Protecting Your Family's Future
 

Dealing with College Costs in a Divorce

Planning for Children’s University Expenses During Divorce

For many parents in Texas, university costs are a major concern. Statistics show that the cost of a university education has been rising consistently over the years, and this trend is expected to continue. The financial impacts of divorce can be significant, but a family law attorney in Texas can help divorcing parents to reach an agreement and a plan to pay for their children’s higher education.

Texas Law and University Education

The Texas Family Code requires both parents to support their children until the age of 18. It does not contain provisions mandating support for university costs and other expenses after a child reaches legal adulthood. Still, the U.S. education system generally expects that parents will receive support, as financial aid awards are often based on parental income. Students need access to their parents’ tax information to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the standard form used for most university financial aid decisions, including federal student loans.

College costs will not be ordered by a judge as ongoing child support after the age of 18, given the limitations of the Family Code. However, in many cases, both parents want to ensure that their children have access to the best educational opportunities possible. This means that parents often decide to include a provision for managing university costs as part of the divorce decree through mediation or a negotiated settlement. 

College Expenses Are On the Rise

According to The College Board, the cost of attending university rises by around 3 percent each year. Every year of attendance at a four-year private university averages over $46,000 in costs when tuition, fees, and room and board are included. Even attending a public university costs over $20,000 annually when these costs are taken into account. These increases are expected to continue into the future, meaning that college costs are a major expense for the vast majority of parents.

529 Plans and University Savings After a Divorce

Many families open 529 plans, special savings accounts that require distribution for educational costs. While they can only be used for certain expenses, the owner and beneficiary of the account can be changed at will. As a result, many parents may want to maintain these accounts and reach an agreement during a divorce about how they will be handled. 

In some cases, parents may want to divide the 529 account in half, with each parent responsible for a portion of the savings. In other cases, they could choose to add both parents to the account on an ongoing basis to monitor education savings. A family law attorney can provide advice on how to handle education savings accounts in the divorce process.

Negotiating College Costs in a Divorce Settlement

University expenses are a financial concern, and like other financial issues, they can be included in a divorce settlement. By laying out plans as clearly as possible during mediation with a Texas divorce lawyer, you can help to avoid future disputes over educational costs. 

Remember that a divorce decree is a legal document, and parents will be bound by the decisions they make, barring a return to court. In some cases, you may be able to reach a detailed financial agreement. In other cases, you may be able to communicate intentions. Either way, making a legal agreement about educational expenses can help the kids to make decisions and plan for the future, something strongly in the best interests of the children.

Another factor to keep in mind is that custody matters when it comes to financial aid. Only the custodial parent’s income is considered on the FAFSA. This designation is different than that of legal custody and reflects who the child lived with most for the previous year. Parents should come to an agreement about which parent will play this role, taking all factors into account, including financial aid eligibility. 

When you are thinking about how to protect your children’s future during a divorce, you can turn to a Texas family law attorney for help and guidance. Call the experienced divorce lawyers at Stewart Law at (281) 420-8020 to set up an appointment for a consultation in Baytown.

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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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

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

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

She Claims I Am the Father of Her Child

Challenging Paternity in Texas

When you’ve had an intimate relationship with a woman and she’s pregnant, or has a child and claims it’s yours, what are your options when you are certain you’re not, or learn that it’s unlikely or questionable?

How Paternity is Established in Texas

Under Texas law, paternity can be established three different ways:

  • By presumption—If you were married to the mother at the time of birth, for a period of time before the birth, or simply lived with her continuously for two years prior to the birth, you are presumed to be the father. That presumption can, however, be challenged and you can voluntarily take a DNA paternity test to refute paternity.
  • By voluntary acknowledgement—You can sign a legally binding document known as an “Acknowledgement of Paternity.” If you obtain subsequent evidence that you may have signed the acknowledgement in error, you may be able to have it voided, based on the results of a DNA paternity test.
  • By court order—The mother, father or child (in limited circumstances) may ask the court to issue an order declaring paternity.

DNA Testing

Under modern DNA testing, paternity can be determined with a great deal of accuracy. Courts, though, typically require that the test find a 99% chance of paternity.

It is not necessary, though, to obtain a court order to have genetic DNA testing done. However, you will need biological information from both alleged parents.

Contact Us

At the law 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 office is 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

Late Child Support or Spousal Maintenance Payments — Your Options

What to Do When a Support Payment Is Late

Your ex-spouse is late with a child support payment or hasn’t paid the alimony ordered by the court. What are your options?

Using the Power of the Court to Get Relief

Because the obligation to pay child or spousal support has been ordered by the court, your ex-spouse’s failure to honor that commitment can be considered contempt of court. If your ex-spouse is found to be in contempt of court, he or she can be fined or can face jail time.

In the state of Texas, child support enforcement falls within the purview of the state’s attorney general. The attorney general’s office has a number of avenues through which to pursue unpaid child support obligations, including:

  • Income withholding orders that mandate that money be taken directly from the obligor’s paycheck. Such an order may apply to workers’ compensation benefits or unemployment compensation. The attorney general may also seek to attach any federal or state income tax refunds.
  • The attachment of assets owned by the obligor, to be sold or used to pay support arrearages.
  • The requirement that the obligor pay or put up a bond to cover potential support arrearages.
  • The suspension of a passport or other professional licenses.
  • Notification to credit reporting agencies of the arrearage.
  • Criminal prosecution with a potential fine and/or jail time.

Don’t Deny Visitation

In Texas, as in other states, the right to visitation is not conditioned upon being current on all child support obligations. If you try to deny the noncustodial parent the opportunity to spend time with a minor child, you can find yourself facing a contempt of court proceeding.

Questions About Late Child Support or Spousal Maintenance Payments — Your Options? Custody, Divorce, and Family Law Attorney, Baytown, Texas

Stewart Law, PLLC, located in Baytown, Texas, provides legal counsel to parents involved in relocation issues, child support and custody matters, divorce, and other family law cases. 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.

Does Child Support End at Graduation?

When Does a Child Support Obligation in Texas End? At Graduation? At Age 18?

As a parent, you want to make certain your child’s financial needs are being met. If you are no longer married to the child’s other parent, though, you want to know that you don’t have to be responsible for more than your fair share and that you are not paying support to your spouse when your child no longer lives at home.

Texas Laws Governing When Child Support Ends

In a divorce proceeding in Texas, the parties can agree that support will end at any time, though the courts are unlikely to approve of and enforce an order that has support ending before the child in question reaches age 18, absent highly unusual circumstances.

Under § 154.001 of the Texas Family Code, absent agreement by the parties, the court may require that one or both parents support the child until the age of 18 or until graduation from high school, whichever is later. The court can also order that child support end if the minor becomes emancipated or gets married. The death of the child also terminates the child support obligation.

If a parent is financially able, even though parental rights have been terminated, the court can mandate child support payments until the earlier of the child’s adoption the child’s 18th birthday or high school graduation (whichever is later), the child’s emancipation or the child’s death.

The Texas Family Code, in § 154.002, clarifies that support may be extended beyond a child’s 18th birthday if a child is enrolled in an accredited secondary school, is jointly taking high school and junior college classes or is a full-time student at a private secondary school that will award a high school diploma. However, payments will only be due if the child is in compliance with minimum attendance requirements imposed either by the state’s Education Code or the school where the child is enrolled.

Questions About Does Child Support End at Graduation? Custody, Divorce, and Family Law Attorney, Baytown, Texas

Stewart Law, PLLC, located in Baytown, Texas, provides legal counsel to parents involved in relocation issues, child support and custody matters, divorce, and other family law cases. If you have questions about how to stop your ex from moving away with your child, or other custody, divorce, or family law matters, 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.

Will I Have to Sell My House after a Divorce?

Do You Have to Sell Your House as Part of a Divorce in Texas?

Texas is a community property state. Under the community property laws, all items obtained during the marriage, with limited exceptions (such as inheritance), must be divided equally between the parties. How does that apply to the family home? Obviously, you can’t divide the real estate, with one spouse living in one half of the home and one spouse in the other. Do you have to simply sell the property and split the proceeds?

Your Options with Respect to Real Property in a Divorce in Texas

While you may ultimately have to sell the property, it is not required under Texas law. If one spouse can afford to keep the home and meet its payment obligations, the other spouse can sign title to the property over to the first spouse. The best way to do this is to refinance the home in the new owner’s name. If you are unable to obtain refinancing, you can execute a warranty deed and deed of trust allowing one party to assume ownership the house. This allows an added measure of protection, as both parties remain on the note and, if the party residing in the home fails to keep the mortgage current, the other spouse can foreclose and assume ownership.

If you choose to transfer ownership to one spouse, you want to pay close attention to the value of that transaction, as it can be offset against the division of remaining marital property. For example, if there’s $100,000 of equity in the home, you should expect to have a $50,000 offset against other personal items, investments, financial accounts or business interests.

If neither of you can afford to keep the home, the best alternative is to sell it and split the proceeds. Another option is to do nothing, but allow one party to remain in the home until the real estate market improves. This can be a complicated maneuver, though, and you need to be very clear about when the property might be sold.

Questions About Will I Have to Sell My House after a Divorce? Custody, Divorce, and Family Law Attorney, Baytown, Texas

Stewart Law, PLLC, located in Baytown, Texas, provides legal counsel to parents involved in relocation issues, child support and custody matters, divorce, and other family law cases. If you have questions about how to stop your ex from moving away with your child, or other custody, divorce, or family law matters, 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.

What Happens When a Party Stops Paying Child Support?

The Impact of Not Paying Child Support in Texas

You may be a custodial parent wondering what your options are when your ex-spouse stops paying child support. Or, as the noncustodial parent, you may have lost your job or be unable to make child support payments for some other reason. This blog provides an overview of what can happen when a person stops making child support payments as ordered by a Texas court.

The Sanctions a Court May Impose for Nonpayment of Child Support

In Texas, the state attorney general’s office handles legal actions to enforce child support orders. Because the law in Texas requires that the noncustodial parent have child support withheld from his or her paycheck, as long as the noncustodial parent is working child support should be collected. However, if the noncustodial parent becomes unemployed or is self-employed, nonpayment issues may arise.

When a noncustodial parent stops making child support payments, that parent is technically in violation of a court order. This violation of a court order can be construed as contempt of court. Accordingly, the attorney general can take legal action, which could include criminal sanctions, if a nonpaying party is found to be in contempt of court.

Other actions that can be taken in response to the failure to pay child support include:

  • Interception of tax refunds — the attorney general may attach any state or federal income tax refunds
  • Suspension of driving privileges
  • Suspension of professional or business licenses
  • Suspension of passport
  • Attachment of any lottery winnings

It’s important to understand that the loss of a job does not have any impact on a child support order. To change a support order, you must request a modification from the court. Typically, unless you are without work for a significant period of time or can show that it is unlikely that you will return to work or will be able to find work, the court will not change your order. Instead, an arrearage will accrue.

Questions About What Happens When a Party Stops Paying Child Support? Custody, Divorce, and Family Law Attorney, Baytown, Texas

Stewart Law, PLLC, located in Baytown, Texas, provides legal counsel to parents involved in relocation issues, child support and custody matters, divorce, and other family law cases. If you have questions about how to stop your ex from moving away with your child, or other custody, divorce, or family law matters, 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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