Six Important Suggestions for Divorcing Parents About the Start of the School Year

Many parents who are in the midst of a divorce don’t often realize how important a role education can play in the awarding of custody. That makes this week, the first week of the new school year, particularly important to such parents.

Let’s look at why.

Family court judges are tasked by the Texas Family Code to make decisions based on their assessment of what is in the “best interest of the child.”

Courts look at parental involvement in school activities

Education has a big part to play in this because when a parent is given custody by the court, they are provided a number of rights such as:

  • Receiving information from others concerning the education of the child;
  • Making decisions concerning the education of the child;
  • Gaining access to educational records of the child;
  • Consulting with school officials concerning the child’s welfare and educational status, including school activities;
  • Attending school activities.

Therefore, this means that parents who take an active and responsible role in their child’s education will be seen in a favorable light by the court in a custody dispute.

The start of the school year is very important because it provides a renewed opportunity for divorcing parents to demonstrate their involvement in their child’s education.

Actions to take to improve school involvement

We can then make the following suggestions which are relevant, not only to divorcing parents but is good advice to all parents:

1. Attend teacher-parent meetings.  Go so far as to request monthly meetings to follow your child’s educational progress and learn of any difficulties so they can be addressed.

2. Attend your child’s extracurricular school activities, if possible.

3. If your schedule does not allow for school meetings or visits, then be involved with the school through email.  Check the school’s website regularly for activities.  Email the teacher to be in touch.  There is software online that can be downloaded to assist in this.  Download it and use it.

4. Have and enforce a schedule at home that is conducive to your child’s schooling.  This means having bedtime rules, a time set aside for homework and playtime, and keeping these things regular.

5. Be active in checking over your child’s homework assignments. Don’t hesitate to look through their backpack, looking for school announcements, papers or assignments.  Contact the teacher or school should you find something that they should know or something you have questions about.  Help your child and school authorities.

6. Know your children’s friends and their parents.  Invite them to birthday parties or attend birthday parties, but meet them.  Go with your child to visit them.  It is important that you be actively interested and knowledgeable about your child’s doings and who they are in contact with.

It is important to understand about the above that the courts are not looking for harsh discipline.  They are looking for an environment that will help the child grow and develop their potential.

A parent doing the above six things in a positive way may be seen in a more favorable light by the court.


Uncontested Divorce Texas – Pros and Cons

Conflict Between Couple
If divorce is going to happen, contact a good divorce attorney to help things go smoother.

A divorce in Texas may be agreed upon by both parties, as to how property will be divided and as to how custody and possession of the children will occur. Uncontested divorces can be very useful in saving thousands of dollars in attorney fees, in saving much embarrassment from the community regarding personal and private information becoming a matter of public record, and in saving time from numerous hearings and hours in the courtroom.

However, a skilled attorney should be consulted despite the existence of a verbal “agreement for an uncontested divorce” between the husband and wife because bank accounts can be hidden, assets can be squandered or wasted on a “home wrecker,” and basic parental rights that are in the best interest of the child or children can be left out. In fact, in some “agreed” divorces, the other side is deprived of thousands of dollars in retirement benefits, spousal maintenance (Texas’s interpretation of a kind of alimony) and reimbursement claims (money owed to a spouse by the other spouse).

There are many pros and cons to getting an uncontested divorce. That is why a personal consultation is really needed so that specific legal advice can be provided on a case by case situation. Never let an attorney represent both parties in a divorce because of the high probability of a conflict of interest where the attorney has to make decisions that he or she knows or should know will benefit one side and deprive another.

Division of Retirement Plans and Benefits in a Divorce

If you are involved in a divorce and have a pension plan, you should be aware that the court can order a portion of your pension plan to go to your spouse. Whether this occurs or not is totally dependent on the factors in your divorce and how the court will decide to divide the property according the community property laws of Texas and a just and right determination by the court. It is also possible that you and your spouse will agree find some other satisfactory arrangement to the court to divide your property without the court having to divide your retirement.

However, if this is to be done, the pension plan in question will require what is called a “qualified domestic relations order” to be signed by the judge so that the distribution can occur. Many pension plans offer model QDRO’s on their websites so that they can be downloaded and provided to your attorney to assist them to draft the order appropriately for your specific type of retirement plan.

You should be aware, too, that just because such an order is put in place, it does not mean that the distribution of the benefit will occur immediately to the receiving party. It is simply the means that allows the pension plan to have the legal authority necessary to distribute the benefit to the receiving partner at the time when the benefit becomes payable.

The Barrera Law Firm is knowledgeable in such divorce matters as QDROs and can guide you safely through the various options that you will have available in relation to your pension plan. It does not have to be a mine field, full of uncertainty. We work to make it as simple and understandable as possible for you.

Divorce Finance Questions Answered

People who go through a divorce for the first time inevitably have a lot of questions about it and particularly how it will affect their financial status. And that’s not surprising.  Divorce is, after all, a process that will permanently change your life as well as the lives of your spouse and (if you have them) children.

Here are some questions we at the Barrera Law Firm often get asked about the money side of divorce along with some answers that you may find helpful:

1. What if I bought a house into the marriage that was in my name only and then added my spouse’s name to the deed?
Texas is a community property state which means that those assets and income acquired during the marriage belong to both partners, so long as they were not acquired through gift or inheiritiance. In this situation, the whole house may be considered marital property and the contributions made to the equity of the house may be at issue regarding the ownership interest.

2. If my IRA is in my name alone, is it still considered marital property?
Everything acquired during the marriage and regardless of whose name it’s in is presumed to be community property. As you go through the process, it’s wise for you to evaluate the financial drawbacks to having your IRA included in the list of assets you retain after your divorce. Whatever you decide to do, you must remember that the funds in an IRA cannot be accessed before age 59 1/2 without paying a 10% penalty for early withdrawal.

3. If I am appointed the custodial parent of my children, do I get to keep the house?
The answer to this question depends on the situation. You will need to figure out whether or not you will have enough money coming in to stay comfortable in the home and pay all bills without feeling overextended. Once you have determined this, then you will need to see whether or not retaining the home is advisable if it means that you must give up other assets-such as liquid accounts and retirement plans-to do so. Ultimately, the court will decide that issue, taking into account a just and right division of the property and taking into account the best interest of the child in remaining in a stable and consistent environment.

The Barrera Law Firm understand the confusion that many of our clients experience regarding the financial aspects of marital dissolution. That’s why when you consult with us, we’ll carefully go over the details of your case to help you make the best decisions. For legal advice on divorce, contact us today!

4 Ways Divorce Will Impact Your Life

There is no doubt about it: divorce can and will change your life. That’s why you need to know what the most likely effects will be before you find an attorney to help you start the process.

Here are the top four things that divorce will impact:

1. Finances

Once dissolution becomes official, your cash flow could be affected in either a negative or positive way. This will all depend on such factors as what you are making currently and how the family is being supported by you and your spouse. Whatever the nature of the change, it will affect the way you live, your housing and perhaps even the type of work you do (or will need to do).

2. Children

If your family includes children, then divorce may change the relationships you have with them, at least until they adjust to the “new normal.” The best thing to do is to work with your ex to make sure that the children get quality time with you both a and to reassure them that they are still very much loved despite the new living arrangement.

3. Lifestyle

After a divorce, you’ll be single again. This means you can go out and date and have the personal freedom you may have lacked during marriage. Embrace this as positive change so that you can move forward with your life and eventually find a more suitable partner.

4. Fear

Many new divorcees find themselves beset with anxiety about the future. This can be quite frightening, but is also normal. You need to give yourself time to heal from the divorce itself and stay busy doing positive, productive things to help you deal with your new situation.

The Barrera Law Firm knows that breaking up is hard to do. That’s why we offer compassionate, experienced legal counsel to help you through the divorce process. When you need guidance and advice in matters of family law, contact us!

5 Social Myths About Divorces and Child Custody Cases

Myth #1: I’m the father, so I’m automatically going to be the one to pay child support.
Truth: Under Texas law, the court shall not discriminate because of the gender of the parent, but instead acts in the best interest of the child, taking in multiple factors regarding the well being and care of the child.

Myth #2: I’m entitled to half of whatever money or property we have at the time of the divorce.
Truth: Under Texas law, community property does not include property already owned before the marriage, property obtained during the marriage as a gift, and any property you inherited during the marriage. Also, the court can give more than half of the community property to one of the spouses by taking into account several factors in making a just and right division of the property, including whether the other party had an affair or physically abused the other spouse.

Myth #3: I’m entitled to alimony for the rest of my life.
Truth: There is no provision for alimony in Texas. In fact, Texas law provides for spousal maintenance under specific circumstances when the marriage has lasted at least 10 years and the financial support from the other spouse only lasts for a few years.

Myth #4: I’m not getting any child support because my husband is unemployed.
Truth: Under Texas law, child support continues to accumulate even when the person obligated to pay is unemployed and non-payment will result in accrued interest and possibly jail time.

Myth #5: I’m behind on child support so I can’t do anything about it when the other parent won’t let me see my child.
Truth: Texas law provides access and possession according to court order and any time that a parent blocks access, hides the child, or prevents visitation contrary to court order, then the other person may end up being in hot water with the court.

Call now for more information on what your rights are in a divorce or child custody case.

Do You Need an Attorney for an Uncontested Divorce?

Do you and your spouse want to avoid an expensive and long divorce?  Do you already have an agreement in place regarding the custody of your children and/or property of the marriage and you want to avoid multiple court dates?  An uncontested divorce may be the right option for you. An attorney drafts the paper work, guides you through the sometimes complex legal process, and can make the process simple and less time consuming for a reasonable fee.

What is an uncontested divorce?  

Divorces that are contested can cost more money and take up more time than you can afford. A divorce is basically an order from the court granting your divorce and deciding what’s going to happen to the property of the marriage and what the custody plan will be for the children.

An uncontested divorce is a divorce where there is no dispute as to any issue regarding child custody or property of the marriage, and both parties are willing to sign documents that an attorney proposes to a court for final approval.

How do I start my uncontested divorce?  

An attorney may usually only represent one of the parties in an uncontested divorce in case the divorce becomes contested during the 60 day waiting period to avoid a conflict of an interest. The steps are as follows:

1) Come in for free consultation to receive a a flat-fee quote (includes filing fees to the county) for your uncontested divorce.

2) Client makes payment and is then interviewed about the information needed to draft the documents for the divorce.

3) An Original Petition for Divorce will be drafted, you will review it, and it will be filed with District Clerk’s Office after your approval.

4) The other spouse that we do not represent will need to sign a Waiver of Service and be given a copy of the Original Petition for Divorce to avoid being served and to release their obligation of having to go to court.

5) Both parties sign an Agreed Divorce Decree that reflects all the agreements regarding the property and children of the marriage.

6) A court date is set following the 60 days after the filing and one or both parties recites the agreement to the court and asks that it be approved.

7) The judge will decide if he/she approves the agreement and may grant the divorce based on the findings.

6 Steps to a Congenial Divorce

Sadly, many divorces get ugly. But if the two people involved can make a commitment to work in a spirit of goodwill and cooperation, they can go a long way to maintaining a healthy post-marital relationship with each other.

If you and your spouse have determined that going your separate ways is best, here are some suggestions to help make your divorce a little easier for you both:

1. Agree to disagree

Disagreements will be inevitable even after the dissolution process is complete. The more you can plan ahead for possible snags related to finances, children and/or property, the better off you’ll be down the road.

2. Write everything down

No matter how friendly things may be between you and your soon-to-be-ex, always remember to put any plan that you develop together in writing. The more recorded details you have you have, the better.  This is especially true if you and your spouse will be sharing parenting responsibilities.

3. Be clear about consequences

Agree on what happens if one person does not abide by the agreement or somehow does not follow through. Make sure you know what will happen with the person who breaks the rules and what the ex gets to do about it.

4. Don’t try to be friends too soon

You’ll need to keep at least some distance between each other to set the rules and boundaries that will define your new relationship with each other. Once this is done, you can then begin to see whether or not a friendship is possible.

5. Resist old ways of being

Divorce means that you are no longer responsible to your partner for his or her personal well-being. Try not to slip into well-worn patterns of care-taking behavior. Doing so will only impede your growth as individuals.

6. Let your post-marital relationship evolve

If your relationship with your soon-to-be ex has any chance of re-emerging in a healthier form, you need to be able to let it go and allow it to transform on its own. You may find this difficult, but it’s the only way your lives will be able to move forward.

At the Barrera Law Firm, we are committed to helping you have the best, most equitable divorce possible.  Our attorneys combine compassion with years of experience to ensure that you and your spouse can part ways with a minimum of stress and hassle. When you need divorce law experts with a humane touch, contact us!

7 Things NOT to Do If You Have Kids and Are Getting a Divorce

How your kids will cope with a divorce largely depends on how you conduct yourself before, during and after the dissolution process.  The better you and your spouse are at ensuring that whatever conflicts you have with each other don’t spill over into the relationships you have with your children, the less likely it is that your kids will suffer any negative long-term emotional effects from the divorce.

Here are some behaviors that you and your spouse need to stay away from whenever one or both of you interact with your children:

1.  Criticizing the other parent

Kids tend to see themselves as half Mom and half Dad. So whenever you badmouth the other parent, you’re also badmouthing the child. If you can’t say something positive, then don’t say anything at all.

2. Using your children as “spies”

If you need to know something about your spouse, get the information yourself. Asking your child to gather information on a parent puts the child in the middle and makes him or her feel responsible for that parent’s welfare.

3. Arguing in front of your child

Parental conflict continues the cycle of children feeling confused and caught in the middle.  Understand that your child is also under stress and conduct yourself in a mature manner around your soon-to-be ex.

4. Ignoring your child’s questions about divorce

When you don’t listen to your kids and answer their questions, it sends a message that their feelings don’t matter.  Respond to your children’s questions no matter how painful the subject is for you.

5. Sharing details about divorce proceedings

It’s never a good idea to tell your children about court matters, child support issues or your own financial concerns regarding a divorce.  They will end up feeling confused  if you share too many unnecessary details with them.

6. Trying to buy your child’s love

Gifts may temporarily impress a child. But remember: it’s your attentiveness and love that he or she will remember the most.

7. Withholding visitation privileges to punish the other parent

Your children need to have regular contact with you both and your ex. By withholding visitation privileges,  you also punish your kids and cause them unnecessary emotional pain.

Breaking up is never easy to do. And when children are involved, it becomes especially difficult. The attorneys at the Barrera Law Firm understand the special needs of people seeking to end a marriage who also happen to be parents. When you need sensitive but savvy guidance through the divorce process, contact us!

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5 Common Misconceptions About Divorce

If you’re like most people, you probably have certain ideas–based on things you’ve seen and heard–about how the judicial system works in divorce cases. Unfortunately, though, a lot of the information you have is probably incorrect.

Following is a list of some of the most common misconceptions couples have about divorce law and what to expect from the  marital dissolution process:

1. Only one parent has rights to full custody of the children.

In the state of Texas, courts talk about “conservatorship” and “access,” as opposed to “custody.” “Conservatorship” refers to the set of rights and duties that accompany being a parent. “Access” refers to the block of time when the non-custodian parent is able to visit with the children apart from the other parent.

Courts try to divide conservatorship between both parents wherever possible. However, one parent may be appointed the primary managing conservator who is in charge of making important life decisions for the children.

2. If one spouse doesn’t pay child support, then the other can block access to the children.

A parent cannot disregard court orders for visitation even if the other parent is delinquent on child support payments. Law is the law and you must follow it to the letter.

3. If a spouse leaves a household and family because of domestic violence, then that action constitutes abandonment.

This is false. Legally speaking, abandonment is defined as a failure to support children for six months or more OR living apart from the family unit for two years or more.

4.  A husband and wife who have not lived together for months or years are legally separated.

No legal separation exists in Texas.  If you don’t have the divorce decree, then you are still considered to be married no matter how long you have lived apart from your spouse.

5. A person who has cheated on his or her spouse automatically loses rights to all property in the marital estate.

While infidelity is grounds for divorce in Texas, it does not usually result in a division of assets that favors the  faithful spouse. The only time when infidelity may impact property issues is in cases where the cheating spouse exposes the children to highly inappropriate situations–for example, sexual activity or anything else that compromises their health, safety or welfare.

These misconceptions about divorce are just a few of the many that exist. That’s why it’s important to seek legal assistance when you decide that ending your marriage is the right step for you. At the Barrera Law Firm, our attorneys are divorce law experts who can help you deal with the many questions and challenges you will inevitably have throughout the dissolution process. Contact us today!

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