The Queenan Law Firm
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Dallas Family Law Attorney
When you face the dissolution of a marriage, you also face important decisions that will impact your life and that of your family well into the future. As you work through these major changes to your living and financial arrangements, it’s important to ensure that your best interests are being protected by a knowledgeable attorney who will handle your case with sensitivity, compassion, and precise attention to detail.
The Houston family law attorneys of the Queenan Law Firm provide experienced legal representation for all types of cases in Family Court, including but not limited to:
- Child Custody Disputes
- Child Support
- Family Limited Partnerships
- Prenuptial Agreements
- Visitation and Parenting Time
- Wills and Estate Planning
Our dedicated attorneys will stand by your side throughout this emotional time, doing everything in our power to see that your needs and the needs of your children are met. We will work closely with you throughout every stage of your case, explaining the applicable laws, helping you understand your rights and responsibilities, and protecting your rights as a parent. To set up a free, completely confidential consultation, call the Queenan Law Firm at (888) 522-6500 today.
Filing for Divorce in Texas
In order to file for divorce in Texas, you must be a Texas resident. You are considered a state resident if you have spent, at minimum, the past six months living in Texas. You must also have been a resident of the county in which you intend to divorce for, at minimum, the past 90 days. Only the spouse who files for divorce, called the petitioner, need meet state or county residency requirements. The other spouse, called the respondent, may be living in- or out-of-state at the time the petitioner files the divorce petition.
The reasons for dissolving a marriage are called “grounds for divorce.” Texas currently recognizes seven distinct grounds for divorce:
- Confinement to a Mental Hospital
- Insupportability (Irreconcilable Differences)
- Living Separately
A divorce based on insupportability is called a “no-fault” divorce, while a divorce based on any of the other grounds listed above is called a “fault” divorce. Importantly, the grounds for divorce are associated with different waiting periods. For instance, abandonment has a one-year waiting period.
Once the petitioner files the divorce petition, which is sometimes called a complaint for divorce, the respondent has a limited number of days in which to respond by filing a document called an “Answer.” If the respondent has no objections to the original petition and the spouses are able to agree on all matters, the divorce is “uncontested,” and no trial is necessary. If the respondent has a dispute, meaning the divorce is “contested,” neutral mediation by a third party may be able to resolve the conflict. If not, the case must proceed to trial in Family Court, at which point matters like child custody will be decided by the judge.
Under Texas law, a divorce cannot be finalized until at least 61 days have passed since the original petition was filed. The decree of divorce must be signed and filed with the District Clerk’s Office in order for the dissolution of the marriage to be finalized.
Child Custody Determinations in Texas
For divorcing spouses who are also parents, no issue is more pressing than that of child custody determination. There are two categories of child custody:
- Physical Custody – Physical custody, which is also called “possession and access” in Texas, deals with the child’s living arrangements and primary place of residence. In rare cases, parents with multiple children may be granted a “split custody” arrangement in which each parent has sole physical custody over one child. Unless his or her parental rights are terminated, or contact would endanger the child, the non-custodial parent will be granted “visitation” or “parenting time.”
- Legal Custody – Legal custody, which is also called “conservatorship” in Texas, deals with the authority to make major decisions about the child’s life, such as decisions about medical care, education, and religion.
- A parent who is granted a “Sole Managing Conservatorship” (sole legal custody) has total authority over decisions made on behalf of the child.
- Parents who are granted a “Joint Managing Conservatorship” (joint legal custody) share authority over decisions made on behalf of the child.
Texas courts generally prefer to grant joint custody where possible, so that the child can maintain an active relationship with both of his or her parents. However, preserving and protecting the best interests of the child is always the primary deciding factor. If the court has reason to believe that granting either parent custody could endanger or harm the child – for instance, if one parent has been convicted of crimes involving domestic violence – custody should not be granted to that parent.
While the child’s best interest is the most important factor in custody determination, other variables can also make an impact, such as:
- The child’s personal preference, if he or she is at least 12 years old.
- Each parent’s health.
- Each parent’s income level.
- Each parent’s willingness and ability to care for and raise a child.
At the end of the day, the court’s ultimate goal is to ensure the child will have access to the physical, emotional, and financial resources he or she needs to grow into a healthy and happy adult. If you and your spouse are able to agree on a custody plan, it will not be necessary to go to trial. However, if you are unable to arrive at a mutual resolution, the judge will be forced to step in and make a determination for you.
Child Support Payments
In Texas, the parent who pays child support is referred to as the “obligor.” The parent who receives child support – typically the parent who has primary physical custody over the child – is known as the “obligee.” Child support paid from the obligor to the obligee helps ensure that the child receives adequate care while preventing the custodial parent from shouldering all of the costs associated with raising a son or daughter.
Texas’ child support laws are addressed by Chapter 154 of the Texas Family Code, which provides the following:
- Under Tex. Fam. Code § 154.001, the obligor pays child support until the child either turns 18 years old, gets married, or graduates from high school – whichever occurs last. If the child is disabled or sustains a disabling injury, child support may be ordered to continue “for an indefinite period.”
- Under Tex. Fam. Code § 154.003, child support payments may be structured as:
- A lump-sum payment
- Ongoing payments
- An annuity purchase
- Property set aside for the child
- Any combination of the payment structures listed above
- Under Tex. Fam. Code § 154.008, the court is authorized to order parents to contribute appropriate support payments toward medical care and/or dental care for the child. (For example, if your child needs braces, the court may order your spouse to help pay for the procedure.)
- Under Tex. Fam. Code § 154.009, the court is authorized to order retroactive child support from a parent who wasn’t previously making child support payments.
- Under Tex. Fam. Code § 154.010, the court is prohibited from letting gender influence support determinations. It is a myth that fathers always pay child support. Obligor and obligee status is determined by financial factors like income and custody – not by gender.
Child support is not “one size fits all.” The monthly amount paid by the obligor ultimately depends on a variety of factors, which can look very different from one family to the next. These factors include:
- How many hours you work every week.
- Your hourly wage rate, or yearly income if you are paid on a salary basis.
- The frequency with which you are paid (e.g. weekly, biweekly).
- The gross amount you receive each pay period.
- Your monthly premium, if you pay for health insurance for your child or children.
- The number of children who require support.
Speaking more broadly, Texas child support guidelines establish the following payment amounts based on the noncustodial parent’s net income and the number of children per family:
- One Child – 20%
- Two Children – 25%
- Three Children – 30%
- Four Children – 35%
- Five Children – 40%
Under certain circumstances, a support order may be modified subject to approval from the appropriate court. There are two scenarios in which child support payments may be increased or decreased in Texas:
- At least three years have passed since the support order was initially determined, and there is a difference of at least 20% or $100 between the original order and the new order being sought. This is known as the “three-year rule.”
- There are dramatic changes to the circumstances under which the original order was determined. Some examples include:
- The child suffering an injury or being diagnosed with a serious medical condition.
- A substantial increase or decrease in either parent’s income.
- Paternity testing revealing that the man is not the child’s biological father.
- Changes to the underlying child custody arrangement (e.g. a transition from sole custody to joint custody).
At the Queenan Law Firm, we tenaciously pursue every case we handle. Regardless of whether you come to us for assistance with a divorce, a custody dispute, a conflict over property distribution, or you simply have questions about what to include in your prenuptial agreement, we will educate you about your responsibilities while advocating for your rights to the fullest extent possible. If contention exists between you and your spouse, we aim to use our litigation skills to resolve the dispute in your best interest and that of your children.
Contact Our Family Law Lawyers in Dallas, Arlington and Houston
To set up a free legal consultation about your family law matter, call the Queenan Law Firm at (817) 476-1797. With more than 20 years of legal experience representing mothers and fathers throughout the Arlington area, our attorneys are always eager to put our knowledge and skill to work for you.