A Helpful Aid for Long-Distance Access: Skype Visitation

Published October 25, 2012 | By

When a couple has divorced and one or both of the parties has moved out of the area, it can make it can become extremely difficult and sometimes impossible for the non-custodial parent to have frequent access and communication with the children.  With the increasing mobility of our society and the much more typical career changes that seem to be a staple of our current economic times, this situation has become a very common occurrence.

Standard Possession Order Visitation Schedule – Long Distance Access

This situation is so common in fact that the Texas Standard Possession visitation schedule (the one that is included in some form in most court orders involving child possession and access) has provisions that address both when the parents live within 100 miles of each other and also when they live further than 100 miles apart. The over and under 100 mile schedules are fairly similar to each other in most respects, with a few key differences.

Under the statute the non-custodial parent who lives more than 100 miles away is actually still entitled to exercise every other weekend visitation, if that party so chooses.  While this might work for a dad living in Austin whose kids live in Sugarland, this is not so practical if that same dad got a job transfer to Seattle.  In that case, visitation usually ends up degenerating into a limited number of longer visits, such as the summer and Christmas breaks.

Keeping in Touch with Your Child When You Live Far Away

So how can a person in this situation stay in touch with his or her children when frequent in-person visitation is just not possible?  In the past the best you could do was make frequent and regular phone calls.  But now technology has improved significantly on this. With the advent of Skype and Apple Facetime software, all it takes is a webcam and the visiting parent can have a much more interactive experience with their child.

I have had many clients who have requested and gotten orders that include routine skype access in addition to their regularly scheduled visitation periods.  The schedule and lengths of time the sessions last vary based on the particulars of the case and also the age of the child.  Clients who have utilized this technology have given it high marks as compared to just a phone call. If your situation involves long distance access this is something that you might want to consider in your divorce case.

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Posted in Parent-Child Issues

What is a Financial Information Statement?

Published October 13, 2012 | By

A Financial Information Statement is a court-required document for nearly all temporary orders hearings and final trials in Texas divorce cases.  Here is a sample Financial Information Statement so you have an idea of what they look like.  The names and details used are all fictional, although the facts used are relatively typical of the issues dealt with in a Texas divorce. The sample document is based on a husband who expects to move out of the residence and pay child support.  In a real case both sides prepare and submit a Financial Information Statement to the court prior to a temporary orders hearing.

What is the Purpose of a Financial Information Statement in a Divorce?

Essentially this document shows to the court the gross and net income of each party as well as a list of the necessary expenses of the party preparing the Financial Information Statement. When I sit down with a client to prepare this document it is often the first time they have given much thought to what their resources are and what they will need post-separation. Obviously, the financial and cash flow issues in a divorce case are extremely important and need to be evaluated early on in the case.

The Financial Information Statement document is extremely important for helping the court (as well as your lawyer) evaluate the financial issues in the case. Assuming there are not large discrepancies between the numbers on each party’s Financial Information Statement, the decisions in a temporary orders hearing are largely decided by the evidence in each party’s Financial Information Statement.

What are the Pitfalls in Preparing Your Financial Information Statement?

In preparing the Financial Information Statement clients sometimes tend to underestimate their expenditures and give “low ball” expense numbers. Maybe this is because they are embarrassed and they give what they think the number should be, rather than what it actually is. It is important that you give accurate numbers in order to get the result you need. For example, if you typically spend $1000 per month for groceries based on your actual past history, then this is the number you should use for the Financial Information Statement. If instead you put $400 because that seems like a more reasonable number, you’re very likely to have financial trouble as the case progresses because you underestimated your actual expenses and don’t have enough coming in to cover everything. So try to be as accurate as possible in preparing your Financial Information Statement.

Of course the specifics of each individual case are unique and you should discuss with your attorney the preparation and use of the Financial Information Statement.

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Posted in Alimony, Child Support, Divorce, Parent-Child Issues, Temporary Orders | Taged , , , , ,

My Thoughts on Top 10 Tips for Great Divorce

Published October 12, 2012 | By

I came across a thought-provoking article by Pamela Cytrynbaum on psychologytoday.com, entitled Top 10 Tips for a Great Divorce. It gives her suggestions on how to turn an amicable separation into an amicable divorce. I mostly agree with what she suggests, although I have different thoughts on a few of the issues. I encourage you to check out the article. Here are my thoughts on some of her tips that I took issue with:

Her Tip #2 – Lawyers Prepare for the Worst. Mediators Bring out Your Best.

The author encourages people to not hire lawyers but instead go to a neutral mediator to settle their case. This is an issue that I have been asked about from time to time. The motivation behind this idea is a good one, that is to try and resolve the divorce without ugliness. The problem is that the issues are simply too complicated to address without legal advice. If you are the spouse who has less information about the finances (or simply are missing financial information about accounts and your spouse’s name), then following this advice could lead to a disastrous result for you.

MY ADVICE – Hire a good lawyer with the instruction that they try to resolve the case fairly but in the early stages if at all possible.

Her Tips #5 – Agree on How to Disagree and #6 – Timeouts: Outline Clear and Effective Consequences

On these two tips the author recommends that the agreement be clear on how to handle issues that might arise in the future (she gives as examples if one party relocates or remarries) and what the consequences are for violating the agreement. Again, in principle these are great ideas. However, unless you have the experience of a good family law attorney in your jurisdiction who knows the law on these particular issues and can draft the language so that it is enforceable, it is very unlikely you’re going to be able to effectively deal with these issues.

MY ADVICE – Again, you need a good attorney to assist you with the key issues in the case and to put the agreement in a language that courts will enforce later if necessary.

Most of the rest of Ms.Cytrynbaum’s tips are great and people would do well to follow them. For example, she encourages the parties to occasionally get together with the children and have dinner as a family. I think this is a wonderful idea and when this is possible it would be a very positive thing for your children to experience.

She also discourages people from introducing any new boyfriends or girlfriends to the children until long after the divorce is final. I agree that this can be a damaging and traumatic thing for children if it happens too soon after the divorce.

Overall, it was a very interesting read and I think a lot of people could benefit from following her advice, except for the tips described above that I have issue with. Take a look at the article and let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts.

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Visitation – What is the Texas Standard Possession Order?

Published October 11, 2012 | By

The Standard Possession Order (SPO) is a default visitation schedule defined by the Texas Family Code that is used in the vast majority of Texas divorce cases involving children. It is extremely detailed and lengthy and is one of the main reasons that divorce decrees in cases with children are usually 30 to 40 pages long. The Standard Possession Order statute is Texas Family Code Section 153.3101 through 153.317.

Every order has its own particular provisions, so please refer to the specifics of your own order for guidance if you have one. Also note that all of the terms are subject to alteration, either by negotiation or court order. This article is designed to give a brief overview of the statute and how its key provisions work when the standard language is used without tweaking. Here are some of the key provisions of the Standard Possession Order, as applied to parents who live within 100 miles of each other (the statute is somewhat different for those that live more than 100 miles apart).

Weekend Visitation

The non-primary parent has weekend periods of possession beginning on the first, third, and fifth Fridays of each month. Note that not every month has a fifth Friday, but for those that do it means that the non-primary parent will have possession for two consecutive weekends (a fifth Friday in a month will always be followed by a first Friday on the following month).

The beginning time of the weekend period can either by 6:00 p.m. or when school is dismissed. The ending time of the weekend period can either be 6:00 p.m. on Sunday or Monday morning when school resumes, depending on which election is made by the non-primary parent. If the period begins when school ends on Friday the non-primary parent is responsible for picking the child up from school and if the period ends on Monday morning the non-primary parent is responsible for delivering the child to school.

Thursday Visitation

The statute provides for the non-primary to have visitation every Thursday during the school year. The standard visitation is just a dinner period, from 6:00 p.m. on Thursday until 8:00 p.m. that same day. However, the non-primary parent can elect to extend that visitation to begin as early as school dismissal on Thursday and to end at school resumption on Friday morning. In effect, this gives the non-primary parent the option to have at least one overnight per week and avoids going the extended period of time between weekend visitation periods without having the child overnight.

Holiday Visitation

I recommend you check the language in your order if you have one for all specific provisions that apply to your situation, or the language of the statute if you do not, and this is especially true for holiday visitation. Holiday periods are probably modified more than any other area of the Standard Possession Order schedule because every family is different and has different holiday traditions. Also, please note that the holiday periods trump the weekend and Thursday visitation periods. In other words, if there is a conflict the holiday schedule applies, not the weekend or Thursday schedules.

Summer – Generally, the non-primary parent gets 30 days in the summer. There are a number of ways this period can be scheduled under the SPO, with certain restrictions. The 30 days can be exercised in either one or two periods of at least ten days each. The non-primary parent is required to notify the other parent in writing of the summer schedule by April 1. If no notice is given then the default period is July 1 through July 31. There are a number of restrictions and details that are too lengthy to discuss in this post so see your order for the specific requirements in your case.

Christmas – In alternating years each parent gets either the first half or the second half of the Christmas break.The Christmas break is defined as beginning at either 6:00 p.m. on the day school is dismissed for the break or at the time of school dismissal, depending on whether the extension election is made. The break ends either at 6:00 p.m. the day before school resumes or at the time school reconvenes. The exchange time (the break between the two halves) is noon on December 28th. The non-primary parent gets the first half of Christmas during even-numbered years and the second half during odd-numbered years.

Thanksgiving – In odd-numbered years the non-primary parent has possession during the Thanksgiving break. In even-numbered years Thanksgiving goes to the primary parent.

Spring Break – In even-numbered years the non-primary parent has possession during Spring Break. In odd-numbered years this period goes to the primary parent.

Mother’s & Father’s Day weekends – Moms get possession of the child during the Mother’s Day weekend and dads get possession of the child during the Father’s day weekend.

Child’s Birthday – For the parent that does not have regularly scheduled possession of the child on the child’s birthday, that parent gets possession from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on that day.

So that is a somewhat brief overview of the Texas Standard Possession Order language. Again, please refer to your order and the language of the actual statute (and get advice from a lawyer) if you have specific questions regarding your situation.

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Posted in Custody, Divorce, Parent-Child Issues, Visitation | Taged , , , , , , ,

What Effect Does Adultery Have on a Texas Divorce Case

Published October 3, 2012 | By

This post will discuss the legal and practical implications of extramarital affairs on a Texas divorce case.

Adultery is a Statutory Grounds for Divorce in Texas

The Texas Family Code has long held that adultery is a grounds for divorce. See Section 6.003 of the Texas Family Code. Its use as a grounds for divorce has become far less significant since Texas became a no-fault divorce state many years ago. Nonetheless, it is frequently pled as a grounds for divorce and a judge can find that the grounds for divorce was adultery, not the much more commonly used irreconcilable differences.

Adultery Can Have an Impact on Property Division in a Texas Divorce

The Texas Family Code also provides that the court can consider fault in the divorce in dividing property. See Section 7.001 of the Texas Family Code. This gives the court the authority to make a disproportionate division if it believes that one side was more to blame for the divorce than the other party. Consequently, adultery can be a factor that leads to one spouse being awarded more property in the divorce case. How much of an impact it makes in any given case is highly dependent on the specific facts of the case and the predilections of the judge. To some judges affairs are a significant factor in a divorce case, to others they are more a symptom of an unhealthy marriage.

Adultery Generally Does Not Impact Custody or Access to Children

While affairs can have an impact on property division, they generally have no impact on custody or access issues. The court’s determination of custody and other access provisions are still governed by the overriding principle of “best interests of the children” as well as a number of specific statutes in the Family Code.

Thus, adultery is typically a non-issue in a custody case with one major exception. If the affair occurred or is ongoing in some way that the court deems to be harmful to the children, this can have a major impact. An example of this would be having the children in the presence of the paramore (boyfriend or girlfriend) prior to the divorce being finalized.

Adultery Can Complicate a Divorce and Create Hostility

So far we have discussed the specific legal issues in detail, but in my experience the practical implications of affairs on a divorce case are often much more impactful. I personally have seen many cases that initially appeared to be relatively calm, civil divorce cases that look like they would be resolved amicably turn into contentious, ugly battles after one spouse learned of an affair. This is especially true when that spouse believes that their marriage was “broken up by this homewrecker” and that there was nothing wrong with their marriage until the affair occurred. Situations like this can cause a divorce to turn into a lengthy, expensive nightmare of a battle.

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Posted in Custody, Divorce, Parent-Child Issues, Property Division | Taged , , ,

Can Dad See the Kids if He’s Not Paying Child Support

Published September 28, 2012 | By

I sometimes get asked by a divorced mom whether she is required to let her ex-husband have his visitation with the children if he is not currently paying his child support.  The reasoning behind the question is that if he is not following the court order, then why should I?

Two Separate Issues Under the Texas Family Code

The answer is that yes, you must follow the court order and allow the father to exercise his visitation regardless of whether he is in arrears on his child support. The court will view those issues are entirely separate and either party will be at risk of being held in contempt of court if they fail to follow the court’s order.

Let Him See the Children and File an Enforcement Action

The appropriate action for the mother to take in that situation is to hire an attorney to pursue an child support enforcement action against the father.  The Texas Family Code has very strong enforcement remedies for failure to pay child support on time, including the very real possibility of jail time.

Since mom’s who are not receiving their child support are typically already strapped for cash, the idea of having to pay an upfront retainer to pursue dad in the enforcement action is usually not an attractive one.  Fortunately the Texas Attorney General’s office has a child support division that handles enforcement cases for free.  While the service may not be the same that you would get from a private law firm (as they are fond of saying “I don’t represent the party, I represent the State of Texas”), you can’t beat the price.

Posted in Child Support, Enforcement, Parent-Child Issues | Taged , , ,

A Tale of Two Divorce Clients

Published August 15, 2012 | By

Please note that the clients and lawyers referenced in the video and transcript are purely hypothetical and not based on actual people.  If you prefer reading to watching, please see the transcript below:

TRANSCRIPT:
Deciding whether your marriage is over and you need a divorce is a gut wrenching, emotionally-draining experience. For those who conclude that it is the appropriate course of action, reaching that point is often a relief because you’ve made a decision. It feels like it’ll be over soon and you can begin rebuilding your life. But far too often the divorce case begins and you discover that things are far from over.

Selecting a lawyer who is going to effectively handle your divorce is extremely important, but most people have no idea how to pick the right lawyer for their case. 

What you need is a divorce firm that specializes in divorce and that has a track record of satisfied and happy clients. A firm that focuses on what should be the main objective in every divorce case: getting the client a fair result as early in the process as possible.

Lets do a hypothetical comparison of two men who have decided to get divorced. 

One, lets call him Bill, mentions to a co-worker that he and his wife have separated and that he’ll be getting divorced. His co-worker enthusiasticly tells him about his lawyer nephew who handles divorces. Bill, thinking his case will be simple and his spouse will agree, ends up hiring the nephew even though he is primarily criminal lawyer. Bill thinks to himself, ‘how hard can a divorce be, right?’ 12 months later, a frustrated Bill is still not close to being divorced.

Lets compare Bill’s situation to Steve’s. Steve had heard plenty of nightmare stories from his divorced friends and knew that he didn’t want to take any chances. He wanted an excellent divorce lawyer. Steve asked these same friends for recommendations, but none of them gave what you would describe as a “ringing endorsement” of their attorney.

So Steve went online looking for the right divorce lawyer for his case. He was looking for experience, a focus on family law, and a firm that had a track record of satisfied clients. When he found a firm that fit this description he scheduled an initial consultation to meet with the lawyer and see if his experience in person would match what he found online. When it did, he hired that firm. Even though his case involved children and some complex assets, four months later Steve was divorced and very satisfied with the result. 

Why were these two outcomes so different? Let’s examine what happened.

Bill’s attorney, not having much experience in divorce cases, was never entirely sure how to proceed. He was frequently hesitant to push forward on the case because he was afraid that he might miss something. He spent a lot of time on issues that turned out to be not that important, while he neglected to focus on issues of extreme importance. He just never was confident that he was handling the case correctly, so he moved very slowly and indecisively.

In contrast, Steve’s attorney knew from experience exactly what needed to be done. He focused on the steps that needed to be taken to get a fair result for Steve as soon as possible. The steps required vary depending on the particulars of each case, but what is crucial here is that Steve’s attorney remained focused throughout the case on the primary overriding objective: get Steve a fair result as soon as possible.

These two men had very different experiences. One had a divorce case filled with frustration, delay, and unnecessary expense. The other experienced a smooth, efficient process handled by a true professional.

While divorce is always an emotionally difficult and painful situation, it shouldn’t be made more difficult by having an attorney who is not qualified or experienced enough to get you an excellent result in a reasonable amount of time. 

If you’re interested in working with a divorce firm that knows exactly what it takes to get a fair result in the minimum time required, then feel free to call the Morgan Law Firm. We would be happy to schedule a consultation to discuss your situation in detail along with your options. Just fill out the form below and we will review it and get back to you to schedule a consultation. If you prefer, just call our office and you can schedule a consultation right away. We look forward to helping you in any way we can.

Posted in Alimony, Child Support, Divorce, Parent-Child Issues, Property Division, Separate Property, Videos | Taged , ,

Should You Get a Lawyer for Your Travis County Divorce?

Published July 19, 2012 | By

When confronted with a Travis County divorce case (or any other location for that matter) many people will choose not to hire a lawyer, even if their spouse has hired one. Some make this decision out of a sense of guilt or a desire to not turn it into an “ugly” divorce. Others don’t really think a lawyer will make much difference in the outcome of their case. There are also those who think they cannot afford to hire a divorce lawyer. Hopefully, this article will show that you cannot afford to not have a quality divorce attorney represent you in your divorce case.

Don’t Face Divorce on Your Own

As an experienced Texas divorce attorney I have done many consultations with people who previously appeared in court or settled cases without representation and were hoping that I could undo the damage that had already been done. With a few exceptions, there was nothing I could do to improve their bad outcome. It is unfortunate because most of the damage could have been avoided with a good divorce attorney.

A Bad Decision in Your Divorce Today Can Have Long-Lasting Effects

Examples of bad outcomes include getting a bad property division. I once met with a man whose ex-wife had been represented in their divorce by a very good board certified family law attorney. The husband felt the divorce was entirely his own fault (in my experience, this is rarely true) and out of a feeling of guilt he had signed off on a Divorce Decree that not only gave his wife 100% of the community property but also obligated him to pay alimony far in excess of what a court would have ordered. About a year after the divorce his business suffered a severe down turn and his income dropped dramatically. There was very little I could do to help him at that point. This was unfortunate and unnecessary as any competent divorce attorney would have advised him strongly against accepting the settlement terms.

How Good Advice Can Make a Difference

Here is an example with a happier outcome. The client came to see me early in the process. He had been married for several years and had two children in elementary school. His wife had been talking about divorcing him for quite a while. Near the end of the summer she told him that she was taking the children and going to another city to stay with her parents. She planned on enrolling the children in school there. He told her he disagreed but she packed the kids up and left anyway. Although he didn’t want a divorce he was smart enough to realize he needed the advice of an experienced divorce attorney.

It was explained to him that if let her enroll the children in school out of town and waited, hoping that she would come back, it would greatly damage his case and likely result in her being able to get a final order making the children’s primary residence the new city. If he wanted the kids to live in the same town as him he needed to act promptly to avoid creating the appearance that he willingly allowed wife move to the children. He understood the gravity of the situation and immediately filed for divorce, allowing him to get in front of a judge and very quickly get an order requiring wife to return the children home. Had he not quickly gotten good advice and quality representation the outcome (and thus his relationship with his children) would likely have been very different.

As you can see, it is extremely important that you get sound advice and a good divorce lawyer when confronted with the possibility of divorce. If you face the possibility of divorce make sure you get advice and representation. It is money well spent.

Posted in Divorce, Parent-Child Issues, Property Division | Taged , , ,

How To Calculate Child Support in Texas

Published July 8, 2012 | By

This video goes through the process of calculating child support in a typical Texas case. If you prefer, you can read the transcript below:

Video Transcript

My name is Scott Morgan and I am a board certified Texas family law attorney. In this video I am going to walk through an example of a very simple child support calculation.

In Texas child support is calculated using a formula from the Texas Family Code.  To calculate the child support amount you start with the payor’s monthly gross income.  That amount is then reduced to allow for certain deductions, such as taxes and certain health insurance expenses.  Once these deductions are made you have calculated the payor’s monthly “net resources.”

Note that this number is likely not the same as the payor’s actual take-home income.  There are a lot of deductions that come out of someone’s paycheck, for example 401k contributions, that are not factored into the calculation of monthly net resources.

Once the monthly net resources are calculated, you multiply that amount by a percentage to arrive at the monthly child support amount.  The percentage is determined by how many children there are, with a reduction in the percentage if the payor has other children he is legally responsible for.

As a simple example, lets take a payor who makes $96,000/year or $8,000/month.  Assuming this payor is not self-employed (the net resources calculation is slightly different for the self-employed), we would look at the statutory deduction chart and see that the monthly net resource amount would be $5,920. If we further assume that the child support is for one child and the payor has no other children, then the statutory percentage would be 20%.  We multiply the net resource amount ($5,920) by 20% to arrive at a monthly child support amount of $1,184.

This has been a very simple example and, as with everything in family law, there are certain exceptions that can apply, but this is how child support is calculated in the vast majority of cases in Texas.

I hope you found this video helpful. If you have any questions or suggestions for future videos please feel free to comment below.

Posted in Child Support, Custody, Divorce, Enforcement, Modification, Parent-Child Issues, Videos | Taged , , , , ,

Pick the Right Divorce Lawyer – Here’s How

Published June 21, 2012 | By


This is a video by Scott Morgan, giving his three best tips on how to find the right divorce lawyer for your case. It originally appeared on his blog at austindivorcespecialist.com. If you would prefer, you can read the transcript below:

Transcript

I’m Scott Morgan, founder of the Morgan Law Firm. I am a board certified Family Law attorney and I have practiced family law since 1994. In this video I am going to give you my three best tips for how to pick the right divorce lawyer for your case.
My first tip is to find out choose a lawyer who is experienced and focused on family law and divorce cases.  Sometimes people hire attorneys for their divorce who have very little experience handling divorce cases, thinking that as long as the lawyer has trial experience of any kind that is enough.  Nothing could be further from the truth.   Family law is a very specialized area that is constantly changing. You really need someone whose focus is on family law.

Tip number two – find out what past clients have to say about the attorney.  There is no substitute for getting actual feedback from someone who hired this same attorney and worked with him or her.  If you were referred by someone you know who was a past client, all the better.   Ask this person what it was like to be a client of that lawyer and, if they had it to do over again, would that hire the same lawyer and why or why not? This will give you the very closest thing to the actual experience of being this lawyer’s client before you decide who to hire.

Lastly, tip number three – After you meet with the lawyer for the first time ask yourself if you would be comfortable working with this attorney.  No matter what the résumé says, no matter what the lawyer’s past clients say, if you just don’t feel comfortable with and confident in the attorney, you should keep looking.

Obviously, hiring the right divorce lawyer is a very important decision and one you want to get right the first time. Making the wrong decision and having to switch attorneys in the middle of a case is no fun.  But if you follow these three simple tips you are much more likely to find the right attorney for your case.

If your case is in the Austin area feel free to give our office a call and schedule a consultation.  We would be happy to see if we could assist you.

 

Posted in Child Support, Custody, Divorce, Parent-Child Issues, Property Division, Separate Property, Videos | Taged , ,