Protecting Your Family's Future
 

Millions of Dollars Stuck in Texas Child Support “Purgatory”

A recently released report shows that, during the third quarter of 2015, the Texas Attorney General’s office held onto more than $55 million in child support payments that had been made by non-custodial parents. Officials say that amount has nearly tripled in the last four years. Unfortunately, in most cases, nobody really knows why.

A spokesperson for the state attorney general’s office said that there are often good or valid reasons for withholding payment, including:

  • The filing of a dispute by either party to a divorce—officials are reluctant to distribute funds until the legal dispute is resolved
  • The state may have inaccurate information for one of the parties, including address of the recipient
  • There may be a change in the payer’s employment

According to advocates for custodial parents, the money is frequently withheld from families with little or no other resources to meet daily expenses. When funds are not distributed in a timely manner, those families are often forced to seek TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) payments, which cost taxpayers a substantial amount of money. Advocates say that most recipients can get the state to release funds by hiring an attorney, but that’s a luxury most cannot afford.

An employee in the AG’s office said that the agency works hard to get dollars to recipients in a timely manner, but also acknowledged that the state has no way of tracking how many recipients have money that’s being withheld.

Contact Us

At the office of Linda Stewart Law, PLLC, in Baytown, we bring more than 8 years of experience to family law clients in south Texas. To learn how we can help, call our office at 281-420-8020 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

Harris County Works with AG’s Office to Collect $150 in Child Support

The Harris County FOCAS program—an acronym for Focus on Collection and Services—worked in partnership with the Texas Attorney General’s office in 2015 to collect more than $150 million in child support payments.

The program, which has been in place for more than a decade, uses a range of legal tools to collect and enforce child support orders. Officials may legally withhold or garnish the wages of a non-custodial parent to pay child support. The county also uses state and federal tax refund intercepts, as well as liens and contempt proceedings. Federal tax intercepts make up about $2 million in annual receipts.

The FOCAS program is not mandatory in Harris County, but parties to a divorce will automatically be included unless they opt out. For custodial parents, there’s a real incentive to participate, as the average monthly support amount collected per case through FOCAS is $766.65, whereas individuals outside the program recover only an average of $530.64. Approximately 85% of parents in the FOCAS program pay their support in full and on time. Only 58% of those outside the program are compliant with court support orders.

Though the program is 12 years old, there are still many older support orders that are not subject to FOCAS. Authorities expect that, over the next few years, the number of non-FOCAS cases in the system will fall dramatically.

Contact Us

At the office of Linda Stewart Law, PLLC, in Baytown, we bring more than 8 years of experience to family law clients in south Texas. To learn how we can help, call our office at 281-420-8020 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

Texas Man Beats Charge Filed by Ex-Partner

A Texas man was acquitted of theft charges after confiscating his daughter’s iPhone 4. Ronald Jackson, a Dallas native, says he saw what he considered to be an “inappropriate” text message on his 12-year-old daughter’s iPhone and took it away from her. The girl’s mother, though, contended that she had purchased the phone and called local authorities, reporting that Jackson had stolen the phone. When police arrived, Jackson refused to turn over the phone, saying police had no right to interfere with his efforts to be a parent to his daughter.

When Jackson refused to turn over the phone, his ex, Michelle Steppe, convinced the city attorney’s office to have a citation for theft served upon him. The city attorney proposed a plea bargain, whereby Jackson would have all charges dismissed if he returned the phone. He refused and hired an attorney. In response, the city attorney changed the charge to a higher grade misdemeanor and police issued a warrant for his arrest. Jackson was taken into custody, but posted a $1,500 bond.

In pre-trial motions, the Dallas County Criminal Court threw out the case, saying that the state had not produced enough evidence to go to trial. Jackson’s attorney says he plans to file a complaint in federal court for violation of his client’s civil rights. He also acknowledged that Jackson still possesses the iPhone.

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 281-420-8020 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

Tax Tips for Divorcing Couples

In the midst of a divorce, one of the last things you may think about are the potential tax ramifications of ending your marriage, but financial counselors say it’s something you need to address.

Child Support and Alimony Payments

It’s important to understand the tax consequences of both child support and alimony payments. Child support payments are taxable by the recipient. Furthermore, they cannot be claimed as a deduction by anyone paying child support.

Alimony payments are treated differently under state and federal tax laws. As a general rule, alimony is considered income and must be reported as such, provided the payments are made pursuant to a valid divorce or separation agreement, and the payments are made in cash (not in kind). Likewise, if the same conditions are met, alimony payments may be deducted by the payer.

Filing Status

If you are in the middle of a divorce at the end of the tax year, you can choose to file a joint return, or file as “married filing separately.” If your divorce becomes final 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 be considered the custodial parent. Generally, 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, we bring more than 8 years of experience to clients in south Texas. To learn how we can help, call our office at 281-420-8020 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

What Happens to Child Support if My Ex Moves to Another State?

When your divorce is final and you have a permanent child support order in place, you can usually relax, knowing that state enforcement officials will help you collect support, should your ex fall behind or stop paying. But what happens if your ex moves out of state? Does the state of Texas have the authority to collect child support payments from a non-resident?

A federal law, the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), governs the enforcement of child support orders across state lines. Under the UIFSA, a party does not need to go to court in another state to enforce a child support order. Instead, the child’s home state has the authority to enter an initial support order and can obtain jurisdiction over a payer in another state.

Under the UIFSA, the court in a child’s home state must register the original support order with the court in the state where the non-custodial parent resides. Once that is done, though, the courts in the non-custodial parent’s state have full legal authority to take a number of actions to recover support, including:

  • Garnishment of wages
  • Suspension of business or professional license
  • Suspension of driving privileges
  • Seizure of property
  • Attachment of any tax refunds

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 281-420-8020 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

Who’s at Greater Risk of Divorce—Doctors, Nurses or Executives?

Who Has the Highest Divorce Rate—Doctors, Nurses or Executives?

Though the common perception is that medical professionals, particularly physicians, have a higher rate of divorce than individuals in other professions, a recent study actually found doctors to be at less risk than many other professionals. The study, which used data from the U.S. Census Bureau, looked at the divorce rates of more than 6.5 million professionals, including approximately 250,000 doctors.

The Findings

Contrary to popular belief, the study found the divorce rate for physicians to be less than one in four (24%), whereas one in three nurses who married could expect it to end in divorce. Health care executives had a significantly higher divorce rate than doctors (31%), and all professionals outside of health care had a 35% divorce rate. Lawyers also had a higher divorce rate than doctors, at 27%.

On the down side, the research showed that female doctors were almost 50% more likely to have a marriage end in divorce than their male counterparts. Another interesting discovery—while female doctors who worked more than 40 hours a week had the highest divorce rates within the medical community, the opposite proved true for male doctors—working less than 40 hours per week increased their likelihood of divorce.

The study, published by The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), attributed the higher rates of divorce among female doctors to the additional trade-offs that come with being a mother and a professional.

Contact Stewart Law, PLLC

At the law office of Linda Stewart Law, PLLC, in Baytown, we bring more than 10 years of experience to clients in south Texas.

To learn how we can help, call our office at 281-420-8020 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

Divorce at Retirement—Pay Attention to the Details

Late-in-Life Divorce—Watch Out for Impact on Retirement Assets

Over the last two decades, the rate of divorce among 50-somethings (and older) has more than doubled. Even though there is less likelihood of disputes over child custody, visitation and support, there are other factors that make these types of proceedings complicated and time-consuming. Marital estates tend to be more substantial and the parties often have significant retirement assets.

Paying Attention to the Details

If you are involved in a divorce, have substantial retirement plan assets and are at or near the end of your working life, you need to take great care when attempting to divide retirement or pension plan assets. With an IRA, you can split the value and roll a portion of the funds over into a new IRA without any tax consequence simply by setting up the new IRA and making the tax-free rollover. However, if your retirement is in a 401(k), 403(b), or other qualified plan, you will need the court to issue a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) or you will incur tax on the transfer.

Another concern may involve your home. For many, the equity in their home is a substantial retirement asset. In a divorce, you may consider selling the home and splitting the proceeds, but there can be adverse tax consequences to doing this. You are best-served to discuss the matter with a tax professional and/or a lawyer before you make any decision.

You should also reexamine your insurance coverage as part of a late-in-life divorce. The policies will likely name your ex as a beneficiary. In addition, you may need to seek new source of insurance coverage.

Contact Stewart Law, PLLC

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 how we can help, call our office at 281-420-8020 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

The Consequences of Lying to Your Children in a Divorce

It Doesn’t Pay to Lie to Your Children

The Consequences of Lying to Your Children in a DivorceMost parents would agree with the statement that it’s not a good thing to lie to your children. Unfortunately, most research shows that children learn to lie by observing their parents. Often, the parent who doesn’t tell his or her child the truth is acting out of perceived attempts to protect the child. A parent may worry that the child lacks the resources to fully understand an issue, and may tell the child that nothing’s wrong, when it’s clear that something is. The message to the child—it’s okay to lie in certain situations. The other potential side-effect of not telling your child the truth—he or she may start to doubt his or her perceptions or may stop trusting you.

So does that mean you reveal all the gory details of everything in your life to your child. No, say experts. For example, if you are upset about something and it’s apparent to your child, you may get the question, “Are you okay?” “I’m fine” is clearly not an honest answer. But you don’t have to disclose the full nature of your unhappiness. It can be enough to say to your child, “Thanks for noticing that I am upset. I will be okay. I just need to take care of some things.”

It’s also healthy to help you children understand that sadness and disappointment are part of life. If you acknowledge to your child that something makes you sad, but you have the ability to move forward, you child will learn that the same approach is possible for them. And when you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to admit it to your child. It will encourage them to be candid with you when they’ve done something wrong.

A common misperception is that kids don’t know what’s going on unless you tell them. The reality is that kids are far more sensitive to changes in routine, tone of voice, level of confidence and happiness than they are usually given credit for. They know when mom and dad aren’t talking to each other, or even when they are being testy with each other. They know something is different if you are a parent of divorce and you have a new girlfriend or boyfriend, even if you haven’t told them.

Contact Stewart Law, PLLC

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 how we can help, call our office at 281-420-8020 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

Ending Child Support

How Do You End Child Support Obligations?

Whether you are in the middle of a divorce proceeding or your divorce was final years ago, if there are minor children involved, one of the key questions will be how and when the obligation to pay child support ends. Most people assume that it terminates once your child reaches the age of 18, but that’s not necessarily the case. The laws vary from state to state, and the parties can have a say in when support ends. In addition, support may be terminated if your child becomes “emancipated” or may be extended if your child becomes disabled and unable to meet his or her obligations.

The Law in Texas

How Do You End Child Support Obligations?Under Texas law, you generally have to pay child support until your child’s 18th birthday or until he or he graduates from high school, whichever comes later. The obligation to pay child support does not end automatically, though. The existing child support order must be terminated by the court or must be superseded by a new support order. Accordingly, you should review your child support order and determine when it is scheduled to end. You should also notify the state’ child support enforcement agency in advance when you believe that your child support obligation is about to expire.

The Effect of Emancipation on Child Support

One of the purposes of child support is to allow the custodial parent to cover expenses related to providing a home for the child. If your child becomes self-supporting, or takes other actions that constitute emancipation, your support obligation may be terminated. Other actions that qualify as emancipation include marriage, joining the military, or permanently leaving the custodial parent’s home.

Contact Stewart Law, PLLC

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 how we can help, call our office at 281-420-8020 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

Common Law Marriage and Divorce in Texas

Common Law Marriage and Divorce—Saying I Do without Really Saying “I Do”

Common Law Marriage and Divorce—Saying I Do without Really Saying “I Do”Currently, Texas is one of nine remaining states that sanction the concept of “common law marriage.” Essentially, common law marriage means that the state (and the law) recognize two people as being married, even though the parties may never have had a formal ceremony or exchanged vows. The practice is a carryover from old English tradition, where rural couples without access to a priest or official would live as a married couple and hold themselves out to the community as husband and wife.

Common Law Marriage

Texas validates common law marriages, provided you either:

  • File a certificate at your county courthouse swearing that you are married under the common law, or
  • Live with another person and hold yourself out to the community as husband and wife

For a common law marriage to be valid in Texas, both parties must be over the age of 18 at the time the marriage is declared, and both parties must voluntarily agree that they are married. The law requires that you live together in a residence that you both consider to be your home, though there is no specific amount of time required. You must hold yourself out to the community as married, typically referring to yourselves as Mr. and Mrs., or as husband and wife.

Divorce after Common Law Marriage

If your common law marriage was validated by filing a formal certificate in court, you must obtain a formal divorce to terminate all rights under the marriage. If, however, you never filed a certificate, you may not need to file for divorce, provided you can show that one of the four conditions to a common law marriage was not met. For example, if you allege that even though you held yourself out to the community as husband and wife, you never voluntarily agreed to consider yourself married, you may be able to simply terminate the relationship.

Contact Stewart Law, PLLC

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 how we can help, call our office at 281-420-8020 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

 
Left Menu Icon
Stewart Law PLLC