Protecting Your Family's Future
 

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.

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

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.

Se Habla Espanol | ASL and ESL Services Also Available

“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

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

The Benefits of Preparing for Divorce

Though divorce is always emotionally difficult, you can minimize some of the financial, personal and time challenges by thoroughly preparing for the process, once it’s clear that divorce is inevitable. Here are some of the things you can do.

Protect Yourself Financially

Whether you are the sole breadwinner, a stay-at-home-parent or one of two working parents, a divorce will have a significant impact. You may face the significant loss of income, be required to pay substantial amounts in child or spousal support, or wind up with a big chunk of the marital debt.  To minimize the impact, put together a file that contains all of the following:

  • Pay stubs for the last two years
  • Bank statements for the last two years
  • Current investment and retirement account statements
  • Documentation of any life insurance policies
  • Copies of tax returns for the last five years
  • A copy of your credit report

Protect Your Right to See Your Children

Custody is never an easy matter to resolve. You want what’s best for your children, but you also want to play an active role in your child’s life. All states use the standard of the “best interests of the child” when determining who will have custody. If you believe that custody may be an issue, you need to do the following:

  • Identify what you believe will be in the best interests of your children and why
  • Document anything about your ex that you believe may put your children at risk. Remember, though, that this is not about disparaging your ex—it’s about protecting your children. Don’t exaggerate isolated incidents in an attempt to gain favor with the courts. You’ll only hurt  your children in the process

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

Landing On Your Feet after Divorce

When you are going through a divorce, it can be difficult to believe that life will return to normal again. It will go on, but it won’t ever be the same. There are specific steps you want to take to make certain that you are moving forward, so that the past won’t keep catching up to you.

Get a New Bank Account

This is actually a good idea as soon as you know you are going to file for or be a defendant in a divorce proceeding. You want to start putting your money into your own account, so that your ex doesn’t have unlimited access to it. You should also close any joint accounts you had with your ex.

Replace Your Credit Cards

Terminate any joint credit cards immediately. It may also be time to think about whether or not you want to open new cards. Divorce can be an emotional time—if you are prone to spending money in response to emotional trauma, you might be better served not opening a new credit card. Furthermore, because you won’t have financial stability for a little while, you may want to operate primarily on a cash basis for a while.

Change Your Beneficiaries

If your ex is named as a beneficiary on a life insurance policy, IRA, retirement plan or in a will, you need to modify that. With respect to insurance, you may want to obtain a life insurance policy on your ex (owned by your ex) to cover alimony or child support in the event of his or her premature death.

Notify the Government When Necessary

The IRS and the Social Security Administration should be notified of your divorce.

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

Divorce and Property

The Division of Property in a Divorce

It’s a common misperception that you only need to worry about the division of property in a divorce if you had a substantial net worth. Whether you lived in an apartment or a mansion, drove an old pickup or a Mercedes, lived from paycheck to paycheck or on a trust fund, you can still amass a substantial amount of marital property, and a lot of debt. When the marriage is over, you want to get your fair share of the assets and you don’t want to be responsible for more than your fair share of the debt.

In an ideal situation, you and your ex will amicably divide debts and assets, making adjustments if one of you keeps a large asset, such as the family home. Unfortunately, when you’ve struggled to agree in a marriage, it’s equally difficult to agree on the disposition of assets and liabilities when it ends. In Texas, if you can’t come to a resolution on your own, your property and obligations will be allocated under the state’s community property laws.

Under the community property laws of Texas, assets owned or used by couples in a marriage are identified as either community property or separate property. Any property owned by one of the parties before the marriage will be deemed separate property and will be returned to the owner as a part of the divorce proceeding. Assets that are purchased during the marriage are considered community property and their value must be divided equally between the parties. All property retains the character it had when acquired. Accordingly, a house purchased with a mortgage before marriage will remain separate property, even though it is partially paid for during the marriage.

There are limited exceptions to the community property rule in Texas:

  • Any property obtained by gift or inheritance is separate property
  • Any property purchased during marriage with funds earned before marriage is separate property
  • Any property that the parties legally agree is partitioned or exchanged by written agreement is separate property

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

Modification of a Custody Agreement

When your attorneys negotiated a divorce decree they tried to anticipate every potential future scenario. However, sometimes things change for one or both parents to the point where it is time to modify the custody arrangement. In any case, it is useful to revisit child custody agreements every two to three years, to determine whether the parenting plan continues to be in the best interest of the children.

Reasons that people seek to change custody agreements include the shifting needs, interests and activities, as children grow older. For instance, a nursing baby may need to spend more time with his or her mother. However, an older child will not be as dependent on the mother and the parenting plan can be modified. Sometimes, teenagers do not like to shift back and forth between households, and request that they stay at one of the houses all of the time.

Other situations that could call for a custody change include changes in the living arrangements of one or both of the parents. For example, a parent may need to relocate to another state for a better career opportunity or because he or she is getting remarried. Other reasons to change a parenting plan include behavior problems with one of the children that occur at just one of the parents’ homes. Problems executing mandated visitation could potentially result in a custody modification.

There are also occasions when the custodial parent becomes unfit to parent as the primary legal and physical custodial parent, perhaps due to serious illness, or because they are mentally unfit, have been jailed, or are being neglectful or abuse to the children.

To change a custody arrangement, you will need to change your initial court ordered custody agreement. This means that you must file in court seeking a change in your custody plan. You will need to demonstrate that there has been a significant change in circumstances that warrant such a parenting plan change.

Questions About Changing a Custody Agreement? Contact a Family Law Attorney

Stewart Law, PLLC, located in Baytown, Texas, has provided legal counsel to men and women seeking to modify a custody arrangement, and in divorce and other family law cases for 8 years. If you have questions relating to step-child adoption, we can give you advice that will help you decide how to proceed. For an initial assessment and consultation, contact our family law firm online or call our office at (281) 420-8020, at a reduced fee of $50.

 
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