Mediation : Alternative Dispute Resolution

“Mediation” is a process to aid parties in finding a fair and equitable settlement of disputes without unnecessary court intervention. Most Texas district and county courts require pretrial mediation for a variety of cases in order to help the parties resolve their problems while avoiding extensive court procedures and expenses

Mediation is a process in which the parties, under the guidance of a Mediator, agree upon a legally binding settlement the disputes in issue without a trial. Meditation can take many forms and the process may produce creative solutions without the direct rulings of the court. Courts usually encourage the opposing lawyers to first mediate a dispute and if no progress is made then continue the normal judicial process.

The Mediator that helps bring both sides to an agreement usually is a lawyer, ex-judge, or other specialist who has experience or expert training in the specific areas related to the dispute. A Mediator fees may range anywhere from $160-$500 dollars an hour depending on the case and the complexity of the issues in dispute. Mediators attempt to work with each side to find a reasonable middle ground to which a fair agreement can be structured.

An experienced lawyer is a valuable tool to advance favorable terms of any agreement during a mediation. During a mediation a Mediator will likely place the parties into separate “Caucus” areas, splitting the parties into different rooms to negotiate individually with each party to understand the positions and interests. Once the Mediator has talked to each party he will attempt to discover a common grounds that will fairly or smoothly serve both parties’ interests. If an agreement is reached that neither side is overly happy about, it is often likely that a reasonable compromise has been reached.

The important point of a mediation is to express your concerns and attempt to reach a compromise that is mutually acceptable, smart and fair to both sides. Many courts support this type of dispute resolution because it frees up the courts dockets and allow the parties to consider compromise first without involving the courts. Mediation maybe a cost saver, as the dollars you spend on an attorney for trial can be reduced significantly if a compromise is reached.

Make sure you have an attorney who is experienced in the Mediation process and knows how to craft a smart, fair deal which will result in significant cost savings.

Have You Been Hacked by Your Ex? Know Your Rights in Texas!

As technology continues to change our lives at a rapid pace, it’s easy to forget that so much of our most valuable and private information now hides in our computers, in our email accounts, phones, text messages iPads, and other devices. When you love someone, it may seem only natural and convenient to share your various passwords and account information or to leave your devices unprotected. However, when relationships become conflicted breakups, these security lapses can result in humiliating disasters with far-reaching consequences. As lawmakers try to keep up to help protect our information, it is more important than ever before to be aware of what is legal, what isn’t legal, and what steps you need to take in order to protect yourself from someone accessing your information for malicious purposes.

What are my online privacy rights?

Putting it bluntly, when you’re in a marriage or live-in relationship, you don’t have many. Texas did recently pass a bill (CSHB 896) to help define what a cyber-crime actually is, but it mostly doesn’t apply in this arena. Specifically, the law says a person commits an offense if they knowingly access a computer, network or system “with the intent to defraud or harm another or alter, damage, or delete property.” Although this language sounds reassuring, it is important to note that spouses are often given extraordinary leeway by courts with regards to what many would consider a reasonable invasion of privacy. In many instance, your spouse may still access anything in your computer, emails, or phone, and potentially even use that as evidence in any court proceedings. There are many examples of spouses aggressively attempting to do exactly that and successfully leveraging whatever they find to obtain custody, favorable settlements, or other advantages.

So what can I do?

If you are going through a divorce or break up,

  1. Immediately tell your spouse/ex that they DO NOT have permission to access any of your accounts, and document the message. You do have a right to privacy. If your spouse (Ex) continues to try to access your information, then they are potentially committing a criminal offense, and at the very least, any information they discover after written notice may not be admissible in court.
  2. CHANGE ALL OF YOUR PASSWORDS, and do it right away. Most of the popular online email services (Yahoo, Gmail, etc.) actually track your internet usage and display that information to anyone with your password who knows where to look. What about iCloud / Apple? If your spouse has your password, they can actually log in to iMessage from anywhere, see all of your past texts and read any texts that you receive in real time. Depending on your device settings, they may even be able to track your actual location. Change your passwords, and…
  3. If you can, enable two-step verification on all accounts which offer it. This extra step will guarantee that nobody can access your account without your knowledge and permission.

In short, there is still a lot of gray area as our legal system struggles to keep up with technology. The smartest thing you can do is make sure you protect your accounts, stay away from your spouse’s, and exercise caution in anything you do online or on your phone.

New Texas Family Laws – Effective September 1, 2015

Now that the Texas Legislature has ended, we will review some of the bills passed that will affect our Family Law Cases.

S.B. 814 Waivers of Citations in Certain Family Law Suits

Currently, the state of Texas allows for a parties involved in a divorce to waive service. Loosely translated, that means that the person named in the divorce suit can sign a paper which proactively tells the relevant court that they are officially aware their spouse is filing for divorce. This waiver means they don’t have to physically be served with the divorce papers by their spouse or a process server, potentially saving everyone involved a bit of time, money, and maybe some emotional pain

S.B. 814 was introduced to further the use of such waivers to apply to other common family law matters.

The waiver should also be used for:

  • Suits to remove disability of a minor (commonly referred to as emancipation)
  • Suits to change the name of an adult or child
  • Any suits relating to a parent-child relationship

The bill passed and will take effect on September 1, 2015.

S.B. 817: Issuance of a protective order and appointment of a managing conservator in certain family law proceedings.

S.B. 817 proposes that the state change the language on applications for protective orders (restraining orders, etc.) by switching the word “victim” with the phrase “applicant for a protective order.” Specifically, this change is meant to help those people who are applying for the protective order on behalf of the actual victim of the abuse or violence.

Some judges are currently reluctant to sign orders which list the applicant as a “victim” because doing so indirectly endorses the allegations of abuse as being true without a trial. With the label change, it removes that concern and will enable judges to issue more orders to protect those in need.

The bill passed virtually unopposed, and will take effect on September 1, 2015.

S.B. 314: Appointment of a non-parent as managing conservator of a child.                                     

This law addresses a growing number of complaints by relatives who assume custody of children removed from their parents’ homes by CPS (Child Protective Services).  This type of custody is called “permanent managing conservatorship,” or PMC. It is not adoption and does not carry the same legal meaning, but many relatives claim that these differences are not clarified by CPS.

As a result, the bill requires a court awarding custody to specifically explain 3 common misunderstandings to the relatives or non-parents assuming PMC.

  • PMC rights are specified by the court, and are not the same as rights associated with adoption
  • The parent(s) can still request visitation, and can request to become the managing conservator
  • PMC does not qualify nor disqualify the relative or non-parent for/from post-adoption benefits

The bill states that if the non-parent assuming PMC does not appear in court, the court must then have evidence that they were advised of this information.

The bill passed without opposition, and will take effect on September 1, 2015.