A court of law is the only way one can obtain a divorce decree, dissolution, legal separation, nullity or other form of terminating a marriage. Other than the termination of the marital estate, the court also has jurisdiction to resolve other issues that are intertwined in the existing marriage which include, but are not limited to: custody and visitation rights, division of property of the marital estate, spousal support, child support, restraining orders, etc.
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Custody is the charge and control of a child, including the right to make all major decisions such as education, religious upbringing, training, health and welfare. Custody usually refers to a combination of physical custody and legal custody. Many factors influence an award of custody and the way a case is presented in court can have a large impact on the result for you and your children. If you are awarded the children as a primary custodial parent, it has far reaching consequences both to you and to their well-being and development.
Child support is a periodic payment made to a custodial parent from a non-custodial parent to help compensate a child's living expenses, i.e. food, clothes, etc., and any other related debts. When one parent is awarded sole custody, as in the event of a divorce, the non-custodial parent is required to fulfill his or her child support obligation by making set payments, whereas the custodial parent meets his or her support obligation through the custody itself. When parents are awarded joint custody in a divorce, however, the support obligation is shared and is based on a ratio of each parent's income and the amount of time the child spends with each parent.
The obligation to support minor children cannot be waived by either parent and is a right enjoyed by the child, not the parent. Each state has guidelines that factor the amount of child support, such as the amount of time spent with the child, the income of both parents and the standard of living the child is accustomed to. The court may allow deductions for items such as catastrophic medical expenses and travel expenses for visitation.
When faced with a relocating custodial parent, the court will general require that parent to give the other parent a minimum amount of notice prior to the anticipated move. This notice gives the non-custodial parent an opportunity to go to court and seek orders restraining the relocation of the child.
These so-called move away cases have gone back and forth on allowing and disallowing a move by the custodial parent with the minor children for over 20 years. While the best interests of the child have always been central to the decision, the uncertainty has made this area murky. Prior to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, when parents sought an advantage in a custody tug-of-war, they would move to a "friendly" jurisdiction (that is, a region with a history of rulings favorable to their position). However, after the UCCJA was adopted by all 50 states, family law courts were forced to defer jurisdiction to the home state, and this custody battle tactic lost favor.
Alimony is temporary or permanent financial support paid from one separated spouse to the other, either in one lump sum or in installments. Alimony is designed to provide the lower-income spouse with money for living expenses over and above the money provided by child support. Alimony differs from child support because it is at the discretion of the judge. Child support is usually determined by state-sanctioned guidelines.
There are several factors a judge considers when deciding whether to grant alimony. These differ from state to state, of course, but they usually involve things like the parties' relative ability to earn money, both now and in the future; their respective age and health; the length of the marriage; the kind of property involved, and the conduct of the parties. In general, about the only time a judge will award alimony in most states is where one spouse has been economically dependent on the other spouse for most of a lengthy marriage.
The basic attitude marking divorce mediation is a focus on solving problems, not fighting the fight. Family mediation is a voluntary process which gives a divorcing or separating couple the opportunity to make their own arrangements for their financial and personal future, while protecting themselves and their children from distress and the needless expense of litigation. The strength of a mediated agreement is that it is built by both parties together in an open process that requires all participants to recognize and make accommodation for the needs of the other participants, often without having to compromise one’s own.
While no two situations are alike, the emphasis in a mediated approach is to achieve a satisfactory settlement in an efficient, cooperative manner. This might include "four-way" settlement conferences where the parties meet along with their divorce mediation lawyers to work on a settlement. The philosophy of Divorce Mediation is that as much effort should be exerted toward settlement as is traditionally spent in preparation for and conducting a trial.
Marital property attained during marriage, regardless of whose name it is under, can be divided. Marital property can include real estate (including a home bought in contemplation of marriage), pension plans, vehicles, bank accounts, income tax refunds and/or household furnishings. However, property that is inherited by one spouse is not considered marital property, i.e. a family business or estate. If you are contractually bound with your ex-spouse on a debt, the creditor can require the entire payment of that debt from your share of the community property even though the divorce decree assigns the debt to your ex-spouse. Depending on the terms of your divorce decree, you may be able to have certain support obligations under the divorce decree determined to be non-dischargeable by the bankruptcy court or in state court.
A prenuptial, or premarital agreement (often referred to as a "pre-nup") is a written contract created by two individuals who plan to be married. This agreement lists all individually owned property, such as homes and businesses, family assets, stocks and bonds, savings accounts as well as debts, and specifies what will and will not remain individually owned property after the legalization of marriage. Prenuptial agreements also specify whether spousal support will be paid in the event of a divorce, and the intentions regarding distribution of individually owned property upon death.
A factor that cannot be stipulated in a prenuptial agreement is child support. A couple cannot lawfully agree in a prenuptial agreement that either part will in no way be responsible for child support. Also, a few states do not allow prenuptial agreements to modify or eliminate the right of a spouse to receive court-ordered alimony at divorce, although a prenuptial agreement can facilitate in the degree of compensation.
If you or a loved one needs the help of an experienced Houston Family Law attorney, call Michael S. O’Connor today at 713-487-7964, or complete the contact form provided on this site to arrange a free consultation.
Michael S. O'Connor, Attorney at Law
3730 Kirby Drive #777
Houston, TX 77098
Phone: (713) 487-7964
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