McKinney Texas Family Law Blog

A prenuptial agreement may be in your best interests

It is likely that you have witnessed people you know and love going through a divorce. Perhaps your own parents, friends or your business partner had to put life on hold while he or she sorted out property rights and divided assets. The lucky ones walked away with a satisfying settlement, but many probably spent months or years trying to rebuild their financial lives.

You don't want to go through that. In fact, you may have delayed marriage in the first place because of your fear of the messiness of a divorce. However, you may be interested to know that you can marry the love of your life and still protect yourself from much of the financial conflict of a potential divorce by drafting a prenuptial agreement.

Parenting Coordinator vs Parenting Facilitator. What is the Difference?

Have you experienced co-parenting conflicts and struggles due to poor communication during or after a divorce? If you have you might want to ask your family lawyer about utilizing a parenting coordinator or parenting facilitator. What is the difference in a parenting coordinator vs a parenting facilitator?parenting coodinator vs parenting facilitator by myfamilylawyer.net When families are going through a difficult or contentious divorce sometimes a third party appointed by the court can help them settle their differences over parental arrangements. Sometimes the court will order the help of a parenting coordinator or parenting facilitator. The court would hold a hearing to decide if the case is high-conflict and in need of one, supported by good cause and the best interest of the child.In Texas, parenting coordinators and parenting facilitators are defined as, "An impartial third party appointed by the court, or by mediated agreement, to assist parents in resolving issues relating to parenting and other family issues arising from an order in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship."Parenting coordinators and facilitators are there to help resolve parenting conflicts. They cannot change a court order. But they can help parents come to a resolution on differences of opinions on raising their kids. For example, they can help parents work out hot-button issues like how much time the kids should be spending on homework. They could help the family come to an agreement on which extracurricular activities the kids should be involved in. And they could help parents agree on who are the approved caretakers of the child and who is not allowed to watch the child.

What is the difference in a parenting coordinator versus a parenting facilitator?

Parenting coordinators and facilitators have basically the same role in working with parents and lawyers, but there is one key difference between the two- confidentiality. Parenting coordination is a confidential process versus parenting facilitation which is not confidential. What does that mean? A coordinator is shielded from testifying in court and a facilitator is not.When you go to choose a coordinator versus a facilitator you want to think about whether you believe your situation might require a court case in the future and testimony directly from someone who worked with your child and family.If you think a parenting coordinator or parenting facilitator might be helpful in your case, please contact the Puhl Law Group PC. It is important to retain a family law lawyer that knows how to handle child support issues. A family lawyer can make sure your children receive the financial support they deserve.   

Benefits of Establishing Paternity for Unmarried Parents

According to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, 42% of single-mother families live in poverty; twice the rate of single-father families in Texas.Having a baby brings joy and new responsibilities for a family. If you happen to be having a baby but are not married to the father it can also deliver added stress, both mentally and financially.Establishing Paternity for unmarried parentsWhen parents aren’t married, the law does not automatically recognize the biological father as a legal parent. Paternity must be established. Establishing paternity is determining a child’s “legal” father and all the rights and obligations that go along with being a legal father. Why is it important to establish paternity? If you have a baby and are not married to the father, establishing paternity creates rights for both parents and the child.

How does establishing paternity benefit a mom?

From a legal standpoint, it is important for a mother to establish paternity because it makes a child’s father legally responsible for his child. This is a requirement before you can request child support. Establishing paternity also helps with other legal issues that come up when a traditional family isn’t together, like visitation or custody issues. In the long run, a child might become eligible for a father’s medical benefits, social security benefits, veteran benefits and an inheritance but only if the paternity is established.

How does establishing paternity benefit the child?

Most importantly, the child knows the identity of his father. In turn, this hopefully builds a strong relationship with the father and the extended family too. In addition to these important emotional ties, it ensures the child is eligible for child support, health benefits possibly social security benefits and survivor benefits in the future.

How does establishing paternity benefit the dad?

Establishing paternity gives a father important parental rights. It is the first step towards protecting the legal connection a father has with a child. The father’s name will appear on the child’s birth certificate. It gives the father certain rights to care for the child and help make decisions in their life. Emotionally it establishes an important bond.There are three ways to establish paternity in Texas. There is Voluntary Paternity Establishment, where parents sign a legal document known as the Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP). The second way is to establish paternity is by Court Ordered Paternity. This comes into play when the parents do not agree on the father’s identity. Usually the man in question of paternity and child do genetic testing that is at least 99 percent accurate at determining the child’s father. A third way is called Proving Paternity by Presumption. If a man is married to the mother when the child is born or 300 days before he is presumed by law to be the father of a child. It is the simplest way to establish paternity, unless the father contests it, that complicates things. In any of these cases, it is a good idea to hire a board-certified family law attorney when establishing paternity. It can become a complicated legal matter best left to a family law lawyer.       

When Is a Child Allowed to Testify in Court and When Is it Appropriate?

A divorce case that goes to court can be hard for every member of the family, especially the children. When is it appropriate for a child to testify in court?  In Texas, though there is no specific age at which a child can testify.  There are both legal and practical considerations to consider when determining whether it is appropriate to do so.When Is a Child Allowed to Testify in Court and When Is it Appropriate? myfamilylawyer.netThe initial legal test is for the judge to determine is whether the child is "competent" to testify. This means essentially that the child must understand the difference between the truth and a lie, and must understand the moral responsibility of failing to tell the truth. According to Rule 601(a) of the Texas Rules of Evidence in regards to children being on the witness stand, children “who appear not to possess sufficient intellect to relate transactions with respect to which they are interrogated,” are considered incompetent. Even if a child is competent to testify, children rarely testify at custody hearings. However, sometimes the child can speak privately to the judge.The Texas Family Code Sec. 153.009(a) requires a judge in a non-jury trial or hearing to interview in chambers a child 12 years of age or older to determine the child's wishes as to conservatorship or as to the person who shall have the exclusive right to determine the child's primary residence.  However, it is absolutely wrong to assume or tell a child that they get to decide where he or she will live once they turn 12 years old. Once your child turns 18 and is a legal adult, then a custody order does not apply and they can decide where to live. The closer your child gets to age 18, the more he or she has a say.It is generally up to the judge to decide whether or not to permit the attorneys to be present at the interview. If either party requests, the judge must have a court reporter in the judge’s office to record the interview with the child. The parents are not allowed in the judge’s office during the interview.The judge does not have to follow the child’s wishes. Although a judge might listen to a child’s wishes regarding custody he or she can decide not to do so because it is not in the child’s best interests to live primarily with that parent.  Most judges will want to know why a child is selecting one parent over the other. Some kids want to live in the house with no rules and no chores.  The Judge must determine, based on the age, knowledge, maturity, intelligence and reasoning abilities of the child what weight to give to the child’s preference.Aside from the legal authority to do so there are also practical considerations for the parent before deciding whether to have the child testify.  The ramifications of this decision may very well have negative implications for the child.  Careful consideration should be made before asking a child to choose between parents.  Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. 

Claiming and Protecting Dependency Exemption for a Non-Custodial Parent

A parent is entitled to claim a dependency exemption for each child they support. A dependency exemption works just like a tax deduction.  It reduces taxable income resulting in the taxpayer paying less income tax. The exemption amount is adjusted each year for inflation. For tax year 2017 and 2016, the exemption amount is $4,050 subject to a phase-out for high income taxpayers.Claiming and Protecting Dependency Exemption for a Non-Custodial Parent by myfamilylawyer.net

What happens to the dependency exemption when parents divorce?

As a general rule, the custodial parent gets the entire exemption. Parents cannot split the exemption between them.  A parent who has more than 50% of the parenting time is automatically entitled to claim the child’s dependency exemption, unless it is assigned to the other parent. When allocating the dependency exemption for the non-custodial parent, the parent who has custody must sign IRS Form 8332. Form 8332 must be stapled to the tax return of the parent who is claiming the child’s dependency exemption. If the form is not signed and stapled to the tax return, the tax deduction can be disqualified.There are instances where it makes good sense to have the noncustodial parent claim the dependency exemption--for example, where the custodial parent has little or no income to be taxed and the noncustodial parent, who pays child support, does have income.  Parents can always agree between themselves that the noncustodial parent will be entitled to claim the exemption.However, the IRS will ignore state court orders because federal law alone determines who is entitled to claim a dependency exemption. Instead, IRS rules provide that, to release the dependency exemption, the custodial parent must sign IRS Form 8332, Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent, or a substantially similar statement. Accordingly, a noncustodial parent who seeks to claim a dependency exemption should require a signed Form 8332 as part of the final divorce agreement.  In addition, the custodial parent may not claim the child tax credit for that child.The form or statement must release the custodial parent's claim to the child without imposing any conditions--for example, the release must not depend on the noncustodial parent paying support.If the noncustodial parent fails to make the required child support payments, the custodial parent can later revoke the Form 8332 release. The custodial parent can use Part III of Form 8332 for this purpose and must attach a copy of the revocation to his or her return for each tax year he or she claims the child as a dependent as a result of the revocation. The custodial parent must also give (or make reasonable efforts to give) written notice of the revocation to the noncustodial parent.The noncustodial parent should also note carefully the instructions to Form 8332 which provide that “[I]f you are filing your return electronically, you must file Form 8332 with Form 8453, U.S. Individual Income Tax Transmittal for an IRS e-file Return.” Failure to attach this additional form to your electronically filed return will result in the disallowance of that parent’s claim for the exemption.

When Does My Child Support Obligation End in Texas?

If you are contemplating a divorce and already have children together, you may be wondering when your child support obligation ends in Texas. In most cases the law requires you to pay child support until the child is considered an adult. A child is considered an adult when the child turns 18 of age or graduates from high school, whichever comes last. Though it may not seem like it, especially with the boomerang generation, 18 signals adulthood in Texas.When Does My Child Support Obligation End? by myfamilylawyer.netIn a divorce case, a family court will determine the amount of child support the non-custodial parent must pay the custodial parent. Sometimes these payments need to be modified for a variety of reasons but to be enforceable this modification must be reflected in a court order. Verbal agreement is not the correct way to modify a child support payment. Informal agreements often lead to argument and eventually possible repercussions from law enforcement.

What are some other ways in Texas to end child support obligations?

Emancipation can sometimes allow a traditional minor to be granted adulthood at the young age of 16 or 17. To qualify, the child must live away from their parent and be able to financially support themselves and manage their own affairs. This could eliminate the need for child support. Marriage or enlistment in the military can also result in the child’s emancipation and possibly cease a parent’s obligation to pay child support.Child support may also cease after the child moves into the residence of the non-custodial parent. In that case, a motion to stop paying child support may be filed. In this case, the former custodial parent becomes the non-custodial parent and may be eligible to pay child support to the former non-custodial parent.Also, there are circumstances where it is possible to modify an existing child support order to provide child support past a child’s 18th birthday. Under the Texas Family Code, Section 154.306, you may have to continue to pay child support indefinitely if your child is disabled. A child with a mental or physical disability may never be able to take care of themselves financially and they will most likely need continued support.It is important to retain a family law lawyer that knows how to handle child support issues. A family lawyer can help a family reach an agreement for supporting a child who is pursuing a higher education or help modify your child support obligation. Puhl Law Group, P.C. has the experience you need. Please call to schedule an appointment today.

What is the SDU (State Disbursement Unit) and what does it do for me?

Raising children is difficult. Having the means to provide for them is an important aspect of the job. The Texas Family Code orders that all child support payments must go through the Texas SDU (State Disbursement Unit), and they disperse them. What can the SDU (State Disbursement Unit) do for you? Whether you are receiving the child support or providing child support, the unit can prove beneficial for both parents.What is the SDU (State Disbursement Unit) and what does it do for me?The SDU (State Disbursement Unit) is responsible for processing child support payments. SDU (State Disbursement Unit) was established by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 to help establish a central place where child support payments are processed. This has increased the accuracy of keeping track of payments and custodial parents getting their payments faster and more efficiently. The Texas legislature made it a policy of Texas to enforce child support orders to make sure the children of Texas are cared for. If parents aren’t taking care of their children, then the state of Texas must go through the state welfare programs.In most cases, it is the non-custodial parent that pays child support. Generally, this is the parent the child doesn’t live with and spends less time with. The amount of child support that the non-custodial parent pays depends on several factors, including their income and how many children they support.Wage withholding is written in the divorce decree. This means the SDU collects child support payments directly from the employer.  The wages are taken out of the payor’s paycheck and sent to the SDU (State Disbursement Unit) for payment to the custodial parent. This third party collection helps to alleviate problems between the obligor and obligee in regards to giving or receiving payment. Many people do not work for a company and are self-employed.  Even in this situation, it is still a good idea to go through the SDU to keep a record of payment. The SDU (State Disbursement Unit) offers  many ways for an obligor parent to pay the custodial parent. You can mail a payment, pay at the office, online or by phone. You can pay by cash, credit card or bank draft.Another great benefit of the SDU is it leaves a paper payment trail. That way what was paid and when is clear to both parties to help avoid unnecessary conflict.It is important to retain a family law lawyer that knows how to handle child support issues. A family lawyer can make sure your children receive the financial support they deserve. Puhl Law Group, P.C. has the experience you need. Please call to schedule an appointment today.

When is it Appropriate to Seek Termination of Parental Rights?

Sometimes after a divorce, one parent has little involvement in a child’s life. The other parent doing all the work may feel they are better off without the other parent and seek to terminate their rights as parents. One question we get at Puhl Law Group, P.C. is, “When is it Appropriate to Seek Termination of Parental Rights?”Termination of parental rights | myfamilylawyer.netThis is what usually happens in these circumstances. The couple goes through a divorce and visitation and child support is established. Sometime after, the non-custodial parent, aka the possessory conservator, stops being involved for whatever reason in the child’s life. The other parent, known as managing conservator in Texas, decides they would like to terminate the rights of the other parent since the other parent is un-involved with raising the child. One reason they might want to do this is to protect the child from the other parent’s on-again/off-again approach to parenting which raises and again dashes the child’s hopes for a stable and loving relationship with that parent.  The managing conservator often feels that no relationship with the other parent is better than sporadic interest or harmful contact with the possessory conservator.  They may also consider that repeatedly chasing the other parent for child support is too frustrating.You must first file a lawsuit proving the reasons why you would like to terminate parental rights. There is voluntary and involuntary termination of parental rights. According to Texas Family Code chapter 161, if you seek the involuntary termination of parental rights, you must prove that if the child and parent relationship continues it is dangerous to that child.  This risk must outweigh the downfalls of the other parent raising the child alone.

Reasons for Seeking Termination of Parental Rights

The Texas Family Code lists the following specific reasons that a parent may seek termination of parental rights:
  • Child has been left alone or with a non-parent and expressed intent not to return;
  • Left the child alone or with a non-parent without providing support and stayed away for at least 3 months;
  • Left the child alone or with someone else without support for 6 months;
  • Endangered the physical or emotional well-being of the child on purpose or through neglect (including criminal involvement, drug use, and domestic violence);
  • Abused or neglected another child;
  • Failed to support the child according to the parent's ability for at least a one-year period ending within 6 months of the date of the filing of the case;
  • Knew of the pregnancy and failed to provide medical support for the mother and support for the child;
  • Kept the child out of school or away from home;
  • Killed or seriously injured another child;
  • Had his or her parent-child relationship with another child involuntarily terminated by the court;
  • Is imprisoned and unable to care for the child for at least two years;
  • Caused the child to be born addicted to alcohol or a non-prescription controlled substance; or
  • Committed child sexual abuse, sexual assault, or incest which resulted in the victim becoming pregnant with the parent's child.
Other reasons the state might terminate the rights of the parent are if the state needs to help manage the affairs of the child or terminating the relationship makes the child adoptable. You must also establish in court that termination is in the best interest of the child.Parents interested in terminating parent’s right should also know that it terminates all child support obligations too. Therefore, a parent whose rights are terminated is no longer required to provide child support. Be aware that child support also includes health insurance and un-reimbursed medical expenses. Terminating parental rights is not reversible.The decision to terminate the rights of a parent, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, is a serious decision which requires considerable thought. It is best to speak with an experienced family law lawyer. Puhl Law Group, P.C. has the experience you need. Please call to schedule an appointment today.

Michael Puhl | 2017 Texas Super Lawyers List

Michael Puhl, principal attorney at Puhl Law Group, P.C. has been selected to the Texas Super Lawyers list again in 2017. No more than five percent of the lawyers in Texas are selected by Super Lawyers.Super Lawyers 2017: Michael Puhl | myfamilylawyer.netSuper Lawyers, part of Thomson Reuters, is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The annual selections are made using a patented multiphase process that includes a statewide survey of lawyers, an independent research evaluation of candidates and peer reviews by practice area. The result is a credible, comprehensive and diverse listing of exceptional attorneys.Michael Puhl is a divorce lawyer practicing in Dallas, Collin and Denton Counties, with more than 35 years of experience. He is Board Certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

How do I Protect My Child from an Alcoholic Parent?

Along with other key issues including; financial, communication and incompatibility, addiction is one of the top reasons why many couples end up going through a divorce. If you find yourself divorcing, for this reason, you may be wondering how to protect your child from an alcoholic parent. After all, just because you had to put up with the behavior doesn’t mean you child should.How do I Protect My Child from an Alcoholic Parent? by myfamilylawyer.netAccording to Project Know, 1 in 13 adults, abuse alcohol or have an alcoholism problem. It affects both men and women. It is a problem that many people getting a divorce must deal with. Maybe the addictions were there when you were dating and it didn’t bother you or maybe it escalated as the marriage went on. Either way, co-habituating with a spouse with an addiction is difficult and adding children to the mix might just be a deal breaker. Of course, there are other addictions that can ruin a marriage and be extremely difficult on kids, including drugs, gambling, pornography, or even a heavy shopping addiction.It is important to meet with a Board-Certified family lawyer to discuss the issue and guide you through the process of divorcing an alcoholic. Below are some useful tips to help you protect your child.

How do I protect my child from an alcoholic parent?

Talk to your child honestly.Depending on the age of your child it might behoove you to share information. If you feel the child is old enough, mentally, then have a conversation with them. This is not a conversation to run down your ex. You do not want to be negative. You want to be honest. Tell them about the disease and its effects. If you are sharing custody already, create a code word with your child so when they call they can use the word to let you know they do not feel safe. Let them know if they see mom or dad drinking they should not get in the car with the parent. Share that if they are in the alcoholic’s custody they can call 911 if they are feeling unsafe. Now is a good time to teach them how to protect themselves when they are not under your watch.Hire a family lawyer and word your divorce decree to protect the child.A huge concern of having an alcoholic parent is the safety of the child. One main concern is driving after all children depend on their parents to be their chauffeur. You can have it stipulated in the divorce decree that you are responsible for all pick-ups and drop-off for visitations. You can also try to make sure they do not get in the car unless their sobriety has been monitored. There is now a discreet device that monitors alcohol levels and can help you protect your child. If it has already been proven in court that the spouse has an alcohol problem, you have a better chance the judge will agree with the wording in the decree.Engage a therapist for your childHire an age appropriate therapist for your child. They are going through a tumultuous time, dealing with a divorce and an alcoholic parent. It is a safe person for children to share their feelings with and they also provide a neutral third party that is needed during this time. If your ex sees therapy as a problem, you can also add that need to the divorce decree.Have the Conversation with your ExConversation needs to happen. You need to lay down what kind of behavior you expect with the kids and set boundaries on what is appropriate. Make a list and let your ex know the repercussions if the boundaries are broken. This can be a scary conversation and one best handled in front of a third party.Be there for your childrenYou have a lot on your shoulders but you need to be a parent your child can count on. Most likely, they will be let down often if the other parent is an alcoholic. They might miss visitations or important milestones due to drinking. You will need to be there for them. To listen and not judge. It is best not to degrade your ex, although it can be tempting when they hurt your child.“How do I protect my child from an alcoholic parent?” As family law lawyers, this is a question we answer often. Remember people do change, and can get sober, so we hope for the best. Meanwhile, Puhl Law Group, P.C can help you help you during this difficult time. Please call to schedule an appointment today. 
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