Updated Child Custody Law: Closer to Equal Possession Order
S.B. 1936 is the New Child Custody Law Amending Beginning and Ending of Possession to Further Closer to Equal Possession Time
Equal parenting time and 50/50 custody orders are the goals of legislation affecting the Texas Family Code in the recent 87th legislative session in Austin, and the updated law provides for closer to an equal possession order giving more parenting time to possessory conservator parents. Republican lawmakers were presented with testimony regarding the best interests of children and the goal of creating closer to equal parenting time to foster important close parent-child relationships with mothers and fathers after divorce in Texas.
The new law updates the alternative beginning and ending times that the non-primary parent, also called the possessory conservator, has with the child, as stated in the Expanded Standard Possession Order. Now parents living 50 or fewer miles from the primary residence of the child get at least 46 percent of possession time in the new Expanded Standard Possession Order schedule for overnights, weekends, and alternating holidays. Parents in custody suits can make their agreement to adopt a standard plan or make their own. When the Judge must order a custody arrangement, they can apply the updated Expanded Standard Possession Order or, if in the best interest of the child, the judge can order any alternative custody schedule. The change in the law was effective September 1, 2021, and it does not itself qualify as a basis to file a modification case.
The Barrows Firm attorneys are available to explain parent’s rights and options in child custody matters. And when it looks like equal parenting time is likely, we can help make it work for your family. Call Attorney Leslie Barrows with questions and consultation requests (817) 481-1583.
Psychology Today: An Essential Tool to Protect Kids From Conflict in a Divorce (The parenting plan is one of the important tools of successful co-parenting.)
Changes Apply to Possessory Conservator Parents Who Live 50 or Fewer Miles from the Primary Residence of the Child
In North Texas, it is more feasible than in the past to transport children among parents within 50 miles of one another, and with so many new lanes of interstate and toll roads, people are moving further out from cities and working more hours from home. That said, the possessory conservator parent still must get the children to and from school, friends, church, and whatever extracurricular activities they have going on when they are with the possessory conservator parent. This for some means driving up to 50 miles each way to school and activities. Some people can make it work, but not everyone. If the parent has flexible work schedule and location options, this situation can be feasible.
More frequently a possessory conservator parent with visitation time chooses to live closer to the primary parent with whom the child primarily resides. This makes taking children to school much easier. Everyone can find a balanced work and family schedule and situation that works so that parents and their children have the greatest amount of quality time together.
New Changes Affect the Expanded Standard Possession Order
Child custody cases pending as of September 1, 2021, and filed thereafter, are subject to the new closer to equal parenting time provisions in S.B. 1936. To understand the options, first note that there is a Standard Possession Order (SPO) which can be increased to an Expanded Standard Possession Order (ESPO) essentially giving the possessory conservator more parenting time with the child. These possession orders specify exactly when each parent has possession and alternating holidays.
Possession order schedules are designed to create stable schedules for children during the school year, minimally disrupting children during the week so they can focus on school. The parties in a child custody suit have the option of agreeing with one another about one of the possession orders or they can create their custom possession schedule. When the parents are not able to agree, judges use their discretion in ordering an appropriate possession schedule such as the new ESPO, with close to equal parenting time.
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Increased Possession Time for the Possessory Conservator
With the change in the law, the possessory conservator will have more visitation time with their kids when they live up to 50 miles from the child’s primary residence. The new law gives the possessory conservator visitation time of 46 percent with the additional overnight visitation.
Courts Have Discretion to Decline Applying the “New” Expanded Standard Possession Order and Parties in a Child Custody Suit Can Opt-Out
Texas district court judges presiding over Texas family law and custody cases have the discretion to override the new law if they believe the additional time is not in the best interests of the child. The travel times between parents’ homes are an example of something that could adversely affect the child’s schedule. Access to vehicles and public transportation could be another factor in opting out of the new law. And if the possessory conservator parent did not have regular time with the child before the suit, and is more of a stranger, that can be good cause for a judge not to order a nearly 50/50 custody arrangement.
The New Possession and Access Rules Are Not Alone Sufficient to File a Modification Suit
In custody and visitation cases that are already settled and there is a final order regarding conservatorship and possession and access, a new modification suit would be necessary to change that order. Modification suits are new actions and to have the standing to be granted a custody modification, the parent bringing the suit must prove a material and substantial change in circumstances. This new change in the number of visitation overnights in the new Expanded Standard Possession Order is not itself a basis to file a modification suit.
Looking for Equal Possession in Child Custody? Call the Barrows Firm in Southlake (817) 481-1583.
Gray Divorce: Middle-Aged and Senior Couples Parting Ways
Gray Divorce and Unique Issues in Senior Divorces in Texas
Divorce in Texas is becoming more common among men and women who are 55 and older, the category often called Gray Divorce. As children leave home and start their own lives, some spouses find themselves wanting different things with their time and future. Some became like roommates over the years and neither recognize what used to be a loving marriage. And with so many couples both working in their careers, it is increasingly common to part ways with financial independence.
People are living longer and once kids are raised there are new opportunities. Being 55 years old is considered young among many, with many great years ahead. With advances in health and technology, we are living our best lives well into our middle and senior years, with all kinds of roads to travel. Some people feel inspired to reinvent themselves on their own, possibly in a new place, considering new work or volunteer positions. When the kids are well on their own, it can be time to join the gray divorcee club.
Both spouses may be working and have financial independence. Generations ago, when more families were single income-based, the stay-at-home spouse, usually the wife, might not have had been in a good position to get divorced from her husband. In modern times, women have independent careers and finances to support their current and future needs, making divorce much less worrisome.
Stigmas about divorce have changed over recent decades. In the somewhat recent past, divorce was taboo in many faiths and among members of the communities, especially in smaller towns. Today North Texas is a modern collection of cities and towns with all kinds of people. And with technology, it is easier to meet new people. As divorce has become more accepted in society, the fear of what people may think or say, becomes less of a concern.
Spouses can drift apart and may find new partners. That which attracts people to one another can change over time. We often feel obligated to feel guilty not claiming to still love our partner the same way we did when walking down the aisle. The truth is that marriages take work and constant effort. Another truth is that people want different things over time. It may not be anyone’s fault when a marriage reaches its expiration, it just may be a matter of life.
The divorce attorneys at the Barrows Firm understand middle-aged and senior divorce issues and have the experience and resources to counsel clients on the best path to achieving divorce goals while preparing for the next chapter in life. Make a consultation appointment with Attorney Leslie Barrows and learn your rights and options.
Why Older Couples Are Divorcing, Making Gray Divorce a Thing
Expectations of marriage and marital success are changing and men and women acknowledge their happiness or lack thereof. At points in a marriage, people often ask themselves whether they accomplished their goals. If the couple falls short, why? Is someone more committed to reaching goals while another is fine to settle for less?
When the kids are raised and out of the house, some couples end up looking at each other and thinking, “Now What?” Ideally, empty nesters can re-engage in each other and spend time in activities they both enjoy. But not everyone wants to engage. And when one is holding the other back it can be time to call it quits.
Financial issues lead to gray divorce when expectations are broken, often over many years. Saving for retirement is important but some people have little to show for their financial efforts. When one is a spender and the other a saver, the arguments over the years can lead to the decision to divorce. For some, going at it alone can be easier, especially when being in control of your own money.
Real Estate Issues in Gray Divorce in Texas
Many gray divorce issues focus on money, property, and future needs. Community property subject to division in divorce can include real property, money in accounts, investments, business interests, and more. The important decisions can involve whether one of the parties needs cash liquidity for their needs, versus being okay with long-term investments. Asset valuations are necessary to understand the complete financial picture, so the best decisions can be made about dividing property and assets in a way that makes sense and helps the client reach their personal goals in their gray divorce.
Making the most of your money heading towards retirement and taking a pension is crucial. Downsizing is a goal of many middle-aged and senior couples, for the benefit of saving money when no longer needing a larger space to raise children. However, it might not be the best time to sell a family home. Many couples in gray divorces are focused on their equity and assets taking them through their senior years. The focus must be on the future, and after divorce, we can control our ability to stick to the retirement plan.
Real estate markets present many options, especially in North Texas. With rising home prices, the marital home might be worth much more, putting more cash on the table to divide. But when the inverse is true, it might be best to hold onto a home and rent it out if that makes financial sense. Deciding what to do next could involve buying a smaller property or a condo. And for many, renting makes sense, and on fixed incomes, it can be a great choice.
Health Issues Affecting Decisions to Divorce, and Future Health Concerns for Middle-Aged and Senior Divorce
Over years of marriage, some people keep their health and wellness a priority, and others let themselves go. Ongoing health conditions can keep couples from being active and enjoying life. Some people seem to age quicker than others, and it can be an issue leading to divorce.
Substance Abuse Disorder issues can affect all marriages, and cause gray divorces. With age, it is harder for many to handle substances and addiction becomes a problem. Many people have a breaking point and after the children are grown and on their own, it can be much easier to say no to someone who won’t act to get help for substance abuse.
Future healthcare needs can impact divorce decisions for middle-aged and senior men and women considering divorce. Medications, doctor visits, and general healthcare expenses can add up as we age. Making sure we have the best options for available medical care and insurance is important. Making sure you discuss these issues with your divorce attorney is important.
Gray Divorce Rights and Options: Contact the Barrows Firm in Southlake for a Consultation (817) 481-1583
Changing Schools or Moving: Time is of the Essence
Changing Schools and Districts, or Moving Before the2021-2022 School Year
Monday, August 16 is the first day of school in many districts, including Carroll ISD, and some parents are changing schools. While most students will be back with their friends and neighbors, some students will be going to a different school this year. While current events and concerns motivated many making different school choices, many others spent the summer buying and selling homes, with historically low-interest rates and high values on Southlake area homes that made moving very appealing for some and changing schools and districts can be part of the process.
Meanwhile, recent school board election races were spirited and there were many issues on which parents voted and made their opinions well-known. Among the concerns of parents with primary school-aged children were health andCOVID-19 policies and protocols, as well as issues about diversity instruction and critical race theory instruction. In a divided culture, it is not a surprise that some parents wanted to pull their kids out of Carroll ISD, while others have been doing whatever they can to enroll their children in the district. Changing schools and districts is not uncommon, and parents have several options.
Relocating into another district, working to change what district kids attend, and deciding to change from district-zoned schools to different educational options are increasingly common occurrences. Parents who are divorced and co-parenting can work together on school choice issues, or they can battle one another and fight it out in court. However, the family decides to handle school choice situations, there are policies and procedures along the way.
The family law attorneys at the Barrows Firm in Southlake are well-versed in school choice issues. Attorney Leslie Barrows and Attorney Amanda Roark can help parents with issues involved in changing schools, school districts, or moving before or near the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.
Education Bills Passed by the 87th Texas Legislature
The Texas Association of School Administrators published a recent collection of new education laws that have either been assigned by Texas Governor Greg Abbott or are awaiting signature or final adjustments. Many of the new laws that amend the Texas Education Code focus on the safety and welfare of children. New changes in education laws also expand or limit the powers of independent school districts.
Which Parent Has the Right to Determine Where Children Will Attend School?
When parents divorce in Texas there are parental rights and duties appointed to one or both parents. Parental rights are determined either by agreement of the parties in a custody lawsuit or by the Order of the Court. If both parents are joint managing conservators, they both have decision-making authority over school and educational decisions. But if one parent is the sole managing conservator, they have the sole power to make schooling decisions.
Importantly, one parent over the other usually has the legal right to determine the primary residence of children and that is important in figuring out which schools are options for children. In Texas, the residence of the child determines the district school system assignment. In some situations, a short move a few streets down means the children may be going to a different school district. Texas independent school districts have the authority to determine whether a child may stay in that district even despite a recent move.
Can Parents Change School Districts Without Moving?
Generally, a child must attend the school district where they reside. The school district administrators can use transfer agreements to allow students to attend school districts other than the one in which they reside. A parent asking the district to make such an allowance must present good cause as to why their son or daughter needs to be in one school district versus the other. The student’s best interests and academic performance are primary concerns. The issues over mask mandates and diversity training might not be sufficient to convince administrators to allow a district change. Larger districts with more options to move students around may be more amenable to these requests. A common request is to keep a child in the school in which they are currently enrolled despite a recent move that might be within the district or close by where it is determined an allowance is reasonable.
When Can Parents Change School Districts?
Assuming a parent has the legal authority to move the child to a new school district, the changes should be done before the beginning of the school year. That said, things happen in life and job changes and extraordinary circumstances can be reasons for districts to allow students to change schools and enroll in another district. These situations are handled on a case-by-case basis and parents who anticipate making changes should not wait until the process becomes more difficult. Notifying the district administrators promptly is important.
School Options in Texas: District-Zoned Schools, Magnet Schools, Charter Schools, and Private Schools
District-zoned schools are free to attend for the students who reside in the specific neighborhood or zip code. These schools are the default option for students whose parents do not otherwise request a transfer or apply to have their children rolled in another type of Texas primary school.
Magnet program schools are public schools that are free to attend and offer special programs and educational curriculums such as college-preparatory, performing arts, engineering, and other focused-areas of study. Magnet schools often have waiting lists and students must apply and be accepted to these programs.
Charter schools are also public schools but they are not managed by local school districts, which makes them unique. While they are free to attend there may be fees for special programs. Like magnet schools, charter schools have applications for admittance and certain priority area preferences apply to students living in certain areas.
Private and religious schools are non-publicly funded schools and have control over their programs and educational curriculum. Private schools charge tuition and many have scholarships to which students can apply and help defer some of the costs. Interviews and testing processes are common in private schools which may also have religious affiliations.
Need to Change Schools or Districts? Moving? The Barrows Firm in Southlake Can Help in Negotiating with Co-Parents and Making the Best Decisions for Children and School Choice (817) 481-1583.
Foster Care Parents Can Intervene in Texas CPS Cases
Intervene in Texas CPS Cases: Foster Parents Join the Case
Foster care parents can intervene in Texas CPS cases under certain circumstances. When children are suspected to be abuse and or neglect victims, CPS (Texas Child Protective Services) steps in to investigate the situation, and when in the best interest of a child, removes the child from a parent or parents and places the child in the Texas foster care system. It is possible to start an original lawsuit as a foster parent if you have standing, meaning the legally established right as a proper person to bring the lawsuit. It is also possible to intervene in an existing case when the legal standards are satisfied.
Foster parents are not the only ones who can file a lawsuit to intervene in a Texas CPS case. A stepparent, for example, can petition to intervene in a CPS matter when the other parent is having issues causing CPS to get involved. Grandparents can also assert standing to sue for custody and visitation rights under the right circumstances. Note that not all foster parents are strangers to the children in their care; many foster parents are related to the children they seek to foster and adopt.
When CPS investigates and makes a positive finding of abuse or neglect, the professionals involved in making foster placement determinations will try to keep children with known family members and friends with whom a child has an established relationship.
See the Adoption Page with FAQs on Our Website: Adoptions in Tarrant County
At the Barrows Firm in Southlake, Attorneys Leslie Barrows and Amanda Roark, advise and represent both people seeking to intervene in Texas CPS cases, as well as those who may be on the other side, responding to another person trying to intervene in an existing CPS matter or an originally filed petition affecting a parent-child relationship and parental rights.
Standing: Will You Have a Legal Right to Intervene in a Texas CPS Case
Intervening in a Texas CPS or lawsuit affecting a parent-child relationship requires legal standing to be involved in the case or file an original lawsuit as a foster parent. Standing means that a person has a personal stake in the controversy at hand. In family law matters involving children, standing also involves the Court examining the relationship a child has with the person who wants the Court to recognize their standing to sue for rights and to adopt the child.
Parents naturally have standing to be involved in a CPS case. Established legal guardians also have the standing to intervene. A person who cannot already asset standing through a parent or guardian relationship must petition the Court to first recognize whether they have standing to get into the CPS case to foster and adopt a child.
Foster parents proving standing have two options to intervene in a Texas CPS case. First, they can file an original lawsuit as the foster parent if they can prove the child was in their placed care for at least12 months and that time is within 90 days of filing the petition to intervene. Second, standing to intervene is possible if the person filing can prove past substantial contact with the child, and prove the parent or both parents would threaten the child’s health or emotional development if those parents are joint managing conservators.
Learn More From Our Article: CPS Investigations During a Divorce
Actual Care, Control, and Possession of a Child for Determining Standing
There is a standard of proof in Texas legal decisions involving issues of standing for foster placements, conservatorship issues, and possession and access to a child. The Courts require a non-parent, non-guardian, seeking standing to show actual care, control, and possession of a child to intervene in a Texas CPS case.
Factors proving actual care, control, and possession of a child:
· The child lived in the home with the person seeking standing, on a consistent and frequent basis, often shown by having their own space and sleeping arrangement when staying overnight.
· The foster parent seeking standing supports the child financially, providing food, shelter, clothing, medical, and schooling expenses.
· The individual seeking standing of the child participates in the child’s education, drives them to school, and helps them with schoolwork and extracurricular activities.
Based on the circumstances, there are all kinds of possible situations to show the foster parent or individual seeking standing to become a foster parent or adopt, can show their actual care, control, and possession of the child involved in the CPS matter.
Attorney Leslie Barrows Speaks on a Podcast: Adoption Laws and Procedures in Texas with Attorney Leslie Barrows
Responding to Another Trying to Intervene in a Texas CPS Case
When talking about parental rights, it is important to always consider the importance of mothers and fathers being involved in the lives of their children. To remove children into foster care, and to terminate the parental rights of a parent are significant events. As a family law attorney working with all kinds of Texas CPS cases, there are so many situations that an outside person really cannot understand, not walking in the shoes of another. And defending the rights of a parent is something that should also be taken very seriously.
The Barrows Firm family attorneys are experienced and aggressive when necessary to help clients win. And we hope we must work hard to prove the alleged facts and law that applies in every case involving a child and their best interests. And whatever side on which we are representing someone, we expect a proper legal procedure and application of the law to the facts in every situation. At the end of the day, only the family and people directly involved in peoples’ lives can understand complex family relationships and dynamics. That said, we do all we can to protect natural parents, foster parents, and children.
To Intervene in Texas CPS Cases and to Learn About Adopting Foster Children with the Barrows Firm in Southlake, Call to Schedule a Consultation Today (817) 481-1583
Terminating Child Support in Texas
How to Terminate Child Support Obligations when Children Becomes of Age or Graduates
Child support in Texas can be straightforward and follow the guidelines, and be easily collected and distributed until the child either turns 18 or graduates from high school at which time it is proper to terminate child support in Texas. The child support order, withholding, and payment systems make paying and receiving support easy. However, some people make their arrangements outside of the Court system, and if there is a co-parenting or personal breakdown of relationships, it becomes necessary to address child support duties with a lawyer, in Court. At a hearing to set current support or calculate retroactive support and past due arrears, a judge can make a ruling, or the co-parents can enter into an agreement to be presented to the Court to become an order.
Terminating child support obligations is not automatic. While the obligation to pay may naturally terminate on the date of the child turning 18 or graduating from high school, there is still a Court procedure to terminate support obligations and make plans to settle on the payments any amounts outstanding. At the Barrows Firm in Southlake, our Texas family law attorneys work with clients who need to go to court to terminate child support obligations. And in most cases, this is an easy process, but sometimes there are issues and some amount of payments for past-due support are ordered.
Barrows Firm attorneys work with returning clients as well as new parents who just need to terminate child support. We can represent parents with these needs in the Court that retains jurisdiction over their original family law case where child support was originally ordered. Some people have moved to DFW from other areas and other states where support orders were originally entered and we help with all of those processes and procedures.
Got COVID-19-related Income Issues? See our recent article, COVID-19 Child Support Issues, and Options
About Texas Child Support Withholding Orders and Payments
Child support in Texas is calculated based on a percentage of the average monthly net resources of the noncustodial parent and the number of children for whom the custodial parent receives child support payments. Child support is ordered for the benefit of the child and their general, medical, and dental needs and expensive. When the Court orders child support to be paid, the judge uses a Child Support Income Withholding Order that is sent to the employer of the parent paying support. The among of child support is withheld from that obligor’s paycheck and is sent to the Texas Attorney General Child Support to Division for direct distribution to the parent receiving support. Texas family attorneys like Leslie Barrows and Amanda Roark, advise and represent their clients in the process of setting correct child support amounts in divorce and family law cases where child support is an issue.
When Can Child Support Payments be Terminated in Texas?
The Texas Family Code determines when the duty to pay child support ends. The noncustodial parent paying child support is responsible for payments until the child turns 18 years old or graduates from high school unless there is another agreement in writing and ordered by the court that uses different dates to terminate support.
While reaching adulthood and graduation from high school are the two most common grounds for terminating child support, there are other reasons child support payments can be terminated in Texas law. Additional grounds are the marriage or death of a child, or the removal of disabilities if the child is or was found to have disabilities. The Code also provides for child support termination if the child enlists in the armed forces. And in cases that genetic testing proves the obligor is not the child’s genetic father, the obligation to pay support is terminated.
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How to Stop Child Support Payments in Texas? It Is Not Automatic.
When a child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school, contact the family law firm to begin the procedure to terminate child support payments. Just because the obligation “terminates” upon a qualifying event, that termination needs to be done legally, through the Court, to stop the income withholding. The payments for child support obligations are collected by the Texas Office of the Attorney General Child Support Division. The attorney files a Petition to Terminate Withholding for Child Support and serves the filed copies of the same with the other parent.
At a hearing on the petition to terminate child support, the Court will review the status of child support payments and order the employer to terminate withholding for support. Assuming that the child support payments are current, and it is verified that the child reached the age of 18 or graduated from high school, the payment obligation ends. However, there may be back owed past-due child support obligations and those arrearages must be addressed.
What Happens with Past Due Child Support, Arrears, Interest, and Retroactive Support
Texas child support law states that the Court has the power and authority to take enforcement action for any back child support still owed. The past-due amounts are called arrears. At a hearing to terminate child support, the Court will likely order the arrears to be paid. If the current child support withholding order includes an amount paid monthly towards arrears, that amount may continue, or it could be increased to catch up quickly and become current. The incentive for a child support obligor to pay support on time is the interest that accrues on missed child support payments, at the rate of six percent.
Retroactive support can be ordered by the Court if the parent had not previously been ordered to pay support or was not a party to the suit in which child support was calculated and ordered. There are all kinds of reasons that child support payments were not set and ordered. There are times that unmarried parents make informal, direct payments, and have different arrangements from what they could expect by going through court. In some situations where there is a dispute about the amount paid in child support in determining arrears and retroactive support, there might be an overpayment in which case the obligor could ask the court for an order to return support monies and attorney’s fees if appropriate.
With Questions About Child Support Orders, Obligations, and to Terminate Child Support in Texas, Call the Barrows Firm in Southlake (817) 481-1583
Computers, Hard Drives, and Technology Issues in Texas Divorce
Technology Issues in Texas Divorce: Issues with Computers, Hard Drives, and Online Accounts
Recently the attorneys and staff at the Barrows Firm had a computer crusher recycling company come to the office to destroy a hard drive in a divorce, one of the frequent technology issues in Texas divorce. After the hard drive was destroyed, the company issues a proper certificate as evidence of what was destroyed and a guarantee that no personal information remained on the device. While this is a straightforward situation when done appropriately and correctly, the destruction of computers, hard drives, and technology can be a big problem in a Texas divorce when it is done outside the law.
Texas community property law applies to computers, hard drives, and technology. Unless agreed to otherwise, both parties have an interest and legal right to the technological devices owned during a marriage and the contents therein. There is a proper way to address personal property and privacy concerns about computers, hard drives, cell phones, and other devices. If an individual destroys community property and information on their own, without an agreement with the other party or Court order, the consequences can be serious.
At the outset of a divorce, either the Court’s automatic Standing Orders apply, or the attorneys agree to a mutual restraining order, preventing either party from destroying community property or disturbing assets during the divorce suit. If one party decides to delete everything and destroy hard drives and computers, they could be in contempt of court and face more serious penalties for destroying evidence.
Rare Situation: Judge Charged with Crimes in her Own Divorce Case (including perjury and destroying evidence)
At the Barrows Firm, Southlake Family Law Attorneys Leslie Barrows and Amanda Roark represent men and women with all kinds of concerns about their technology, devices, and private information stored both on computers and hard drives as well as in the cloud and on various websites. Most situations can be resolved with an agreement negotiated between the husband and wife, but other more contentious issues require a trip to Court. In either case, the Barrows Firm frequently advises and represents clients with technology issues in Texas divorce.
Privacy Concerns in Divorce when Information is Contained on Computers and Hard Drives
In many marriages, husbands and wives usually have personal phones, laptops, and devices and have family computers and other devices used by everyone. When it is time to divide individual property and assets, the technology issues get much more complex than dividing closets and personal items. Remember that the information you shared with your spouse and trusted them to safeguard may now be in the hands of your nemesis if the divorce is contentious. And honestly, if things were better, there probably would not be a divorce in the first place.
What information is contained on the family computer? Do both the parties have saved passwords in website browsers? Are there files on hard drives where private information is stored? If you had to itemize all the technology in your home right now and answer these questions, could you do so without some considerable time and effort?
Especially during the pretrial discovery phase of divorce, it is important to follow the Court’s orders and Texas law that applies to property division. Do not run and destroy your hard drives, computers, and technology before there is an agreement or Court order. Otherwise, you might be violating the law by destroying evidence and affecting the other party’s privacy rights.
Divorce Mag.com Tips: Here is How to Protect Your Data During a Divorce
Negotiating an Agreement or Seeking a Court Order Regarding Technology
Situations lead to different courses of action regarding technology devices and digital property rights. If there is a concern about the data and files contained on the computer’s hard drive, the attorneys can negotiate an agreement that addresses concerns and preserves information that may be used as evidence in the divorce trial. For example, the parties can agree that a forensic technology professional will retrieve and produce any relevant data that responds to the scope of the search. Likewise, after evidence has been retrieved, the parties might agree to have hard drives destroyed to prevent any future concerns.
When husbands and wives cannot agree about their issues with computers, devices, and online accounts, their attorney can file a motion to have a hearing in Court to get a Court Order compelling one or both parties to act regarding the technology, data, and privacy issues.
How to Properly Destroy and Dispose of Technology Devices
Computers, hard drives, and technology come up in the news from time to time when things are not handled correctly and within the limits of the law. In a Texas divorce, once the case is filed and the parties are ordered to maintain the status quo, there is going to be a problem if either husband or wife decides they have all the information they want from a laptop and destroy the hard drive on their whim and will.
The proper thing to do is use a reputable computer crushing and recycling company, or a data review and retrieval resource to either destroy or preserve data and information. When talking with your lawyer about computers and data, be open and honest about everything and let the data fall where it may, and let your divorce lawyers sort everything out.
Learning Moment: Top 5 Hard Drive Destruction Methods That Work
Maintaining Personal Privacy and Protection with Online Accounts
Anyone getting divorced should create new usernames and passwords on any online accounts, on social media websites, applications, and so forth. Your soon-to-be ex-spouse likely knows passwords, hints, and all kinds of private information others do not know, so consider that. And if there are concerns about hacking or accessing online accounts, it makes sense to write down new usernames and passwords and store that list somewhere safe.
If reading this article in anticipation of filing for divorce, it might be a good idea to start changing personal information if it can be done safely and without disclosing divorce plans. At the very least, while possible, make a list of all accounts and areas where information is stored on various devices and who has access and control of those computer hard drives, and other technology.
When talking to an experienced divorce lawyer before filing for divorce, have a chat about computers, technology, online accounts, and privacy concerns before doing anything that could end up causing more problems than solutions.
Using Technology to Communicate During Divorce in a Controlled Environment
When divorcing, there are new and clean methods to communicate in a controlled environment that leads to better interaction and reduces the risk of problems. For example, instead of texting or emailing, try using the Our Family Wizard (OWL) product designed for healthy co-parenting and communicating information, documents, and more in a divorce. Especially when there are children’s issues, husbands and wives need to communicate from time to time before, during, and after the divorce. The OWL software allows approved users to send messages to one another, upload documents, and share calendars of important dates and events.
What many appreciate about the OWL is that the settings can be adjusted so that the lawyers and the judge can access and see what information is there and what is communicated. This is a very streamlined system, compared to the exchange of text messages and emails, where people going through a divorce might forget their manners.
Talk to the Barrows Firm with Concerns About Technology Issues in Texas Divorce (817) 481-1583
Divorcing and Keeping the House
Divorcing and Keeping the House by Buying Out the Other Spouse
Almost every divorce involves a property settlement and there are several factors to consider when deciding to sell or refinance the primary residence. There are many reasons divorcing spouses agree on a buyout so one of them keeps the house, often living there with the children. The competitive North Texas real estate market in 2021 can be a challenge when divorcing and keeping the house by buying out your spouse.
Whether to sell the house and buy or build another is the issue facing couples getting divorced in 2021. The Dallas-Fort Worth area remains one hot market where buyers and sellers continue reporting record over-listing offers, an unprecedented volume of offers, and a relative shortage of homes available. The inventory is further limited by new home construction interrupted by massive spikes in construction costs due to the prices of building materials, affected by pandemic issues. So even though it might be appealing to sell the house, many people want to keep the house, so they do not have to buy a new home in a sellers’ market, and that makes sense.
Homelight Article: Is It Better to Sell Your House Before or After a Divorce?
At the Barrows Firm in Southlake, we advise and represent our clients on preserving their best interests of the children and family moving forward into deciding to sell the marital property and buying new homes or staying in the house and buying out the other spouse. The Southlake and Northeast Tarrant County real estate market values are unique. Leslie Barrows and the Barrows Firm team are well-connected in the Southlake area and know the competitive and respected real estate professionals to help clients succeed in the face of challenges including buyouts.
Options for Buying Out the Other Spouse when Divorcing and Keeping the House
Divorce negotiations involving the marital home require an agreed or determined the fair market value of the marital home. The fair market value should be based on real-time values as if the house were going to be listed for sale. Local experienced real estate professionals can be retained to offer their professional advice on the fair market value of the family home if it were going to be listed for sale. Fair market value is in part based on the comparable sales of similar recent homes in the area. The spouses can agree on retaining realtors to determine fair market value and once that is agreed on in the process of divorce financial calculations, the buyout options can be explored.
NerdWallet Article: How to Find the Right Real Estate Agent for You
Mortgage refinancing is the way process by which people who want to keep the house can renegotiate their mortgage without their spouse on the loan or title. Refinancing the mortgage is a way to raise the money to compensate the other spouse for their equity in the home. If there is equity in the home, the refinance process is like pulling cash from the equity to settle with and compensate the other party.
Because the underwriting process can be extensive, it is important to know how much the borrowing party is approved before negotiating what can be done about buyouts. It is a good idea to talk to several lenders because some may focus their business on divorce refinance buyouts and know competitive tips for securing financing approval.
Which Spouse Can Best Buy the Other Out?
If the divorce financial negotiations indicate the equity in the home is to be split equally into 50/50 shares, the spouse who wants to keep the house and not sell must make the offer to pay the other spouse their share of the equity. If the fair market value of the house is $800,000 and the amount owed on the mortgage is $400,000 then each spouse is awarded $200,000 of the equity. That means the spouse who wants to buy out the other spouse on the home, needs to come up with cash or the equivalent value of that money. Refinancing the mortgage at $600,000 is one way to come up with the money to buy out the other spouse and keep the house.
The borrowing ability of the spouse looking to refinance is a key issue in whether that works as an option. And when negotiating the divorce and buyout options, the spouses can talk to lending professionals and determine pre-approval amounts and the other details of the refinancing process. If the spouse looking to stay in the house is having trouble qualifying to refinance and buy the other out, there may be other options in satisfying the equitable split of the home equity.
Alternatives to Cash Buyouts When One Spouse Wants to Keep the House
Waiving the right to receive equitable shares of other marital assets can be part of negotiating a buyout of the other spouse’s interest in the home. For example, at the date of divorce, the party who wants to stay in the house may be awarded a share of vested retirement accounts and other assets including vehicles, boats, and other land and property. Waiving the rights and interests in these other-awarded marital assets can be the basis for a buyout.
In divorces where one spouse is awarded spousal maintenance and they want to assume responsibility for the marital residence and buy out the other, the amount of spousal maintenance due could be used to offset the buyout amount to the former spouse. Be aware that some payments ordered in family court cannot be negotiated outside of their regular purpose, such as child support payments.
For Barrows Firm Tips for Divorcing and Keeping the House by Buying Out the Other Spouse in 2021 Get Our Advice and Counsel (817) 481-1583
Estate Planning in Texas: Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Texas Estate Planning and Probate
The time for wills and estate planning is now, not later when it might be too late to account for unknown events and conditions in the future and these frequently asked questions and answers help people understand why wills and estate planning in Texas is important. Someday we will die, but we could also become temporarily incapacitated due to a medical or physical condition. Being unavailable to make life decisions creates a burden on family and friends who may not be legally authorized to act. Estate planning documents are for everyone and plans for unknown situations should be made when all are well and healthy. An experienced will and estate planning lawyer helps advise clients on being prepared for whatever may happen during and after their lives. Estate planning in Texas is important to protect the individual, their friends, and family.
Estate Planning Attorney Leslie Barrows uses proper estate planning with Barrows Firm clients in divorce and family law cases, juvenile matters, and whenever guardians are involved. Knowing how important it is to have estate planning and power of attorney documents ready when people are alive and well, attorney Barrows frequently offers will and estate planning deals to first responders and members in the community upon whom we all rely, and who need to prepare to care for their loved ones if they cannot.
Why Do I Need Estate Planning?
Estate planning allows for the control and direction of what happens to property and provides for loved ones during life, and after. An individual estate includes the person’s ownership interests in real estate, bank accounts, investment accounts, insurance policies, retirement accounts, and all personal property such as homes, vehicles, boats, and similar personal property and items. If someone dies without a will, their community estate is distributed by state law. The Texas Estates Code contains intestate succession laws that apply when someone dies without an enforceable will. The laws of intestate succession identify a person’s descendants and distribute the community estate of the deceased, to descendants in certain portions.
Who Needs Estate Planning?
Estate planning not only covers death but also applies to decisions during life. For example, estate planning involves determining who can make healthcare, business, and financial decisions for another in the event of temporary or permanent incapacity. Estate planning also allows for the appointment of a guardian for minor children in the event of incapacity or death. Wills are an important part of an estate plan, to determine what happens to assets when an individual dies, including the proceeds of life insurance policies and other death benefits that may apply. So even though an individual might not think they have significant assets, it is still important to make sure that funeral arrangements are properly handled and paid, just for one example. Again, in life, and death, proper estate planning is important to all involved family and loved ones.
What is a Will?
A will is a formal legal document controlling what happens to the estate assets of an individual when they die. A written will names the beneficiaries who are the persons who shall receive property and assets through the will, and as well the will names the executor named to carry out the process and wishes of the decedent’s will. In Texas, a will must follow certain formalities to be valid and enforceable. An experienced Texas estate planning attorney assists their client in preparing wills and estate planning documents from simple estates to those with complex assets and beneficiary wishes. It is common for Texas family lawyers to also advise and assist clients with wills and estate planning.
What is Probate?
Probate is the legal process of satisfying the terms of the will of the deceased, in public proceedings, also called Estate Administration. If someone dies without a will, the probate court will distribute the estate by state laws of intestate succession. And when someone dies with a will, the probate court will admit the will, appoint the estate administration responsibilities, and ensure that the community estate is properly distributed, overseeing the process. In probate court, any legal challenges to the validity of a will, its contents, or acts of administrators can be litigated.
Who Can I Designate as the Executor of My Estate?
Professional fiduciaries make great estate executors because they are not usually named as beneficiaries with any interest in the community estate of the deceased. A fiduciary is an individual or organization authorized to act on behalf of another, putting the other’s interests ahead of their own. A fiduciary is legally and ethically bound to act in the other’s best interests.
Family members can also be executors of estates, but there can be conflict among family members when one person does not agree with the actions or accountings as executors. Many disputes in probate courts involve family members making objections to other family members who were named as estate executors. An estate planning attorney may advise that a client disclose who they are naming as their executor during their life so that no surprises are leading to conflict after passing.
Common Estate Planning Documents: What are About Durable Power of Attorney, and Medical Power of Attorney Documents?
When Texans get a new or updated will, it is common to also update power of attorney and healthcare documents and directives, as well as trust documents. A durable power of attorney document for financial matters names an individual who will be entrusted to handle financial decisions in the event of temporary or permanent incapacity, such as during surgery, if one is in a coma, or one simply cannot make those decisions for certain reasons. A medical power of attorney document similarly names an individual to make sure healthcare wishes and decisions are carried out during a period of incapacity.
What Are Living Wills, Also Called Advance Healthcare Directives to Physicians and Family Surrogates?
Living wills are also used to ensure end-of-life concerns and decisions are carried out as the individual planned, and in Texas, these living wills are known as advance healthcare directives, or also a Directive to Physicians and Family or Surrogates. When an individual is unable to make their wishes known because of illness or injury, these directive documents are important so that critical decisions like life support measures do not need to fall on family and friends. The living will is made by a principal and appoints an agent to carry out directives. Living wills must be made following legally required formalities and they can be revoked by the principal.
What Types of Trust Documents Are Used in Estate Planning?
Trusts are used to hold money, assets, and property interests for the beneficiary of another, where a trustee has the legal power and authority to make decisions in the best interests of the beneficiary. For example, a grandparent might leave money in their will or in a trust, to be used to pay for college and certain life expenses for a grandchild. That money or property in the trust is overseen by the trustee who is authorized to make distributions that benefit the beneficiary, as outlined in the trust. These distributions could pay for anything named in the trust, from education to housing, and whatever life expenses may be identified. Estate planning attorneys advise and represent clients about trusts and the different options to protect assets for the benefit of others.
When Should Wills, Trusts, and Estate Planning Documents Be Updated?
While most wills, trusts, and estate planning documents are written to apply to the circumstances at the time the documents are needed, certain life events require updating all estate planning documents. Examples of major life events include marriage, divorce, birth, death, and anything else that can affect the outcome of an individual’s estate planning wishes. For example, when divorcing, the former spouse might not be a preferred agent for power of attorney over medical or business affairs. Likewise, one might not want to protect the interests of children who shall someday be recipients of a divorce property settlement, in another example. Estate planning documents to be updated upon major life events also include insurance beneficiary designations, and payable on death sections of documents tied to any other life benefit, retirement policy, and similar documents.
For Wills, Trusts, and Estate Planning in Texas, the Barrows Firm in Southlake Helps Texan Families Prepare for the Future Now When All Are Hopefully Well and in Good Spirits
COBRA After Divorce: Health Insurance Options in Texas
Should I Get COBRA After Divorce in Texas, or Are There Alternative Options for Health Insurance in Texas?
After a divorce in Texas, a spouse qualifies for continuing health insurance through COBRA, at 102 percent of the plan premium, or chose an alternative short or long-term health insurance option. Keeping health insurance is important, especially when parents have dependent children. During a divorce, the Court normally orders the parties to maintain the status quo with insurance coverage, until the divorce is final. After the divorce, a spouse who will lose health insurance coverage must be notified and allowed to enroll in COBRA coverage, to remain on the current health plan until they can get new coverage on a short-term or long-term basis. Opting-in for COBRA coverage is expensive because both the employer and employee premiums must be paid, as well as a two percent administrative fee. Many parents must consider alternative health insurance plans and options that are affordable and provide necessary and required health coverage.
Related Article from Survive Divorce: A Guide to Health Insurance During and After Divorce
Children with acute and ongoing health conditions cannot be without health insurance. When divorcing in Texas the parents make agreements and the Court can order the parties to pay for healthcare expenses. Having uninsured dependent children, and former spouses is not an option. Parties not complying with the Court’s orders regarding post-divorce health insurance coverage can lead to enforcement and modification suits. Talk to your family attorneys at the Barrows Firm in Southlake to learn your rights and options.
Because the spouse with the option of enrolling in COBRA coverage must pay the full premium rate plus two percent, insurance is expensive, even at the same group rate price. Depending on the insurance plan coverage, the needs of the parent and dependent children, an alternative health plan option might make more sense financially. If there is another more affordable option, the family lawyers at the Barrows Firm can help navigate the process. Through years of networking with locally respected insurance and health care professionals, attorney Leslie Barrows has the resources to help answer the most challenging insurance questions.
Health Insurance During and After Divorce in Texas
In most families, the parents and children are enrolled in the best health insurance plan offered by the employer with the best health and medical coverage for the family’s health care needs. When someone files for divorce in Texas, one of the initial hearings is the Temporary Orders hearing, where initial determinations are made about who will live where, drive what cars, and satisfy which financial responsibilities.
In addition to COBRA health insurance coverage after a divorce in Texas, the spouse, and dependent children in need of insurance might qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. For many parents getting a divorce, the spouse in need of coverage through the employer, must wait until the next enrolment period and need a short-term coverage option in the interim. Especially with children who may have significant medical needs, a lapse in coverage can be a serious problem, and COBRA might not be the best option.
From the Barrows Firm Article Collection: Considering a summer divorce? Read our article on point, Why Starting a Divorce in June is Popular in Texas.
What is COBRA, and How Does it Work to Preserve Health Insurance Coverage After Divorce in Texas?
COBRA is the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, the law requiring health insurance providers to offer continued coverage to former spouses and dependent children after divorce. This is how COBRA applies in divorce in Texas. In other scenarios, continued health coverage under COBRA must be available after the reduction in an employee’s hours of employment, employee termination, death, or other qualifying events such as divorce.
Employees are entitled to COBRA coverage when they work for a qualified employer, which is an employer who has at least 20 employees on more than half of the working business days in the previous year.
After a Divorce in Texas, An Ex-Spouse Can Get COBRA for 18 Months, and 36 Months for Dependent Children
Following the date of divorce, the spouse being removed from the insurance plan of the other must be given notice of COBRA eligibility within 14 days, that they have within 60 days to enroll in COBRA benefits. When the spouse takes the COBRA option, they can remain on the former spouse’s health insurance plan, the one they were on before the divorce, for up to 18 months. Additional COBRA coverage is available for dependent children for up to 36 months.
Parents and children have different health care needs. A parent might cost more to insure than their children. If a child has a significant medical condition and sees physicians frequently, it might be important to keep that dependent child on COBRA coverage until a better option is available. This is another example of the different care options for families in need of health insurance after divorce.
Short-Term Versus Long-Term Health Insurance Options Instead of COBRA Coverage
In Texas, there are several options for health insurance for medical needs and care for parents and children after divorce. When a parent is getting a divorce in Texas and has the option of electing to enroll in COBRA coverage, they might also select a short-term or along-term insurance option. Whether the former spouse has employer-based coverage options coming up in an open enrolment period, or whether they chose to buy private health coverage, not through an employer, short and long-term options alternatives to COBRA are available. Considering the cost of COBRA, and the full premium cost, without the normal employer contribution, and two percent additional administrative fees, a short-term or long-term private plan might be the more cost-effective option.
Watch this YouTube Video About Short-Term &Long-Term Health Insurance Options
Short and long-term plans are different in their cost and their available benefits. For basic coverage for healthy people who do not use insurance often, a competitive short-term plan makes sense. If however, the parent or dependent children have significant medical needs, the additional benefits provided in long-term medical and health care plans can be necessary. In addition to insurance eligibility and benefits, there two other issues are policy renewals and cancellations. What if something happens to someone during a short-term policy? A Policy may be canceled, or it may not be renewable.
Because medical and health care costs are significant, especially when people have children, it is important to consult with an experienced family lawyer to help determine which options make the most sense to cover former spouses and their children.
With Questions About COBRA After Divorce and Other Health Insurance Options, Call the Barrows Firm in Southlake at (817) 481-1583
Divorce with Adult Special Needs Children
There Are Unique Issues in a Divorce with Adult Special Needs Children
Some several medical conditions and disorders affect children and as they become adults their needs and challenges can change. Special needs can be physical, developmental, behavioral, and sensory-impaired. Some children are born with special needs and in others, they develop later in life. On a range of abilities to cope with stress and change, a divorce with adult special needs children requires several additional steps.
When getting a divorce in Texas and there are some additional considerations to protect the best interests of adult special needs children in the family. First, understand that in no way does having a special needs child prevent a couple from divorcing if the marriage is no longer able to be rehabilitated and repaired. Staying together because there is a special needs child, especially an adult, does not make it easier on anyone, rather it can further complicate existing problems.
Mental health professionals working with adult children with special needs can be consulted before the divorce to make a game plan that considers the limitations and conditions of the child so that the disruption to their life is minimal. In the divorce, child support is calculated and ordered in the manner best providing resources for the special needs child. Spousal maintenance may also be ordered when the custodial parent is a full-time caregiver of an adult special needs child.
Attorneys Leslie Barrows and Amanda Roark at the Barrows Firm in Southlake, work with parents divorcing who have minor, and adult special needs children. To learn your rights and options, call the Barrows Firm at (817) 481-1583.
Protecting Adult Special Needs Children and Their Best Interests in a Divorce
Negotiating child custody and visitation with a child with special needs may require the use of mental health professionals who work with families with minor, and adult special needs children. Depending on the individual medical conditions and disorders, caring for the child may be different as they age and grow into adulthood. Knowing what a day in the life may be like in the future is important in negotiating a parenting plan. Planning for an unknown future requires thinking ahead and having plans in place if things do not go as planned.
Possession and access and visitation may need to adjust on an annual or even a monthly basis depending on the changing needs of the child. Parental rights and duties are also something that can be reviewed and adjusted as the needs of the child change, especially when they are transitioning into adulthood.
Mental health professionals can help the family and their attorney understand long-term needs and care. This helps in creating estate planning and parenting arrangements. Mental health counseling for the family can also help everyone with transitions. Depending on the individual child, their reaction to a significant life change like a divorce can be much more difficult to handle.
eParent Article: 5 Ways to Advocate for a Child with Special Needs During a Divorce
Limitations in Social and Coping Skills to Handle Divorce
Divorce and child custody issues are difficult on all children, and everyone has different coping skills to handle divorce. But, when caring for adult special needs children, those social and coping skills can be put to the test, and sometimes that minor, or adult child has an extreme reaction. An autistic child, for example, might appear to be adjusting on the surface, but there can be outbursts and shutdowns on the way. In another example, a child with an emotional disorder might have a difficult time adjusting to a new school and social setting, leading to behavioral issues at school and home.
Minimizing the risk of upsetting a minor or adults special needs child requires understanding all the elements of life changes that are going to take place with the divorce and those need to be discussed among the attorneys, parents, and mental health providers, doing the best to take the sting and shock out of major life changes.
Child Support and Spousal Maintenance in Divorce with Adult Special Needs Children
In Texas, the Court may order either or both parents to provide for the support of a disabled child for an indefinite time based on the Court’s findings. The Court makes findings of whether the child will be able to at any time self-support themselves, whether institutionalized or not. Where the disability exists before the child’s 18th birthday, the Court orders support for the child to be paid to the custodial parent. The Court may also designate a special needs trust providing that support be paid directly to the trust instead of the state disbursement unit.
When the Court determines a party’s eligibility to receive spousal maintenance when that parent is the custodian of a child of the marriage of any age, requiring substantial care and personal supervision because of a physical or mental disability parenting the spouse from earning sufficient income to provide for their reasonable needs. Also, in certain situations, it may be appropriate to determine if the needs of the child should impact the division of the marital estate. As well, ask your lawyer about obtaining additional social security disability benefits from the Federal government, and any other assistance programs.
Special Needs Alliance Article: Divorce and Children with Special Needs
Special Needs Trusts for Adult Children
When determining the available resources to pay for the needs of a minor or adult special needs child, money may be coming from child support, spousal maintenance, part of the community estate, Social Security disability, Medicaid, and whatever other sources, and a certain amount of that money can be directly paid to a special needs trust or a supplemental needs trust.
In a special needs trust, the trustee holds and manages the assets for the beneficiary child. The trustee is responsible for making financial distributions and making payments as needed. A special needs trust is important because, without that formality, the money received by the child could be considered income, affecting eligibility for Social Security benefits.
Need Advice on Divorce with Adult Special Needs Children? Call the Barrows Firm in Southlake, Texas at (817) 481-1583
Changes to Discovery Rules in Texas Divorce
Discovery in Texas Divorce Cases Involves the Exchange of Information
The first of the changes to discovery rules in Texas divorce lawsuits is about Level One discovery, which now applies to many more divorces and requires an expedited exchange of personal and financial information. The Texas rules of civil procedure list the rules for a discovery control plan in levels. There are Levels One, Two, and Three. Discovery can be written and can be oral testimony. Common discovery tools in Texas divorces include disclosures, interrogatories, requests for production, requests for admission, and depositions where the parties provide oral testimony recorded by audio and video. The recent changes to discovery rules in Texas Divorce became effective for new cases filed on or after January 1, 2021. For most intents and purposes, the changes in the rules are for the divorce lawyers to worry about, but as a client, it is helpful to be aware of the process.
Because every divorce is unique, the parties may enter an agreement or ask the Court to order different discovery terms and schedules. Know that in some divorces, the parties agree to what discovery exchanges they will perform, if any. So, if the parties come to their divorce lawyers and they already agree on settling finances and they agree on who gets what, there is no need to use discovery in their divorce. However, it is more common for divorces to involve discovery exchanges.
Read Our Article for More Information: What is the Divorce Process in Texas?
How Do Changes to Discovery Rules in Texas Affect Divorcing Clients
When getting a divorce in Texas, your divorce lawyer lets you know how the process works and when you will be expected to produce documents and information in the discovery process. At the Barrows Firm in Southlake, attorneys Leslie Barrows, and Amanda Roark as well as the paralegals and staff are available to help with questions along the way. For example, a discovery request from the other side might be looking for documents that are unavailable or in the other party’s possession. There might also be confusing questions, and it may be difficult to respond. Do not worry, at the end of the day the discovery process is a necessary part of divorce and it helps the attorneys, parties, and the Court understand what issues, assets, and people are involved in the divorce process.
Interesting Article: Divorce Rates and COVID-19
What is Level One Discovery, and What Changes Were Made to Discovery Rules and Limits?
Level One discovery now applies to divorces in which the parties claim the marital estate is worth less than a total amount of $250,000and this limit is an increase over the previous limit of $50,000. Note that Level One discovery does not apply to divorces involving children. In a Level One divorce, the discovery period starts when the initial disclosures are due,30 days after the Answer to the Petition for Divorce, and then the discovery period continues until 180 days after those initial disclosures are due. Not only does the window of time change, but the amount of time also allowed for depositions has changed. Now the parties may spend more than six hours taking depositions and they may now use up to 20 hours examining deposition witnesses. Note that the parties need not use the entire deposition time, and the more that can be accomplished and settled outside a deposition, the more resources are saved.
Level Two Changes to Discovery Rules in Texas Divorce
A Level Two divorce discovery plan applies now when the parties seeking a divorce have alleged owning community property and assets greater than $250,000. Level Two discovery begins when the initial disclosures are due, just like in a Level One divorce, but they continue longer and can continue until 30 days before a scheduled trial date. In a Level Two divorce, each side may use up to 50 hours in a deposition, to examine and cross-examining parties on the opposing side, and their experts. Additionally, under the changes to discovery rules in Texas divorce, if one side discloses more than two experts, the other side may have an additional six hours of total deposition time for each additional expert. Level Two discovery also limits interrogatories to no more than 25 written interrogatories to be answered by the other side.
Disclosures After Changes to Divorce Discovery Rules
While it has been common to serve discovery requests along with petitions for divorce, and under the changes to discovery rules in family cases, discovery may not be served on the other party until after the initial disclosures are due. If certain information is subject to claims of privilege, that still applies. In Texas divorce, the parties may request and obtain discovery information and documents that are relevant and not privileged. A privileged communication must be something that may only be shared between two people, such as an attorney and their client’s communications are privileged and not subject to disclosure.
The biggest change with the new rules is that disclosures are automatically required instead of requested. Copies of documents must be served with the response. Given the time limitations in complying with the new disclosure requirements, divorce lawyers are going to learn the best methods to obtain necessary information from clients to meet disclosure deadlines. Preparation and organization are important.
Divorcing Parties Can Agree to Change their Discovery Level
While the legislative intent behind the changes to the discovery rules was a quicker, more efficient, and cost-effective process, not everyone will like these changes and there is a proper way to address issues. For example, the requirement to produce a large number of documents in such a short time at the beginning of the lawsuit might create a burden on one or both of the parties. Depending on the financial information and complexity of asset and property issues, the parties can agree to change their discovery level and they can also ask the Court to enter an order that cures any of the problems in the case because of the new rules and limitations they impose.
Who Pays for Discovery in Texas Divorce Cases?
The general rule in divorce in Texas is that each side pays their own attorneys fees and costs to produce and exchange discovery documents. There are situations when it is appropriate for one attorney to ask the Court to order the other party to contribute or pay attorneys fees and that is the subject of a different article. Generally, unless one of the parties has done something wrong or is intentionally causing problems in the process, the parties pay for their discovery costs. If a party to the divorce action is causing problems, the Court can hold them in contempt as well as order them to contribute to pay the fees of the other.
Questions About Changes to Discovery Rules in Texas Divorce, Call the Barrows Firm in Southlake at (817) 481-1583
Financial Considerations Before Filing for Divorce
Addressing Financial Considerations Before Divorce Helps Family Lawyers Best Represent Clients
The two most common issues in a divorce in Texas are money and custody, and in this article, we focus on the important financial considerations before the divorce. When we talk about money, we include the values of property that must be disclosed in a divorce. Depending on your situation, you may be splitting the community estate 50/50 or using another method of fair and just property division. Texas is a community property state and that means that all the property acquired during the marriage is considered the property of both spouses subject to division. Alternatively, the property can be classified as separate property and the property can be addressed in a private contract such as a premarital agreement or post-marital agreement among spouses. Before you file for divorce, it is necessary to collect as much financial information as possible so that your family lawyer can advise you and bring in necessary financial professionals depending on your situation.
At the Barrows Firm in Southlake, Attorneys Leslie Barrows and Amanda Roark advise and represent families with Divorce, Child Custody, Adoption, Estate Planning, Wills, and Probate Matters. Call the Barrows Firm at (817) 481-1583.
Talk to a Financial Advisor and Meet With a Family Lawyer
Financial advisors and family lawyers work together to help clients determine the best options for the family and their future. Some of the financial considerations before divorce involve joint debts and student loans, dividing up businesses during divorce, and divorce taxation regarding retirement accounts. For example, if the family has business ownership interests, a financial professional can help review the business assets and relative ownership interests of the spouses to determine who owns what. Especially in smaller family-owned businesses, things can be complicated and it takes some work to determine the property rights of each spouse in the divorce. At the Barrows Firm in Southlake, attorney Leslie Barrows has long-standing relationships with financial advisors who are well-experienced in even the most challenging divorce financial situations. A specific financial advisor used in divorce cases is called a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst.
A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst Can Help You Project Best Financial Outcomes
A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) helps divorce clients with the financial issues that will affect them for the rest of their lives. The work of a CDFA includes matters of separate versus marital property, valuing and dividing property, and retirement assets and pensions, to start. A CDFA becomes especially important in financial considerations before divorce when tax and financial issues affect the divorce, including issues regarding spousal and child support and dividing assets such as homes. An example of the issues addressed by a CDFA is whether the spouse needs liquid cash accounts to manage, or whether they would prefer receiving funds in qualified retirement accounts, as well as homes and assets not otherwise in cash form.
From the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts: Why Hire a CDFA Professional
Knowing Your Financial Status Before Filing for Divorce
Gathering financial documents before filing for divorce is important, because the more you share with your family lawyer, the better they can help. Waiting until after the divorce is filed and served could cause an angry spouse to restrict access to information and change passwords on accounts. Anticipating an emotional reaction makes sense because divorce is a major life event and many spouses act out in ways they normally do not do with one another.
Make copies of all the known and available statements. If all the statement copies are not available, do not worry because the family lawyer can help you get them directly or through the discovery process in the divorce case. If you know the name of the financial institution and account numbers, that can make it easier to find the missing pieces later. Online account access makes it easy to collect your financial information and send it to your family lawyer to review when putting together your financial disclosures that are required in a divorce.
U.S. News & World Report: Financial Steps to Take Before, During and After Your Divorce
Finding Assets and Financial Considerations During the Divorce Process
After a new divorce lawsuit is filed, the parties often attend a Temporary Orders hearing so that the parties and the Court can determine who drives what, who lives where, and how the family will be financially supported during the divorce process. In preparing for a Temporary Orders hearing, and during the initial stages of the divorce, the family lawyer works with the client to obtain a full financial outlook of the parties and the marriage to determine the financial issues. Remember that it is most important that the family lawyers and the Court can create a complete picture of the finances of the family so that the financial rights and duties can be determined.
During the discovery process, the family lawyer has several legal tools and processes to obtain the necessary information to present to the client and the Court. Please understand that there are many situations where one spouse has more control over the information than the other. It is important to do the best one can to collect and present information and financial considerations before divorce.
To Learn More About the Divorce Process and Financial Considerations Before Divorce, Call the Barrows Firm in Southlake at (817) 481-1583
Adoptions Affected by COVID-19 in 2021
Adoptions Affected by COVID-19: Common Pandemic Problems Affecting Texas Families
The COVID pandemic forced many people to look at their lives and focus on what is most important. So many of us realized the importance of family, especially in times when we were not able to be with loved ones. 2020 was difficult for families, and it was particularly tough on foster children hoping to be adopted into forever families. Adoptions in Tarrant County were down in 2020, as reported by different adoption agencies. For a variety of reasons, the process of adoptions became a challenge during the pandemic. Also, many mothers decided to keep their newborns and be their loving parents. Meanwhile, in addition to adoptions affected by COVID-19, foster parents in many cases are concerned about the virus and are not taking in as many foster children who need stable homes.
As we move forward in 2021, getting vaccinated, and getting back into healthy routines, we hope that adoption prospects and success stories abound. With questions and concerns about adoptions, the Barrows Firm in Southlake is available to assist and offer referrals to great agencies like the Gladney Center in Fort Worth. Adopting a child into a forever family is a great way to share the love and make a difference.
People and Parents Looking to Adopt
There are many reasons people adopt a child. Some children are adopted when a birth mother selects an individual or couple to adopt and raise her child. In other cases, children are adopted from the foster system. The people who adopt children in Texas have stories they tell about why they chose to adopt children. Some are unable to have their children, others have children who have grown up and there is still room to add an adopted child to the family. In many cases, people first become foster parents and may later adopt their foster child.
COVID-19 Affected the Adoption Process
There is a process to become an adoptive parent. The meetings and time required to become a foster parent and to adopt a child require a serious commitment. And during the pandemic, the process changed. No longer able to have in-person meetings and connections, some people decided to wait until after COVID-19 to resume the adoption process. Many feel that Zoom meetings are useful but not the same as in-person meetings, and adoption is a serious and emotional life event for all involved. When the intimacy of the adoption process is interrupted, we can understand how adoptions affected by COVID-19 can be on hold.
Uncertainty is a significant factor in decision making and family planning. Consider how many people had no idea whether their jobs and small businesses would be there to support another child, let alone the current family. Hopefully, as vaccinations continue to become available, and as the science surrounding the pandemic helps us all fight to wipe it out, more people can feel comfortable resuming the adoption process affected by the pandemic.
Adoption Placement Agencies Reporting a Slower Year in 2020
For the many reasons COVID-19 affected the adoption process, many adoption agencies in Tarrant and Denton Counties reported fewer adoption placements in 2020. November is national adoption month and adoption and foster rates decreased. November was also the month of an election that caused all kinds of emotions and concerns as we all waited for the promise of vaccines.
A recent article by Very Well Family, COVID-19 Has Had Significant Effect on Foster and Adoption Rates, suggests that there are options for adoptions during the pandemic if people are open to a change in the regular adoption and fostering process. In-home visits, for example, can be delayed by pandemic restrictions and adoption agency policies. It is recommended that anyone interested in adopting contact local agencies with a virtual process and participating in foster-to-adopt plans.
Mothers Changing Their Mind and Deciding to Parent Their Child
Expecting mothers working from home and spending more time at home due to COVID-19 restrictions and safety precautions are changing their minds and keeping more babies to raise themselves. It is easy to imagine how busy we all were before the pandemic, and how so many expecting mothers felt like they did not have the time or resources to be a parent. The reality of isolation and loneliness might have caused several women to reconsider their priorities and being a mother became a new and exciting prospect.
It is easy to let priorities become unbalanced and it is easy to take things and people for granted. Not being able to see families face to face has been difficult for many people who have had lots of time to think about their priorities and what is truly most important in life.
COVID-19 Bed Shortages and Foster Placement Interruptions
Foster children removed from their homes are sleeping in shelters. They have nowhere to go. Shelters, churches, CPS offices and makeshift bedrooms are being used to house foster children who cannot otherwise be placed in foster homes. In many of these facilities, complaints surface about unsafe conditions and fighting among teens.
The number of foster homes decreased due to several conditions, including COVID-19. Also, investigations in the Texas foster care program over allegations of abuse impact placement capacities. Sadly, there are no homes for these children right now. However possible, hopefully, more loving people will become foster parents and help get these kids into safe homes.
Call the Barrows Firm for Referrals to Local Adoption Agencies, and for Assistance in Becoming a Foster or Adoptive Parent Even While Adoptions Are Affected by COVID-19
COVID-19 Child Support Issues and Options
COVID-19 Child Support: Job and Income Losses Affect a Parent’s Ability to Pay Child Support
The December2020 Jobs Report indicated a decrease in jobs for the first time since April. The current report is that 140,000 jobs are no longer available. The unemployment rate has remained steady since April, holding at 6.7 percent. With election-year uncertainty and so much debate over the Coronavirus, many Americans are being cautious with spending, and with slow spending comes a lack of reason for companies to hire new employees, affecting the ability of many to pay child support because of COVID-19.
The long-term impact of serious financial conditions and ongoing business closures takes time to affect people, and some take a harder hit than others. Consider a local restaurant owner taking every step in their power to keep their doors open and pay their employees and vendors. At the end of the day, the local restaurant and other small business owners might not be drawing any income for themselves.
In Southlake, Attorney Leslie Barrows has been a divorce and family lawyer for many years, and she has seen and heard many reasons there is a problem with child support payments. Her experience matters in helping clients make smart choices in addressing COVID-19 child support issues.
Texas Attorney General: Child Support and COVID-10
People Ask, What Are Common Reasons Child Support Is Not Being Paid?
First, let us assume that parents ordered to pay child support are subject to an Income Withholding Order and the human resources or payroll department directly withholds the amount of monthly child support due, which goes to the Texas Child Support Disbursement Unit, who gives the support money to the child support recipient. This scenario is easy to understand when we think about how the collection and distribution of child support are supposed to work. But what happens when the real story is more complex?
If the child support obligor is self-employed and or has greatly varying income, the child support process can be a challenge. In many cases, you must go to court for an order of enforcement if payments are not being paid, or for modifications, if there is a substantial change in the income of the obligor parent.
The reasons child support payments are not being made could be anything from job loss to reduction in income. In other cases, a parent willfully refuses to make scheduled child support payments in the correct amount to be spiteful. There are many ways your family lawyer can handle a spirited non-payer.
Unique COVID-19 Pandemic-Related Job Loss and Child Support
Many people lost jobs or experienced temporary or permanent reductions in income as a direct result of COVID closures. It is important to immediately notify your attorney if this happens. It might be necessary to file a case to modify child support obligations to affect the net resources of the child support obligor. As many legal issues are litigated over Zoom calls, a modification or enforcement case can proceed that way. Understand that some courts may be behind with a backlog of suits affected by the Coronavirus court closures and disruptions.
Trying to find a new job is imperative. A judge is not going to appreciate inaction when it comes to making money to support children. Even if the previous income was higher and the job lost, was significant, anything to bring in money is helpful while getting back to where things were.
Some parents with job losses are receiving unemployment benefits, but what about those who are self-employed and cannot get unemployment? Some are selling personal assets to pay child support. If it is possible, and there is a problem with child support, consider working it out directly with the other parent. Communicate what is known and what is expected. For example, if the interruption to income is going to be temporary, it might be possible to avoid the expense of going to court for enforcement or modification. After things stabilize financially, any unpaid amounts can be figured out.
Consequences for Nonpayment of Child Support in Texas
The Texas Office of the Attorney General has all kinds of tools to enforce child support obligations. If someone loses income it is up to them to get their child support obligation modified, because otherwise the unpaid support amounts add up and so can the enforcement actions.
These are some of the actions the Attorney General can take to enforce a child support order:
· License Suspension: driver's license, professional license, hunting, and fishing licenses can all be suspended for failure to pay support.
· Passport Denial: a noncustodial parent not paying child support can be denied a new passport as well as the renewal of a current passport.
· Liens: a lien can be filed against property, bank accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, personal injury claims, insurance settlements, and other assets, for nonpayment of child support.
· Credit Bureau Reporting: the law requires the amount of child support owed and paid to be reported to the major credit reporting agencies.
· Lottery Intercept: lottery prizes may be intercepted and used to pay past-due child, medical, and dental support.
· Civil or Criminal Contempt: a civil contempt charge for nonpayment of child support includes a specific number of days in jail and/or a fine for missed payments, meanwhile a criminal contempt charge isalso available to put the obligor in jail until they comply with the court order and pay a “purge” amount or all the support in arrears.
Options for Child Support Recipients Who Are Not Receiving Child Support Payments
Call the lawyer and talk about the available options. Remember that aggressively enforcing child support can impede the obligor’s availability to make money. If the Attorney General takes their driver's license, professional license, and makes it nearly impossible to earn an income, expect less. Remember that there are many cases where past-due child support payments add up and then get paid off with the cooperation of co-parents who always remain in the best interests of the child.
Filing a Lawsuit for Enforcement or Modification of Child Support Obligations
Here at the Barrows Firm, our attorneys, paralegals, and staff understand that some people are determined not to obey the Court’s Order and will avoid their duties whenever possible. Especially during something as overwhelming as a pandemic, some people think they can fall between the cracks and not get caught intentionally shirking child support obligations. A common scenario is when the obligor loses a job or has a business income loss and misrepresents their finances and net resources. That is not a game anyone recommends playing because the Judges and lawyers have all heard it before and the outcome on the willful non-payor can be significant.
Call the Barrows Firm in Southlake for Legal Advice forCOVID-19 Child Support Issues Questions at (817) 481-1583
End of Year COVID Updates and Family Law Issues
So Long, 2020: COVID, Christmas, and Challenges for Texas Families
As 2020 winds down and we are days away from Christmas and New Years, the Barrows Firm wishes all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays as we pass along some end of year COVID updates and family law issues to consider for current and upcoming divorces and child custody cases.
In addition to COVID, the usual Christmas and New Years’ challenges concern Texas families with divorce, child support, and holiday possession issues. Even the best plans for the holidays that follow the court order and agreements among co-parents can be interrupted. From resolving visitation conflicts and concerns about drinking too much, Attorney Leslie Barrows and all at the Barrows Firm in Southlake are hoping everyone has the best holiday season and will be in touch if it is necessary.
Divorce and family law case filings usually spike in January after many have decided it is time to call it quits or time for a modification or enforcement of an existing Court Order. New divorce cases will follow the extended Standing Order in Tarrant County and the new discovery rules in Texas divorces in 2021.
For Texas Divorce and Family Law Advice and Counsel, Contact the Barrows Firm in Southlake at (817) 481-1583
Is Everyone Ready for Christmas and New Years'?
In a recent article, we addressed Holiday Possession Schedules and said, check your Court Order if there are questions or issues related to the holidays and visitation. With the year of COVID disrupting life, many are adapting and being flexible to challenges and potential conflict. However, there are still scheduling and life conflicts that arise and need attention. The Barrows Firm attorneys are ready to assist with finding resolutions to problems so everyone can enjoy the holidays.
Sadly, holidays can bring out the worst in some people who already have anxiety over the season. Adding the stress and challenges of the year of COVID, the normal concern about alcohol abuse and all that comes from it is now an elevated concern as we say goodbye to 2020. While we hope everything goes well, some parents want their child custody judge to order alcohol monitoring, as we shared in our recent article. Especially during the 2020 holiday season, we hope everyone is responsible with choices and that everyone makes good choices that are in the best interests of the children.
Psychology Today: Substance Abuse in Divorce Is as Complicated as You’d Think
Tarrant County: Second Amended Temporary Emergency Standing Order
Recently, the Tarrant County Amended Temporary Emergency Standing Order that went into effect on May 30, 2020, was effectively extended into 2021. That order expires on December 31, 2020. The Second Amended Temporary Emergency Standing Order is effective January 1, 2021, and expires February 1, 2021, unless extended further by the Court’s order.
This Standing Order applies in every divorce suit and every suit affecting the parent-child relationship, filed in Tarrant County or pending in the undersigned courts during the effective dates.
This Order is pursuant to the Texas Supreme Court’s First Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster. Standing Orders generally are used to automatically order the parties in a divorce or family case to maintain the status quo and not disturb people or property once the suit is filed and until it is finalized.
The Tarrant County Courts in which this Standing Order applies are:
- Judge Jesus Nevarez in the 231st District Court,
- Judge Judith G. Wells in the 325th District Court,
- Judge Kenneth Newell in the 233rd District Court, and
- Judge James Munford in the 322nd District Court.
Issues Addressed in the Second Amended Temporary Emergency Standing Order:
- No Disruption of Children;
- Protection of Family Pets or Companion Animals;
- Conduct of the Parties During the Case;
- Preservation of Property and Use of Funds During Divorce Case;
- Personal and Business Records in Divorce Case;
- Insurance in Divorce Case;
- Specific Authorizations in Divorce Case;
- Service and Application of This Order;
- Effect of Other Court Orders;
- Bond Waiver
New Discovery Rules in Texas Divorce
For all new Texas divorce and family law cases filed on or after January 1, 2021, there are new discovery rules. The good news for lawyers is that some fellow family law attorneys like the new rules. The challenge for lawyers is that new rules can lead to disagreements. The best news is that to clients with new cases filed, their lawyers are the ones who navigate the discovery process. One of the goals of the legislative change and the creation of new rules is to streamline the divorce discovery process and make things better for the families involved. Of course, there are opportunities and exceptions where the new rules can be set aside if there is a good cause. The attorneys at the Barrows Firm happily answer questions about the divorce process.
The Barrows Firm in Southlake is Open for Divorce and Family Law Matters
Everyone at the Barrows Firm is committed to safety and stopping the spread of COVID. From cleaning and sanitizing the office to maintaining appropriate safety measures, the Barrows Firm puts the needs of the client first. We also have several ways we can communicate and conference in-person and by Zoom and other electronic communication. During 2020 the family law community and Courts implemented new ways of handling divorce and child custody cases. As is usually the case, there are frequent new divorce cases, and other cases for enforcements or modifications, that are filed shortly after Christmas and the holidays. The Barrows Firm in Southlake shares end of year COVID updates and family law issues so people can make the best choices be the best parents.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Barrows Firm in Southlake
Wills and Estate Planning: Taking Action on End of Life Decisions
Why Wills and Estate Planning Documents Are Best When Everyone is Healthy
This holiday season is one like no other, and with concerns of health and those who have passed, the conversation about wills and estate planning is important. While some families enjoy traditional Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years' celebrations with immediate and extended families, many are not together in-person this season. Because of COVID-19, flu, and other health concerns, many are sticking around home and doing family Zoom calls.
Thinking back to last year, many had no clue what was about to hit in 2020. Was the best of times with certain loved ones already passed? Did someone in the family get sick with Coronavirus and is having a hard time bouncing back? Is the table setting for the holidays forever a question moving forward?
American Psychological Association: Coronavirus Anxiety
Giving family members the best gift this holiday season, give the gift of peace of mind. Please set aside time to talk about and move forward with wills and estate planning. Especially among families with senior parents, it is an easier discussion about the end of life while everyone is still alive and well. Not resolving issues among family members now, can make it so much worse later. Nobody wants to end up in a contested probate case with heated arguments with family. Attorney Leslie Barrows says, “Trust me, it is so much easier on everyone to plan for the inevitable when everyone is happy and in good health.”
Wishing everyone a joyous holiday season from the Barrows Firm in Southlake, we all hope important family discussions take place about what happens in the event of our passing on. To set up a consultation with one of the Barrows Firm estate planning attorneys in the Southlake office, please call us to get the ball rolling (817) 481-1583.
How COVID-19 Affected Our Notions of Health and Living Forever
No matter how well anyone is prepared for the loss of a loved one, the reality of death is always difficult and it brings up all kinds of reactions and emotions. When a family member becomes sick with COVID-19, it hits the whole family. To make uncomfortable matters worse, an aging parent with pre-existing health concerns could be the subject of a family arguing over COVID safety. And if someone is pointing a finger at another, if a family member gets sick or dies from Coronavirus, the gloves start coming off.
Here at the Barrows Firm, a few of us know from experience how difficult it can be when even the most prepared people face the passing of a parent, sibling, or relative. By talking about the inevitabilities in life, it can be easier for everybody to prepare for a loved one’s last days.
Get Power of Attorney of Healthcare and Property Established Before It Becomes Too Late
When a loved one is not able to make their own decisions about healthcare and property, their appointed power of attorney can manage their affairs, sign documents, and enter into appropriate agreements on their behalf. Power of attorney documents become effective when triggered by a certain event, like the temporary or permanent incapacity of another. For example, being in a medically induced coma will cause a power of attorney's right to make important care decisions about a loved one.
Read more about power of attorney options in our blog article, Texas wills, and estate planning for everyone, all adults.
Becoming Executor of a Family Member’s Estate: Avoiding Will Contests and Litigation in the Future
In Texas, the executor of an estate plays an important role. When preparing a will and estate planning documents it is important to understand the roles of an executor. In many families, the individual preparing their will and estate planning affairs will let other members of the family know who the executor will be when the time comes. That way, everyone can accept the present intent and wishes of the person making these important decisions.
What Does the Executor Do?
- Executors locate and communicate with the beneficiaries named in the last will and testament of the deceased.
- Providing notice to the creditors, and paying the bills of the decedent is the job of the executor.
- The executor identifies protects, and manages the assets of the decedent for proper distribution, as stated in their will.
- Executors prepare and direct the filing of the decedent's final tax returns.
- Accounting for the assets and payments made, and distribution to heirs is the executor’s job.
Too often there are disagreements among family members and the named executor, so making that decision and letting others know while everyone is well and healthy can protect family members from will contests and litigation.
What Happens When Mom or Dad Live In Another State?
Believe it or not, some of our 28 million Texans grew up in, or have parents living in other states. When wills and estate planning documents are prepared in other states, and a parent or loved one passes as a resident of another state, children in Texas may need to become involved in the process, particularly when named as the executor in the will.
An executor in Texas, named in a will in Georgia, for example, can do much of what is necessary by email and phone calls. As well they might need to travel to Georgia, or another state to exercise their duties as executors. When the laws of another state apply, the executor can hire an attorney in that other state to assist. Likewise, if the decedent is a Texas resident, and the executor is out of state, that executor can hire a probate attorney in Texas.
Setting Up Wills, Trusts, and Other Estate Planning Documents To Avoid Probate
In some families, the preparations take place so that the person who passes, distributes their assets and liabilities directly to beneficiaries without going through probate. The process of probate is the court’s formal process for receiving a will and overseeing the executor in their duties. When problems arise in the process of probate, litigation can be serious and expensive. For this reason, many families use trusts and other estate planning documents so that assets pass without probate.
For All-Important Family Matters, Including Wills and Estate Planning, Call the Barrows Firm in Southlake (817) 481-1583
Holiday Possession Schedules: Check Your Court Order
Standard Possession Orders in Texas
The Texas Standard Possession Order sets the family’s calendar for time of possession and access for the primary parent and the non-primary parent with visitation time. In Texas family law, child custody orders refer to parenting time, calling it possession and access which essentially means the same thing as visitation. The Standard Possession Order incorporated into your custody agreement is the schedule you and the other parent can rely upon for parenting times. Many co-parents like the Standard Possession Order, especially over the holidays, because the time between parents is distributed and uses alternating odd and even-numbered years to equalize holiday time with children.
In some custody cases, parents come to agree upon a customized schedule that works, incorporating some or all the Standard Possession Order schedules. Additionally, if you both agree as parents to do your own thing and informally trade days as it may be fair, then everyone wins.
If you have any questions about your holiday possession schedules for the 2020 Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, please check your court order to determine who has the children, and when. Southlake Family Law Attorney Leslie Barrows is always available to help you.
Considering Family Travel for Thanksgiving or Christmas? Use the CDC COVID-19 Travel Planner
Consider First the Best Interests of the Children
Few people in the world say that 2020 was a banner year, and for many, some constant challenges and setbacks can make Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays even bumpier than in years without a COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions, virtual school, limitations on activities, and so forth. At the end of the day, we all hope that life gets as close to what we used to consider normal. In the meantime, as parents we only have one chance to raise our children with love and security, giving them the best chances in life. And in 2020, if it means making compromises and different choices, it is important to put the best interests of children first, when wrestling with holiday possession schedules.
Thanksgiving Visitation for 2020
Standard Possession Orders alternate parenting time on Thanksgiving between odd and even years. During an odd-numbered year, the noncustodial parent has possession of the children over Thanksgiving. Since 2020 is an even-numbered year, the primary, custodial parent has possession of the children for Thanksgiving.
The beginning of Thanksgiving possession begins at 6:00 p.m. on the day school is dismissed for the break, continuing through 6:00 p.m. on the following Sunday or Monday depending on what is stated in the order. If you have extended possession time, Monday is the end of your Thanksgiving break with the children.
Christmas Visitation for 2020
For Christmas, our Standard Possession Orders split the break into two, divided like Thanksgiving, based on even and odd-numbered years. During those odd-numbered years, the primary custodial parent has the right to possession of the children from the day school is dismissed, until noon on December 28th. At that time, the non-custodial parent has the right to visitation with the children beginning at noon on the 28th, and through 6:00 p.m. the day before school resumes, or on the day school starts again if the parent has extended possession time.
Since 2020 is an even year, the non-custodial parent has visitation time with the children for the first part of Christmas break, until noon on the 28th, and then the primary custodial parent has the right to possession for the remainder of Christmas Break and until school starts again after the break.
What Happens When Schools Dismiss Children Early?
With COVID-19, schools may be announcing earlier dismissal days, at least for Thanksgiving. Some schools went to virtual school for some time before this year’s Thanksgiving week off. The question then becomes, if the school dismissal times change, do I still pick my child up at 6 p.m. or at the time school is dismissed? Attorney Leslie Barrows notes that the Barrows Firm receives these questions, and Leslie reminds us to check our current court order.
Many local Independent School Districts announced early dismissal days this year and just like other elements of our lives and schedules, this year many will need to adjust their schedules based on what schools are doing, and then reconcile that among co-parents.
Having Problems Agreeing on Holiday Possession Schedules for 2020?
With the decreased likelihood of significant travel this year, based on COVID-19 concerns and recommended restrictions, more families might be spending Thanksgiving and Christmas at home and enjoying the time of others virtually. Some say it might not be so bad saying hello to a few people for some time on Zoom, or a family phone call. In some families, this might be a saving grace for some who with a smile on their face, quietly dread the stress of the holidays.
Regardless of what families plan, things can always change last minute. If for some reason you do not get the time with your children you expect, you have plenty of options to make up that time. For example, missed holiday time could be added to another holiday or spring or summer break.
Need the Court to Intervene? That Can Also be an Option
Despite the best efforts at co-parenting and being flexible, especially during 2020, there are some family events and holiday celebrations that are unique and worth asking your judge to rule. It all depends on the facts in your situation, whether you will be successful with a trip to court on your holiday possession schedule. One example may be international or long-distance domestic travel. If your parents are coming to visit you and your family from far away, you might not want to compromise. Especially in 2020, some families are deciding not to fly and are driving long road trips to see family.
Call the Barrows Firm if you have a difficult situation with holiday possession schedules and need legal advice and representation. Sometimes getting the lawyers involved can be effective and your problems can be resolved by a special agreement outside of going to court. That said, if you do need to get on the Court’s Docket, the earliest you contact your lawyer, the better.
Everyone here at the Barrows Firm in Southlake Wishes You All a Happy Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas! We Are Here for You if You Need Us (817) 481-1583
Celebrating National Adoption Day: What You Can Do
Would You Consider Adopting or Being a Foster Parent?
National Adoption Day raises awareness of children in foster care who need permanent families and forever homes. Since 2000, courts and communities finalize and celebrate thousands of adoptions of children from foster care. Many observe National Adoption Day every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving Day. This year we celebrate families and their newly adopted sons and daughters on Saturday, November 21. And while in light of COVID-19 the customary events and in-court celebrations may be different or not taking place, it is more important than ever to share and tell others about foster children in need of adoption into forever families.
Attorney Leslie Barrows has been involved with the Tarrant County National Adoption Day program for years and has served as an events chair. “Bringing adoptive parents and foster children together and into permanent homes is among the most rewarding things I get to do.” Leslie Barrows says.
You Can Help Us Raise Awareness About Adopting
- Share Information About Adoption: Adoption from Foster Care - AdoptUSKids
- Find a Group on Social Media to Join and Learn: Adoptive Families on Facebook
- Donate to Support the Gladney Center for Adoption: Donate
- Post photos from virtual adoptions or past events on social media with the hashtag #NationalAdoptionDay and the tag @DTFA so that the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption can share your posts.
The Gladney Center for Adoption in Fort Worth, Texas
Families in the Fort Worth area and all over DFW can start their journey to adopt at the Gladney Center for Adoption. Parents adopting children through the Gladney New Beginnings Parent Adoption Program attend required training to adopt children from the Texas foster care system. Children separated from their birth families have experienced significant life events and need proper emotional care and attention. The Gladney Center extends its support to families during and after adoption to help ensure that everything is working well.
The Gladney Center also works with expectant mothers choosing families to adopt a child of an unplanned pregnancy. Mothers who are looking to family to adopt her child receive care and counseling through the Gladney Center for Adoption, during a very sensitive time and process in that mother’s life.
Encouraging Awareness About Children in Foster Care
At any given count, there are more than 100,000 children and teenagers in foster care and are waiting for a permanent home with a loving and secure family. Children go into foster care and it is not their fault. Children abused, neglected, or abandoned are separated from their birth parents for their safety. And while many of the children in foster care are eventually able to reunite with their birth parents, many more become eligible for adoption from foster care.
Birth-related relatives may have the option to adopt children from foster care, especially when they have an existing relationship with the child. Additionally, foster parents may seek to adopt foster children as permanent members of their family.
Becoming a Foster Parent in Texas
In Texas, the foster parent program is a good starting point for people who want to adopt a child. There are many benefits to becoming a foster parent. Especially if you have not had children before, becoming a foster parent can help you learn more about your parenting style and how to adapt to life with children before you make a forever commitment to adopt a child.
The first step in becoming a foster parent in Texas is to attend an informational meeting where you learn the requirements of being a foster or adoptive parent. Generally, you must be at least 21 years old, financially stable, and a responsible mature adult.
Training for Foster Parents in Texas
After the informational meeting and application process with DFPS, if you are selected to proceed in the process you will be invited to meet with DFPS staff to talk about becoming a foster parent. Next, you will attend a training course through DFPS as well as completing the Parent Resource Information Development Education (PRIDE) course. Applicants to become foster parents must also complete any additional training required by the state, including universal precautions training, psychotropic medication training, and First Aid and CPR training.
A final step in becoming a foster parent is the family home study, where a caseworker from DFPS will visit with you in your home and discuss personal histories and family interests. The caseworker will be interested in learning your existing childcare experience and how you are best able to meet the needs of a child. The caseworker prepares a report based on their recommendations after the family home study and may suggest a child who may be the best match for your family.
Encouraging Others to Adopt Children from Foster Care
Every family has its own story to tell about why they decided to become foster parents and adopt children. Some become foster and adoptive parents because of a relative or family friend. Some couples have difficulty having children but have so much love and care to give a child in need, and they become foster parents and later adopt.
If you know someone who has enough love and room in their heart and family to become adopt children from foster care, you can help a boy or girl become another family’s new son or daughter.
Sometimes life gives us situations and opportunities for which we did not prepare. Life can be happy and life can be sad, but one thing is certain, life continues and there are always surprises. Encouraging others to adopt children from foster care is significant because it might be something new to someone.
With Questions About Foster Care and Adoption in Tarrant County or Denton County, Call the Barrows Firm in Southlake at (817) 481-1583
Ex Parte Communications: Do Not Email the Judge
Preserving Fairness in Divorce Courts and Cases: Ex Parte Communications
The Texas Rules of Civil Procedure and local court rules provide the format for information and evidence to be used in divorce and child custody cases. Lawyers use formal notice and pleading documents like requests for the Court to provide relief to a party in the case. Neither a party nor their divorce lawyer may communicate directly with the judge in their case. See an example of a notice about ex parte communications on the 325th District Court website in Tarrant County.
Any decision made by a judge in a divorce and child support Court must be based on properly submitted evidence and legal arguments applying the facts and evidence to the law.
Justice requires fair and impartial Judges and Courts. To avoid the appearance of impropriety in any of the Judge’s activities, they do not communicate about the case without all the parties present, who are entitled to notice, or their attorneys when they are represented by counsel.
Southlake Family Law Attorney Leslie Barrows: “Do not attempt to call or email the judge in your case. You could be creating a serious situation that could have an impact. If you need an attorney to represent you in your divorce or custody case, call us at our office in Southlake.”
What Is an Ex Parte Communication?
Communications with the Court means communications with the Judge. That communication could be spoken or written; imagine a party in the case who tries to talk to the Judge before or after the case is called, or sees them outside the Courtroom, with a question or comment about the case. Now that Judges have emails, and many are available on their websites, they do what they can to ensure the parties do not email them about their case and talk to their attorney with any questions or concerns.
Communications with a member of the jury. While jury trials are not quite common in Texas divorce and family law cases, they are available in certain situations. Communicating with members of the jury outside of the official court process is also prohibited.
Do Not Email Judges About Cases: Ex Parte Notices on Websites
A party in a divorce or child custody case has no reason to directly communicate about the facts of a case with a judge, and neither does their attorney, outside the formal communication procedure. So why then, do Courts list the contact information and email for the Judge on the Court’s website? There may be acceptable times that someone contacts the Judge directly outside of the formal process. For example, the attorney’s office might call the judge’s clerk directly to let them know the attorney is delayed in another Court or is on their way to a hearing. Another example might be the family law attorney’s office sent a copy of correspondence about something filed in the case, such as a required response with a deadline.
Otherwise, parties in a divorce, child custody, and all family lawsuit should never directly email the judge about a case. Imagine a party emailing their judge that the other party was late to visitation exchange or did not give the children their medication during their overnight. In many of these situations, the Judge is put in an awkward position, especially in cases where the judge is deciding issues in the case that could be challenged later.
Why Are Ex Parte Communications Prohibited?
Ex parte communications are prohibited because there is no way to resolve the issue of bias and influence in the case. The rules of civil procedure are formal and specific for a good reason. The only information a judge should have about a case should come from filed legal documents in the case and from evidence, testimony, and attorneys appearing in Court on that specific case.
Consequences for Violating Ex Parte Communication Rules
Inappropriate and unauthorized communication with a judge can lead to serious consequences. For example, if one of the parties directly contacts the judge with substantive and material information about the case, the other party or their attorney might make a motion for sanctions and other relief in the case. The Court, when facing an ex parte communication, must make sure that the trial record is clear that communication happened and what was done in the interest of fairness to make sure that the judge or jury was not influenced in the matter.
Appeals of Court decisions can be appropriate if one party believes they can prove that the judge or jury was involved in an ex parte communication. Especially in high conflict cases involving children, the rules of civil procedure and judicial conduct must be enforced.
Judges are bound by the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and shall not permit or consider any ex parte communications or other communications made to the judge outside the presence of the parties between whom the case is at issue. Depending on the situation, a Judge who receives information must take appropriate actions to make sure that there is no appearance of impartiality, including recusal from the case.
For More on Ex Parte Communications in Divorce and Child Custody, Call the Barrows Firm in Southlake, Texas (817) 481-1583
Divorce, Joint Debts, and Student Loans in Texas
Divorce with Joint Debts During Marriage in Texas
Texas divorce and family laws treat joint debts during marriage like other property which is either community property or separate property. Community property consists of the property, other than separate property that is acquired by either spouse during the marriage. When spouses divorce, the property owned by each is presumed to be community property. With community assets and debts, the spouse asserting an asset or debt is separate, can make that argument in a divorce with joint debts.
An argument that joint debts are separate and not to be shared between the spouses can be a bargaining tool in the property division process. After negotiating and settling issues of community versus separate property, the spouses and their attorneys can propose a fair settlement agreement stating who gets which assets and debts.
Note that Texas law states that community property is to be divided based on what the Court deems “just and right,” meaning fair and equitable. In some divorces a 50/50 division is appropriate. Depending on facts, circumstances, and allegations, one spouse might be awarded a greater share of the property.
Related Barrows Firm Article – Dividing up Businesses During Divorce and COVID-19
Options for Dividing Joint Marital Debt in a Texas Divorce
When you get divorced who gets stuck with the debt? Southlake Family Lawyer, Leslie Barrows frequently tells clients that every divorce is unique and requires the right strategy to achieve their goals. At the end of the day, there are two options, negotiate an agreement stating which spouse assumes which debts or let the Court decide. When Texas Judges must divide debts, they tend to give the debt to the spouse who receives the asset tied to that debt. For example, if the husband is awarded the car he is driving, he may be ordered to assume the debt and payments for the car.
Divorce Pro Tip – use a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) for Complex Financial Issues
At the beginning of a divorce in Texas, the spouses are ordered, or the attorneys make agreements not to sell, disturb, or give away property. But once the divorce is underway the parties can make agreements to sell certain community property assets to pay off debts incurred by both spouses during the marriage.
Another option to dividing joint marital debt is to give one spouse a larger share of community assets in exchange for paying off a larger share of community debt. Depending on the type of asset or debt, it can be difficult to divide things 50/50, and your divorce and property division attorney can work to equalize asset and debt division in a way that makes the most sense. For example, a luxury home that might be difficult to sell might affect negotiations.
Student Loan Debt and Community Property
The issue of student loan debt comes up frequently in divorce. Attorney Leslie Barrows reminds people, do not pay off your spouse’s student loans with your credit card in your name, and think your spouse must reimburse you. The issue with student loan debt is when the student debt was incurred. Generally, spouses with student loan debt from before the marriage will be responsible for their debt. Meanwhile, both spouses can be liable to pay student debt incurred during the marriage.
Despite general rules, every divorce and student loan debt issues are different. Spouses can make the argument that the student loan benefitted the marriage and should be treated uniquely. Another issue can be student loan refinancing and co-mingling of property. If for example, the spouses refinance the marital home and pay off student loan debt, there can be conflict in the divorce process.
Related Issue – Should You Pay Off Student Loans or Invest
Furthermore, credit card debt can be challenging in a divorce. If both spouses are on the credit card, there is an extra word of caution in divorce. The credit card company does not care which spouse was ordered to pay the credit card balance and if left unpaid, both spouses can suffer damage to their credit rating. If this is the case, you might ask the Court to order that joint credit card debt is paid off during the divorce, not afterward when it takes more work to enforce the Court’s orders.
Exceptions to Joint Debt Division in Texas
Before marrying, couples with significant asset and debt questions can resolve concerns with a prenuptial agreement. If the couple so chooses, they can agree in a prenup that any student loan debt incurred before or during the marriage be the separate debt of each spouse. Even if Texas law would favor any of the positions in a prenup, some people appreciate the added security of knowing what will happen in the event the marriage ends in divorce.
If during the marriage the spouses decide they want similar assurances of a prenuptial agreement, they can go to their local family lawyer and get a postnuptial agreement. In some marriages, a postnuptial agreement can save a marriage when the prospect of divorce causes great anxiety.
When facing questions about marriage, divorce, assets, and joint debt liability, get the right information to help make the right decisions. Contact an experienced divorce and property division attorney and learn where you may stand based on your situation.
Leslie Barrows is a Southlake Texas Divorce and Property Division Lawyer and Can Help You Learn Your Legal Rights and Options for Joint Debts During Marriage in Texas at the Barrows Firm (817) 481-1583
Alcohol Monitoring in Child Custody Cases
Alcohol Monitoring is an Issue in Child Custody Cases, Especially During COVID-19
When alcohol use turns into abuse or alcoholism, the best interests of the child are an important focus in a divorce or family law case with child custody issues. Too often when one or both parent has an alcohol problem, the children take on adult tasks and are doing things around the house that their parent is not because of their drinking. Many children should not have to be making their meals on their own and taking on adult tasks because of drinking. Remote alcohol monitoring with Soberlink can help the Court determine exactly what is going on at home and during visitation time.
The Barrows Firm in Southlake Can Help You with Alcohol Monitoring
Psychology Today Article: Substance Abuse in Divorce Is as Complicated as You’d Think
COVID-19 disrupts many of our lives as we all adapt to changing conditions. When you are in a divorce or already co-parenting, the stress of 2020 can lead to increased drinking that becomes a problem. Especially with so many people working from home and not going to the usual meetings and events, you can imagine how increased drinking can happen and lead to a problem that needs addressing.
In a divorce case, alcohol use and abuse may be issues in determining custody and possession schedules. After a divorce, visitation with the other parent could be a problem if they are drinking excessively, especially around the children. When these problems arise it might be appropriate to ask the Court to enforce or modify the terms of a parenting arrangement, including remote alcohol testing.
See our related article, Court-Ordered Alcohol Testing: Soberlink and EtG Testing
Why Alcohol Monitoring is Important: Key Facts from Soberlink
Divorce and child custody attorneys and judges are used to addressing alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Not everyone who drinks has a problem with alcohol, but for some people, use can turn into abuse. When sobriety is an issue in a Texas divorce or child custody case, Southlake Family Law Attorney Leslie Barrows often asks the Court to order the other parent to be monitored by Soberlink.
Soberlink is a company that uses technology and equipment that works with people’s mobile devices to remotely test and report their sobriety. Alcohol monitoring is used to protect the emotional and physical safety of children until the parent with abuse issues regains control.
Here are some facts from a Soberlink video about alcoholism and alcohol monitoring in divorce and child custody cases:
- Approximately 15.1 million adults in the U.S. have some type of alcohol use disorder.
- Reports indicate 9.8 million men have an alcohol use disorder, which is 1 in every 5 men.
- Reports indicate 5.3 million women have an alcohol use disorder, which is 1 in every 12 women.
- Fewer than 10 percent of men and women seek alcoholism treatment.
- Around 10 percent of children live with a parent with alcohol problems.
- Divorce rates are higher when one parent is a problem drinker.
- Approximately 55 thousand divorces a year involve a parent with alcohol abuse.
- More people abuse alcohol than other drugs combined.
Options for Alcohol Monitoring in Child Custody Cases
If one parent has a reason to believe the other is or had been drinking, they may refuse to let the child go with the other parent. This situation leads to accusations that require witnesses to get involved and without alcohol testing, it is difficult to determine the truth.
To determine a parent’s alcohol use and to prevent a child from being exposed to alcohol abuse, the Court can order alcohol monitoring. The Soberlink device and technology makes it easy for everyone involved. Whether a parent is ordered to blow into the remote device at set times, or on-demand, can be determined based on a case by case basis. If the use of alcohol monitoring shows that the parent is not abusing alcohol, that is a good thing and we do not prevent that parent from having meaningful parenting time with their child.
Proof of Sobriety with Soberlink Alcohol Monitoring Solutions
To prove a parent is not using alcohol, the Soberlink alcohol monitoring system can be a lifesaver. The parent being accused of alcohol abuse might be the one who wants a remote alcohol testing solution to prove their sobriety to the other parent and the Court. Test results can be sent to the Judge, the attorneys, and whomever else is ordered to receive scheduled or random alcohol testing information.
Soberlink offers a video explaining different types of alcohol monitoring and the advantages of the Soberlink remote alcohol monitoring compared to traditional methods. They note that Soberlink has been used in courts since 2011 and its technology includes not only real-time testing results but also facial recognition technology. The Soberlink system verifies the person taking the test is the one ordered to submit to remote alcohol monitoring.
For Alcohol Monitoring in Divorce and Child Custody Cases, Call The Barrows Firm in Southlake at (817) 481-1583
COVID-19 Challenges with Kids, Possession Schedules, and School Schedules
Kids, Possession Schedules, School Schedules, and COVID-19 Challenges
September is here and there are yellow busses on the road, some more full than others as divorced parents face common challenges with COVID-19 impacting their kids and possession schedules. Some of our children are back at school for in-person learning while others are at home doing virtual school online. And while this might work at first, anything can happen to screw it all up. If that is your concern or reality, the Barrows Firm divorce and family law attorneys are here to help you figure out a solution that works in the short term because it is going to be a while before the backlogged courts have in-person hearings and trials on possession schedules, school schedules, and visitation swaps.
Attorney Leslie Barrows and Amanda Roark are helping North Texas families in Tarrant and Denton Counties who call the Barrows Firm for help with COVID-19 challenges when work, school, and possession schedules conflict. Yes, you may need to have an enforcement or modification hearing or trial but mediation could be a much better course of action in the meantime.
Our recent article has more useful information – Back to School Schedules: The 2021 Academic Year and Virtual School
The Purpose and Intent of a Possession Schedule
When parents get a divorce in Texas, it is common to use a standard possession schedule to determine when the children will be with which parent. The term possession and access are used in the Texas Family Code regarding issues of visitation when the non-primary parent has quality parenting time with their children. A possession schedule includes references to holidays and school calendars. Pick up and drop off times are set around school schedules.
The possession schedule is intended to be relied upon by the parents as the final word on where and with whom the child should be at any given point in time. Wrapping a possession schedule around school calendars makes sense for parents and children. However, if you and the other parent have an agreement to do something other than what is stated in your possession schedule, that is allowable. If you and the co-parent can get along well enough to trade time on your own, it is okay to adjust, as necessary.
Interesting Options: Texas Virtual School Network
Psychology Today: Will Distance Learning Produce a Coronavirus Slump?
School Schedules During COVID-19 for Virtual/Online or In-Person Learning
Most Independent School Districts in Texas let parents know of deadlines to decide whether their child will attend school virtually in an online environment from home, or in-person at school. So far, parents have made their choices and kids are adjusting to their new school year despite COVID-19 challenges and fears of another wave of spreading Coronavirus among students. When schools shut down and extended Spring Break earlier this year, the concern was the number of students who could contract COVID-19 and transmit it to families, including elderly family members and those with already compromised immune systems.
Most of the ISDs like Carroll ISD, where Leslie Barrows is an active parent, have a school schedule for the virtual students that nearly mirrors the in-person instruction at school. So, at the same time, both sets of students have similar learning schedules. If this applies to your family, your possession schedule and visitation exchange should not be affected but for the location of the visitation exchange.
Should You Follow the Same Possession Schedule if Things Change or Schedules Conflict?
When people call the Barrows Firm and talk to attorneys Leslie Barrows and Amanda Roark the questions about custody, possession, and school schedules are unique to COVID-19 because none of the attorneys, judges, or school administrators can predict exactly what is going to happen with the Coronavirus and potential spread among students. People are divided over their thoughts about risks and safety, making this a bigger challenge for everyone involved.
Can you adjust your schedules as parents to accommodate your children? For some parents, the answer is, “I don’t know.” Some parents are working full time from home and others are outside the home at an office or in a job where they travel for work. If you can work with the other parent on adjusting possession time because school schedules are a challenge during COVID-19, you may earn good brownie points that come in handy later when you might need a favor.
Compromise Now? Court Hearings and Jury Trials May Not Be Available Until January
Before the COVID-19 outbreak and shutdowns, if your former spouse refused to comply with Court orders and possession schedules, you could file an enforcement action, or modification if needed, and get into Court to ask for emergency relief and to set a hearing or trial. Now that we are in the third quarter of 2020, that previous course of action is no longer an option.
The majority of Texas family courts have postponed in-person hearings in family law cases until next year unless the matter is a true emergency and it is essential to the best interest of a child to see a judge right away. If you are being denied possession time and your ex is being difficult with visitation exchanges, now might be the time to take good notes and hold onto your hat until Coronavirus passes and you can get into Court to address the situation. So, if you can find a way to compromise now, do that. If you can use mediation to settle post-decree kid and school issues, try it. A jury trial on contested issues may become available once the dust settles and court calendars adjust to something closer to normal.
Now is the Time to Get a Handle on School Schedules, Possession Schedules, and COVID-19 Problems and the Barrows Firm in Southlake Has Your Back! (817) 481-1583
Back to School Schedules: The 2021 Academic Year and Virtual School
In-Person or Virtual Learning, Back to School Schedules Impacting Co-Parenting
Southlake family law attorney Leslie Barrows is a boy mom of three and understands the concerns of parents about school schedules and possession schedules during COVID-19. Many independent school districts are offering parents the opportunity for their children attending school in-person or at home doing virtual school. If there was ever a time for patience, understanding, and flexibility, now is that time. Even the most acrimonious co-parenting situations might need to allow for compromise and agreements as conditions continue to change during the COVID-19 outbreak. Southlake family law attorney Leslie Barrows can help you and your family figure out back to school schedules as it may affect co-parenting and custody arrangements. Call the Barrows Firm in Southlake at (817) 481-1583.
See our related article: Emergency Order on Possession and Access Schedules During COVID-19 Pandemic
Kids in the Classroom and at Home for Virtual School
Parents changing their minds about in-person versus virtual school options is a concern among many. For example, Southlake parents with children enrolled in Carroll ISD were asked to decide whether they want their kids to be at school for in-person instruction by August 10, which was two weeks before the start of classes this coming Monday, August 24th. Parents who changed their minds were asked to notify their child’s campus principal in writing. Carroll ISD offers its Dragon Virtual Academy for the first nine-week grading period.
Depending on the ages of your children, their virtual instruction process if different. The schedules for younger students may be easier to adjust to schedules than the older children in blocks from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. where the virtual students will be on a regimented instruction schedule just like the in-person students.
HealthyChildren.org article: Return to School During COVID-19
Possession Schedules Based on School Schedules
Most of the in-person learning and virtual learning occur on the same clock schedules. The students will be structured in the virtual setting at home, much like they were at school for in-person instruction. Instead of mom or dad driving the kids to school, they may not need to leave the house. Even though your possession schedule is based on school calendars, clock times, and schedules, you can adjust to exchanging visitation around the school schedules like normal, even though the children might not be leaving the house.
Ever considered 50/50? Read our article: Divorcing with Children 103 – Equal Access Possession Schedules
Is the School Schedule the Same as Parenting Time?
It is reasonable to anticipate some parents objecting to the other parent having more parenting time with the children when they are at home with the kids during their virtual schooling when they would otherwise be at school with teachers and fellow students in-person. Most parents who have their children at home with them doing virtual learning might joke at the idea of the other parent being jealous of what seems like more time with the children and gladly offer the other parent oversee virtual learning. The technology used by many school districts requires that virtual students at home are active on their computers and working diligently. So even though those children might be at home with the other parent, they are busy and occupied with their classes.
Edutopia article: Why Are Some Kids Thriving During Remote Learning?
Sending Your Children to the Other Parent for Virtual Learning
People with busy careers might not be able to stay at home with their children who are doing virtual learning. This might be a reason to send the kids back for in-person learning instead. But what happens if the other parent, who is a joint managing conservator, objects to in-person learning due to COVID-19 risks? What if the primary parent works in a profession that requires them to be gone from the house every day and the other parent works from home, at least during COVID-19?
Consider agreeing with your co-parent, that during COVID-19 impacting schooling, that the children go to the other parent’s house during the school day, arriving and leaving just as if they were at the school buildings with their teachers and fellow students. Remember, you and the other parent can agree to do whatever you both want with school schedules and possession, falling back on your Court Ordered parenting plan and possession schedule when necessary.
Adjustments to Academic Calendar
Adjusting to scheduling conflicts and challenges requires patience during COVID-19. As kids start going back to school there may be new cases reported causing unknown consequences. Some parents might start sending their children back for in-person instruction and then quickly decide they want to pull them back out of school for virtual learning instead.
Modifications to Possession Schedules to Match School Schedules
Modifying possession schedules is appropriate for parents who cannot co-parent well and need to stick to their Court Order. If school schedules during COVID-19 are a problem, and you have children of varying ages and needs, where some are attending in-person school and others are attending virtual school, you might benefit from a modification. But before you run to Court, remember that a modification case is a new lawsuit with service of process and all the procedural formalities you may recall from your original divorce and custody case. By the time you get to see a judge, during these times, your issues requiring a custody modification could be resolved. Remember that in different counties, there are serious backlogs of cases and parties are only appearing virtually. Alternatively, a temporary agreement between you and the other parent can resolve conflicts with the 2021 school schedules.
Southlake Family Law Attorney Leslie Barrows Can Help You with Agreements, Negotiations, and if Necessary, Modifications to Possession Schedules when School Schedules and COVID-19 Disrupt Your Plans. Call the Barrows Firm at (817) 481-1583.