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 “Camped Out” on Million Dollar Marital Property

Sharafat Khan, a 69-year-old Lakeview resident, spent nearly six months living in the front yard of his seaside mansion after his wife asked him to leave, demanded his keys, and changed all the locks. Though Khan maintained that he had no access to any money, rendering him essentially homeless, he admitted that his camp-out on the couple’s front lawn was essentially a protest, telling reporters that he could stay with friends, but prefers to be on “my own property.”

Khan has let it be known that he is diabetic and has high blood pressure, concerns that have brought visits from the Lakeview police on more than one occasion. After neighbors and passersby started bringing him food, his wife posted a sign on the front lawn, asking people not to leave food for him. “If you want to feed him, take him to your house,” the sign read, also expressing concern that any food left might become infested with maggots.

Khan’s family, however, has not shared the sympathy with his situation that his neighbors have. His 30-year-old son, Zain, said that Sharafat Khan physically and emotionally abused his wife, citing a September 2008 incident where Sharafat Khan was arrested for domestic violence. Zain also said that his father stole money from marital accounts to give to relatives in California. Zain has taken his father for medical and psychiatric treatment, but says his father always leaves and returns to the front lawn of the marital home.

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

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

Living Close for the Sake of the Children

In the aftermath of a divorce, one of the most challenging and emotionally difficult issues to deal with is not seeing your children, regardless of whether you are the custodial or non-custodial parent. While the natural inclination may be to put some distance between you and your ex, some parents are choosing to stay close, primarily for the benefit of children.

One couple in Brooklyn, recently divorced, decided to keep their three-unit brownstone there, with one parent living on the second floor, the other living at the garden level, and the parties renting out the middle apartment. They say that, though it was a challenge at first to ensure that the privacy of all parties was respected, the arrangement has proved to be a huge benefit for everyone involved.  There is no need to pack for kids when they visit the other parent, no need to drop off children and pick them up. In addition, if either parent has a work emergency, the other is right there, able to step in and meet the needs of the children. For the kids, it ensures that they’ll never be too far away from their favorite book or stuffed animal.

For some parents, the concept of “bird-nesting” works, where the children stay in one home and the parents rotate in and out. Most who have tried it, though, say it presents a lot of challenges, requiring the visiting parent to constantly check to see if they have clothes and other necessary items.

The preferred approach of many is to stay a few blocks from each other, where they can walk to see of pick up children, and where children can easily commute back and forth.

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

Minimizing the Impact of Divorce on Your Children

When your marriage has ended and you’re experiencing the emotional turbulence that’s a part of divorce, the last thing you want to do is make life more difficult for your children. The divorce is going to hurt them—that can’t be avoided. But there are steps you can take to cushion the blow, to minimize the impact of the divorce.

Give Priority to Your Children’s Emotional Needs

Your children have fewer tools and less experience to draw on when it comes to coping with the radical change that divorce will bring. Accordingly, if they are going to make it through your divorce relatively unscathed, you have to pay close attention to their needs, and may need to adjust your actions to minimize the impact on them. You may need to “clear the air” with your ex, but it doesn’t have to be done in the presence of your children. You may need to vent or let go of feelings you’ve held in for a long time, but don’t do it with your children.

Don’t End Your Relationship with Your Ex—Modify It

The healthiest children of divorce come from situations where divorced parents remain in relationship and communication. Don’t view the divorce as terminating your relationship with your ex—consider it an opportunity to establish a new relationship. The more cooperative you are with your ex, the more your children see you working together, the more relaxed your children will be and the better they will adjust to the divorce.

Work Out Rules and Discipline Cooperatively with Your Ex

One of the hardest things for kids of divorce is learning and complying with different sets of rules at different households. To the extent possible, work with your ex to establish rules that apply at both households—when to go to bed, brushing teeth, etc. It takes away a lot of the confusion and anxiety that children can feel.

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

Getting Temporary Support While Your Divorce is Pending

When your marriage has fallen apart, one of the most pressing immediate concerns is meeting the financial needs of you and your children (if you are the custodial parent.) Whether you realize it or not, as the custodial parent, you are entitled to child support from the time a divorce complaint is filed. There is no requirement that your divorce decree be finalized before your ex must provide you with support.

As a general rule, when you file a complaint for divorce, you also ask the court to issue what are known as pendente lite (pending litigation) orders. These are temporary orders that can address any number of issues, including:

  • Conservatorship and parenting access to minor children
  • Child support obligations
  • Spousal support obligations
  • The use of marital property, including who may reside in the marital home

The court can also enter an order that prohibits both parties from “wasting” marital assets, incurring any new debt or destroying marital property.

To determine the amount of child support, the court will use a formula that takes into account the incomes of both parents. The judge can also make modifications based on any special needs of the children or the parties.

If the court has issued orders granting child support, spousal support, custody or visitation, and your ex is not in compliance with those requirements, you can return to the court to seek enforcement of the decree. Your ex can be held in contempt of court, subject to certain criminal penalties.

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

The Pros and Cons of a Prenuptial Agreement

If you are considering getting married, and you are bringing significant assets into the marriage, or have children from a previous marriage, you may be thinking about putting a prenuptial agreement in place. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of a prenuptial agreement.

The Benefits of a Prenuptial Agreement

A valid prenuptial agreement can allow you to:

  • Identify what is and what is not marital or community property
  • Protect any property you owned before the marriage
  • Ensure that your estate plan is followed
  • Minimize expense and acrimony if the marriage fails.
  • Clearly state any unique or special agreements between parties

Contrary to what many believe, a prenuptial agreement can strengthen a marriage. If money and financial matters are a major concern, identifying in advance how they will be dealt with removes any uncertainty, and allows you to focus on your relationship. In a healthy marriage, money is a necessary topic for discussion. If you discuss it up front, it can lead to greater openness and communication in other areas as well.

The Detriments of a Prenuptial Agreement

A prenuptial agreement is essentially a business decision. If your marriage is not fundamentally built on financial expectations, needs or desires, there may be no need for a prenuptial agreement. If love or romance is at the core, a prenup will seldom support or enhance that.

Sometimes, though, the timing may just be wrong. If you discuss financial matters too early in a relationship, you may never be able to get past the perception that your marriage is mostly about money.

Before you enter into a prenuptial agreement, you want to check with a lawyer. Based on what you want to protect, you may not need a signed document—you may be protected by existing provisions in state law.

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

Social Media and Divorce

It’s a different world now, with Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks available to anyone with a computer or a smartphone…and that applies to divorce proceedings, too. Many parties to divorce have started to use social media sites to gather evidence in family law disputes. What can seem like innocent posts—pictures from a vacation or of a new car—can be used to question your need for support or to show that you have the capacity to pay more than your order states.

While state ethics committees have started attempts to rein in certain online activities by lawyers in divorce cases—two New Jersey attorneys face disciplinary charges for having a paralegal “friend” the ex of a client—it’s still prudent to keep any opinions, remarks or comments about your divorce off the Internet. Judges have been known to consider statements made on Facebook when making custody decisions, and any evidence properly obtained online can be used against you. For example, pictures posted from a party or bar to a public site may be used to question your qualifications as a parent.

Unfortunately, you may be a victim of social media posts by well-meaning friends and family. It’s a good idea to tell loved ones that, until your divorce is final, you request that they not post any comments about you or pictures of you on any social media site. And it goes without saying that you should never use any social media outlet to speak disparagingly of your ex-spouse (or of your children, as did one mom who subsequently lost custody).

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

 
Left Menu Icon
Stewart Law PLLC