Monday, August 18, 2014

Back to School Tips for Divorced and Divorcing Parents

A tricky question that will eventually face anyone who is either going through or has recently been in a Texas Divorce is when you should tell others about the break up. As we are looking at the beginning of the new school year, you may be wondering whether to tell your child’s school.  So, should I tell my child’s school about my divorce?  In this video, we’ll answer that question along with other back to school tips for divorced or divorcing parents.

Informing Your Child’s School

Experts say that it is not necessary to jump ahead and tell the school until things are actually in motion.  My general advice however, is to make your child’s school aware of the divorce once it has been finalized and a custody order has been put in place.   This becomes an even better idea if your custody case was or is a contentious one.   Making sure the school is aware of the visitation schedule will help ensure your child goes home with the right parent on the right day.

Protective Orders

However, in some cases, my advice moves beyond “it’s a good idea” to a very pointed and urgent  admonishment that if you are involved in a case with a finding of family violence and a protective order, it is absolutely necessary to inform the school  of the existence of the order.  The school needs to know who and who does not have access to the child.  Fortunately most schools are very aware of their responsibilities to keep your child safe.  Bringing them a certified copy of your protective order is an excellent way to ensure they can do their job by clarifying  their duties as it relates to your child.

General Parent Rights on Education

Fortunately most cases do not require that amount of vigilance.  There are certain conservator rights that are usually granted to both parents in the bulk of all cases, although a Texas court may limit them if it is warranted for some reason.  Many of these relate to schools.  Unless the court specifically ordered otherwise, under 153.073 of the Texas Family Code both parents have the right to receive educational information about their child and to have access to their child’s school records.  Each parent can independently consult with school officials about their child’s educational and extracurricular activities.  Each parent can attend school activates, and each parent has the right to be notified by the school in the case of an emergency.

If you have a standard custody order in Texas, or if you anticipate no reason the court would limit these educational right in your pending divorce or custody suit, then it is probably a good idea to let the school know what is going on.  If the school knows you are living apart, they can take necessary steps such as sending home two copies of report cards, discipline reports, and the like.  This  will keep both parents in the loop and avoid any potential conflicts.  And avoiding conflict will always save you emotional stress, time and potentially litigation costs.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Should You Negotiate Or Litigate Your Divorce?

When a husband and wife are facing the emotional and psychological turmoil of a divorce, a question that must inevitably come up is whether the parties should seek and out-of-court settlement or would they be better off taking the matter to trial.   This is probably the most critical question you will face in your divorce and there are pros and cons to each approach.
Letting the Judge Decide
If parties, cannot, or will not settle out of court, then the alternative is to let the family court decide.   A family judge is a county judge, but unlike district judges, they only deal with matters that fall under the Texas Family Code.  This judge is supposed to act with impartiality and without any preconceived ideas about your case until they have heard the evidence presented by each side.  Bringing a case to court has significant risks because you must convince a judge about every aspect of your case that you are trying to get from custody of your children to who gets the lawn mower.  Most people have a skewed idea of what court is about.  They think it is a stage in which they just have portray their spouse to be the worst human on earth and therefore they should give everything to you – “the good guy”.  But the fact is that such unfocused mud-slinging very rarely will sway a family judge one way or the other.  Parties really need to present their case in a way that will follow the strict rules of what can and can’t be said and at the same time prove each point in the case you present.  When you choose litigation, you are putting all your trust into your attorney that he will present the best case for you and in the court system that they will do the just thing.    This may the only option you have if the settlement offers from your spouse are less than what is fair and equitable and are far less than you think the judge would give you in court.  On the other hand, if the settlement offer is close enough to what you could reasonably get in court, and the high cost of taking it to court and the risk you face in that “all or nothing” game make it not worth the trouble of taking it to court, then parties should choose to settle it out of court.
Communication Is Key To Settlement
If you are one of the very rare few spouses who maintain good communication and respect through the divorce process then you may be able to settle matter on your own and perhaps you and your spouse may utilize your attorneys only in an administrative capacity to help make sure the legalities are done correctly.  However, in my experience, less than 1% of all divorce cases are resolved in this way.  Most couples lack communication and/or respect by the time they file for divorce, or they will lose this ability by the time the case reaches the negotiation phase.  For the other 99%, they lack the ability to communicate and cooperate.  Under these circumstances it may be nearly impossible to settle your issues and avoid court.  Fortunately that does not mean all these couples are fated to have a contested trial to end their case.    In Texas, there are a whole range of procedures to help couples who can’t communicate to nonetheless settle their case.  These procedures are called Alternative Dispute Resolution.  These are private meetings outside court system which are designed to bring about a mutually agreed settlement.  In divorce cases, we most commonly use a process called mediation, but there are many other procedures such as settlement conferences, mini-trials and arbitration that can be tailored to your cases’ needs.

Which Is Right For Your Case?
I believe that each client is an individual with unique needs, and so each divorce case is also unique and will be successful or not depending on the attention to those special details.   If you are facing a divorce, you should begin to think about those details.  Depending on where you are in the emotional process, this may be hard, but the earlier you begin to think strategically about your case, the better will be the outcome.  What are your plans for the future?  Will you remarry?  Do you plan to have any more children?  Will you purchase a new house?  Will you start a new job?  Money is always a very important issue in considering whether to go to trial or settle.  At the earliest stage, many people try to avoid attorneys altogether so save money.  What these people fail to understand about settlement and negotiation however is that it will only work if both parties are negotiating from a position of strength.  The threat of the other side winning everything at trial is what motivates people to settle before it gets to trial.  The only way for you to be able to have that strength is to hire a reputable, experienced attorney who is ready and able to take the case all the way- and win.  

Saturday, July 05, 2014

8 Tips on Successful Co-Parenting After Divorce

Divorce presents us with problems that don’t have easy answers.  The advantages of co-parenting after divorce are clear- by both parents participating in decision making- both parents are actively engaged in a child’s life.  But for most parents, having a low or no conflict relationship after the bitter struggle of divorce is just not realistic.  But if parents don’t consciously try to reduce conflict, one or the other may take the matter back to court which will cause stress and chaotic uncertainty while the case is pending, and may produce undesired results from the court who may modify custody in a cookie cutter way which worsen the situation.  Certainly taking an ex back to court to modify a custody order will cost a lot of money and will only worsen the relationship between the ex-spouses and make it even harder for them to communicate and co-parent in the future.

One fact is that after the divorce, parents no longer have an incentive to compromise.  Often there is one parent who is more cooperative at the beginning, but after some arguments and insults, they no longer cooperate and the relationship slides into chaos.

Its important to view co-parenting as both a short and long term venture.  Very few divorced couples have respectful, cooperative  relationships soon after the divorce.  But if you feel that this is how it will always be, you shouldn't give in to your more negative emotions.  While you may never consider each other best friends, most parents eventually settle into a civil relationship for the sake of the children.  To do this earlier than later, it is helpful to keep the following eight Tips in mind:

Tip 1:  Redefine your relationship

Try to see you ex not as friend, but as a business partner, and your child as a business.

Tip2:  Choose your battles

Recognize that you have some control over your child, but that there are some things you cannot control.  You can only do your best with the control you have. 

Tip 3:  Respect your ex’s relationship with your child

You have a unique relationship with your child, but your ex has an equal and separate relationship.  Unless there is abuse, your ex’s relationship is important to your child’s wellbeing.  Don’t interfere or sabotage that relationship.  This means not just overt sabotage such as keeping the child from having contact with the other parent, but also subtle sabotage such as bad-mouthing your spouse in front of your child.

Tip 4:  If you have a legitimate concern about your ex’s parenting, try to be diplomatic in how you bring it up.

Instead of “You should..” try “Perhaps just consider..”
Instead of “I think you ought to..”, try “Obviously, its up to you..”
Instead of “The way I do things..”, try “In case this is helpful..”
Instead of “Try it this way..”; try “It may not work for you, but here’s something that worked for me..”
Instead of “Here’s the solution”, try “Of course you can figure out your own solutions, but here’s an idea if you want to consider it..”

The point is, before you contact the other parent, mentally prepare yourself to resist the urge to explode in anger, call names, or shut down the communication.  Whether you succeed in avoiding a fight over the issue or not, you will find a little effort on your part will go a long way to your concern actually being addressed.

Tip 5:  Make it a point to ensure your ex is included in your child’s life.

If you get information about an event in your child’s school, extracurricular activities and other important occasions in your child’s life, inform the other parent as soon as possible.  It is hard to be angry with someone who is making a real effort to keep you in the loop.

Tip 6:  Be flexible.

Work with your ex to accommodate special occasions.  Life is not always on a schedule.  Be willing to switch weekends, or modify pick up or drop off times.  Hopefully the other parent will reciprocate when you want some flexibility.  But even if they don’t, remember your flexibility is often for your children’s benefit, not the other parent’s.

Tip 7:  Co-parenting does not mean “equal parenting”.

Just because you are sharing time with your child doesn't mean that each parent will be all things to a child during that time.  We all fall into natural roles in parenting and that doesn't change because of an artificial court order.  One parent may more naturally be a more emotionally nurturing parent.  Another may be a more experientially stimulating parent.  There are many roles to play as a parent and we have to acknowledge that we can’t be all things at all times.  It doesn't make your ex a “bad parent” if they aren't playing the same roles as you.  Your child will thrive if all aspects of parenting are given by both parents.

Tip 8:  Whenever you are making a decision about your child, put her best interest as the first consideration.

Try to separate your personal issues with your ex from the decision you make for your child.  Don’t say “no” just because your ex says “yes”.   Especially soon after a divorce, you may need to get the advice of a disinterested person such as family, friends, clergy or a therapist.  When making decisions, you need to hold your child’s best interest in mind and put down the old emotional baggage.

Most parents want to do what is right for their children, but the intense emotions of divorce often cloud their views.  Being a successful co-parent means being self-disciplined in your communications with the other parent and raising your child’s needs above your own hurt.  It may be difficult now, but if you keep trying your best, co-parenting will get easier over time.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

What Should I Think About Before Relocating With Children

If you are current engaged in divorce, are thinking about a divorce, or are post divorce, you may have thought about moving your children to another city, state or even country.

Although the idea of a fresh start in a new place may sound appealing, it may not be as easy as you think especially if 
children are involved.

Before you rush into any decision, here are three tips to consider before you start packing:

1.  Is this move really in the children's best interest?

When you relocating your children, you are moving them away from the other parent.  That may sound like a good idea, but for your children this may be a devastating move.  As Texas courts do, you must also think about what is in the best interest of the children before you make any moves.  If your ex-spouse has possession time with the children, chances are that your decree has a geographic restriction on the residency of the child.  it will not be easy to convince the courts to lift those restrictions and allow you to move away unless you have a very compelling reason.  Remember also that you will be moving your children from both family and friends and they will have much more limited access to that support system.   If you have to litigate this matter, it may be a long time before you get a ruling from the Court, so timing of your move is also a critical consideration.  If your children are old enough, you should open a dialogue with them very 
early on so you can access their wishes on whether they want to move at all.

2.  Develop a plan.

Have you thought everything through?  What school will your children attend?  Is that school as good or better than the 
 one they are leaving?  Who is going to take care of the children when you cant?  Do you have family or friends nearby?  Many parents consider relocating for work.  Is your job definite or a "maybe"?  Is the new job really a better opportunity?  The court will be asking these and many more hard question.  You better have a good answer and a solid plan.

3.  Talk with the other parent

Communicate with the other parent about your proposed move.  Who knows?  You may be shocked to find they are 
willing to cooperate with the move.  That's the best scenario and would save you considerable litigation costs.  By 
communicating you can together develop an appropriate parenting plan and visitation schedule.  Communication can also promote creative solutions such as virtual visitation through Skype or Face-time.  Open communication and assurance that you are not trying to cut the other parent out of the children's life will make deciding details such as travel 
expenses for visitation and other issues much easier and without expensive litigation.  

There are just a few of the important considerations you have to take into account if you are thinking of relocating your children.  You should talk with an experienced family lawyer about all the factors that the court will take into account.  

Ultimately, relocation with children should not be an impulsive decision, but rather one that is well thought out  and planned appropriately.    

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Do I Have to Pay Alimony to My Wife?

Generally Texas frowns on the permanent payment of alimony to an ex -spouse after the divorce.  There are two forms of "alimony" in Texas.  One is temporary spousal support and the other is contractual alimony.  For contractual alimony, the parties have to contract and agree to the payment of alimony after the divorce.  This is usually only done when a spouse is a high wage earner and there are tax benefits to him or her in paying alimony.

The other type of alimony is more common, but still only applies in some narrow set of circumstances and usually only for a limited amount of time.  It is designed to help an ex-spouse from a long term marriage temporary support while they gain skills or education so they can be self sufficient after the divorce.

Eligibility is narrow an only applies if:

1.  The spouse from whom payment is sought was convicted of or received deferred adjudication for a criminal offense that also constitutes an act of family violence under Family Code Title 4 and the offense occurred within two years of the date the suit for dissolution of the marriage was filed OR the offense occurred during the pendency of the suit;


2.  The duration of the marriage was 10 years or longer, AND

a.  the spouse seeking maintenance lacks sufficient property, including property distributed under the family code, to provide the minimum reasonable needs, (limited by the Family Code at 8.054), AND

b.  Is unable to be self supporting because of an incapacitating physical or mental disability, OR is the custodian of a child who has a physical or mental disability that requires the spouse not be employed outside the home, OR the spouse lacks the earning ability in the labor market to provide the minimum reasonable needs for that spouse.  Payments shall be for the shortest reasonable time that allows the spouse to obtain a job or skill level so as to reach that spouse's minimum reasonable needs (8.054).

Saturday, May 03, 2014

The Perception of Bias in Family Courts

The Texas Family Code says that in seeking custody of children and rights of a parent, there should be no bias by the judge based on the sex of the party, or of the child. (Sec. 153.003).  That is, the old idea that children should be with their mother in all cases is no longer used in courts.

But what is the law and what is really in the minds of family judges are sometimes two different things.  Fathers who have fought for custody and won still believe that the cards were stacked against them.  One father who won custody still had this to say:

"The courts are heavily biased.  They made me feel ashamed to ask for custody.  Laws seem equitable but are not practiced by older judges as they should be.  They stereotype a lot.  To get custody you have to head and shoulders above your wife.  Fathers don't seem to get custody when the wife is seen as competent."

Fathers complain that they have to spend thousands to protect what is theirs and mothers usually have the upper hand.  It is many fathers' perception that the courts are biased against because of their gender and are at the mercy of an archaic set of values that, though no longer technically exists in Texas, is still exercised by judges.  And the scary part is that these judges have almost limitless power in deciding what is "best" for your children.

Here is where an experienced family law attorney can make all the difference for a father seeking a fair custody or child support order.  The lawyer is a key player not only in providing legal and emotional support, but in setting the overall tone of the case.  With the father's input, an experience attorney can decide which issues to raise in court and how to include the children.  The lawyer can offer impression about the judge's hot buttons and soft spots regarding what is best for children.  And most significantly, the lawyer can give special attention to the impact of any bias that may be held against the father or against the mother.

If you feel you need help or advice with a child custody or child support case in Harris or Galveston county, contact the Palmer Law Firm for a free consultation.  Call 832-819-DLAW(3529) or visit us at  At the Palmer Law Firm, We Can't Protect Your Heart, But We Can Protect Your Rights.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Handling your own divorce case is like flying to Albuquerque on a banana.  It just makes no sense.  Here, Burt Likko describes an exchange in a family court:

Judge:  Petitioner, is your marriage completely and intolerably broken down?
Petitioner: Yes it is, Your Honor.
Judge:  Respondent, do you agree with that?
Respondent:  I don’t understand, Judge.
Judge:  The correct form of address is ‘Your Honor.’
Respondent:  Oh. Sorry, Your Honor. Yes, I agree that our marriage is completely broken.
Judge: Petitioner, will counseling or intervention help you reconcile or reconstruct your marriage?
Petitioner: Well, Your Honor, he never really gave it a try.
JudgePetitioner. Will, or will not, counseling or intervention help you and the respondent reconcile or reconstruct your marriage? [Arches eyebrows.]
Respondent: No, it won’t, Your Honor.
Judge: Thank you, Mr. Respondent, but I need to hear from her.
Petitioner: No, Your Honor, nothing will make us reconcile.
Judge: Very well. The petition for dissolution of marriage is granted. Are there any personal possessions left to divide?
Petitioner: Yes, Your Honor, he still has some of my sheet music.
Judge: Is this sheet music particularly valuable?
Petitioner: It is to me, Your Honor, it was from my mother’s estate.
Respondent: Your Honor, she took everything but my clothing. She’s welcome to come back to the house and take whatever else she wants.
Judge: Do you dispute that the sheet music belongs to her?
Respondent: I don’t care. She can have it if she wants it.
Petitioner: Why wasn’t it there when I came by the house before?
Respondent: You didn’t ask for it so I didn’t know to get it for you.
Judge: All parties will please address the court and not each other. Respondent will find and deliver the sheet music. Anything else?
Petitioner: I would like to address the issue of alimony, Your Honor. If you look at the tax returns, you’ll see that he can make good money when he chooses to work. It’s very suspicious that he decided to retire a few weeks after I filed for divorce, and he claims to have no money and he’s going to get married again in just a few weeks. He can make money if he wants to.
Judge: Well, I can’t make him want to work, and I can’t order him to go to work. How old are you, sir?
Respondent: Seventy-eight.
Judge:  There you go.
: I’ve looked everywhere for that sheet music, Your Honor, and I can’t find it.
Judge: Once again, sir, I am ordering you to find and deliver the sheet music. Go home and look, hard.
Petitioner: I would like you to be aware of what’s in this sexually explicit e-mail he sent me. It was just awful, awful. I haven’t had a decent night of sleep since I received it.
Respondent: Your Honor, I would like to be heard about this allegedly explicit e-mail, she’s taking out of context, and–
Judge: You know what? I don’t care about the e-mail. I’m here to divide up your property and that’s it. Your sex lives are not my concern.  [Departs the courtroom.]
Petitioner: [Sotto voce, to Respondent] This isn’t over, you bastard.

Face palm.

Don't go it alone.  If you are facing a divorce, child custody or support hearing, call on an experienced team like The Palmer Law Firm.  You can contact us at 832-819-DLAW (3529).  And remember, We Can't Protect Your Heart, But We Can Protect Your Rights.

Monday, April 28, 2014

My husband and I are divorcing and I think I deserve to get most of the property.

Alright then.  The first thing to understand is that the court begins with the idea that your property should be divided "fairly and equitably".  (Keep in mind this DOES NOT necessarily mean 50/50).  So if you want more than fair, it becomes your job to prove to the court that you deserve more than fair.

You likely need to tell the court in your first paperwork (called a "Petition") that you are claiming one of the 28 different factors that the court can consider in deciding whether to grant a disproportionate division of what you earned during the marriage (a.k.a. "community property").  You will have to plead that one of these things changed the normal presumption of equal division to your favor.  You need justify why you should get the lion's share of the property by claiming one or more of the following:

1.  Husband was at fault in the breakup of the marriage;
2.  You would have received benefits from the continuation of the marriage;
3.  He earns much more than you;
4.  Your health is worse than his;
5.  You got the children so you should get more property to help pay for them;
6.  Your children's needs are great;
7.  Your education is less than his and/or your prospects for the future are lower;
8.  You are less employable than him;
9.  There is a lot of marriage debt;
10.  The division of property will put more tax burden on you;
11.  The differences in you ages is great;
12.  The earning power, business opportunities and abilities favor your husband;
13.  You need future support;
14.  The kind of property to be divided means it would be fair for you to get more;
15.  Your husband wasted your community property;
16.  You husband doesn't deserve any credit for temporary support he paid you;
17.  Your husband used community funds to pay for out of state property;
18.  Your husband decreased your community property because he gave unreasonably valuable gifts during the marriage;
19.  You can show that your efforts (time, talent, labor) unduly increased your husband's separate property (which the court has no power to divide) and you should be compensated;
20.  Your husband gave so much of your community property away to his separate estate or to the children that it was unreasonable and should be compensated;
21.  The community estate should be compensated;
22.  Your husband is expecting a large inheritance;
23.  You should have more money to pay for attorney's fees;
24.  You used up your separate property to create community property;
25.  The size and nature of your separate property is much less than his;
26.  You disproportionately created community property by your own efforts, whereas he did not;
27.  He committed fraud (lied) that put you in a worse financial position than you otherwise would be in;
28.  His actions amounted to fraud, even if he didn't technically lied that put you in a worse financial position than you otherwise would be in.

These are called the "Murff Factors" after the original case:  Murff v. Murff, 615 S.W.2d696,698 (Tex.1981).

It should be noted that requested a disproportionate share of the community property will eventually require you to prove your allegations.  Claiming something is easy.  Proving it is another matter.  If you want a disproportionate property division, you probably will need an experienced lawyer to help you with this.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Can my new husband adopt my child because my ex is in jail?

This is actually two separate cases.   First you have to terminate your ex's parental rights, then you can proceed with the adoption by your husband.  The Texas Family Code conveniently allows you to combine the two cases into one, however, you may not want to do that.  If your ex has agreed to sign an affidavit of relinquishment, he cannot change his mind for 60 days.   So you want to close that deal quickly and finish the termination before he can change his mind.  You can then open the adoption case at your ease.    If you tie termination and adoption, together, it may require much more than 60 days to get the social study and other requirements finished.  In the meantime ex may change his mind and complicate everything.  On the other hand, some judges will not terminate parental rights unless there is an adoption in the works, so you may have to combine the cases.  You have to know your judge and jurisdiction.  As you can see, this is a complicated matter and you really should find a knowledgeable attorney.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

10 Tips for Newly Single Fathers

After you have won a custody suit, there is often a period of adjustment.  You and your children may be in a much better situation now that you have won your suit, but your family will be facing a whole set of new challenges in the days, weeks and months ahead.   Here is some practical advice on making that transition easier.

Tip #1:  Don't try to be be a Super-Father.

As much as you want to be, you can't be all things to everyone. Being a single parent means that you are trying to maintain a household with less resources of time and energy.  Something has to give. Usually that will have to be work.  Whether it was part of your life plan or not, you have accepted the role as a single father.  Usually this means that your career path will not be the same.  Don't fall into the same frustrating trap that many feminists fell into in thinking you can be a great father and still keep up with men who can devote all their time to work.  Something has got to give.

Tip #2: Consider talking to your boss.

You may want explain to your boss your new living situation.  In some cases, this may make things easier for you. Consider your situation before you do so though.  There are a few places where the boss will think a single parent makes a bad employee.  But you will find this less often than ever before.  Convince your boss of your commitment to the job and you may find they will be more flexible if they know you are a single parent.

Tip #3:  Don't make any major work changes.

If you can avoid it, don't make any dramatic changes to your career or work schedule.  You should give yourself some time to adjust to your new lifestyle and if your work situation is in transitional chaos, you will feel overwhelmed.

Tip #4: Inform your children.

If they are old enough, explain to your children about the demands of your work.  Assure them that you are there for them and you want to be with them, but you also have to work to bring money in.  Explain it to them in a way that will not make them feel guilty for asking for your time.  They should understand that you are under pressure, but they should not feel they are the cause of that pressure.

Tip #5:  Define when you can contact your children.

If non-emergency calls are allowed at your work, then you are lucky, and your children can call you when they want.  But in any case, you should make your children understand when it is appropriate to call.  Explain the what is a real emergency and what is not. If you can call your children at a certain time, such as a lunch break, let your children know you will be calling them to check in.  Keep it consistent.

Tip #6:  Don't reinvent the wheel if you don't have to.

Chances are that you are not the only person at your work who is in a similar situation.  Talk with your co-workers.  Find out how they are handling their child care issues.  By asking a few questions, you may be able to tap into a whole network of resources you didn't know existed.

Tip #7:  Pick your day care -carefully.

No matter what your occupation or situation, you will eventually need day care for your child.  Your selection of day care is critical.  There are many options out there and you have to pick a center that make sense for you.  At a minimum, make sure the facility is licensed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services:
Call the TDFPS to see if there are any complaints about the facility.  Ask to speak to other parents who use the center.  If possible, take your child there and see what his/her reaction is (although that should not be the determinant factor in choosing).

Tip #8: Keep your kids in the loop.

If old enough, let your kids know your work schedule and where you will be.  Try to avoid last minute meetings or sudden over-time.  It will reassure your children to know where you are and when you will be back.

Tip #9:  Teach your kids how to handle strangers.

Your children should know how to deal with callers or visitors when you are not home.  For example, they should not tell a stranger that you are not home, simply that you can't come to the phone right now.  No one should come to the house when you are not there, and they should not open the door at any time.  These rules should be in place even if you have a caretaker in your home.

Tip #10:  Be Firm, But Be Flexible

Be consistent with your rules, but be willing to renegotiate your rules as your children get older.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Top 5 Myths About Single Fathers

Since 1973, the number of father only families has increased at a faster rate than has the number of mother-only families.  Today, 15% of all single-parent families are headed by a father.  Fathers facing divorce should consider carefully any decision they make about child custody that is based on old, outmoded ideas of "traditional" roles.  And although they are  changing somewhat slower than the rest of society, the courts are coming around to the realization that fathers can make just as successful single parents as mothers.  So it is time to reexamine some of the old myths about single fathers.

Myth #1:  Fathers who gain custody were themselves products of single-parent families.

There is no evidence to suggest that fathers who are awarded custody of their children were raised in any specific way.  Studies in the 1980s show that 80% of fathers who are awarded custody grew up in a two-parent households, but this was likely to be the result of a generational difference because divorces were far less common in the 1950s and 1960s than they are today.  Today's single father can come from any kind of background and upbringing.

Myth #2: Custodial fathers have high incomes

It is well documented that there is an extremely high percentage of mother-only families that are below the poverty level.  What is less well know is that more than 18 percent of father-only families are poor.  Another 21 percent are just above the poverty line.  If there is a custody dispute, the ability to afford a child is indeed one of the factors the court will decide in determining who gets custody. Higher income will give one party and advantage- if combined with other factors.  But remember, the amount of income is only relative to the other parent.  If both parents receive the same amount of income, even if it is very little, this will not sway the courts.

Myth #3: Most Custodial Fathers have remarried.

Although custodial fathers are more likely to be married than custodial mothers, the fact is that most custodial fathers (59%) are not currently married. 

Myth #4:  Custodial Fathers primarily receive custody of older boys

This myth really has two parts: first, the fathers primarily obtained custody of older children and second that fathers are more likely to receive custody of boys.  It is true that the children living in father-only families are older than those living in mother-only families.  This may be a hang-over effect of the "tender-years doctrine" which favored women over men for custody of young children.  Many family courts followed the doctrine for years, but it has fallen aside with other stereotypes and is not a lawful factor in Texas courts.  Still, 17.5 percent of single-father families include children younger than three, and about a third contain a preschooler.  Similarly, although children in father-only families are somewhat more likely to be boys, 44 percent of all children in such families are girls.

Myth #5:  Most custodial fathers are widowers.

This may have been true at one time, but being a widower is not were you will find most custodial fathers today.  In fact, you will only find 7.5 percent of single father households being widowers today.  As a matter of fact, 24.5 percent of single father households are headed by never-married fathers.

Many fathers make their decisions about whether to seek custody based on outmoded ideas about what is acceptable in society and in the courts.  But these myths need to be busted and fathers need to based their decisions on the real and current facts.  If you are a father involved in a custody battle, you need to seek the truth from an experienced family law attorney who will help you separate fact from fiction.  For more information, please visit us at

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

My Ex-wife has not been following our court orders for visitation. Can I sue her for contempt of court?

Well, that depends.  

The Court where you had your original case would have the power to enforce its orders if they are not being followed.  There are two forms of contempt- direct (as in, you did something bad right in front of the judge) or indirect, where a party violates a written order.  In your case we are probably talking about indirect contempt.

 Another thing to know about contempt is that there are two types of punishment: coercive and punitive.  Coercive is designed to "persuade" the person to stop violating the order.  If for example, jail time is involved in the punishment, the person will be released once they start following the order.  In essence, they have the keys to their own cell.  In contrast, punitive is a situation where you have really P.O'ed the judge and her or she is gonna make you pay for it.  You can't get out of this type of punishment.  

From a lawyer's perspective, the handling of a contempt matter is highly technical and requires a  lot of skill and care.  Because a finding of contempt can carry some pretty heavy consequences, the law will provide your wife many procedural "outs".   There are a lot of ways that your ex-wife can weasel out of a contempt order and thumb her nose at you.  Most of these outs for your wife can arise is the underlying order was poorly drafted.  If it was in any way vague, or has any technical flaws, the court will not be able to find contempt.  I recommend you seek and experienced lawyer with at least several years working exclusively in family law, like myself.