Deadline to Appeal Associate Judges Shortened!

This post does not affect all counties – just those with associate judges, such as Tarrant, Dallas and Harris County, to name a few.  The Legislature passed H.B. No. 1366, which amends multiple sections of the Texas Family Code by shortening the deadline to file de novo appeals of associate judge rulings from seven days to three days.

While the changes do not take effect until September 1, 2013, we might as well get in the habit of making sure the client knows there is a very limited amount of time to appeal that temporary orders ruling.

For those choosing to represent themselves, this means a very short turnaround if you get an adverse ruling in an Associate Judge’s courtroom and then want to appeal the decision or go hire a lawyer to appeal it.

Pro Se Divorce Forms – Approved, but with Caution

The Texas Supreme Court recently approved a set of pro se divorce forms, with some pretty extensive disclaimers.  Specifically among those disclaimers is that these are only to be used for limited property, no children, no contest divorces.  Note that you should always sit down with someone that knows the process (a lawyer) and discuss your options.  Even the form’s disclaimer says that you should hire a lawyer.   In my experience, NOT hiring a lawyer tends to end up much more expensive when you have to get the order modified or corrected in the future.

Contracts with Lawyers (3 of 3)

The first post in this series dealt with retainer contracts.  The second dealt with flat fee contracts.  This is the third and final post in the series, and deals with contingency fee contracts.  Remember that these just are broad overviews, and a particular contract can be a blend of two or all three.  Read any contract very carefully and make sure you understand it before signing.

Contingency fee contracts are normally used in situations where there is a chance of a large payout, but it will either take a lot of investment and/or the client cannot front the money to pay the lawyer without a successful outcome.  Good examples are personal injury cases.

Contingency fee contracts can require clients to pay expenses associated with the case, but typically do not require payment for attorney/staff time.  Instead, the client will pay a portion of any recovery to the attorney as the fee.  Expect at least 33% of any recovery to be taken by the attorney, up to 50%.  It just depends on the individual case.  Some even break out the percentage further, with (for example) 30% of any recovery before a demand letter is sent, 35% of any recovery after suit is filed, and 40% of any recovery of a judgment, should the case go to trial.

As always, read the contract closely.  Each contract can vary so pay close attention to the terms.  If you have a question, ask!  Your lawyer would rather have you understand the contract and the process up front so that both of you know what to expect.

Retainer Contracts: Contracts with Lawyers (1 of 3)

Flat Fee Contracts: Contracts with Lawyers (2 of 3)

 

What Would My Texas Child Support Be?

Ever wonder how much you would pay in child support in Texas?  The Texas Office of the Attorney General has on online child support calculator that gets pretty close to figuring out what your child support obligation would be in Texas.  The actual number may vary, but this will give you a good idea -

LINK TO TEXAS CHILD SUPPORT CALCULATOR

Annulments in Texas

I’ve had a couple of people request annulments… Texas is very strict on when an annulment can take place and the requirements typically hit on the fact one of the persons of the marriage could not give consent due to incapacity or incomplete knowledge of the situation.  Once that defect is cured, consent is possible and if the person continues to reside with the person and act as married, the marriage will hold.

Reasons Texas will allow an annulment if at the time of the marriage:

(1) The person was under the influence of alcohol or narcotics;

(2) A person is impotent at the time of the marriage and the other did not know;

(3) One person used fraud, duress or force to induce the other to marry them;

(4) One person was mentally incapacitated at the time of marriage;

(5) One person concealed a divorce from the other; and

(6) if the marriage took place during the mandatory 72 hour waiting period between the issuance of the license and the ceremony.

In each of the above cases, the person without capacity or knowledge of the condition must stop living with the other as soon as the condition becomes known, otherwise annulment is not an option.

Another interesting fact about annulments… the parties do not have to follow the mandatory sixty day waiting period that a divorce places on them, the annulment can be over in a matter of days if agreed, and in 45 days after issuance if a trial is properly requested after the answer date.

Additional Resources

Tex. Fam. Code sections 6.104-6.111 
Tex. Fam. Code section 6.702

Contracts with Lawyers (2 of 3)

Post two of three deals with flat fee contracts.  These are the simplest contracts.  You pay the lawyer a set amount for a legal matter and that is it – no variance for how successful or not the case turns out.

Flat fee contracts are typically used for situations where the legal work/time/fees needed is easily determined.  Common cases would be a no-contest divorce or a criminal matter.

The problem with flat fee contracts is that most are nonrefundable, and the contract spells out the terms of the representation.  If your case evolves outside of the contract, you lose that money and the representation.  For example, you pay a flat fee for a no-contest divorce, then it becomes contested.  At that point, your lawyer is free to step out because the contract states his representation is only for a no-contest divorce, which no longer applies.  Should a situation like that arise, most lawyers are happy to renegotiate the contract, but do not expect another flat fee!

As always, read the contract closely.  Each contract can vary so pay close attention to the terms.  If you have a question, ask!  Your lawyer would rather have you understand the contract and the process up front so that both of you know what to expect.

Retainer Contracts: Contracts with Lawyers (1 of 3)

Contingency Fee Contracts: Contracts with Lawyers (3 of 3)

Contracts with Lawyers (1 of 3)

You should understand the contract with your lawyer.  Contracts with lawyers vary, but fit into three main categories – flat fee, contingency, and retainer contracts.  This post is about retainer contracts and only provides a brief overview.  If you have a contract with a lawyer, or are thinking of signing one, make sure to understand that specific contract.

Retainer contracts require an upfront amount, the retainer, to be placed with the law firm.  This goes into a trust account.  That money is held in trust until it is used by the lawyer working on your case and billing his or her time.  Sometimes expenses are also paid out of the trust retainer.  Expenses might include filing fees, service fees, copy fees and/or costs for depositions to name a few examples.

Some retainers have evergreen clauses, which state when your retainer hits a certain level, you must refill the retainer.  This makes sure that there is always an amount with the firm to cover time and expenses.

Most firms send out billing statements once a month.  The statements should tell you what was done during the past month on your case, how much it cost, and how much is left in the trust account.

Retainer contracts are commonly used in cases where the amount of time needed to pursue the case and/or the monetary payoff is uncertain and can vary greatly.  Family law lawyers normally use retainer contracts.

Always make sure you read the contract you will be signing, and if you have questions, ask.  The lawyer you work with wants you to understand that contract so that there is no misunderstanding later.  The lawyer wants to fight for  you, not fight with you.

Fee Contracts: Contract with Lawyers (2 of 3)

Contingency Fee Contracts: Contracts with Lawyers (3 of 3)

How to Change Contractual Alimony

First, make sure the clause you are looking to change is contractual alimony and not spousal support. You can get an idea by looking at my post here.

If it is contractual, read on!

Changing contractual alimony in Texas is not easy. It follows contract law, so typically you need the written agreement of both parties.  You need to look carefully at the terms and conditions of the payments first, and see if there is a built in way to modify or terminate the payments.  If not or the terms do not apply, you are going to need to talk to the ex-spouse.

Why would an ex-spouse agree to change the spousal payments?  Sometimes out of the goodness of their hearts… or perhaps you offer them something of value – some ideas:

  1. More money over a longer period of time so that the payments are smaller;
  2. Less money but in a lump sum payment;
  3. Other property can be used as well; or
  4. An offer to pay off debts incurred jointly or by the other party during the marriage.

We have also seen other consideration given, like the addition/modification of a geographic residency requirement or exchange points.  In the end, the deal is up to the parties, with very few exceptions.

Another method would be to attack it as you would a contract.  This is much more involved, and more difficult.

If you have a question or want advise about a particular situation, email or call – we can help!

Discovery Pleadings – An Overview

Too often, the first time someone learns about a discovery tool is when they have to respond.  I thought I would list some of the more common tools and a brief explanation.  This is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it helps!

Requests for Disclosures
This is the one discovery request that cannot be objected to and provides basic information like potential witnesses, any experts, general legal theories and factual basis for them.  Texas Rule of Civil Procedure (TRCP) 194.

Requests for Admissions
These are a lists of questions that can only be answered as admitted, denied, or in limited circumstances, explaining the reason that the responding party cannot admit or deny the question. Some attorneys use these to set the evidentiary foundations of documents or see what facts are really at issue. TRCP 198.

Requests for Production and Inspection
This pleading is used to get documents, videos, recordings or other pieces of tangible evidence.  TRCP 196.

Written Interrogatories
These are a very limited number of questions a party must respond to. Be careful with these. One you reach the limit (25 normally) the other party does not have to answer any more.  TRCP 197.

Depositions
Formal question and answer sessions where your attorney asks questions of the other party or the other party’s attorney asks questions of you. Very useful, but expensive, and you get a limited number of hours.  Most attorneys like other discovery to be done first so they can ask questions to fill in the gaps and solidify their side of the case.  TRCP 199.

What is the Standard Possession Order in Texas?

A Standard Possession Order, or SPO, is the visitation schedule of a non-custodial parent described in Texas Family Code Title 5, Subchapter F (153.3101 – 153.317).  The actual statute can be found here.  There is a rebuttable presumption that this schedule is in the best interest of the child (Tex. Fam. Code 153.252).  However, there is arguably a different standard (or no standard) for a child under three, if you look at Texas Family Code 153.254.  That will have to be addressed in a different post.

One easy way to explain the SPO is that the non-custodial parent will have the first, third and fifth weekends of every month, plus some additional holiday time and possession in the summer and Thursdays from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM.  Non-custodial parents should make sure to understand that when there is a fifth weekend of the month, they will have the following weekend as well, since the following weekend will be the first weekend of the next month.  This commonly causes confusion as many parents seem to believe they get “every other weekend.”  If you have an SPO, that is not true, and you may miss out on time with your child.  For ease of use, I found a calendar for 2012 as an example on the website of the Attorney General (AG Calendar) and another on an Austin Mediation website (AM website).

Keep in mind that the SPO addresses visitation for under 100 miles and over 100 miles.  Over 100 miles gives the non-custodial parents the option to pick a weekend per month instead of the 1/3/5 schedule as well as additional time in the summer and all spring breaks.

Also, sometimes you hear reference to an Expanded SPO.  Normally when that term is used, it refers to an SPO where the non-custodial parent has chosen to exercise the option under 153.317 to change pick-up or drop-off times to get more time with their child.  When pick-up times are changed, it is normally changed from 6:00 PM to the time school is released and drop-off is normally changed from 8:00 PM to the time school resumes the next day.  This allows the non-custodial parent take an additional over night (Thursday or Sunday) or have additional time between when school would be dismissed and 6:00 PM, the standard pick-up time.

If you have questions, feel free to ask.  This is a brief overview and does not address every situation, school holidays, or general terms and conditions, for example.  Hopefully this DOES make the SPO a little more clear!

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