Archive for November, 2018

CHILD SUPPORT BASICS

What is Child Support?

Child support is a child’s legal right to be financially supported by both parents. The law assumes that a custodial parent (the parent who has primary custody of a child) directly pays for the child’s expenses. Therefore, a non-custodial parent (the parent who does not have primary custody of the child) may be required to make child support payments to the custodial parent.

The non-custodial parent generally must provide child support until one of the following circumstances occurs:

  • The child turns 18 or graduates high school (whichever is later); or
  • The child marries, dies, or is emancipated.

Child support payments can be used for a variety of expenses including basic necessities, childcare, education, and entertainment.

Who Can Apply for Child Support?

A child’s mother, father, or other qualified adult, such as a legal guardian, may apply for child support from the non-custodial parent.

How Can I Get a Child Support Order?

There are two basic ways to get a child support order in Dallas:

  1. An agreement between parents that is approved by a judge, including an agreement reached during the child’s support review process; or
  2. Orders made as part of an existing court case–divorce, paternity, child custody and visitation, or Suit Affecting Parent Child Relationship

In Texas, the Child Support Division of the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) serves as the official child support enforcement agency. “Full-Service” assistance from the OAG includes the following:

  • Finding non-custodial parents;
  • Establishing paternity;
  • Initiating, monitoring, and enforcing child support and medical support orders; and
  • Collecting and distributing child support payments.

The OAG also offers “limited services” in the form of payment processing and record keeping through the Texas State Disbursement Unit.

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How does child custody work when unmarried parents separate?

How does child custody work when unmarried parents separate?

When parents separate, whether married or not, the best interest of the children will always be the most important factor when deciding on custody and visitation. Not all splits are amicable, which can make it difficult to come to an agreement. If an agreement cannot be reached between both parents, it will become the courts responsibility to decide.

 

The state of Texas refers to child custody as “conservatorship,” and offers two types:

Sole managing conservatorship (SMC).

SMC means one parent has the legal right to make certain decisions on behalf of the children. Those rights include:
• Choosing the primary residence
• Making healthcare decisions
• Consenting to medical treatment
• Being their “in case of emergency” contact
• Attending school activities
• Receiving child support
• Making decisions about education

Joint managing conservatorship (JMC).

JMC means both parents share the right to make decisions on behalf of the children. In this case, a judge will assign specific responsibilities to each parent. JMC does not mean both parents share equal custody. That decision will be made in a separate visitation schedule known as a standard possession order (SPO).

How does visitation work and what is a standard possession order?

The state of Texas refers to visitation as a standard possession order (SPO). The SPO is a set schedule that determines each parent’s time with their children.

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Alternative Dispute Resolution Options in Divorce

Alternative Dispute Resolution Options in Divorce

There are two main types of alternative dispute resolution options for divorcing spouses:

  • Divorce mediation involves a qualified and impartial third-party mediator to facilitate negotiations and encourage communication and compromise. A mediator may not provide legal advice, but each party’s legal counsel may be present to provide legal and moral support.
  • Collaboration is a process that takes place between the two spouses in formal settings with the aim to draft a divorce settlement.

What happens after successful negotiations?

In most cases, couples manage to reach agreements on all their contentious issues by using an  alternative dispute resolution method for their divorce. If you and your soon-to-be-ex are able to do that, a final settlement agreement can be drafted that details the decisions made during negotiations. This can be presented to the judge, and unless it shows obvious favor for one of you, the court will approve the settlement.

The judge will then issue a divorce decree to finalize the divorce and to show the resolutions reached on the main issues. The document will further detail the rights and obligations, which may include how all the marital assets are to be distributed, visitation and future living arrangements for any children involved, and any details related to spousal and child support.

 

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COURTS AND CHILD VISITATION SCHEDULES

COURTS AND CHILD VISITATION SCHEDULES

A divorced parent might have custody of a child or visitation rights. Often, having visitation rights means being subject to a visitation schedule that was created by the parents or established in court.

A court may create a schedule when parents going through a divorce are in too much conflict to agree on one. If the parents live far apart and must travel to make visitation happen, a court-ordered schedule might also resolve the issue. Courts generally take the position that unless a parent endangers a child’s well-being, children benefit from spending time with both parents. A parent who violates a visitation agreement could face a court penalty or only be allowed supervised visitation with their children.

If parents share custody, courts can create a custody schedule. Parents may have input into both visitation and custody schedules, and older children might also express preferences that are reflected in the schedules. Courts may also address where children spend holidays since this is often a point of contention.

There are a number of different arrangements that can work well for parents and children if the parents have shared custody. For example, children may spend alternating weeks with each parent, or they might spend part of the week with one parent and part with the other. One parent may be required to pay child support to the other. This is income-based, so if a parent has a significant drop in income, that parent might be able to get the child support amount reduced. However, it is necessary to go to court and request a modification rather than simply ceasing payment. Until the modification is approved, the parent will continue to owe the same amount and may owe arrears on unpaid support.

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Challenges During the Child Custody Exchanges

Challenges During the Child Custody Exchanges

One of the issues that can be particularly difficult for divorced parents is the exchange that must take place for visitation purposes. If divorced parents cannot keep their emotions in check, arguments may take place during pick-ups and drop-offs.

Because children are present during the exchange, it is important for parents to try to keep calm. It is not uncommon for the behavior of a parent at child custody exchanges to be brought up in court, and harmful behavior could cost parents their custody rights.

A custody exchange may be used as an opportunity for divorced parents to discuss their child. However, discussions about school, parenting strategies, changes to the parenting schedule or vacation plans could become heated arguments. In some cases, parents will call law enforcement officers to the scene of child custody exchanges as a way to prevent the escalation of arguments. Law enforcement officers may document what happens at a child custody exchange, but they can only become involved if someone breaks the law.

A divorced parent may decide that child custody exchanges are not the best venue for parenting discussions due to the potential for the child to witness arguments. A parenting plan may also include a provision that requires visitation/exchanges to take place in a neutral location such as a public park.

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CHILD CUSTODY DURING THE HOLIDAYS

CHILD CUSTODY DURING THE HOLIDAYS

It’s that time of year – family reunions, Christmas tree decorating and gift opening, New Year’s celebrations, and so forth. If you are a divorced parent, an important issue needs to be addressed during the holiday season –custody.

Who gets the child, or children, during a respective holiday?

What If You Cannot Abide By the Court’s Standard Holiday Order?

You or your ex-spouse may find it difficult to adhere to the standard holiday order because of a last-minute conflict or specific religious teachings. In these situations, it is important for both parents to try and agree upon a holiday possession schedule that enables both parents to accommodate their family festivities and events. In fact, custody orders allow for a certain amount of deviation from the standard possession order. For example, Texas Family Code § 153.311 states that a court shall specify in a standard possession order that the parents may have possession of the child at times mutually agreeable to both parties in advance and, in the absence of mutual agreement, shall have possession of the child under the provisions set forth in the standard possession order.

This means if both parents can agree on a modified holiday schedule in advance, then it is okay to deviate from the court’s standard possession order. In many instances, family courts actually encourage parents to work towards an amicable agreement that is mutually beneficial to both parents that respects their schedules and religious teachings. This is encouraged because if both parents are in agreement, it creates a more peaceful and stable environment for your child, or children, and allows them to spend time with both parents rather than just one. 

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Can My Child Support Order Be Changed?

Can My Child Support Order Be Changed?

Your Child Support Order may be modified if:

• It has been three or more years since the order was established or last modified and the monthly amount of the child support ordered differs by either 20 percent or $100 from the amount that would be awarded according to the Child Support Guidelines;
or
• A material and substantial change in circumstances has occurred since the child support order was last set.

The FIRST situation described, above, is simple enough: you have an old Order (it is 3 or more years old); and, the amount that should be paid each month according to the Texas Child Support Guidelines should be significantly higher or lower than the amount that is currently Ordered to be paid. In this situation, it is as simple as looking at the date of the Order, and the earnings of the person paying child support; and then, calculating what amount the guidelines say should be paid as child support each month.

The SECOND is determining whether a change in circumstances is “material and substantial” is not as easy as simply doing some mathematical calculations. Instead, a change that may seem important to a particular parent may not seem so important to the other parent; especially, if the change could be avoided by the Mother or Father experiencing that change. Some examples of these are: a parent’s voluntary change of employment; a move of residence; a new marriage; and, a child’s participation in an extracurricular activity.

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