Texas Senate Bill 785- Termination of the parent-child relationship and duty to pay child support in circumstances involving mistaken paternity.
After a battle spanning three legislative sessions over a six- year period, Texas SB785 became law effective May 12, 2011.
The new law addresses this situation: a man signs an acknowledgment of paternity for a child or was adjudicated to be the father of the child in a previous proceeding without genetic testing. Subsequently, the man finds evidence of misrepresentations concerning whether he is really the child’s genetic father.
The “father” must file a petition to terminate no later than the first anniversary of the date he becomes aware of the facts that indicate he is not the child’s genetic father.
A court hearing will be held to determine whether the petitioner and child will submit to genetic testing to determine the parent-child relationship.
If the result of genetic testing excludes the petitioner as the child’s genetic father, the court shall render an order terminating the parent-child relationship.
The new court order ends the petitioner’s obligation for future support of the child effective on the date the order is rendered. This new order, however, does not affect the petitioner’s obligations for child support or any child support arrearages accrued before the date that the new order was rendered.
The petitioner may also request the court order periods of possession or access to the child following termination of the parent-child relationship. The court may order possession or access to the child only if it determines that denial of possession or access to the child would impair the child’s physical health or emotional well-being.
The changes in law made by this Act apply to any order for child support regardless of when the child support order was rendered.
Texas has finally made it a law that a misrepresentation of the truth cannot hold a man to a false parental obligation for 18 years!
To file for a divorce in Texas, you must be a Texas Resident for 6 months, and you must have lived within the county you plan to file in for at least 90 days immediately prior to filing of your divorce petition. Time spent by a Texas resident outside of Texas, while in the military, satisfies the residency requirement in Texas for a divorce.
Texas does not recognize legal separations.
It is possible to get a divorce even though the other party does not want the divorce to take place. Texas is a “no fault divorce state.” “No fault” means that one spouse does not have to prove the other spouse has done anything wrong in order to obtain a divorce. You cannot be held to a marriage because your spouse does not want to sign or refuses to participate in the divorce process. The court will enter divorce orders even if the other party refuses to sign them.
Texas requires a minimum 60 day waiting period before any divorce can be finalized. The 60 day period begins to run from the time the Original Petition for Divorce is actually filed with the court. In other words, the shortest time it will take to finalize a divorced in Texas is 61 days. On occasion, in domestic violence cases, there is an exception to the 60 day rule. If the parties are in agreement, a divorce proceeding can be finalized immediately following the sixty-day waiting period. On average, however, the time period is more likely to run 90 to 120 days in an uncontested divorce due to the crowding of court dockets and the time necessary for counsel to draft necessary legal documents and obtain the agreement of both parties regarding the wording of the final documents. If the parties are not in agreement, the time necessary to finalize the divorce will depend on the conduct of both parties and their attorneys, the court’s schedule, the matters in controversy and the complexity of the contested issues. From start to finish, the divorce process may go through a number of phases which might include temporary orders, exchange of financial information, psychological evaluations (in custody cases), alternative dispute resolution, trial, and appeal. A divorce in which the parties are deeply in opposition to an agreement on some or all of the core issues may take anywhere from several months to several years to complete.
As to the division of marital assets, Texas is a community property state. For more information on community and separate property, see our blog, Divorce: What is separate property and what is community property.
It is important to remember that, although the statutory waiting period to finalize a divorced is 60 days, it is more likely than not that your divorce will “not” be finalized on the 61st day following the filing of your petition for divorce.
Financial costs of divorce may often be significant. Divorce lawyers, like any other professionals, are paid according to their skill, training and experience. In Texas, one can expect to pay an advance deposit from $2,500 to $25,000 depending on the complexity of the legal issues involved, as well as the quality and expertise of counsel selected. In addition to the legal fees, some cases require “expert testimony” regarding the value of certain significant assets, i.e. business interests, the marital residence, rental properties, art work and more.
One reason most experienced divorce lawyers want a substantial retainer is that once an attorney files an appearance, they are charged with duties in their role as an officer of the court. Under law and court procedure an attorney must make appearances and file specific legal documents with little or no discretion depending on the opponent’s conduct. Initial filings and other documents may appear deceptively simple, but can challenge even the most patient person. The devil truly is in the details, especially where haggling parties look for disagreement. Even minor issues can blow up, and evolve into unnecessary expense.
Divorces involve complicated issues and many times it is necessary to have a temporary hearing sooner rather than later to sort out legal and monetary issues for the pendency of the divorce proceeding. Who will continue living in the home? Who will make mortgage payments? Who will make payments on automobiles? Who will pay certain credit cards? Who will pay utilities? Who will maintain the property? Who will be responsible for the debts? All questions must be carefully considered and weighed out.
In divorces with child related issues there are more complicated factors to be considered. Who will receive primary custody of the children? Where will the children live and how often? What school will the children attend? How will their education be paid? How much child support will be paid? What visitation schedule will work for the parents and the children? How, when and where will the child exchange take place? Which parent will maintain health insurance? Will the child’s residence be restricted to a particular geographical area?
In all cases, marital assets must be divided; and even if there are few marital assets and only marital debt, there remains much to fight about, or resolve.
The state of Texas makes it unethical for lawyers to take a divorce action on a “contingency fee” basis. That leaves only two ways for a divorce lawyer to be paid: by the hour, which is the most common; or on a flat fee basis. Hourly fees in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex area for a divorce lawyer range anywhere from $250 per hour to $550 per hour and up, depending on your choice.
In the cases where one party has a distinct financial advantage, the economically disadvantaged party can apply for temporary attorney fees and costs to be paid immediately by the party in control of the resources provided a fund is available for such use. In a proper case, such temporary motions often are granted by the trial court in order to level the playing field.
After every hearing, whether it concerns child related issues, marital assets, debts of the parties, or property owned by the parties, an order must be drawn by counsel based on either the court’s decision or the agreement of the parties. Many times these orders involve the drafting of further legal documents such as Deeds of Trust, Deeds of Trust to Secure Assumption; Special Warranty Deeds, and Real Estate Lien Notes relating to the parties home; Powers of Attorney to transfer title of automobiles; Wage Withholding Orders for the withholding of child support; and Austin forms (required by the Bureau of Vital Statistics in every divorce action). Often a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is necessary to divide retirement plans, accounts, pensions and the like. These are just a few of the necessary documents required in some divorce actions.
Bottom line is: the less the parties fight the less they will pay. Lingering animosities do not expedite resolution. Courts do not want to hear “he said/she said.” Whether that is right or wrong is for a social commentary, not a legal guide. That is why there are ‘irretrievable breakdown’ divorces.
Other factors that affect the cost of divorce are: whether the divorce is adversarial; how much you pay hourly for your legal counsel; if you and your spouse are battling over child custody issues involving children; the number of marital assets and debts you have to deal with; and whether your spouse’s attorney is unnecessarily aggressive and adversarial, without purpose.
When selecting a divorce lawyer know what you are looking for. Your counsel should be a person in whom you can put your total trust — after all your emotional health, the emotional health of your child(ren) and potentially the emotional health of your grandchildren could be at issue. The way to keep divorce costs under control is to select the right lawyer and to force your intellect to overrule your emotions when making decisions.
Co-parenting with an ex-spouse or partner gives children stability and fosters similar rules, discipline and rewards between households. It promotes a child’s ability to more effectively and peacefully solve problems and establishes a life pattern children can carry into the future.
Effective co-parenting means that your own emotions – anger, resentment or hurt – must take back seat to the needs of your children. Setting aside these feelings may be the hardest obstacle to overcome after a divorce. It is important that you remember, co-parenting is not about your feelings, or those of your ex-spouse, but rather about your children’s future happiness and stability.
The following are useful tips to assist you with co-parenting in the future.
- Do not talk negatively, or allow others to talk negatively, about the other parent, their family and friends or their home in hearing range of the child.
- Do not question the children about the other parent or the activities of the other parent regarding their personal lives. In simple terms, do not use the child to spy on the other parent.
- Do not argue or have heated discussions with the other parent when the children are present or during an exchange.
- Do not make promises to the children to try and win them over at the expense of the other parent.
- Communicate with the other parent and make similar rules in reference to discipline, bedtime routines, sleeping arrangements, and schedules. Appropriate discipline should be exercised by mutually agreed of both parents.
- At all times, the decision made by the parents should be for the child’s psychological, spiritual, and physical well-being and safety.
- Visitation arrangements should be made and confirmed beforehand between the parents without involving the child in order to avoid any false hopes, disappointments or resentments toward the other parent.
- Notify the other parent in a timely manner of the need to deviate from the order, including cancelling visits, rescheduling appointments, and promptness.
- Do not schedule activities for the child during the other parent’s period of possession without the other parent’s consent. However, both parents should work together to allow the child to be involved in extracurricular activities.
- Inform the other parent of any scholastic, medical, psychiatric, or extracurricular activity or appointments of the child.
- Keep the other parent informed at all times of your address and telephone number. If you are out of town with the child, provide the other parent the address and phone number where your children may be reached in case of an emergency.
- Refer to the other parent as the child’s mother or father in conversation, rather than using the parents first or last name.
- Do not bring the child into adult issues and adult conversations about custody, the court, or about the other party.
- Do not ask the child where they want to live.
- Do not attempt to alienate the other parent from the child’s life.
- Do not allow stepparents or others to negatively alter or modify your relationship with the other parent.
- Do not use phrases that draw the children into your issues or make them feel guilty about time spent with their other parent. For example, rather than saying, “I miss you,” say “I Love You.”
As you begin to co-parent, you and your ex are bound, on occasion, to disagree. It isn’t necessary to meet in person—speaking over the phone or exchanging emails is fine for the majority of conversations. The goal is conflict-free communication, so see which type of contact works best for you. Keep the conversations kid-based.
Remember, respect can go a long way, keep talking, don’t sweat the small stuff, and be willing to compromise.
Despite the difficulties faced in a divorce, the children should not be placed in the center of the crossfire. During the divorce process, and sometimes following the divorce process, it is not uncommon for a parent to become so wrapped up in anger, vengeance or simply being “right” that they forget the effect the whole process is having on the children. Below are some behaviors to avoid and some suggestions to assist you with improving your communications during the divorce process:
- Do not use children as messengers between “mom” and “dad.”
- Do not criticize your former spouse in the presence of your children because children realize they are part “mom” and part “dad.”
- Resist any temptation to allow your children to act as your caretaker. Children need to be allowed the freedom to be “children.” Taking on such responsibility at an early age degrades their self-esteem, feeds anger and hinders a child’s ability to relate to their peers.
- Encourage your children to see your former spouse frequently. Promote a good relationship for the benefit of the child.
- Do not argue with your former spouse in the presence of the children. No matter what the situation, the child will feel torn between taking “mommy’s” side and “daddy’s” side.
- At every step during the divorce process, remind yourself that your children’s interests are paramount, even over your own.
- If you are the non-primary parent, pay your child support.
- If you are the primary parent and are not receiving child support, do not tell your children. This feeds a child’s sense of abandonment and erodes their stability.
- Remember that the Court’s view child support and child custody as two separate and distinct issues. Children do not understand whether “mommy” and/or “daddy” paid child support, but they do understand that “mommy” and/or “daddy” wants to see me.
- If at all possible, do not uproot your children. When a family is falling apart, a child needs a stable home and school life to buffer the trauma.
- If you have an addiction problem, whether it be drugs, alcohol or any other affliction, seek help immediately. Such impairments inhibit your ability to reassure your children and give them the attention they need.
- If you are having difficulty dealing with issues relating to your former spouse, discuss such issues with mental health professionals and counselors.
- Reassure your children that they are loved and that they have no fault in the divorce.
Though these steps are not all-inclusive, they will assist you in dealing with the complex issues of a divorce and hopefully minimize the impact of the divorce process on the children.