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BY THE TEXAS BOARD OF LEGAL SPECIALIZATION
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Houston Family Law Blog

Steps to take before and after announcing a Texas divorce

Ending a marriage has been compared to dissolving a business. During the divorce process, a Texas couple divides the assets and debts accumulated during the marriage before going their separate ways. Taking certain steps might increase the likelihood of amicably reaching a fair settlement.

There is something to be said of the Boy Scout's motto to be prepared. Gathering information regarding the joint and separate debts and assets of each party before proceeding with the divorce could ensure that none of this crucial information disappears. Having some indication of how the divorce will go and how long it will take may also help in initial discussions with the other partner.

Determining separate vs. community property in a Texas divorce

One of the most complex, and sometimes frustrating, aspects of ending a marriage is property division. Determining what property is the separate property of each party and what property is marital property can be a challenge. Understanding the difference between each is essential in any Texas divorce.

Not only the property that each of you brought into the marriage is considered separate property. Any money or property inherited during the marriage is also considered separate property, along with any damages for bodily injury or pain and suffering from a personal injury suit. However, what is done with the money or property can affect whether all or a portion of it remains separate property for divorce purposes. It is up to the party making the claim to prove through clear and convincing evidence that the property should be designated as separate.

Woman files paternity case to remove ex-husband as father

Most states, including Texas, presume that the father of a child born during a marriage is the mother's husband. Of course, real life rarely so neatly fits into any definition, even a statutory one. In fact, the highest court of another state has agreed to hear a paternity case in which a woman is asking that her ex-husband's paternal rights be revoked since he is not the child's biological father.

The child was born in 2011, during the couple's four-year marriage, and was nearly 2 years old when the parties divorced in 2013. During the divorce, the husband's parental rights were agreed upon and extensive visitation rights were granted to him. Soon after the divorce was granted, the legal father discovered he was not the child's biological parent. Instead, the father is a man with whom the mother had an affair during her marriage. Apparently, she is currently married to and resides with that individual.

Protect your parental rights in Texas with a SAPCR suit

SAPCR stands for Suit Affecting Parent-Child Relationship. Regardless of the circumstances under which a child was conceived and subsequently born, both biological parents have rights and responsibilities where the child is concerned under the laws of the state of Texas. If you believe you are the father of a child, but the child's parentage is not certain, or you were not married to the child's mother, it is crucial that you protect your parental rights.

Whether the court makes the determination regarding paternity, or the parties come to an agreement on their own, an order must be entered by the court to establish your legal status as a parent. Once the paternity order is entered, you will then need to determine the rights and responsibilities of each parent. Even if the parties amicably negotiate a parenting plan, engaging the services of an attorney could help ensure that your interests are represented and your concerns are adequately addressed.

Wife of Deion Sanders jailed for violating child custody order

During Texas divorce proceedings, a court typically has the last say concerning the terms of a marital dissolution. This includes decisions about child custody, child support, spousal support and property division -- among others. Following the final judgment, the former parties are legally required to adhere to the terms of the divorce decree. Failure to do so can result in significant consequences and, in some cases, can even result in time behind bars.

It turns out this is exactly what happened to the former wife of ex NFL star Deion Sanders. Pilar Sanders, his ex-wife, was recently sentenced to seven days behind bars in a county jail for not complying with a child custody agreement. The judge ruled that she was in contempt of court for ignoring court orders concerning parenting time.

Obtaining temporary orders during the divorce process

Regardless of a couple's financial situation, when the marriage ends, there will usually be a monetary deficit for both parties. The amount of money the couple was sharing is now cut in half, at best. This leaves many Texas residents wondering how they will survive financially during the divorce process. In addition, if there are children involved, the parent who leaves the family home may wonder if he or she will get to see his or her children.

For this reason, Texas courts can issue what are called "temporary orders" that will protect your interests and rights until the divorce is complete. Temporary orders cover a myriad of issues such as child support, child custody and alimony. The court can enter an order regarding who will be allowed to remain in the family home and who will be responsible for paying the mortgage loan. A temporary custody arrangement can be entered to allow both parents access to their children.

What will invalidate a prenup during the divorce process?

A prenuptial agreement is a useful tool for Texas couples that want to establish their financial rights and responsibilities both during the marriage and if the marriage ends. The agreement will be scrutinized by the court during the divorce process. If it does not meet certain standards established by law, it may be declared invalid, which means that the parties will be required to negotiate a settlement or take their disagreements before a judge in the event of a divorce. This is exactly what couples who execute prenups wish to avoid.

Therefore, a couple will need to take the necessary steps to reduce or eliminate the chance that the agreement will be invalid when needed. Like any other contract, a prenup has to be written and properly executed in order to be enforceable. Further, all of the information provided for the agreement needs to be complete and true.

Child custody agreement should include holiday plans

Arguably, the most challenging part of any divorce involving children is figuring out how to continue to be loving parents even though the marriage has failed. Texas parents who are negotiating a child custody agreement may not have any issues regarding shared parenting time under normal circumstances. However, when it comes to holidays, what was an amicable negotiation could quickly become contentious.

For most families, the holidays are full of traditions that have come to signify the joy surrounding them, and each parent wants to be able to continue those traditions even after the divorce. Unfortunately, that may not be possible. Therefore, it is up to the parents to determine how the holidays will be handled and create new holiday traditions for both parties and the children.

Pets are becoming a big issue in Texas divorce proceedings

Now more than at any time in recent history, pets are being treated like members of the family. Millions -- if not billions -- of dollars are spent each year on their care. Now, they are often the subject of contention in Texas divorce proceedings. Data suggests that the most often fought over pet is the family dog.

The problem is that pets are treated as personal property in a divorce court. This means that more often than not, Texas judges apply the rules of property division regarding who will receive the pets in a divorce even though they are often so much more to their owners. Some judges are willing to indulge couples by allowing them to present evidence regarding the issue of who should be awarded the family pet, but they are not under any obligation to do so.

Harold Hamm's ex-wife not happy with divorce settlement

Nearly anyone in Texas who has watched the news lately has heard about the divorce between oil tycoon Harold Hamm and his now ex-wife. Recently, she was awarded nearly $1 billion -- $995 million -- in the divorce. However, she does not think the settlement was fair and is appealing the decision.

The settlement represents about 6 percent of the couple's fortune. The cash portion of the award is to be paid in installments over the course of years, beginning with a $323 million payment by Dec. 31. Hamm's ex-wife was also given two homes with a total value of approximately $19.7 million.

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