Monday, January 30, 2017

Wills and other estate planning documents

Please, please, please... talk to an attorney about a will and other documents that you might need.

Everyone needs a HIPAA release due to the recent changes in the laws that can find doctors thousands of dollars.  Even if married, you need a HIPAA release for your spouse to talk to the doctor.

I also recommend that you think about
1. Who you would (or would not) want to be your guardian if you ever need one
2. Who you want to handle your funeral arrangements
3. Do you want to donate your body to science or leave the option open for body party to be donated
4. Who do you want to make medical decisions if you are unable to talk or communicate
5. Do you (or don't you) want to be put on life support if your death becomes inevitable
6. If you have children, who would you like to be your children's guardian (or not be appointed a guardian)
7. Who do you want to handle your financial affairs if you become unable to do so

I know we don't like to think about it but we are all getting older each day and none of us are getting out of death.  At least, I've never met anyone.

You can save money and family feuds if you designate people to take care of your affairs.

And please don't wait until you are mentally unable to sign legal documents.

Do it now when there is no rush and you have time to think about it.

I encourage people to review their financial affairs and where they are in their life every 5 years.

I had someone listed that moved across the country so I had to revise my documents since he was no longer around to help me.

Going to court and talking to a clerk

A friend just told me that she went to court and got legal advice. I asked who she talked to at the courthouse.  She said a clerk at the window.

Please be advised that the clerk at the window might only have a high school decree.  These people are usually not attorneys.  And, they are not supposed to give legal advise.

In my friend's case, since she did not consult with a real attorney it's going to cost her family a lot of money to fix her problem.

Statutory Rape

All men over 18, beware if you "date" or "talk" to any female under the age of 17.

A child under the age of 17, cannot consent to sex.

Even if they parents given you written permission, it's not enough.

If you are more than 2 years older then the girl then the "Romeo defense" flies out the window.

If in doubt, consult with a criminal attorney.

If you are convicted of sex with a minor then you end up a registered sex offender.

Your future employability will be greatly impacted.

Even if she says she is 17, 18, or 19 -- verify -- don't trust her.  Even if she says she's old enough that is not good enough if you are arrested.

Am I emancipated if I'm pregnant and under 18.

The short answer is No.

You are merely a child having a child.

If you want to emancipate (in Texas we call this "removal of disabilities") then you need to see a judge.

Having a baby does not magically make you an adult.

Texas and residency restrictions

Normally in Texas, most judges will put a residency restriction on the party that has primary custody of the kids.

It is normally the county they currently live in and any county contiguous to that county.

Contiguous means that it "touches" the county.

So for Harris County that would include Montgomery, Ft. Bend, Waller, Chambers, Liberty, Brazoria and Galveston counties.

And Ft. Bend surrounding counties would be different then Harris County and surrounding counties. The surrounding counties for Ft. Bend would be Wharton, Austin, Brazoria, Harris and Waller counties.

Of course, this area is huge so I usually find that it does not work and if agreed by the parties then the area can be limited - say to one county or to even a school district or a geographic area in a city (such as zip code 77024).

It is easier to co-parent and see the kids when you live close together.

Let's be realistic, kids forget their "stuff" all the time and it's much easier to stop by the other parent's home to get the forgotten time when you live nearby versus an hour away.

Texas and Waiver of Service

In Texas in a divorce a person can sign a legal document and have it notarized so they are not served.  It's called "Waiver of Service".

There are at least 2 types:
1. You let the judge know that the judge can go forward and finish the divorce without any more input from you.


2. You want to sign the Final Decree of Divorce or be notified of all future hearings.

Wow! These are very different forms.

Quite frankly, I have modified them many times so there is no one type of Waiver of Service in Texas.

If you sign Waiver #1 then the other party can pretty much put anything they want in the Final Decree --

such as...

for kids --
Sole Managing Conservatorship of the children
no visits or supervised visits
any amount of child support

for property --
the other party get everything and you get nothing
you owe the other party $$

So I don't like Waiver of Service #1 since it's so potentially powerful and dangerous.

I always recommend that a party in a divorce (especially with kids or property) meet with a lawyer and talk about their case.

If you don't meet with an attorney then you have 30 days AFTER the judge signs the Decree to ask for a new trial.  After that, generally the court loses jurisdiction and the case is over and final.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

where to take mediation training in the Houston area

The organization that I can highly recommend to take mediation training is

Dr. Barbara Manousso teaches:
1. 40 hour basic mediation
2. family law mediation
3. elder law mediation
4. arbitration
5. parenting coordination and parenting facilitation

Dr. Manousso has used my professional services in several times in part of her family law mediation training as well as her basic 40 hour mediation training.

How to find a mediator in the Houston area

These are the websites that I recommend you use to locate a mediator in Houston (and probably throughout the entire State of Texas)

Association of Conflict Resolution - Houston Chapter

Texas Mediator Credentialing Association

Texas Association of Mediators


Best free website to find an attorney anywhere in the US

The best free website to locate a potential attorney within the entire United States is...

I use it to locate attorneys in other cities or even states when someone calls me for a referral.

I highly recommend this FREE website.

Information on family law mediation in Texas

I have added several new articles on my website

If you have a family law case in Texas - particularly if you live in or close to Houston Texas then I highly recommend visiting my website and learning more about the mediation process.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Texas Attorney General's office and children

I get phone calls on a weekly basis regarding people thinking about or having already gone to the Texas Attorney General (TX A G) office to establish paternity, set up child support or set up their visitation, etc.

People somehow think that the TX A G is there to help them - for free.

TX A G is assigned to collect child support on behalf of all the citizens of Texas.

The TX A G does NOT represent you or your children's best interests.

The TX A G represents all the citizens of Texas.

Here is the bottom line -- BEFORE you call the TX A G or go to their office you MUST, MUST, MUST meet with an attorney in person and discuss your case.

It will probably scare you to death.

Major complaints seem to be:
1. I did not understand what I was signing
2. I was told I could change my mind but now they say I cannot
3. They lied to me (or omitted vital information)
4. I did not understand what they were talking about
5. I did not get a copy of my paperwork
6. No one explained all of my options to me

Once you sign, you have agreed to what is printed on the paper. If it is NOT on the paper then it's not legally binding.  Once you leave, a judge will sign the paperwork and the case is over.  Within 30 days the case is final and legally binding on the parties that signed.

To fix "the mess" will now require an attorney and the burden shifts to YOU as to why a judge should modify what you already agreed to do.

This burden of responsibilty is not easy to do.  For example, if mom is a stripper and  she becomes a prostitute after the papers are signed - then it's not a change of circumstance.  Therefore, the judge might not modify it.

I beg people to talk to an attorney BEFORE doing anything.

If you want to move and there is a residency restriction - then you are not moving.

If you want a residency restriction and it's not included - then it's harder to get one added later.

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don't go to the TX A G office without talking to an attorney first.

And, be aware that they make promises but never do anything. They are an agency assigned to collect child support. Period. They don't care if you never see your kids. They won't enforce visitation. But they will have you thrown in jail for at least 6 months for missing payments.

Why you might not want to be an agent or power of attorney for someone

Below is the current law in Texas regarding the legal obligations of any person that becomes an agent and/or power of attorney for another person. It is scary - you can be sued. This is why many people refuse to serve -- the liability and risk is just too great.  

So before you agree to be someone's agent or power of attorney PLEASE talk to a lawyer in person about this matter.


Agent's Duties
When you accept the authority granted under this power of attorney, you establish a "fiduciary" relationship with the principal.  This is a special legal relationship that imposes on you legal duties that continue until you resign or the power of attorney is terminated or revoked by the principal or by operation of law.  A fiduciary duty generally includes the duty to:
(1)        act in good faith;
(2)        do nothing beyond the authority granted in this power of attorney;
(3)        act loyally for the principal's benefit;
(4)        avoid conflicts that would impair your ability to act in the principal's best interest; and
(5)        disclose your identity as an agent or attorney in fact when you act for the principal by writing or printing the name of the principal and signing your own name as "agent" or "attorney in fact" in the following manner:
(Principal's Name) by (Your Signature) as Agent (or as Attorney in Fact)
In addition, the Durable Power of Attorney Act (Subtitle P, Title 2, Estates Code) requires you to:
(1)        maintain records of each action taken or decision made on behalf of the principal;
(2)        maintain all records until delivered to the principal, released by the principal, or discharged by a court; and
(3)        if requested by the principal, provide an accounting to the principal that, unless otherwise directed by the principal or otherwise provided in the Special Instructions, must include:
(A)        the property belonging to the principal that has come to your knowledge or into your possession;
(B)        each action taken or decision made by you as agent or attorney in fact;
(C)        a complete account of receipts, disbursements, and other actions of you as agent or attorney in fact that includes the source and nature of each receipt, disbursement, or action, with receipts of principal and income shown separately;
(D)        a listing of all property over which you have exercised control that includes an adequate description of each asset and the asset's current value, if known to you;
(E)        the cash balance on hand and the name and location of the depository at which the cash balance is kept;
(F)        each known liability;
(G)       any other information and facts known to you as necessary for a full and definite understanding of the exact condition of the property belonging to the principal; and
(H)        all documentation regarding the principal's property.
Termination of Agent's Authority
You must stop acting on behalf of the principal if you learn of any event that terminates this power of attorney or your authority under this power of attorney.  An event that terminates this power of attorney or your authority to act under this power of attorney includes:
(1)        the principal's death;
(2)        the principal's revocation of this power of attorney or your authority;
(3)        the occurrence of a termination event stated in this power of attorney;
(4)        if you are married to the principal, the dissolution of your marriage by court decree of divorce or annulment;
(5)        the appointment and qualification of a permanent guardian of the principal's estate; or
(6)        if ordered by a court, the suspension of this power of attorney on the appointment and qualification of a temporary guardian until the date the term of the temporary guardian expires.
Liability of Agent
The authority granted to you under this power of attorney is specified in the Durable Power of Attorney Act (Subtitle P, Title 2, Estates Code). 
If you violate the Durable Power of Attorney Act or act beyond the authority granted, you may be liable for any damages caused by the violation or subject to prosecution for misapplication of property by a fiduciary under Chapter 32 of the Texas Penal Code.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

I married somewhere else and now I live in Texas

In Texas, if you have lived here for at least 6 months then you are a legal resident of Texas.

It does not matter where you married - Las Vegas, Mexico, India, China, etc.

It does not matter if your spouse is not here.  If the spouse has never lived here then the court has limited jurisdiction over the person but YOU can get divorced.

I recommend that you hire an experienced family law attorney to guide you. It's more efficient and the attorney will know what needs to be done to accomplish finishing the divorce.

If your spouse cooperates, it saves time and money but even if they don't cooperate the divorce will eventually be granted after you have jumped through a bunch of hoops.

So look on for an attorney to help you.

Good luck!

How to divorce a missing spouse

In Texas, you can divorce a spouse even when you don't know where they are currently located.

I usually recommend that you try to find the person first. Look on and other social media sites.  I usually don't recommend hiring a private investigator because the attorney appointed will have to repeat all the work done.  However, occasionally a pi can find the person so if you have the money to spend you might try this first.

If you can locate the person, it definitely saves you time and money.

If you truly cannot find them then hire an experienced lawyer to help you.  I think it's too complex to try to do it yourself.  Of course, you can try but I think you will find it frustrating and difficult.  It might not be impossible but I don't see any pro se (self representing) parties successfully complete such a case when I'm in the courtroom.

If you cannot serve them personally then a "publication divorce" will be necessary. It needs to be published in an appropriate way and then the person publishing returns a certificate to the court's file. Merely publishing in your local paper is NOT enough.  You MUST have the certificate of publishing filled out by the newspaper.

Then the judge will appoint an attorney to represent the interests of the missing spouse.  YOU pay for this.  I normally charge around $750 if I am appointed on such a case.  Some attorneys are less and some are more. But normally $1,500 is the highest I've seen it go unless there are unusual circumstances.

The attorney will normally talk to you or send you questions to answer. This information will help the attorney find the missing spouse.  Often people don't realize how much information they have on their spouse that can help locate the person.

What do you need to help find the person?

Full legal name
Other names used
Date of Birth
Location of Birth
Social Security number (even if it's made up - I've found people)
Driver's license number
Career info - (for example - a barber - that requires a license)
Where are the person's parents and/or siblings?
Who is the person's best friend?
Last known address
Last known phone number
Last known employer
Where did they go to high school and/or college (many alumni groups keep info on their alumni)
Photo of person
Where and when did you meet your spouse
Hobbies of the missing person
All social media presence
Criminal convictions (I've found some spouses in prison or jail)

Good luck!