Protecting Your Family's Future
 

What the Best Interests of the Child Really Means

Factors That Determine the Best Interests of the Child

According to the CDC, the divorce rate was 3.2 per every 1,000 marriages in 2014. While that figure is lower than it has been in past years, it means that parents and children may need to prepare for life after divorce. In your divorce proceeding, the needs of the child are given top priority. Contact our family law attorneys to understand the factors that determine the best interests of the child.

The Child May Play a Role in a Custody Proceeding

When it comes time to determine who gets custody of your child, he or she may be given some say in the matter. This largely depends on how old your child is and how mature a judge perceives the child to be. It is important to note that a judge is not bound by the child’s wishes when creating a custody order in your case. Furthermore, you aren’t necessarily bound by your child’s stated desires, either, if you and your spouse choose to create a parenting plan outside of court.

Does the Child Have Special Needs?

best interests of the childIf your child requires specialized care or access to a specialized educational environment, that could be a factor in creating a custody order. Most likely, you will be given custody of the child if you live closer to the school or medical facility where your son or daughter receives treatment. The opposite could be true if your former spouse lives closer to the services your child needs. Of course, this assumes that your former spouse is capable of being on-time to appointments or administering other care in a timely fashion.

Is Either Parent Physically or Mentally Abusive?

In the event that you are seen as mentally or physically abusive toward your child, that could result in limited parental rights after a divorce. The same would likely be true if your former spouse acted inappropriately with your children. However, it is possible that a judge would allow supervised visitation as long as whoever had problems in the past worked toward resolving them.

For instance, you or the child’s other parent could be ordered to take parenting or anger management classes. In some cases, these classes can help you or the other parent gain a new perspective on how to raise a child and make positive changes to raise a son or daughter in a healthier way.

Does Either Parent Have Mental Health Issues?

You won’t necessarily be denied custody or visitation rights simply because you have a history of mental health problems. The same is generally true for the child’s other parent. However, a judge will want to know that you have a plan in place to keep your symptoms in check. It may also be necessary to have a plan for when a nervous breakdown or panic attack may make it impossible to be with the child temporarily. A family law attorney may be able to further explain how mental health issues could impact a custody decision.

Can You Be Civil for the Child’s Sake?

Just because parents can’t get along with each other doesn’t mean that they can’t work together to raise their children. Ideally, the law would like to see both parents share custody of their children whenever possible. Assuming that you and your former spouse are able to provide a safe environment for your child, it is likely that both will be given the opportunity to play a significant role in his or her life.

However, if you and the child’s other parent can’t get along, it may be necessary to engage in parallel parenting. What this means is that each parent maintains a relationship with a child with minimal interference from the other. Generally speaking, parents will only communicate with each other if there is an important issue related to the child. Even then, communication may only occur by digital means and with strict protocols set in place.

If you are looking for help with a family law issue, contact the family law attorneys at Stewart Law PLLC today. This can be done by calling our office in Baytown at (281) 420-8020 or using the contact form on our website.

Comprehending Child Custody in the Divorce Process

What You Need to Know About Child Custody Laws

While few couples embark on life’s journey together with the expectation that their marriage will end prematurely, the American Psychological Association notes that 40 to 50 percent of marriages will result in divorce. If you and your partner have chosen to separate from each another, make sure you understand what your rights and obligations are regarding child custody. Here are some things you should understand.

Who Gets the Kids?

One of the first questions to be brought up during the divorce process is which parent the children will be staying with. If you and your partner both want to remain actively involved in raising them, you may find that joint custody works well; however, many couples find that sorting out the details of where the children will live and go to school can be tricky.

Custody of Minor Children
If you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement on how you’d like to divide your children’s time and care, you may experience a custody dispute. In cases where there is a custody issue that cannot be settled by the individuals involved, a family law attorney may be able to offer guidance and assistance.

During a divorce, going to court is sometimes necessary to resolve certain problems. If you and your partner simply cannot agree on who will have custody of the children or how to arrange visitation, the court may be required to decide these issues. Your divorce lawyer can advise you as you prepare to meet with a judge who can settle your dispute and determine how custody will be shared.

Types of Custody

Settling on custody arrangements for a child involves more than just choosing where the little one will spend his or her weekends. Did you know there are different types of custody? You and your partner will quickly discover that you’ll not only need to arrange for the physical custody of your child but also the legal custody.

Physical custody determines where a child lives. For example, if your child lives with you one week and your former partner the next week, you will have shared physical custody. If your child lives only with you and does not see your former spouse, you will have sole physical custody. Note that when physical custody is shared, one parent may still be the primary caregiver.

Legal custody may also be shared, but one parent is sometimes awarded sole legal custody. This type of custody includes more than just where the child resides. Legal custody includes the power to make medical decisions for the child, the ability to determine the child’s religion and the power to choose where the child attends school. Even if you are awarded sole physical custody, you and your partner may still be awarded joint legal custody. This means that even if your child doesn’t live with the other parent, your former partner may have a say in how the youngster is raised.

How an Attorney Can Help

If you’re going through a divorce, you know that emotions can quickly become unruly. Whether you were married for two months or two decades, it’s possible to have a difficult time communicating effectively with your former partner. A family law attorney understands this, which is why it’s important to seek assistance from a lawyer who can help facilitate communication while simultaneously informing you of your rights and obligations. The lawyer you retain can also assist you with paperwork, documentation and legal representation if you need to appear in court.

Remember that support is available. You don’t have to face divorce on your own. In fact, you shouldn’t. Our team is ready to assist you through the entire process, including dealing with disputes regarding physical and legal custody of the children. Stewart Law is prepared to handle your case as you move through this challenging period and on to the next stage in your life. To arrange an initial consultation at our Baytown office, please call us at (281) 420-8020 or contact us by email. We’d be happy to answer your questions and discuss your options.

Fathers’ Rights: Increasing Your Chances of Getting Physical Custody of Minor Children

Fathers’ Rights in Texas Divorce

For most of the history of divorce, mothers have been favored by courts for physical custody, often under what was known as the “tender years” doctrine, a theory that mothers were biologically better equipped to nurture small children. Though Texas has rejected the tender years doctrine, it’s still overwhelmingly more likely that a court will award physical custody (now known as managing conservatorship). As a father, there are specific things that you can do to increase your chances of securing physical custody of your children. Contact a Baytown family law attorney to learn more about fathers’ rights in Texas divorce.

fathers rights in texas divorce

The Best Interests of the Child Standard

For decades, the primary consideration when establishing custody in Texas has been the “best interests of the child.” The court will typically look at a wide variety of evidence and factors, all with an eye toward what will best promote healthy a emotional and physical environment for the child. With that in mind, here are some of the questions the court will likely ask:

  • What has been the nature of your relationship with your child?—How does the child view you? Have you been an active and meaningful presence in their lives? The court will be inclined to grant primary custody to the parent with whom the child has spent the most time and has the strongest bonds. Accordingly, did you participate in all the daily routines—dropping off and picking up at school, disciplinary measures, doctor’s appointments, baths and bedtime? The more you did, the better your chances of getting custody.
  • Can you get along with your ex-spouse?—The courts in Texas prefer that both parents have a meaningful role in the lives of minor children, and look with disfavor on a parent who belittles or denigrates the other parent. If you can show that you will maintain a positive relationship with the child’s mother, that will be viewed positively in custody determinations.
  • Are you prepared to be a parent?—If  you want custody, you have to be able to show the court that your primary focus, after the divorce, will be on parenting your children. If the court perceives that you’ll be more interested in your own personal development, or in new relationships, they may conclude that such a lifestyle is not in the child’s best interests.

Contact Us

At the office of Linda Stewart Law, PLLC, in Baytown, we bring more than 8 years of experience to clients in south Texas. To learn how we can help, call our office at 281-761-6042 or contact us online. We offer an initial consultation at a reduced fee of $50. We accept credit cards and will set up a payment plan, if appropriate. Our offices are open Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and until noon on Fridays. Evening and weekend appointments can be arranged upon request.

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Joint Managing Conservatorships in Texas

Joint Managing Conservatorships in Texas

If you are involved in or considering a divorce in Texas and there are minor children involved, you need to get familiar with this term—joint managing conservatorship. It may sound daunting, but it’s something with which you are probably already very familiar—it’s the new language used in Texas to refer to custody of minor children. Our Baytown family law attorney can answer any questions about joint managing conservatorships in Texas.

Here’s how it works. In Texas, a parent who is awarded primary custody of minor children is referred to as the “sole managing conservator.” The other parent is called the “possessory conservator.” If the parents are granted joint custody, the relationship is known as a “joint managing conservatorship.” As a general rule, Texas considers a joint managing conservatorship to be in the “best interests of the child,” the standard for such decisions.

Conservatorships in Texas

How Does the Court Determine Managing Conservatorship?

As indicated above, the presumption is that a joint managing conservatorship will be best for any minor children. In fact, a court can (and often does) appoint both parents as joint managing conservators, even if the parties have not agreed to that arrangement.

It’s important to understand, though, that a joint managing conservatorship does not necessarily mean equal access or physical possession of a child. The court has discretion to grant one parent more time or access, based on a number of factors, including:

  • The ability of the parties to reach shared decisions that are in the best interests of the child
  • Whether or not there’s a positive relationship between the parents, or between the children and the parents
  • Whether the psychological, physical and emotional needs of the child will be met by the specific arrangement
  • The geographic proximity of the parents’ homes
  • The preference of the child, if the child is 12 years of age or older

Contact Us

At the office of Linda Stewart Law, PLLC, in Baytown, we bring more than 8 years of experience to clients in south Texas.

To learn how we can help, call our office at 281-761-6042 or contact us online. Our family law attorney offers an initial consultation at a reduced fee of $50. We accept credit cards and will set up a payment plan, if appropriate. Our offices are open Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and until noon on Fridays. Evening and weekend appointments can be arranged upon request.

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How Does the Court Determine the “Best Interests” of the Child?

How Does the Court Determine the Best Interests of the Child?

Under Texas law, when establishing managing conservatorship (custody) and access (visitation) in family law matters, the court must give priority to the “best interests of the child,” crafting an order that promotes the child’s mental, physical and emotional needs. To accomplish that goal, the court has the discretion to grant sole legal and physical custody to one parent, or to make both parents “joint conservators.” Absent extenuating circumstances, the courts prefer to have both parents actively involved in making decisions about the child’s education, medical treatment, legal concerns and extra-curricular involvement. Furthermore, the courts encourage parents to work cooperatively to make decisions that meet the guidelines, getting involved only when that doesn’t happen. Contact a Baytown family law attorney to understand how the court determines the best interests of the child.

best interests of the child

The court can consider a number of factors when making a determination of what is in a child’s best interests, including:

  • The respective ability of each parent to effectively nurture and raise the child
  • The stability of each parent’s home and lifestyle
  • The child’s particular emotional and physical needs, including any special needs
  • Each parent’s plans for the child
  • The extent to which there has been any domestic abuse or violence by either parent, or any type of improper relationship between the child and a parent
  • The child’s wishes, if the child is at least 12 years of age

Contact Us

At the office of Linda Stewart Law, PLLC, in Baytown, we bring more than 8 years of experience to clients in south Texas. To learn how we can help, call our office at 281-761-6042 or contact us online. We offer an initial consultation at a reduced fee of $50. We accept credit cards and will set up a payment plan, if appropriate. Our offices are open Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and until noon on Fridays. Evening and weekend appointments can be arranged upon request.

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Common Mistakes When Dividing a Marital Estate

Common Mistakes When Dividing a Marital Estate

When your marriage ends, one of the most challenging jobs can be the division of the debts and assets of the marriage. In your rush to be over with the divorce, don’t make these common mistakes when dividing a marital estate. Contact a Baytown divorce lawyer for assistance.

Make Sure You Account for All Assets and Income

According to a recent study, nearly 20% of all divorces proceedings involve assets hidden by one of the parties. Take the time to make certain you know what’s out there.

Don’t Forget to Change Information on All Financial Accounts

There’s no benefit to keeping any joint accounts with your ex. In addition to bank accounts, you need to change credit cards, investment accounts and any debts/loans, including your mortgage. It’s also critical to change the beneficiary on life insurance policies, annuities, retirement accounts and investment portfolios.

Dividing a Marital Estate

Don’t Ignore the Tax Implications

One of the ways in which people commonly don’t end up getting a fair deal has to do with the potential tax consequences of owning certain property. Experts say it’s important to determine whether the dollars you are receiving are pre-tax or post-tax dollars. For example, if you take assets in an IRA in exchange for allowing your ex to keep the house, you will incur a tax obligation when you take distributions. However, your ex may incur no tax consequence upon the sale of the house, provided the net gain on the sale is below that allowed under the Internal Revenue Code.

Don’t Let Your Decisions Be Affected by Your Emotions

When you let your emotions take over, it’s hard to make rational decisions. It can be hard, but you have to view the financial aspects like a business transaction. In addition, don’t try to establish your own value for a house, or for personal property. Always get a professional to appraise marital assets at fair market value.

Contact Us

At the office of Linda Stewart Law, PLLC, in Baytown, our family law attorney brings more than 8 years of experience to clients in south Texas. To learn how we can help, call our office at 281-761-6042 or contact us online. We offer an initial consultation at a reduced fee of $50. We accept credit cards and will set up a payment plan, if appropriate. Our offices are open Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and until noon on Fridays. Evening and weekend appointments can be arranged upon request.

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Protecting Your Rights as a Single Mother—Paternity Disputes

Protecting Your Rights as a Single Mother—Paternity Disputes

As the unmarried mother of a minor child, it’s essential that you establish the paternity of your child. The father will have visitation rights, but will also have to provide some level of support, provided you are no longer living together. Paternity can also make your child eligible for a wide variety of benefits through the father of the child, including medical insurance, veteran’s benefits, Social Security and inheritance. Here are the ways to establish paternity in Texas while protecting your rights as a single mother. Contact a Baytown divorce lawyer for more information.

Establishing Paternity

Under Texas law, you can successfully have the father of your minor child legally designated three different ways, all of which will qualify you to receive support and other benefits. The accepted methods are:

  • Presumptive paternity—if you were married to the father or lived continuously with him for a period of time before the birth of the child, paternity will be presumed, though the alleged father may challenge paternity through DNA testing.
  • A voluntary acknowledgement of paternity—if the alleged father signs a legally binding document stating that he is the genetic father of the child, you then have the right to seek all benefits.
  • Paternity by court order—either the mother or the alleged father of the child may ask the court to establish paternity. Furthermore, a child may also ask the court to order paternity testing, provided he or she has reached a certain age.

Contact Us

At the office of Linda Stewart Law, PLLC, in Baytown, we bring more than 10 years of experience to clients in south Texas. To learn about our services, call us at 281-761-6042 or contact us online. Our family law attorney offers an initial consultation at a reduced fee of $50. We accept credit cards and will set up a payment plan, if appropriate. Our offices are open Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and until noon on Fridays. Evening and weekend appointments can be arranged upon request.

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Relocating after Divorce in Texas

Relocating after Divorce in Texas

Often, in the aftermath of divorce, you want a change of scenery. However, there can be other reasons for seeking to relocate after a divorce—you may get a new job or a promotion, you may want to be closer to family, or there may be a specific benefit for your children. What are the restrictions, if any, on moving after a divorce, particularly when there are minor children involved? If you are relocating after divorce in Texas, contact a Baytown divorce lawyer for further assistance.

Under Texas law, as part of your divorce order, the court will set up a “managing conservatorship,” essentially what was formerly known as custody. As a general rule, the court prefers (and will establish) a joint managing conservatorship, consistent with the state’s stated objective of keeping both parents involved with the life and upbringing of the child. Achieving that objective can be complicated, though, even when both parents live in near each other. It becomes even more of a challenge when one of the parents wants to relocate.

Relocating after Divorce in Texas

You Must Get Permission from the Court

Almost universally, the court order in a Texas divorce prohibits the custodial parent (referred to as the “primary parent”) from relocating outside a certain area without first seeking and obtaining permission of the court. In most instances, permission must be sought if the custodial parent wants to move outside of any county contiguous with the county where the parties currently reside.

Even if

Understanding the Tax Implications of Divorce

Tax Implications of Divorce

During a divorce, your focus is on custody and visitation, child support, alimony (perhaps) and the division of marital debts and assets. It may not even occur to you to consider the potential tax consequences until the divorce is finalized. But thinking about the tax impact beforehand can benefit both parties. Contact a Baytown divorce lawyer with questions about the tax implications of divorce.

The Treatment of Child Support and Spousal Support for Tax Purposes

With both child support and alimony, one of the parties is receiving income from the other. However, for tax purposes, the two types of payment are treated differently.

Under IRS rules, child support payments are not considered as income by the recipient. Accordingly, the person paying child support cannot claim any kind of deduction for the payment.

As a general rule, however, spousal support qualifies as reportable income and must be included on state and federal tax returns, as long as the payments are made because of a valid divorce or separation agreement, and the payments are monetary—gifts of real or personal property, or services (gifts in kind) are generally not taxable. If the payments qualify as income to the recipient, they can also be deducted by the payer.

Tax Implications of Divorce

What Filing Status Should You Claim?

If your divorce in still in process at the end of the tax year, you can still choose to file a joint return, or you can file as “married filing separately.” However, if the divorce decree is entered before the end of the tax year, you must file as either single or as “head of household.”

To claim your children as exemptions on your return, you must generally be considered the custodial parent. In most instances, the parent with whom the child spent the most amount of time will be considered the custodial parent for tax purposes. You can, however, claim your child if the custodial parent waives the exemption in writing.

Contact Us

At the office of Linda Stewart Law, PLLC, in Baytown, our divorce lawyer brings more than 8 years of experience to clients in south Texas. To learn how we can help, call our office at 281-761-6042 or contact us online. We offer an initial consultation at a reduced fee of $50. We accept credit cards and will set up a payment plan, if appropriate. Our offices are open Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and until noon on Fridays. Evening and weekend appointments can be arranged upon request.

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Proposed Bills Would Increase Cost of Texas Divorce, Impact Privacy

The Cost of Texas Divorce

Two changes to Texas divorce law proposed by Republican Matt Krause would significantly increase the time and cost involved in a divorce, and would have a devastating impact on the privacy of individuals involved in divorce proceedings. Krause has filed SB 93, which would eliminate “insupportability” as a legal cause for divorce in Texas, effectively doing away with no-fault divorce in Texas. The other proposed statute, HB 65, would extend the current 60 day waiting period to 180 days for couples with minor children. If you need help, contact a Baytown family law attorney about the cost of Texas divorce.

Under the current law in Texas, a party seeking divorce must provide a reason, but can cite “insupportability” as the cause, essentially saying that the bonds of marriage have been broken and the differences are irreconcilable. If Krause’s proposed law is adopted, that option will no longer be available and parties will have to cite one of the following reasons:

  • Adultery
  • Abandonment for a minimum of one year
  • Failure to cohabitate for at least three years
  • Commitment to a mental hospital
  • Cruelty
  • Conviction of a felony

Cost of Texas Divorce

Warren Cole, president-elect of the Texas Family Law Foundation, says the proposed statute, if enacted, would necessarily lead to significant increases in the cost of a divorce, as parties would have to spend money to prove adultery, abandonment or one of the other causes. He says that simply making it harder for people to get a divorce doesn’t get at the issue of whether or not the marriage is working, and that forcing parties to stay in an unhealthy relationship because they can’t afford a divorce serves no meaningful purpose. He also notes that parties who cite insupportability often do so to avoid publicly accusing a spouse of infidelity. If the law passes, he says, all that dirty laundry will have to be a matter of public record.

Contact Us

At the office of Linda Stewart Law, PLLC, in Baytown, our family law attorney brings more than 8 years of experience to clients in south Texas.

To learn how we can help, call our office at 281-761-6042 or contact us online. We offer an initial consultation at a reduced fee of $50. We accept credit cards and will set up a payment plan, if appropriate. Our offices are open Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and until noon on Fridays. Evening and weekend appointments can be arranged upon request.

Se Habla Espanol | ASL and ESL Services Also Available

 
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