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?