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!
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.
Premarital and post-marital agreements in Texas have a complex history immersed in the community property presumption, the sate constitution, statutes and case law. Originally, such agreements were found to be unenforceable. But with amendments to the Texas Constitution, evolving statutes, recent case law, and improved draftsmanship, such agreements are now enforceable under contract law.
For some couples living together is a precursor to marriage; for others, there is no intent to ever marry, or the law prohibits the marriage, as in Texas with same sex marriages. The simple fact is, domestic partnership agreements involve a wide variety of circumstances, which may or may not involve the gay or lesbian couple.
Many couples choose to live together so they do not lose certain benefits under current rules of social security, military and insurance disability programs, or to stop those benefits from being taken away from their children. In other cases, couples who are divorced, and who may have children, may want to protect certain assets. In situations such as trust funds or inherited funds, beneficiaries simply do not want to place family money at risk. Other couples choose to shelter their own resources from the real or perceived obligations of their partner.
The marital agreement is considered to be a contract under Texas law. The premarital agreement must be in writing and signed by both parties. No actual consideration is required; however, to conform with contractual law, it may be wise to provide benefits for the non-monied party to avoid a later finding of unconscionability, particularly if the financial condition of the non-monied party under the agreement will be poor.
Matters that may be dealt with in a premarital agreement include, but are not limited to, the following:
- the right to buy, sell, use, transfer, exchange, abandon, lease, consume, expend, assign, create a security interest in, mortgage, encumber, dispose of, or otherwise manage and control property;
- the rights and obligations of each of the parties in any of the property of either or both of them whenever or wherever acquired or located;
- the disposition of property on separation, marital dissolution, death, or the occurrence or nonoccurrence of any other event;
- the modification or elimination of spousal support;
- the making of a will, trust, or other arrangement to carry out the provisions of the agreement;
- the ownership rights in and disposition of the death benefit from a life insurance policy;
- the choice of law governing the construction of the agreement; and
- any other matter, including their personal rights and obligations, not in violation of public policy or a statute imposing a criminal penalty.
Child support may not be adversely affected by a premarital agreement. Therefore, provisions providing for the elimination of child support upon separation or divorce are unenforceable. However, provisions for private education, college expenses, and choice of residence may be included, but may still be reviewed by a court to determine if they are in keeping with public policy.
In post-marital agreements, it has been noted that a fiduciary duty exists that is not present in pre-marital agreements between spouses or prospective spouses. Case law states that a confidential relationship between husband and wife imposes the same duties of good faith and fair dealing on spouses as required of partners and other fiduciaries. However, adverse parties who have retained independent counsel may not owe fiduciary duties to one another. Texas Legislature enacted Section 4.105 with the understanding that married spouses owing fiduciary duties to one another would negotiate and execute post-marital agreements. Not withstanding these duties, the legislature manifested the strong policy preference that voluntarily made post-marital agreements are enforceable.
Cohabitation, domestic partnership, premarital and post-marital agreements may be as creative as a party determines necessary. However, care must be given to see that such agreements protect the party, keep with public policy, and adhere to current Texas family law and applicable contractual law.