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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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Online Divorces Now Simpler in Texas

There’s a new online method for filing for divorce in Texas, and many believe it will greatly simplify the process, providing benefit to many Texans. Texas Divorce Online offers a three-step methodology for resolving most divorce issues:

  • Create an account
  • Respond to an online questionnaire
  • Submit your case for processing

Once your case has been received, a licensed attorney will review it and prepare all necessary documentation. Because of the questionnaire, the pleadings can be customized to meet your specific needs.

It’s important, though, that you ask yourself a few basic questions to determine whether an online divorce is in your best interests. Such a process may be ideal if you have no assets, no children, and nothing to distribute or fight about. But here are some red flags that ought to lead you to contact an experienced family law and divorce lawyer:

  • How complex is your marital estate? Did you bring property into the marriage? Did you receive an inheritance during the course of the marriage? Under the community property laws of Texas, your marital estate can be divided between those assets that constitute separate property (brought into the marriage, acquired by inheritance, received as a gift, etc.) and community property (essentially all other property). Separate property goes to one person, whereas community property is divided equally.
  • Are there minor children? If so, you’ll have to determine who gets custody (now called “managing conservatorship”) and what visitation (now called “access”) will look like.

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.

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Tips on Winning at Life after Divorce

The end of your marriage can be devastating, leaving you feeling emotionally paralyzed. Though it may clearly be the best solution for everyone involved, it’s hard not to feel like a failure when you can’t make your marriage work. Here are some tips for moving forward after the divorce is final.

  • Say what you need to say—Often, what leads or contributes to divorce is a lack of communication. Frequently, this stems from a fear of where that will lead—arguments, hurt, divorce… Now it the time to put that type of behavior to rest. You’ll have a better chance of a happy life and a successful relationship in the future if you get into the habit of being open and honest about everything.
  • Take time to reacquaint yourself with “yourself”— Chances are pretty good that you have made a lot of sacrifices trying to keep the marriage together, including many of the things you love to do. Now is not the time to get into another relationship. The void in your life may incline to do just that, but you will be better served to get back in touch with who you are, what you value, and what makes you happy.
  • Try new things—After a divorce, you don’t have to worry about what anyone wants but you. If something seems like it would be fun, try it. You won’t have to worry about anyone else’s approval.
  • Let the past be the past—The past can be instructive, but you don’t want to live there. There may be things you need to say, just to get them out of your system, but don’t wallow in what went wrong. To the extent possible, look to the future and to the possibilities that lie there.

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.

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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.

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Workshop Helps Parents Protect Children after a Divorce

In the aftermath of a divorce, when there are children involved, one of the big challenges often comes when non-custodial and custodial parents must interact. The communication problems that likely plagued the marriage can also present problems when parents must talk about issues involving the kids. Recognizing that many parents may lack the tools for effective communication in these situations, marriage and family therapist Anne Buettner has developed a workshop, entitled “Parenting from Different Homes,” to help parents of divorce.

Buettner identifies certain fundamental rules for parents of divorce:

  • Rule #1Never denigrate or badmouth the other parent, especially when children are present. Your child loves both parents. When you speak negatively about your ex, you are essentially speaking badly about your child, telling them that their love for the other parent is unfounded.
  • Rule #2Don’t ever use your child as an intermediary. If you have something to say to your ex, say it directly to your ex, preferably when your child is not within hearing distance. Making your child the messenger puts a lot of pressure on them. They may fear communicating the message incorrectly, or that the other parent will think they are siding with you.
  • Rule #3Make certain your child knows that he or she is not the cause of your divorce. This can be tricky. You don’t want to point the finger at your ex. If you say nothing, though, your child may conclude that it was their fault. This is really the best time to acknowledge your role in the breakup. You don’t need to go into detail, but you won’t lose your child’s love simply by saying “I made some mistakes.”

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.

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Breaking Up Finances in a Divorce

When your marriage ends, one of the most difficult and perplexing tasks can be dividing up (and protecting) assets. Here are some of the most common mistakes people make financially in the middle of a divorce:

Failing to Consider Tax Implications When Dividing Property

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.

Failing to Divide 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.

Allowing Emotions to Control Financial Decisions

When it comes to dividing assets, you have to resist the urge to put any emotional attachment on a piece of property. If you do, you’ll likely pay a price for it. 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.

Failing to Account for All Assets and Income

In the rush to be done with a divorce, parties often fail to obtain a thorough accounting of assets and liabilities. It’s a good way to get the short end of the stick in a divorce property settlement—one in six people in a recent study admitted to hiding a bank account from a spouse.

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.

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“Affluenza Teen” Parents Getting Second Divorce

The parents of Ethan Couch, the Texas teen whose lawyers effectively used the “affluenza” defense to avoid jail time after he killed four bystanders in 2013, have filed for divorce for a second time. Fred Couch, Ethan’s father, filed a complaint asking the court to end his marriage to the boy’s mother, Tonya. The couple divorced once before, but remarried in 2011. Though Texas allows for at-fault divorce when one of the parties is incarcerated—Tonya Couch has been in the Tarrant County jail for some time—Fred Couch alleged in his divorce complaint that the reason for the divorce was his wife’s treatment of him. He alleged that Tonya had withdrawn approximately $30,000 from their account and called him, telling him he would never see her or their son again.

Ethan Couch was arrested and charged in the deaths of four bystanders after he drove through a 45 mph zone at 70 mph, striking and killing the victims as they sought to help a woman whose vehicle had broken down. Couch was convicted for drunk driving and for intoxication manslaughter, but ended up with 10 years probation after a psychologist testified at his sentencing hearing that he suffered from “affluenza.” The psychologist alleged that Couch did not have the capacity to associate bad behavior with any consequences because his parents had taught him that “wealth buys privilege.”

The judge in the Couch divorce case has ordered Tonya Couch to submit to a psychological exam to determine whether she is fit to stand trial.

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

 
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