  But recognize that this limited visitation is rare -- normally the person came to court drunk, stoned, yelled at the judge, threatened to kill the anger management Executive Director, got thrown out of supervised visitation due to their bad behavior, current on probation for injury to the child in question, or something similar. Being a "jerk" is not enough!

If a parent has abandoned the child and has expressed no intent to return, the courts may decide to terminate the parent’s rights.  Additionally, if a parent either places or allows the child to stay in an environment that is dangerous, parental rights may be terminated.  

The family courts will also consider whether the parent has stopped supporting the child, whether the parent has been convicted of a crime involving the harm of a child, and whether the parent has signed an affidavit that expresses a desire to have parental rights terminated.  
Other events may also be considered.

If the family court determines that grounds for termination has occurred, the parent no longer has an obligation to support the child.  This means that any child support orders will cease, and the parent may not be ordered to pay support in the future.

If you have any questions, talk to an experienced family law attorney in your county. Each judge is different (they are human beings with their preferences) and each case must be presented in such a way that it will impact the judge. 

Merely being a bad spouse or having had an affair(s) is not grounds to terminate. 

Preparing for Mediation - Some basic thoughts

Mediation is part of the law known as alternative dispute resolution or ADR. 

Mediation is efficient, cost-effective, flexible, and a definite alternative to going to trial. It often allows clients to resolve disputes in a confidential, less formal and costly fashion then preparing for a trial in front of a judge.  It can also save time since most judge's trial dockets are full and you have to wait for a free date - which could be months.   

Understand that mediation can work in your favor - Just because you are confident in your case does not mean all of your evidence will come before the judge. The other attorney can object and try to prevent the testimony from coming into evidence. Also, written statements are not admissible - the person must come to court and testify under oath before the judge. Yes, some judges allow testimony by phone but if the other attorney opposes it then the judge will probably not allow a witness to testify by phone. Judges in Texas are elected and they tend to give something to both parties in a family law cases. I rarely see anyone get 100% of what they ask for -- it happens but the other side must really misbehave in the courtroom and "piss" off the judge.  Plus, most judges hear only the worst of cases (child endangerment, child injury, domestic violence, etc.) so if you think a judge really cares about a spousal dispute regarding temporary orders or division of the martial estate you might be disappointed. Judges expect reasonable people to settle. Plus, if you have a large estate (over $10 million) are you sure you want a judge that probably makes under $200,000 a year to hear your case?

  1. Mediation is not a war, it’s a collaborative effort – Many people have unrealistic expectations - they think that only one person wins and the other side loses. If there are kids involved, then the biggest losers are the kids - not the parents. As my dad said, once you have kids you are never truly divorced. Mediation is meant to be cooperative problem solving or cooperative bargaining. Cooperative bargainers identify interests and examine differences in how the parties value items. Then the mediator and the parties work together to find a solution that satisfies everyone.  It's often said that if both parties hate the mediator at the end of the mediation and both feel they lost that that is a good mediation. There are no winners in family law cases -- yes the attorneys get paid but many people spend thousands of dollars and only receive a few hundred dollars in reimbursement. You need to spend your hard earned money wisely. Be prepared to talk at mediation. I often tell the attorney to just let the client talk. You should have notes to cover all the most important items that you want to accomplish at mediation. For example, in the 4th hour if you mention a new item (I need $50,000 in cash immediately) I usually discount it -- if it was truly important to you then I suspect you would have mentioned the money in the first hour of the mediation. Also, don't get greedy - constantly wanting one more thing will muck up negotiations. Remember, pigs get fat -- but hogs go to slaughter - so don't be a hog! 
  1. Calculate your risks – Because the mediation process is interest-driven, you need to focus on identifying the underlying motivation for each goal. This helps you manage your expectations. For example, do you really want his 1966 Camero or do you just not want him to have it because he loves that car -- perhaps it should be sold and the profits split equally. Or, perhaps you should get something else to off-set the car he loves. I once settled a mediation over a turtle for the kids to have at their Mom's house - she needed just one more thing & the only thing left were the kid's pets! Make a list of your must-haves, your wants, and your wildest dreams. 
  1. Alleviate your fears – Educate yourself about the mediation process and try to understand that although it’s voluntary, it enables the parties to completely control the outcome. My website ( has an article on the first page that I wrote several years ago for a paralegal presentation I gave in Houston for several years. It's still a good article. Mediation affords you the opportunity to state your case, voice your emotions and discuss "hear-say" would the judge could never hear.   Go sit in a courtroom one or two days and watch what happens. It is eye-opening and will make you much more flexible and realistic. I encourage everyone going through a divorce to spend a day or two in court, but no one wants to do it -- you will be shocked at how boring the courtroom is and how painfully slow a trial goes - especially a jury trial. You might also see a judge lose their temper -- never a pretty site. Judges are humans and each judge has certain topics that forces them to see red - could be drugs or child abuse. Issues like "being unfaithful via email/text only" is usually not that big a deal. 
  1. Be open-minded – There are more always more than one way to solve a problem. Think outside the box. Think of many options to resolve your family's issues. Be flexible. Be creative, Think about the ultimate goals and outcomes you desire. For example, do you want to make sure your kids get their college education paid in full? Then even though Texas does not allow child support after a child turns 18 or graduates from high school there are other options - college bank accounts where the spouse sends a quarterly or annual statement to the other parent, life insurance, etc. 
  1. Ask “why” questions – Understand your real motivations and knock down “positional walls” to gauge your most important interests and wants. In divorce mediation, there are often similar interests like custody and property. Each spouse has different routes and motivations for achieving those goals. Sometimes it takes help from the attorney and mediator to help budge the parties and reach a resolution. If both sides walk away from a mediation session not getting everything they want, the mediation was successful. Many people leave mediation totally exhausted because they have worked so hard to resolve their difference. It's very hard to do and the mediator knows it.
  1. Find out your real fears – What are you truly afraid of? What do you want to avoid? Look at the strengths and weaknesses of your case. Every case has strengths and weaknesses - if you say there are no weaknesses then you will probably have a hard time at mediation and/or trial. For example, if Mom is a bad/negligent parent and you stayed married to her for years and let her stay home drunk/stoned with the kids then how do you expect that to reflect in a positive manner on you at mediator or in front of a judge?  You want to go into the mediation with your best foot forward and that includes strong preparation for your strengths and weaknesses. Many people have what I call "unrealistic" or "boogie man" fears. For example, many mothers fear that the child will be hurt while the child is alone with dad. If the baby is under 3 years old they cannot communicate well but a teen-ager can call "911" or tell you if something bad happens. Courts cannot deal with "unrealistic" fears. Judges only want concrete, immediate fears -- if it happened more than 2 years ago and you stayed in the relationship then it must not have been that bad. If it was truly bad, you would have left then. 
  1. Does you secretly want to maintain the relationship? – This can impact the final settlement and your interests. If you still wants to maintain a somewhat positive relationship with the other party, you will need to bargain for things that don’t offend or upset the other side. If you  don’t want to salvage the relationship, then your bargaining room widens.Realize that the other side might be "playing" you and once they get everything they want that they will drop you like a hot potato - be warned! 
  1. Research your mediator – Google, LinkedIn, Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, their website, their blog and asking your attorney are excellent ways to research your mediator. Find out how that mediator operates, what they expect, and whether they are biased. You want to find someone who will give you the best chance for success. Recognize that mediators understand that everyone tries to put on their best face, most people don't tell the truth, attorneys attempt to manipulate them, etc. and the mediator deals with this behavior on a daily basis. Recognize that most decent attorneys settle before mediation. So mediators tend to see only "bad" bases.  And, recognize that judges only see the really bad cases that mediators cannot settle. Some judges will send you back to different mediators two or more times before they will let you have a trial date. Judges know that mediation works and most use it to keep their dockets moving. 
  1. Anticipate counter-arguments – Run through different scenarios to determine the other party's opinion and counter-arguments. Be creative. Have these responses planned ahead of time in a way that allows you to play defense and still be able to steer the conversation back to your side. For example, I will ask one spouse - what is the worst thing your spouse will say about you? After they answer, I ask them is it true?