Sunday, December 03, 2006

Life Insurance As a Marital Asset In a Texas Divorce

Are insurance policies generally characterized as separate or community in a Texas divorce?

Texas follows the inception of title rule in classifying the proceeds from a life insurance policy. Ownership is established by the source of funds for the initial premium. If that premium was paid before marriage or with funds clearly traceable to separate property, the policy remains separate property even though some or all subsequent premiums are paid with community funds. This means that the full value of the life insurance proceeds will be includable in the deceased spouse's gross estate for federal estate tax purposes. The surviving spouse, if not named beneficiary, has not claim to any of the proceeds. However, the community estate has an equitable claim for reimbursement in the enhanced value of the policy attributable to payment of premiums with community funds.

Ordinary value and term life insurance with guaranteed renewable and guaranteed convertible features are covered by this rule. The insured can convert the term policy to an ordinary value policy at any time. Furthermore, the insured needs no proof of insurability to renew the policy.

For example, in Estate of Cavenaugh v. Commissioner, the insured's policy was considered an option contract, and the future payments related back to the initial acquisition of the contract. The court applied the time of acquisition rule stating that the insured's subsequent actions could to convert the character of the property.

First Premium From Community Funds
If the initial premium was paid out of community funds, the life insurance policy is a community asset. One-half the insurance proceeds are includable in the deceased spouse's gross estate for federal estate tax purposes. If a third person is named beneficiary of a community owned life insurance policy, this action may be challenged by the surviving spouse under the rules governing lifetime transfers. If naming the other person is found to be a fraud on the surviving spouse, the spouse will be awarded one-half the death benefits and the named beneficiary will be entitled to receive the deceased spouse's one-half interest in the proceeds.

Note, however, that there is no basis for asserting an equitable claim for reimbursement in the policy's enhanced value if the spouse is unsuccessful in a "fraud on the spouse" challenge, because community funds were expended on a community asset. An equitable claim for reimbursement arises only if financial contributions from one estate enhance the value of another estate (i.e., community funds enhance separate property or vice versa). Contrast this result if the spouse had paid the first premium on the policy with funds from an inheritance. This would result in the policy being separate property, and as such the community estate would have an equitable claim for reimbursement in the enhanced value of the policy attributable to the payment of premiums with community funds.

Policy Acquired After Marriage But While Domiciled In Common Law State
Suppose a life insurance policy is acquired after marriage but while the couple was domiciled in a common law state, and the couple later moves to Texas. In determining the rights to proceeds at divorce, the policy is considered quasi-community property and is community.

Computation of Equitable Claim For Reimbursement
Since the insured on a life insurance policy is not required to pay the premiums, payment of premiums is not considered a discharge of debt. Thus, the use of community funds to pay life insurance premiums is measured by the enhanced value test in relation to the contribution of spousal labor to separate property.

(1) growth of a policy’s investment feature
One way to measure the enhanced value would be to measure the growth of the policy’s investment feature (i.e. the cash value). Problems arise, however when using this approach with non-cash value term insurance policies, or when both separate and community funds have contributed to the growth.

(2) Prorate according to premiums paid.
Another approach would be to prorate the proceeds in proportion to the source of the funds that paid the premiums, (i.e., if 40% of the premiums were paid from community property funds, then the equitable claim for reimbursement added tot eh community property would only be 40% of the growth). However, this proration method has been rejected by the court in McCurdy v. McCurdy, 373 SW 2d 381 (Tex.Civ. App. 1963). In this case, the court chose to apply the inception of title rule due to its inherent simplicity and in order to ensure an equitable distribution. The inception of title rule grants the spouse a right in the proceeds from the date of the policy.

Property IV: Classification of Particular Assets

Now that we have gone through some general classification principals, we can look at some specific applications.

Most questions of "is it yours or is it mine" are simple to figure out. Texas marial property can be classified in most cases simply by applying the meaning of Texas Family Code 3.001. The section states that a spouse's property consists of : (1) the property owened or claimed by the spouse before the marriage; and (2) the property acquired by the spouse during the marriage by gift, devise, or decent; and (3) the recovery for personal injuries sustained by the spouse during the marriage, except any recovery for loss of earning capacity during the marriage.

However sometimes classification is a little more complex. What follows are some general principals and likely outcomes of classifing certain property as separate or community. However caution must be used in applying these principals. Certain facts may change how the property is characterized. Remember, as I keep saying in this blog, any person should consult with an attorney prior to making any decisions based on any information obtained in this blog. This blog is for educational (and maybe entertainment) purposes and is NOT LEGAL ADVICE! Ok, enough said. Let's look at some specific assets begining with the next post..

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Property III: Mutations

Changes in the form of an asset are referred to as "mutations".

For example, let's say that Mary owns a house prior to marriage. She then marries John. As we have discussed, the house is clearly the separate property of Mary.

Now assume that after the marriage she sells the house and purchases two giant atomic ants. She then sells THEM to a circus sideshow and with the proceeds, buys stock in Atomic Widgets Inc.

We say that the house "mutated" into Atomic stock by the subsequent transactions of Mary.

The interesting thing about mutations is that under Texas law, the characterization, does not change. The fact that the property is the separate property of Mary is not changed by the fact that the property changes in type over time and through various sales. As long as the proceeds from the sale of separate property are used to purchase other property, the new property retains the separate property character. Of course, as we have previously mentioned , the spouse trying to prove the separate nature of the property has the burden of proving that it is not community. However, this can be done if there are records to trace the assets.

Another interesting thing about mutations is that even if the value of the mutated asset goes up, it still retains it's character. So in our example, if the Atomic Widgets stock goes up and are not other wise sold during the marriage, then the increased value of the stock is still all the separate property of Mary.

Although any dividends or other payouts from the stock are considered community, (because such payouts are much like "income" from the stock), the stock themselves (and their increased price) are still Mary's separate property.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Property II: Texas Separate Property Tracing: Proving What's Yours

Under Texas Law, there is a presumption that all property owned by either the wife or the husband is community property. At the time you seek a divorce, all the property you own is considered community property (TFC 3.003) and it is subject to having a judge divide between the spouses. The party wishing to prove that he or she owns separate property must put on "clear and convincing" evidence that the property is separate and not subject to the power of the court to divide between the spouses. "Clear and Convincing" is that measure or degree of proof that will produce in the mind of the judge or jury a firm belief or conviction as to the truth that the property is separate (TFC 101.007).

Texas Tracing
When we describe the process of proving the existence of separate property, it is called "tracing". This can involve investigating past transactions, gathering documents, and presenting to the court, through testimony and written documents such as titles and financial records, how you obtained the property so that it can be characterized as separate property. If fact the community property presumption is so strong, that even if you verbally testify that a certain property is yours, without any written records, and the other side does not offer any evidence against what you say, the property may still be considered community property. Boyd v. Boyd, 131 S.W.3d 605 (Tex.App--Fort Worth, 2004).

A certain piece of property can be considered separate if it was purchased with money from the sale of separate property. For example if a party owns a boat prior to marriage, and then uses the proceeds from the sale of the boat to buy a car after the party marries, then the new car may be considered the separate property of the spouse. However, this tracing must be by clear and convincing evidence. The party trying to make this claim must show how the certain funds clearly went from one separate property to another. If the funds became mixed up with community funds (such as the proceeds from the sale of separate property being deposited for a period of time into a joint checking account) then it may become impossible to prove the tracing and the party will not be able to prove that the car is separate property.

Often times, an expert is used to trace funds through an account. This expert witness will have specialized knowledge due to experience, training or education such as an accountant. They will be able to form an opinion even if their testimony is hearsay and the records they use are not otherwise admissible. They can also submit summaries of their evidence that will be admitted as long as the other side had access to the records which these summaries are based, and would otherwise be admissible as business records.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Property I: My Stuff, Your Stuff, Our Stuff

One of the and most contentious issues in many divorces is how the parties will separate the assets they have accumulated during the marriage. With this entry, we'll begin a long section on the topic of property division in divorce.

It is natural for a person going through the dramatic (and sometimes tragic) experience of divorce to feel embattled. When a person is in "battle mode" they tend to put on their emotional armor. The helmet they put on may feel protective, but it actually leaves them more vulnerable because it blocks the field of vision. Mainly, they can see only what is immediately in front of them- that is, the hard fought battle of a temporary hearing or mediation. They tend not to have a clear view of what lies ahead. Without this clear view, they cannot see that the real victory lies well down the road, not in the minor skirmishes. Meanwhile, they spend all their energy fighting only what is in front of their faces.

It is vitally important that when a person is embattled in a divorce to keep in mind that although they have every right to fight for a fair division of the property, that in the end, it is just stuff. One should not sacrifice one's peace of mind and sanity over material things. In addition, there are so many tales of married couples who exhaust all their resources fighting a legal battle over worthless trinkets that the story has almost become a cliche. Remember that movie, the War of the Roses? In it, a divorcing couple fought so much over who would get the marital home, that they invested their whole lives and fortunes in a pitched battle that had an ironic and tragic end. It may seem like that movie was a farcical exaggeration, but the dirty truth is, is that this Hollywood made fiction is not always that far from many people's actual experience. You have to be smart when it comes to your finances, and you have to know when to cut your losses and move on.

One of the most important things to know about property in Texas divorces is the definition of the terms community property and separate property. If you are married and are seeking a divorce in Texas, then everything you have is considered community property no matter whose "name it is in". This is what we lawyers call a "rebuttable presumption", meaning that the court assumes everything is community property, unless you can convince the court that it is your own separate property.

TFC 3.001, carves out the legal definition of separate property. A spouse's separate property is- (1) Property owned or claimed by the spouse before marriage; (2) Property acquired by the spouse during marriage by gift, devise or descent; and (3) The recovery for personal injuries sustained by the spouse during the marriage, except recovery for loss of earning capacity during marriage.

In addition, the following are also considered separate property: (1) Gifts between spouses (but you must meet very specific requirements to constitute a "gift"); (2) Written property agreements between spouses (by virtual of a 1999 constitutional amendment- but there must be an agreement in writing); and (3) Property obtained with the funds from separate property (a complex process called "tracing" must be used to prove this).

Again, these are the exceptions to the rule that everything obtained during the marriage is community. To call a piece of property one party's separate requires strict proof which must be properly presented to the court.

As we begin to explore property division, we will get into more detail about what constitutes sufficient proof and the certain rules such as "the community out first" rule, and the "inception of title" rule that govern the determination of property division. For now, it is enough to learn and remember that property battles should not be fought with our heads down, blindly hacking away at small issues. Our visors should be up and our eyes on the the whole field, and you need to be wise enough to know when it is time to boldly charge forward, and when it is time to cut your losses and retreat. You need to determine early on how much financial resource and emotional energy you want to spend on a fight over property, and have the courage and discipline to expend no more than what makes sense. Remember, stuff can be replaced. Your sanity and peace of mind are much more valuable.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Parenting Coordinators In Texas

As we have discussed in our past post, all family law cases filed after September 1, 2005 which involve children are subject to the new Subchapter J of Chapter 153 of the Texas Family Code. This subchapter discusses Texas parenting plans and Texas parenting coordinators.

Parenting coordinators are a very controversial part of this new Texas statute, and there has been much confusion about this aspect of the new law. So I've decided to make a post to help clarify this confused part of the law.

So what is this parenting coordinator position?

A parenting coordinator is an "impartial third party appointed by the Court to assist parties in resolving issues relating to parenting and other family issues arising from an order in a [Suit Affecting the Parent Child Relationship]." (TFC 153.601(3)). In essence, a parenting coordinator is used to the get parents to commmunicate regarding their children and reduce the harm of parental conflict on children.

Under TFC 153.610, to be a parenting coordinator, either as a professional or a volunteer, a person must meet the following qualifications:

1. A parenting coordinator must have a bachelor's decree in counseling, education, family studies, psychology, or social work, and unless waived by the court, complete a parenting coordinator course of at least 16 hours; or

2. hold a graduate decree in a mental health profession, with an emphasis in family and children's issues.

A would be parenting coordinator must complete at least eights hours of family violence dynamics training provided by a family violence service provider.

Under 153.606, the authority of a parenting coordinator is limited to the following:

  • identifying disputed issues;
  • reducing misunderstandings;
  • clarifying priorities;
  • exploring possibilites for problem solving;
  • developing methods of collaborative parenting and a parenting plan;
  • complying with the court order.

The parenting coordinator can't modify the court order for the child, but he or she may suggest temporary departures.

A court cannot appoint a parenting coordinator unless the Court finds that the parties have a way to pay the fees. Public funds CANNOT be used except that the court may appoint certain public employees as a parenting coordinator. If no such public employee is available, then the court may appoint a volunteer (as in, non-paid) if the parties are unable to pay because of financial hardship. However, even volunteers must meet the qualifications of TFC 153.610.

I have heard from MANY graduates of undergraduate programs in psychology or social work who have heard a little about this new statute and are seeking more info on how to become a parent coordinator. I must say that although I encourage any person who is very committed to this work to look further into this, that it is my experience that this is not a new "field" in which qualified individuals can work within their degree. The use of parenting coordinators is very rare and their use is justified in only to a very small percentage of "high conflict" divorce cases. By and large, the current market for parenting coordinators is more than filled with highly exerienced individuals who have already been doing this work for many years-ableit without any official statute to support their work. Many are PhDs and have made significant contributions to the field.

If that is not discouragement enough for new or soon to be graduates, then everyone should be aware of Texas House Bill 105 which is being considered by the Texas Legislature and would significantly limit the new parenting coordinator provisions. The bill is expect to pass in some form.

The bill limits what is considered to be a "high conflict" case, and therefore limits when a court can appoint a parenting coordinator. The bill would also make it much easier for parties to object to a parenting coordinator being appointed, and a hearing would now be required before the court could appoint a parenting coordinator. The new legislation would limit the types of public employees who could be appointed. In addition, if either party does not want to have the parenting coordinator, House Bill 105 would make the removal of a parenting coordinator mandatory instead of discretionary to the court.

Parenting coordinators may be a useful resource in high conflict family law cases. However, their use is rarified and the new statute, especially as it will probably be amended, is not a mandated new field of social work.

For another perspective, check out this post.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

At Ease! The Soldier's and Sailors Relief Act

A member of the military service who is unable to attend a court hearing because of his or her military service can be protected from appearing in court through the Soliders and Sailors Relief Act of 1940 and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003.

If a member for the military is being sued in Texas (or any other state- because this is Federal Law) for divorce, child custody, child support, or any other family law related matter, and they are stationed in another state or another country, they can delay the matter for a reasonable time.

Upon request of the servicemeber, a 90 day leave is automatically granted. If the servicemember requires more time, then he or she must show the court that they have tried, but have been unable to obtain a leave of absence to attend the scheduled hearing.

In some cases, a default case may not be taken against a servicemember unless an attorney has been appointed to represent the servicemember. (Hawkins v. Hawkins, 999 S.W. 2d (Tex. App.--Ausin 1999)).

The length of the delay that may be obtained depends on what is reasonable, but the maximum amount of time is the entire length of the servicemember's duty plus 3 months.

The acts protect all active members of the army, navy, air force, marines, coast guard, officers of the public health service assigned to the army or navy, reservists on active duty, dependents and perosns or business who may be liable along with the servicemember.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Child Abuse, Family Violence and Protective Orders

A protective order may be put in place to protect past and present family members including children. An action can be brought either as part of a divorce (Texas Family Code 6.504) or in any suit affecting children (82.005).

Any adult may bring a protective order to protect the welfare of children. For protection of an adult, the protective order may be filed by an adult member of the family or household, or a prosecuting attorney, or a Texas Department of Family and Protective Services employee for the protection of anyone alleged to be a victim of family violence. (Texas Family Code 82.002).

A protective order shall be rendered if the court finds that family violence has occurred and is likely to occur in the future. (Texas Family Code 71.004). Family violence is defined as an act by a member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm or is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm.(Texas Family Code 261.001(1)). This definition of family violence includes dating violence. (Texas Family Code 71.0021 and 82.002(b).

In a divorce, any party may motion the court to render a protective order. The motion can come before the petition for divorce (Texas Family Code 85.061) or after the petition for divorce is filed. If the circumstances allow, the protective order should be filed in the court that is handling the divorce. However, the protective order can be filed and rendered in any county where the applicant resides. However, it may be later transfered into the court where the divorce is pending. (Texas Family Code 85.064(b)). The respondent is entitled to notice of the protective order and should be served. If the protective order is part of a divorce, some attorneys serve the protective order and notice of the hearing date at the same time as they serve notice of the divorce.

EMERGENCY TEMPORARY ORDERS: A sworn affidavit by the applicant is needed for a temporary protective order which is being sought without a formal hearing with both parties in front of a judge. (Texas Family Code 82.009). This is called an ex parte protective order and is valid only for 20 days unless extended. (Texas Family Code 83.002). The purpose is to maintain peace until a formal hearing can be scheduled in front of a judge.

The emergency ex parte temporary order can include excluding a party from a home (Texas Family Code 83.006). However, this is a very serious remedy and judges are very cautious about granting such an order. There are some careful restrictions on this relief so that parties cannot abuse this process.

The scope of a protective order can be broad and cover almost every aspect of family life. Under the Uniform Interstate Enforcement of Domestic Violence Protectio Orders Act, the State of Texas will fully enforce out of state protective orders. It is also illegal to possess a firearm or ammunition if you are under a protective order and have been found to have committed family violence. See also: Pistol Packing Problem

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Latest Texas Statistics: Less Divorces, Less Marriages

The latest statisics reveal that divorces in Texas have been decreasing over the last two years. There were 63,717 Texas divorces so far in 2005*. There were 7.3% less Texas divorces this year than over the same time period last year and a nearly 12% decrease from the same time period in 2003.

The number of marriages has also decreased. There were 141,156 marriages made so far in 2005*. However, this is 11,192 less marriages made than the pervious year and 11,296 less than the same time period in 2003.

*From January to October

Source: National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 54, No. 17, May 10, 2006

Temporary Orders: Property Issues

After children issues, one of the most important issues decided on in temporary orders is which party will have use and possession of property while the divorce is going on and who will pay the debts.

The facts of each case make it hard to make any generalizations about the temporary disposition of property, but the following are some rules of thumb.

First, on the use of the house, the Judge will generally give the party who has the children the use of the family home. The reason, obviously is that the Judge wants the children's lives to be as stable as possible and he doesn't want the kids moving around unless absolutely necessary. Howver, if the home is the separate property (usually because it was owned in full prior to the marriage by one of the parties), then the Judge generally cannot order the party without the kids out of the house.

Another generally rule of thumb is that each party will be temporarily awarded the use of the car in their respective possession. This is usually not a contested issue, but sometimes one party may demand temporary use of a specific vehicle (such as the party with primary custody needing the minivan instead of the sports car).

The ongoing payment of debts (such as monthly bills) will also be decided during temporary orders. Often the sticker shock of trying to support two households is too much for the community budget to bear. Even though a party may be ordered to pay certain debts (such as credit cards)while the divorce is pending, they may not be able to afford to. The party may only be able to pay the secured debts (such as the car and the mortgage) to keep them from being forclosed on. Generally, if a party does not pay (with a few exceptions) general debts, this is not actionalble by contempt, because the Texas Constitution does not allow imprisionment for debts.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Case Update: Grandparent Access

A recent Texas Supreme Court case has come down in applying the new Constitutional standard of the seminal case of Troxel v. Grandville530 U.S. 57, 120 S.Ct.2054. We haven't got to grandparent access yet, so if you are interested, check out the full post at my "blanco" blog by clicking here: Texas Divorce and Family Law Blog.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Temporary Orders: Children Issues

Don't ever let anyone tell you that a temporary order is not a big deal. Temporary orders may have a profound impact on not only your life, but the life of your children. When the lives of your children are being affected, I don't know what could be a bigger deal.

The filing of a suit affecting the parent child relationship places a lot of power over chilren into the hands of the Court. The Court can make any temporary order it sees fit regarding children so long as the Court feels it is in the safety and welfare of the child. (TFC 105.001). The amounts to the sobering reality that once parents put themselves into the hands of the court, they are putting their children in the hands of the court. Even if neither one of the parents agree to certain provisions, the Judge can override the will of the parents and make nearly any binding order regarding the child so long as it determines it is for the child's best interst. This means that in the span of a short hearing, the Judge can make significant decisions that for a potentially long period of time will affect all aspects of a child's life. Kind of scary, hun?

The Court can order temporary restraining orders regarding the children without the need of hearing. TROs of this nature usually relate to enjoining either party from withdrawing the child from their school or daycare, and keeping either party from taking the child out of a geographic area.

After an evidentiary hearing, the Court has even more sweeping powers to determine the temporary situation for any child who is a subject of the divorce or suit affecting the parent child relationship. The court is empowered to determine the temporary conservatorship of the child (custody), temporary child support, orders restraining a party from determining the peace of the child, keeping someone from removing the child from a certain geographic area, and the payment of attorneys's fees. (TFC 105.001(a)).

As sweeping as these powers are, there are a few restrictions on the court. Unless there is a verified (sworn) pleading or affidavit by a party, the court cannot on its own, take possession of the child away from a person who has lawful custody, nor can the court exclude a parent from possession or having access to their child. (TFC 105.001(c)).

The normal requirement of an evidentiary hearing is done away with if the order is an emergency order sought after by a governement agency such as Child Protective Service. (TFC 105.001(h)).

This post was simply to give you an understanding of the impact of temporary orders on children issues. We'll discuss children issues in more more detail in latter postings.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Paying the Piper: Interim Attorney Fees

So who is going to pay the bill for all this great legal work? What if one party is in control of the community funds and the other party cannot afford to get an attorney?

The solution is to request interim attorney fees during the pendency of the case. Interim fees may be awarded through temporary orders under TFC 6.502.

The Court will want to hear testimony about why there is a need for interim attorney fees. Reasons include great disparity of incomes, or lack of access to credit by one party. Generally, the Court should strive to equalize any inbalances so that each party has a fair chance to put on their case.

Many times, the judges will look for a source of income that they can channel to the disadvantaged party. This for example could be a large tax refund or yearly bonus that the judge orders on temporary orders to be used by a party to pay interim attorney fees. The judge can also order that spouse ordered to pay the interim fees must cash in stock or take a loan out against a retirement account.

The payment of interim attorney fees is considered temporary spousal support and is enforceable by contempt. (TFC 6.502 and 6.506 see also In re Bielefeld, 143 S.W. 3d 924 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2004)).

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Show Me The Money..Honey: Temporary Maintenance

In cases in which one party is the primary wage earner, that party has an ongoing duty to support their spouse. Just because a divorce has been filed doesn't change that obligation. At a temporary order hearing, the judge has the power to order one spouse to make support payments to the other until a final decree is entered. (TFC 6.502). If they fail to make this payment, they could be found in contempt of court. (TFC 6.506(a)(2)) If they continue to refuse to pay that "*itch" or "b*asterd", the may find themselves in "j*il" under a contempt order for up to 18 months (Texas Government Code 21.002(f).

A common tactic while one party is paying support to another is to try to delay the end of the trial and "lezzes les bon temps roule" (let the good times roll) in regards to receiving the temporary spousal maintenance. That is why some attorneys will request that the temporary spousal maintenance remains just that..TEMPORARY and ask that a limit of three to six months be put on the obligation to pay. Most judges will allow that. But even if this limit is not requested in the temporary orders, the court may listen to a motion to modify the temporary orders in which the benefiting spouse is receiving payments, but has made no efforts to seek employment or make other financial arrangments to support his or herself after the divorce. Since the State of Texas does not beleive in permanent alimony, the courts will not allow a spouse to suckle at the money teet longer than is necessary to be weened and go out to forage on their own.

Remember we are only talking about spousal support here. CHILD SUPPORT is a whole other matter...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Don't Slip On the Temporary Order A"peel"

Chiquita is mad because at her temporary order hearing, her husband received temporary possession of the bowl of bananas she likes to wear on her head. Can she "appeel" the banana decision because she doesn't like how they were split? Well, if she had the temporary order hearing in front of an associate judge, (the "second banana" judge, if you will..)then she would be able to appeal the associate judge's ruling if she files the proper motion withing three days of the judge's rendering. However, if she have the temporary order hearing in front of the sitting, elected judge, then she cannot appeal because the judgement is "interlocutory" (not a final judgement). There is one exception- if the judge appointed a receiver to manage, protect, or dispose of the bowl of bananas, then she could appeal that to a higher court. (TRC 6.507).

Appealing temporary orders however, should not to be confused with a temporary order on appeal.


Temporary orders generally end when the final order is entered (unless the final order specifically says otherwise). However, if you are appealing a final order, the lower court retains jurisdictional power to render temporary orders while the appeal is pending to protect the parties and the property. These interim orders can even contain things that were not in the final order being appealed. These interim temporary orders are fully enforceable, even by contempt. (TFC 6.709(b) and 109/001(b)). That means even though a party is appealing the order, spousal support and child support must still be paid if they are in the interim temporary order.

One trick though. The interim temporary order must be rendered within 30 days after the appeal is perfected, or the court loses it's jurisdictional power over the case. (In re: Boyd, 34 S.W.3d 708 (Tex.App. --Fort Worth 2000).

Monday, March 20, 2006

Temporary Orders: The Pistol Packin Problem

If you are a card carrying member of the NRA, beware of Temporary Orders! Even if violence was never raised as an issue, if you carry a firearms under a domestic court order by any jurisdication (which a Texas temporary order is), you may be up against federal criminal sanctions. U.S. v. Emerson (270 F.3d 203 (5th Cir.2001).

Most judges are unaware of this, but I have seen some judges ask the parties if either of them own firearms before they grant temporary orders.

The constitutionality of domestic orders is really at issue. How the need for the stability of temporary orders in family law case measures against the fundamental right to bear arms of the second amendement to the constitution has yet to be decided. It seems that nobody really wants to knoch these two heads together by challenging it.

But this being Texas, we do love our shooting irons. So it is probably just a matter of time before this issue comes up before the Supreme Court.

See also: Child Abuse, Family Violence and Protective Orders

Sunday, March 05, 2006

A Quick Fix: Temporary Orders

Temporary orders are often necessary to keep the peace and sanity of parties going through a divorce. Ben Franklin, or some other wizzen old guy once said "good neighbors are made with strong fences" (or something like that) and that sentiment goes double in a divorce. A hearing must be had in front of a judge to rule on temporary orders. In Texas, the courts are supposed to set a hearing within 14 days of the request for one, but with the overcrowded courts being what they are nowadays, it is becoming rare that you can get a TO hearing that quickly. Temporary orders are the marching orders for the parties and they are put in place so that everybody knows what will be what until the divorce if final. The parties will be granted posession and access to certain property at the exclusion of the other party. The house, cars, personal effects, etc. will be awarded and the use of community funds may be restricted. Another useful temporary order that is often include is the requirement that both parties must file an inventory and appraisement of the property and other records that will help the parties value and divide the property when it comes time to finalize the divorce.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Divorce Part II: How May I Serve You?

Of all stages of the divorce process, giving and receiving service of process is probably one of the most emotional and misunderstood.

In most cases getting served with notice of a divorce is never a complete suprise. People in a happy marriage don't generally just wake up next to their loving spouse and say "I'm gonna get a divorce today". However, despite the many signposts that may pop up in the months and years preceeding a divorce suit, there is often a sense of suprise and betrayal by the one being served- even if it is simply the thought that "that SOB did it before I had a chance to!"

So why is all this sneeking around with a stack of papers necessary?

It is a basic tenent of the law that the person being sued in court has the right to know the action is happening and to appear in court to defend against the actions. There are strict requirements for service of process and the family law practictioner who ingnores them risks the prospect of a default ruling being retried in a motion for new trial.

Only certain people may serve process. Under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, this is (1) any sheriff or constable or other person authorized by law; and (2) any person authorized by law who is at least 18 years old and has not interest in the outcome of the case. (TRCP 103).

Process may also be served by mail. The problems with that is that if the party does not personally sign the return green card, there is no proof of the service if the party then complains and seeks a new trial.

A party may sign a waiver of service that they have received notice of the suit. This is usually the easiest method, but many times parties refuse to sign anything thinking that they are giving up some sort of rights. Usually the only thing they are doing is forcing delaying the inevitable.

Alterntive forms or service are available if personal service or mail by service is not possible. Permission must be obtained by the court to use the methods covered by TRCP 106. These substitute services include delivering the citation to anyone over 16 years of age at the last known address of the person to be served. These require an affidavit as well as a court order.

Another method of service is by publication. Service may be obtained by publishing under Rule 116. There are special provisions in the Family Code under TFC 102.010 and 6.409 which allow the publication to be only once. Also, if there is the case does not involve children, service may be obtained by posting notice of citation at the courthouse door. (The only exception to that is if the name of the respondent is not known in a termination case.)