THE HONORABLE MARTHA TANNER
MARK I. UNGER
Overview And Judicial Practice Tips
This paper is to guide the lawyer who occasionally finds him or herself involved in a divorce case for friends or relatives and who has been promised that, under, ABSOLUTELY NO CIRCUMSTANCES, will the case be contested. EVERYTHING HAS BEEN AGREED UPON and the spouse will simply sign ANY papers put before him or her. BEWARE!!!!!
The first caveat should be FIND your client’s WARTS. Every prospective client has something you need to know before you get in the courtroom or before beginning negotiations. Ask your client for the very worst things his or her spouse is going to say about your client. Contrary to popular belief, competent attorneys do woodshed their clients. Ask him or her questions you expect the other counsel to come in with and suggest HOW to answer and still tell the truth.
Make certain you have your client prepared and all potential witnesses on standby for a custody dispute. Never believe for a second that custody cannot become an issue. Custody is often the most important issue, and you can generally expect that whatever happens to your client in Temporary Orders will be the result in a hearing on the merits.
Know the client’s income and living expenses. Be certain your client completes a sheet, preferably typed, regarding all living expenses and debts, with the minimum monthly payments. Have copies for opposing counsel and the Court. Know the spouse’s income. Be certain to ask about bonuses, commissions, auto allowances, cost of health insurance, etc. Type an exhibit showing the gross income, allowable deductions, net income and what you believe the guideline for child support should be. A proposed draft of both is attached with credit to be given to Jolene Wilson Glah. If you get the Judge working from your figures, you are in the winning seat. Remember, most attorneys think the Judge has time to compute the net income and the percentage of child support that should be paid. Most of the time, the Judge’s calculator is on the blink-- if they can even find it.
Don’t let your client determine what items of property they want to retain the use of for Temporary Orders. You will, of course, be guided by your client’s wishes, but they are probably unrealistic. Try to calculate the amount of income your clients will reasonably have after considering child support, alimony or spousal support and THEN see what they can realistically afford.
Do NOT agree to ANYTHING on Temporary Orders that you do not want to live with on Final Orders. The sole exception to this might be a house that your client cannot afford, but for custody reasons, it is best to keep the child in the home with your client on a temporary basis.
Make sure your Original petition requests attorney’s fees, reimbursement and separate property claims. Most of us forget to look at our live pleadings more than seven days prior to trial then get them amended. Don’t get to trial only to find out your client had $100,000.00 in a bank account when first married it’s still there and you have no separate property pleadings. "MALPRACTICE MANOR" looms on the horizon.
DON’T assure your client that you will get interim fees and costs from their spouse unless you are certain that there is a fund from which the Judge can assess these costs. Be sure you can show the Judge from whence these funds will come-- i.e. Stock account (see tax ramifications), checking, savings or money market account. No Judge is going to pull it out of income unless there is an abundance of money. Of course, there never is in the throes of separation. They are much more inclined to take care of the children than pay your fees or costs.
Normally, your client will not show up with the documents that you are going to need for the final agreement or trial. Make certain your client brings you the parties’ tax returns for the past several years, W-2's, deeds, car titles, etc... to the initial conference. If you cannot obtain these through your client and you need them for the Temporary Hearing, be certain to issue a Subpoena Duces Tecum to the other spouse and announce "Ready" subject to your subpoena. You should NEVER keep the originals. Make certain your staff makes copies and return the originals. Do this while the client waits. Your client will always swear that you kept the originals when they get lost in their move, so be certain you can show them the copies and show them a copy of your office policy in this regard. If you represent the Respondent in a Temporary Hearing, remember time is of the essence. As a matter of office practice, instruct your secretary to ask the client to bring all of these documents. Give your clients the "Expense And Debit" sheet to complete and return to your secretary within 24 hours.
If you allege fault in the breakup of the marriage (i.e. adultery, cruelty, etc.), be sure that you can prove these allegations at trial. Nothing frustrates a Judge quite as much as anticipating a reason why he/she should make a disproportionate division or sock one of the parties for extra sums of money to get the other spouse through some counseling, only to find out your client was called a dirty name by the next-door neighbor and your client’s spouse didn’t go next door and demand satisfaction with dueling pistols at dawn.
If the estate of the parties is complicated, such as one involving a family business, immediately involve experts to assist with evaluations. Often income from a closely held business is difficult to determine, so run, don’t walk, to a CPA who can explain to the Court the ‘true’ income of the other spouse. Remember "never on Sunday" is the best rule you can operate under. Never, never give tax advice. Many divorces involve tax problems, and unless you have special expertise in this area, demand your client consult with a CPA or tax attorney.
PLEASE do not ask the Judge to limit or deny visitation for a child over the age of three without bringing an expert to show why and how visitation should be limited. If your client’s lifestyle and needs do not mesh with the Standard Possession Order, be ready to give the Judge an alternative. DO IT IN WRITING so that a Judge can follow it and make a ruling that does fit. If the child is under three years of age, expect the Judge to give frequent but short periods visitation, absent abuse or danger.
If there is any possibility of physical violence, you should suggest supervised visitation at either S.A. Kid’s Exchange (334 W. Mistletoe; S.Central San Antonio; 733-3349) or KidShare (4245 Center Gate; N.E. San Antonio; 946-8524), or some other appropriate exchange. Both work on a sliding fee scale, according to income of the parties. This will also provide you with an independent witness so you don’t have to leave the Judge to a swearing match trying to determine the true facts of how an altercation occurred.
Be certain to check the Spousal Support statute, as spousal maintenance is now eligible for withholding/garnishment. In addition don’t forget to tell your client that he or she must apply for a job, otherwise, your client is OUT OF THE WATER under the statute. The most important advice you can give your client is to KEEP THEIR MOUTH SHUT!!! DO NOT VOLUNTEER ANYTHING!!! LISTEN TO THE QUESTION AND ANSWER ONLY WHAT IS ASKED, UNLESS YOU ARE DOING THE ASKING.
If you and your client are conferring with the other counsel, tell your client his or her kneecaps are in mortal danger if they say ANYTHING to their spouse or to the other attorney without running it by you FIRST. Do NOT talk to the spouse about settlement terms.
Remind your client that first impressions are important and to dress appropriately for Court. The "itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini" will not impress the Judge. Remind them too that their reactions to the testimony of others is being observed by the Court, and that sarcasm, facial expressions, body language and outbursts usually work against them.
II. Major Issues At Temporary Orders
Jurisdiction is crucial at the initial filing of the divorce or suit affecting the parent-child relationship. As such, a respondent must raise any challenge to the issue in his or her initial pleading. The intricacies of the various acts dealing with property and child custody and support issues are enormous and convoluted and a comprehensive approach is well beyond the scope of this paper. However, there is at the base level a dichotomy between the issues-- that of dissolution of marriage (property issues) and that dealing with the child(ren) of the marriage (custody, visitation and child support). The threshold issue upon the filing of a petition for divorce with children is whether or not there is jurisdiction over the respondent sufficient to allow the proceeding to go forward. This question is more complicated than it seems and deals with multiple sections of the Texas Family Code and related federal legislation. These issues only come up if the non-filing party does not reside in the State of Texas.
The general rule is quasi-jurisdictional in that a suit for divorce may not be maintained in the state unless at the time the suit is filed either the petitioner or respondent has been domiciled in Texas for at least six (6) months and a resident of the county in which he or she filed for at least ninety (90) days. TFC § 6.301 The proper method to challenge this residency requirement would be a plea in abatement. A plea in abatement and dismissal is mandatory when divorce petitioner has not met durational county residency requirements. Cook v. Mayfield, 886 S.W.2d 840 (Tex.App.-- Waco 1994, no writ). But, while residency requirements are not jurisdictional, they must be met before rendition of the divorce. McCaskill v. McCaskill, 761 S.W.2d 470 (Tex.App.-- Corpus Christi 1988. writ denied).
Practice Tip: As a matter of practicality, it can be argued that a divorce with children should proceed in the county in which the children reside, assuming the residency requirements can be fulfilled by the time of rendition. However, keep in mind that usually the "first-filed" divorce establishes dominant jurisdiction, but "second-filed" Court may find an estoppel on facts, if you can demonstrate unreasonable delay in service of citation. Clawson v. Millard, 934 S.W.2d 899 (Tex.App. -- Houston [1st Dist.] 1996, no writ).
The Texas Family Code further provides that the Court may make a "status adjudication," divorcing the parties per §6.301 of the Texas Family Code, even if the spouse is a non-resident of the State. The Court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident respondent, per §6.305 of the code if Texas is the last marital residence or there is an y basis consistent with the constitutions of this state and of the United States, regarding such personal jurisdiction. A Court may exercise subject matter jurisdiction only for those portions of the suit for which it has authority, as limited by the required personal jurisdiction over a nonresident respondent, the required jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) or the required jurisdiction under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). In all cases, the Court must have personal jurisdiction to render an Order for child support or divide out-of-state property.
Acquiring status or subject matter jurisdiction in dealing with a nonresident respondent, however, may not provide complete relief to the spouse seeking a divorce from the non-resident defendant who has no minimum contacts with the State of Texas. While the Court may have the ability to adjudicate the parties’ status and grant the divorce, it may not have jurisdiction to adjudicate the parties’ rights and divide property if it is found that there is no personal jurisdiction or long-arm jurisdiction over the non-resident respondent. In order to challenge personal jurisdiction over a non-resident respondent, as in any case, the respondent must file a special appearance prior to any general appearance. While a general appearance will of course waive any challenge to personal jurisdiction, if the Court sustains the Respondent-spouse’s special appearance (ruling that the Court does not have personal jurisdiction over the non-resident Respondent), the Court should not have jurisdiction to divide the marital estate. Dawson-Austin v. Austin, 968 S.W.2d 319 (Tex. 1998); Hoffman v. Hoffman, 821 S.W.2d 3 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 1992, no writ). The Court explains the rule in Texas as follows:
According to Texas Family Code, §102.011, the Court can establish personal jurisdiction over the non-resident respondent or over that person’s personal representative, if:
The requirements to establish long-arm jurisdiction (over a non-resident Respondent) for the purposes of establishing child support or determining parentage are addressed in the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) and tracks the possibilities listed in 1 through 8, above. TFC §159.201. Child support is without a doubt a "rights" adjudication, which has ramifications regarding a party’s ability to pay, as well as the potential judgment for retroactive child support being assessed against that party. As such, an Order necessarily hinges on the Respondent’s rights and therefore is contingent upon the Court’s ability to exercise personal jurisdiction over that Respondent. This is in contrast to a "status" adjudication, such as the dissolution of the marriage. See Dawson-Austin v. Austin, 968 S.W.2d 319, 324 (Tex. 1998); See also In The Interest of S.A.V., 837 S.W.2d 80, 84 (Tex. 1992). While visitation would also seem to be a "rights" adjudication, the Family Code defines "Custody Determination" to include visitation rights. TFC §152.102. Thus, an argument can be made that the ability to determine custody includes the ability to determine visitation.
The Texas Family Code provides that the court may exercise subject matter jurisdiction (ostensibly to make a custody determination) as provided by the UCCJEA. Thus the requirements to establish long-arm jurisdiction for this purpose of establishing custody (and visitation per the definition of "custody determination" in Texas Family Code §152.102) are addressed in the UCCJEA and, except for Temporary Emergency Jurisdiction situations, provides jurisdiction as follows:
"Except for Temporary Emergency Jurisdiction situations, a court of this state has jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination only if:
this state is the home state of the child at the time suit is filed, or was the home state within the prior six (6) months and the child is absent from this state, but a parent or person acting as parent continues to live in this state;
a court of another jurisdiction under (1) above or a court of the home state of the child has declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that this state is the more appropriate forum; and
the child and the child’s parents, or the child and at least one parent or a person acting as a parent, have a significant connection with this state other than mere physical presence; and
substantial evidence is available in this state concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships;
(3) all courts having jurisdiction have declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that this state is the more appropriate forum to determine custody; or
no court of any other state would have jurisdiction under the criteria in 1,2 or 3 above. See TFC § 152.201; UCCJEA.
The act further prioritizes the home state over all other bases of jurisdiction for child custody matters, so that if a party can establish this state as the home state, it then will have exclusive priority over all other possible jurisdictions, at least for the purposes of a custody determination. A Court can still establish emergency jurisdiction, in order to protect the child from mistreatment or abuse or the threat of mistreatment or abuse, though this is a temporary measure.
: Who’s baby is it anyway?
The basic concepts and concerns have not changed much over the years with respect to conservatorship. In fact, the majority of issues that have been addressed by the legislature have focused on the trees rather than the forest, with conservatorship, most commonly associated with determining the residence of the child, being addressed with such recent micro-moves such as lowering the age of preference of the child (at least in a competing sole managing conservator scenario) and the codification of such concerns regarding domestic violence, jurisdictional normalization, and the nomenclative change of the presumption of one sole managing conservator to joint managing conservators. The basic premise of the best interest of the child controls, regardless of that child’s preference and unless there is a significant health or safety issue with evidence to back it up, the child(ren) more often than not will end up residing with their mother.
(1) JMC v. SMC -- There is very little difference between the rights and duties assigned between a Joint Managing Conservator and a Sole Managing Conservator since the legislature shifted the presumption to Joint Managing Conservatorship in 1995. However, there appears to be a psychological aspect to a client’s perception of "custody" in this realm. As such, the legislature has addressed this issue and absent any health and safety concerns, the presumption is usually followed. The lingering concern would be if modification of a Sole Managing Conservatorship was needed within one (1) year of the rendition of the prior Order. In this case, if the party seeking modification is the Sole Possessory conservator (SPC) or non-custodial parent (NCP), he or she would have to show that the child’s present environment may endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development or that the Sole Managing Conservator (SMC)/Custodial Parent (CP) has given up actual care, control and possession of the child for at least six (6) months. TFC §156.102.
Practice Tip: If it’s a close call on custody and the client can afford to proceed at the time of divorce, it’s probably better to seek custody at that time, rather than agree to a Sole Managing Conservatorship arrangement, hoping to come back in the near future.
The rights and duties of the (Primary) JMC, which are exclusive and which should be included in the Temporary Order (and Final Order), are the right to determine the residence of the child; the right to receive child support; and potentially any of the remaining rights and duties of a parent as provided by TFC §151.003. These may include (possibly subject to consultation with the other parent) the right to consent to (non-emergency) medical, dental, and surgical treatment involving invasive procedures, and to consent to psychiatric and psychological treatment; the right to represent the child in legal action and to make other decisions of substantial legal significance concerning the child; the right to consent to marriage and to enlistment in the armed forces of the United States; the right to make decisions concerning the child’s education; the right to the services and earnings of the child; and the right to act as an agent of the child regarding the child’s estate if required by the government. The rights of both parents at all times include the following:
Practice Tip: Effective September 1, 1999, and regardless of the date the suit was filed, the Court, when rendering an Order providing for Joint Managing Conservatorship, shall designate which conservator has the exclusive right to determine the residence of the child and either establish a geographic area (county and contiguous counties) within which the residence shall be maintained or specify that the primary JMC may determine the child’s primary residence without regard to geographic location. This follows much debate over the Dallas County local rule (haphazardly followed) that allegedly provided for visitation restricted to Dallas and adjacent counties. In addition and generally speaking, the primary JMC will be given the exclusive rights and duties of an SMC, and should the opposing party’s attorney require that both parties share these rights, provision should be made in the primary’s favor in the event of future disagreements. This has the effect of mandating consultation but avoiding paralysis should there be a disagreement on one of the decisions.
Effective September 1, 1999, the age at which a child can choose which parent he or she wants to live with has been reduced from twelve (12) to ten (10). While most practitioners and Judges would agree this is an extremely tender age to put a child in the middle of a custody dispute, the underlying intent of the legislature appears to have been to continue to reduce the age at which a child can express intent (previously reduced from 14 to 12). TFC §153.008; effective to suits filed on or after September 1, 1999. While this provides a preference by a child, the best interest test still applies and a Judge can overrule such a choice by finding that it is not in that child’s best interest. In addition, on Motion of a party, the Court SHALL, in chambers, interview a child ten or older, and MAY interview a child under 10 years of age. TFC §153.009. This was not changed in the most recent legislative session.
Practice Tip: While the legislature reduced the age a child can choose a managing conservator (ostensibly which parent would be Sole Managing Conservator) (see TFC, §153.008), at least in a narrow reading, they failed to reduce the age when a Court is Ordering a Joint Managing Conservatorship (see factors listed in TFC §153.134(a)(6)). While this is probably an oversight, an argument could be made that the legislature wanted the child’s input when the more serious concerns were in front of the bench in a situation where one side or both were arguing for an SMC.
Possession and access or visitation is governed by Texas Family Code, §153.251 et seq. The statutory guidelines and specifically the Standard Possession Order are rebuttably presumed to apply to any child over three years of age. There are no guidelines for a child under three years of age, however the Court shall render an Order appropriate under the circumstances for possession of a child under three years of age and shall render a prospective Order to take effect on the child’s third birthday, presumably be the Standard Possession Order (SPO). TFC §153.254.
The SPO provides, among other things for visitation, depending on whether the parents/conservators live within 100 miles of each other or farther than 100 miles of each other. The most typical example, of a non-possessory conservator (NPC) who lives within 100 miles, would allow visitation on the first, third and fifth weekends of each month, beginning on Fridays at either 6:00 p.m. or when school is dismissed, and ending on the following Sunday at 6:00 p.m. or when school resumes. In addition, major holidays are shared depending on whether it is an odd or even year. Furthermore, the SPO provides for Wednesday visitation either from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. or overnight, if the NPC has taken this overnight election period at or before the rendition of the governing Order. Extended summer visitation is provided the NPC if notice is given no later than April 1 of the applicable year, and the managing conservator (MC) can elect to retain one weekend (if they reside within 100 miles) or 21 days (if they reside more than 100 miles apart), during which he or she can retain possession and access during that summer, so long as the CP gives notice no later than April 15 of the applicable year. However, the SPO also provides for weekend visitation by the managing conservator if this deadline is missed and the code should be consulted if an arrangement cannot be worked out. Of course, while the parties can agree to other visitation arrangements, and while it is always advisable to suggest that they work with each other in this regard, the standard visitation order usually means every other weekend to most clients and explaining the minutiae of the various detailed provisions is difficult and time consuming in most instances.
When modifying the SPO, remember that the more complicated you get, the more difficult it is to draft and make enforceable. In addition, when you depart from the norm, you will then need to worry about workability as well as public policy concerns if it should ever be challenged, either on appeal, in future modification or enforcement. However, given this caveat, sometimes the easiest way to hang someone is to give them enough rope to accomplish this task for themselves. Often times the parent seeking more (or even standard) visitation believes him or herself more capable of performing than is really the case. This is when the attorney must realize that their client may not be able to handle such a restricted or modified arrangement and their only chance at standard is to fight for it then and there. Criminal defense attorneys are analogously confronted with this situation when they must advise their client to choose between deferred adjudication, which is great if the client can satisfy the terms of their probation, but which carries the potential maximum punishment range available if they screw it up; and straight probation, which allows the conviction on the record, but limits the potential jail term if they can’t successfully complete the probationary term. One such modified scenario would be a stair-step arrangement, whereas the NPC is provided with restricted and/or supervised visitation and if he or she is successful over a specified period of time, usually three to six months, then visitation could revert to standard. You can make this as simple or as complicated as possible, but where there is a borderline concern for a child’s safety or welfare, or you have a situation where a parent all of a sudden (when an action is filed) wants to exercise standard visitation, this could be a good way to either hold him or her to it, or show that he or she really isn’t interested in standard visitation.
Practice Tip: Another minor way to protect against insincere visitation goals of a NCP, as well as making it easier for your client’s [managing conservator] planning ability with regards to visitation would be a notice provision. You can either provide for notice of inability to exercise possession (more common) or notice of ability to exercise possession (less common but possibly used to provide for future modifications by adding a statement that "failure to abide by these requirements may be considered in future modification of this Order").
While the Texas Family Code provides for the best interest of the child to include not only the health and safety of the child, but also for the emotional and psychological well being of the child, very often the latter is overlooked when crafting orders for visitation. Notwithstanding this unfortunate but almost inevitable recurrence, the most extreme cases, and usually the ones that draw a supervised visitation order, will typically involve some sort of physical threat to the child(ren). In this case, not only must the family lawyer look to the temporary orders to craft protection but, in the case of abuse, the lawyer is required to report such abuse within 48 hours after first suspecting it. TFC §261.101. This information is not protected, although the attorney who reports abuse may not be required to testify about the underlying communications with his or her client. See Tex. Att'y Gen. DM-458.
In such cases where there exists a threat to the health or safety of the child(ren), supervised visitation is well warranted. More and more, this can be attributed to the presence of third parties during visitation. Instances can occur when a party remarries or lives with another partner and the abusing third party can either be that other partner (very often a stepfather) or offspring from that other partner (very often older step-siblings). In addition, and due to the growing number of young parents, the NPC will often end up living with friends and/or multiple roommates. This provides a problem for the Judge who is then faced with the prospect of being unable to order or control a non-party to the litigation. In such situations, and when the threat can be documented, supervised and/or restricted visitation may well be in the child’s best interest. Very often it is the parent of the parent, or the grandparent, who is willing to take on this role and is more acceptable to all parties. Absent such agreement, supervised visitation is available at either S.A. Kid’s Exchange (334 W. Mistletoe; S.Central San Antonio; 733-3349) or KidShare (4245 Center Gate; N.E. San Antonio; 946-8524), or some other appropriate exchange. In this case the cost of supervised visitation, while most often calculated on a sliding scale, may be a contested issue and very well may prevent the visitation from occurring, though this should never be the goal. Also note that in ordering the terms of possession of a child under an order other than a SPO, the court shall be guided not only by the guidelines established by the SPO, but may also consider the age, developmental status, circumstances, needs, best interest of the child, circumstances of the managing conservator and of the parent named as a possessory conservatory, and any other relevant factor. TFC §153.256.
If there is a history of family violence or the threat of family violence then it is important for the attorney to concurrently obtain a protective order in conjunction with the petition for divorce. In such an instance, an application for a protective order should be filed along with a request for a temporary orders hearing. If the Court finds, by the affidavit testimony of the applicant, that family violence has occurred and is likely to occur in the future, then it shall issue a Temporary Ex Parte Protective Order. Such an order is valid for the period specified in the Order, not to extend beyond 20 days, but may be extended for additional 20-day periods upon request of the applicant or upon the Court’s own motion. This Order can prohibit the respondent from the laundry list of items listed in Texas Family Code sections 85.021 and 85.022. If, however, there is a suit pending, a represented party should always be noticed when a protective order is sought, absent true emergency circumstances. In addition and effective September 1, 1999, the Court may suspend a license to carry a concealed handgun that is held by a person found to have committed family violence. Furthermore and after hearing, a protective order can now be issued for a maximum of two years instead of one year. In order to exclude the respondent from a joint residence, the applicant must appear and give testimony to the Court, in addition to the affidavit requirement. A respondent in violation of the protective order will be immediately arrested.
If there is no danger of family violence, however, a Petitioner in a divorce action, can still obtain an order restraining the same abusive and violent activities, as well as maintaining the status quo of the community estate, by prohibiting the respondent from committing any of the same acts listed above. In this case, as in the protective order scenario, the respondent is authorized only to spend money on reasonable and necessary living expenses, reasonable and necessary business expenses and attorneys fees. Such an order is most often designed to preserve the community estate so that a just and right division may be accomplished. A respondent found in violation of this type of order, after motion and notice, may be held in contempt of court.
Practice Tip: Always notify opposing counsel regarding an (ex parte) protective order application if there is an ongoing suit. This is an advisory extension of the local rule implying a notice requirement for TRO’s and the content requirement of the name and address of the opposing attorney in an application for a protective order. See Bexar County, Tex., Civ. Dist.Ct. R., 3.10(e); See TFC §82.041(a)(10).
Unless the net resources of the party to pay child support (NPC) are above $6,000.00 per month, or the NPC is self-employed, calculation of the amount of child support to be paid should not be very difficult. Texas Family Code §154.001 et seq. Whenever feasible, gross income should be calculated on an annual basis and then recalculated to determine average monthly gross income. TFC §154.061. Keep in mind that child support is calculated on one’s earning capacity and if the NPC has recently changed/quit a job, the provision for intentional unemployment or underemployment may apply. TFC §154.066. Once the gross monthly earning capacity has been computed, the "net" monthly amount must be determined by using the Office of the Attorney General’s Employed Persons 2000 Tax Chart, found in the Family Code. TFC §154.132; See Appendix. After arriving at the net amount, the attorney must calculate the appropriate percentage in order to know how much the NPC will have to pay. This is done depending on how many (if any) children the NCP has a duty to support. The NCP will pay 20% for one child, assuming he has no other children to support outside of the cause of action pending before the Court. He will pay 5% for each additional child, assuming he has no other children to support outside of the cause of action pending before the Court. If he does have additional children to support, then he is entitled to a 2.5% reduction in the percentage applied for the calculation, at least for the first "other" child. For additional children, the reduction becomes less as the number of children increases.
The table for the calculation is found at Texas Family Code, §154.129 and is reprinted below.
Multiple Family Adjusted Guidelines -- % Of Net Resources
Number Of Children Before The Court
Practice Tip: If you represent the NPC, and his income is based on overtime, bonuses or sales commissions, you may want to go back for the previous two years to calculate an average, or obtain testimony from his boss as to what he is and what he is not guaranteed to be paid. Do not forget to deduct for the actual cost of providing health insurance or health insurance reimbursement to the CP, as this deduction is obviously not provided for in the chart.
The assignment of property or debts in Temporary Orders, more than any other issue, telegraphs any potential agreement in the Final Orders. It is important to note that, while a party may be ordered to maintain certain levels of coverage or pay certain debts in a temporary restraining order, subject to contempt, the order to pay such a debt in final orders would no longer be subject to contempt. The division of the assets necessarily follows what people are willing to concede is either separate property or with which they are willing to part. Very often this is based on the needs associated with maintaining a household and taking care of children. If children are involved, a majority of the time, the marital residence will be allocated to the Possessory Conservator. In addition, most of the necessary furniture and fixtures will be awarded to the party to remain in the marital residence.
The payment of debts is more often than not going to depend on several factors-- in whose name is the debt, for what purpose was it incurred, whether it was in existence at the initial time of the marriage, and the parties ability to pay the debt or maintain the status quo. This includes any debt associated with the marital residence.
However, in the case where there is a large disparity of earning power among the spouses, there will always be an issue of redistributing the wealth, one way or another. The Code provides that temporary spousal support may be awarded while a suit for divorce is pending, as deemed necessary and equitable. TFC §6.502. While this is only temporary, the Court may make provision for future, post-decree spousal support only if:
In addition and effective September 1, 1999, a court may enforce a garnishment order for spousal maintenance, as well as for the previously authorized child support. In addition, the factors that a Court may consider in determining maintenance can be found in Texas Family Code, §8.003. Such maintenance shall be limited to $2,500.00 or 20% of the paying spouse’s average gross monthly income, whichever is less; and continue for the shortest reasonable period necessary or three years after the Order is rendered, whichever is least.
When spousal support is not available by statute, many creative (and aggressive) attorneys will seek other ways to either transfer more money to their client or to compensate for what one party may consider an unjust and unfair division, given what’s left over after so many years. Some examples of these independent torts include assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence. The Supreme Court has recently ruled that there is no independent cause of action for fraud on the community or breach of fiduciary duty, reasoning that a wronged spouse has an adequate remedy through the "just and right" property division. See Schlueter v. Schlueter, 975 S.W.2d 584 (Tex. 1998). In addition, reimbursement claims are equitable measures that many attorneys will utilize to get a bigger piece of the pie.G. Enforceability of the Temporary Order/Rule 11 Agreement/Attorney’s Fees
It is important to remember that for temporary orders to be enforceable, they must be ordered by the Judge. Many parties will enter into a rule 11 agreement for temporary or even final orders, without making sure they are enforceable. While the intricacies of obtaining this assurance are beyond the scope of this paper, it should be noted that the agreement should include the term "Order" at the top; it should include sufficient specificity of material terms to be enforced in law as well as in contract (if it’s an "Agreed Order"); and it should be "Ordered" by the Judge on the record after all signatures have been obtained by the parties and their respective attorneys. Such material terms include amount of child support/attorneys fees due, date payment(s) due, place payment(s) due, and any other terms necessary to avoid ambiguity in the order. Do not file a motion for contempt if a party violates a rule 11 agreement, as they are not contemptible. The proper remedy is a motion for sanctions. It should be noted that while the award for attorney’s fees on final orders will be a judgment, the award for interim attorney’s fees are contemptible and should be explained on the record as such, regardless of which side you represent. If the agreement is ordered by the judge, the remedy to correct non-entry of the typed Order is a Motion To Sign or Motion To Enter. If you only obtained a rule 11 agreement (for final orders), you will need to start preparing your Motion For Summary Judgment.
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