Almost every contested family law matter – divorce, child custody, CPS, termination of parental rights, paternity – ends up in mediation before a final trial.  Most, if not all, courts in Dallas County and Collin County require mediation before a final trial.

Mediation involves a neutral mediator – often an attorney but it does not have to be – who tries to help facilitate a settlement.  Normally, one party and her attorney are in one room and the other party and his attorney are in another.  The mediator goes back and forth between the rooms to try and reach a settlement.  Most of the time, I never even see the opposing party or that party’s attorney at the mediation.

Before I attend mediation with a client, I always prepare a confidential mediation statement that sets forth our side of the story for the mediator.  This helps save time at mediation.  Often times, I have found that the other side does not prepare a mediation statement.  I feel this gives my client a great advantage, as the mediator is starting the case with just our side of the story.

The vast majority of cases settle at mediation.   I have taken many cases to mediation that I thought could not be settled, and they have settled the majority of the time.  Even if a final settlement does not get reached, the parties can settle some of the issues to narrow down the issues for trial.

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Certain child custody cases involve the appointment of an amicus attorney.  This is an attorney appointed by the court to help protect a child’s best interest.  The amicus attorney is providing legal services to the court – not the child – and therefore there is no attorney-client relationship between the amicus and the child.

An amicus attorney is not bound by a child’s desires and can disclose confidential communications with the child to the court to help the court determine the child’s best interest.

An amicus attorney can be requested by a party, but the court can also choose to appoint an amicus on its own.  Most of the time, the parties will bear the cost of the amicus.  Occasionally, the court will have the county pick up the expense, if it deems the appointment is necessary but cost-prohibitive to the parties.

An amicus attorney may be appointed in any case where the court needs to determine what is in the best interest of the child.  Appointment is most common in termination suits and parentage suits, in certain situations.

Child Custody

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In family law cases, temporary orders are often necessary.  These are orders that can deal with a variety of issues, including temporary custody, a temporary possession and access schedule, temporary use of property, and interim attorney fees.  The orders only apply while the case is pending or until another order takes their place.  A temporary orders hearing is sort of a mini-trial.

Each county has different rules regarding temporary orders hearings.  In Collin County, you are limited to twenty minutes per side.   This includes the time for direct examination of your own witnesses and cross examination of the other side’s witnesses.  Twenty minutes goes by in a hurry, and it does not give you much time to call multiple witnesses or introduce many exhibits.  Although the judges will occasionally grant additional time, you and your attorney need to be prepared to limit yourselves to twenty minutes.   I normally plan on having only my client and the opposing party testify, but occasionally I will call an additional witness for a handful of questions.

It is really important to have an attorney who is familiar with temporary orders hearings in Collin County who knows how to get the most critical information out in a very short amount of time.  It can be difficult to obtain a different result at a final trial, if the temporary orders hearing goes against you.  Therefore, the temporary orders hearing is very important.

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Most fathers-to-be assume that being the biological father of the child automatically gives them legal status as the father.  Most fathers-to-be also assume that having their name on the birth certificate as the father makes them the legal father.  Neither of those assumptions is correct. In the state of Texas, you are not the legal father unless one of three things happens: (1) you are the presumed father; (2) you sign a valid acknowledgment of paternity, or (2) a court enters an order stating you are the father.

A man is a “presumed” father if he (a) was married to the mother when the child was born, (b) was married to the mother any time during the 300 days before the child was born, or (c) married the mother after the baby was born and voluntarily claimed paternity through the bureau of vital statistics, on the birth certificate or in a record promising to support the child as his own.  If you do not qualify as a presumed father and have not taken steps to obtain legal status as the father, you are known as the “alleged father.”  An alleged father is the genetic father or one who is claimed to be the genetic father of the child.

If you are not married and you find yourself becoming a father, you want to be sure both you and the mother sign an acknowledgment of paternity when the baby is born.  The hospital may have this form available for you to sign.  Be sure to keep a copy of the completed form for your records.  The form must be completed before a certified acknowledgment of paternity entity, and it must be properly submitted to the Bureau of Vital Statistics.  In other words, you cannot simply print a form off the internet, fill it out, and be legally considered the father.  If you and the mother properly complete an acknowledgment of paternity, you will have all the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent and will legally be considered the father.

If no acknowledgment of paternity was signed and you do not meet the criteria of a “presumed father,” the courts will have to make a finding that you are the dad.  This is known as “adjudicating paternity.”  If both parties agree in court that you are the dad, then the judge will enter a finding that you are the father.  If one party contests paternity, then the court will order genetic testing.  If the testing shows you are the father, then you will legally be adjudicated as the dad.

Paternity

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