The holiday season is a special time for getting together with loved ones to make lasting memories with your children.  This is especially important for divorced families.  If you find yourself recently divorced, in a challenging co-parenting relationship, or trying to blend families due to a new relationship, the holiday season may add a layer of stress for you.  Here are some tips to help you manage the holiday season so that you and your child can experience the wonder and joy that this time of year brings.

Tip One: Review your possession order.  You may have standard possession order for holidays, or you may have a customized order.  There are numerous ways to split time with the child during the holiday season with the other parent, and you want to be sure you understand exactly what your schedule entails.  Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the less surprises arise.  It can also help you talk to your child about who the child will be with at specific times during the holiday season.  For example, if you do not have your child this year on Christmas, you can let your child know that you will celebrate together on a different day.

Tip Two:  Talk about gifts with your co-parent.  By doing this you can avoid the child receiving multiples of a particular item.  You should discuss this with your co-parent and other members of your family too.  If the child is with the other parent on Christmas but Santa visits your home, too, it will be much less confusing to the child if Santa leaves different presents for the child at each house.  It will also save you from having to explain what happened to your child because we all know Santa knows and sees everything.

Tip Three:  Keep exchanges of the child stress free.  If you now that someone in your life is a trigger person for the other parent, then keep them out of the child exchange process.  For example, if you are in a new relationship and you know your new person and the other parent do not get along, your new person should not be present at the exchange.  If your new person must be there, having the new person stay in the car or in the house but out of sight is best.  If you and the other parent are having a difficult time, then you can designate a competent adult to handle the exchange for you (assuming your order provides for that).  If you decide to do this, let the other parent know who will be picking the child up instead.

Tip Four: Start a new tradition.  If this is your first year to navigate the holiday season while splitting time with the child with the other parent, this is particularly important and can be a lot of fun.  Children are wise, and they know things are not the same now that you are divorced.  Start making new memories.  Have a cookie decorating contest with your child, make homemade pizzas, get funny slippers to wear around the house, start an ornament collection, or write letters to your child  about things that happened during the year and put it in the child’s stocking.  If your child is old enough, let your child choose a tradition he or she would like to start.

Tip Five: Take care of yourself.  While it is important to help create new memories for your child, you also need to take care of yourself and plan things to do when you are not with your child.  You may find that you are anxious and sad when your child is not with you, especially on the holidays.  It is important to plan some fun things that you enjoy so that you do not focus on the fact they are not with you.  Remember, you still get to celebrate with your child, just in a new and different way.

Blog post by Brandi Crozier

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A recent post in a Texas family lawyers group asked attorneys to share “things you think you wouldn’t have to tell your client not to do during a family law case, but apparently you have to.”  Here are a few of my favorites (and yes, these things have actually happened):

  1. Don’t get someone pregnant (or get pregnant) during your divorce.
  2. Don’t neglect to tell your lawyer that you breed tigers as a hobby and that they are allowed to roam freely throughout your compound, particularly when you are fighting for the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child.
  3. Don’t ever testify “I have absolutely NEVER…” when you did and you’re about to be impeached on it.
  4. Don’t tell the judge “you don’t have the b@lls to put a white woman in jail” and then be surprised when he does.
  5. Don’t take a shot of liquor during your zoom hearing.
  6. Don’t give the judge the finger after he mutes you for talking too much during a zoom hearing.
  7. Don’t send a letter to the judge (and don’t have your church do a letter writing campaign to the judge either).
  8. Don’t tell your lawyer that you most certainly did NOT break into your ex’s house and take stuff right before opposing counsel hits play on a recording of you breaking into your ex’s house and taking stuff.
  9. Don’t get drunk when the kids are with you.
  10. Don’t text the opposing party about what your lawyer said (because it’s almost never what your lawyer actually said).
  11. Don’t e-mail opposing counsel.
  12. Don’t show up to court drunk or high.
  13. Don’t show up to court with a box of sex toys and expect your attorney to introduce them as evidence.
  14. Don’t lie, especially when you put the truth on social media.
  15. Don’t roll a joint and light it up during a zoom hearing.
  16. Don’t threaten to rip off one of the implants she got during the marriage to get your “half.”
  17. Don’t smoke (or vape) in court proceedings, even if they are virtual.
  18. Don’t inject your child with animal grade antibiotics.
  19. Don’t walk around in your underwear during a zoom hearing.
  20. Don’t get engaged to someone else before your divorce is finalized.
  21. Don’t e-mail the court coordinator to complain about how the judge’s ruling is going to get your kids killed.
  22. Don’t record your child.  You think it’s great evidence, but it almost always makes you look bad.
  23. Don’t sext your new paramour unless you want to produce it in discovery.
  24. Don’t try to impress the judge with your cleavage.
  25. Don’t send out formal wedding invitations for your marriage to Wife #2 when your marriage to Wife #1 has not yet been dissolved.
  26. Don’t get your wife’s sister pregnant.
  27. Don’t sit on the toilet while on a zoom hearing.
  28. Don’t bring your new girlfriend to court for your enforcement hearing and let her sit on your lap in the courtroom.
  29. Don’t accuse your wife of assault and then beg her for sex via text message.
  30. Don’t throw your shoes at the judge.
  31. Don’t give your shoes away during the lunch break and come back to trial shoe-less.
  32. Don’t send e-mails or texts to the opposing party saying you “don’t give a f–k what the judge said.”
  33. Don’t wear your Rolex to a child support enforcement hearing.
  34. Don’t leave a message on opposing counsel’s voicemail screaming that the judge can “go suck my knob” numerous times.
  35. Don’t have sex with the opposing party the night before your trial.
  36. Don’t have sex with the person against whom you are seeking a protective order, even if that person promises not to tell.
  37. Don’t get pregnant by someone else in the middle of your divorce and then sleep with your soon-to-be-ex-husband to make him think it’s his.
  38. Don’t change your password to “mywifeisawhore” or anything else you would not want to say out loud while testifying in court.
  39. Don’t set a hearing where you are requesting supervised-only access for your husband and then leave the kids with him the night before so you can go shopping for a new dress to wear to said hearing.
  40. Don’t bring a date to the final  hearing and make out with her in the hallway on a break.
  41. Don’t tell a judge “I’m tired of talking to you” during the hearing.
  42. Don’t duck out of the camera’s view to take puffs on a cigarette during your zoom hearing and then lie to the judge when he confronts you about the cloud of smoke over your head.
  43. Don’t start fertility treatments with your fiancé when you are set for trial in your divorce and one of the stressors in your marriage was infertility.
  44. Don’t leave a voicemail telling your two small children to call their mom a whore, b*tch, and slut over and over, laughing while they say it.
  45. Don’t change the name of the contact in your phone from “Wife” to “B*tch from Hell”(or “Satan’s Little Helper,” “Psychopath,” or “Heinous Monster”), especially if your children talk to her on that phone.
  46. Don’t upload the nude pictures of your spouse to the parenting portal to prove she sent them to you via text.
  47. Don’t appear shirtless for a zoom hearing.
  48. Don’t request a drug test of the other side if you’re on drugs, too.
  49. Don’t read the pleadings to your kids.
  50. Don’t cohabit with a registered sex offender during your custody case and forget to mention it until you are on the stand.
  51. Don’t think that just because you blocked your ex on social media those posts won’t find their way into court.
  52. Don’t write a check to your girlfriend and write “great sex” in the memo line when you are married to someone else.
  53. Don’t buy a house or start a business with your new love while your divorce is pending.
  54. Don’t drive your spouse to the sex club and then complain in court about the fact that she went to the sex club.
  55. Don’t storm off the stand after the judge tells you it is his turn to talk saying “no man is ever going to tell me what to do again” and then tell everyone in the hallway the judge is sexist.
  56. Don’t refer to your husband as a sperm donor.
  57. Don’t give the court an e-mail address that has the words “bigblackc*ck” in it.
  58. Don’t bring your mistress with you to mediation and look appalled when the mediator and your attorney ask her to leave.
  59. Don’t shoot your spouse.
  60. Don’t sleep with your husband’s coworkers.
  61. Don’t do “a little bit of cocaine” on the weekends or on your birthday.
  62. Don’t put a tracking device on the opposing party’s vehicle.
  63. Don’t forget to shower and wear clean clothes before court, especially if you are trying to argue you are not a filthy hoarder whose home will endanger the children.
  64. Don’t complain your wife is having an affair if you are, too.
  65. Don’t call your children’s mom a whore, even if she is.
  66. Don’t ask the judge to award you all of the intimate photos and videos you took of your wife because you consider them to be your property.
  67. Don’t wear workout clothes to court.
  68. Don’t marry a woman whose rights were just terminated by CPS to her own children while you are in the middle of a custody case involving your own.
  69. Don’t tell your teenager about your infidelity in the same conversation where you and your spouse are telling her you are divorcing.
  70. Don’t forget to wear panties to court and flash the court coordinator.
  71. Don’t get drunk in the parking lot before your hearing.
  72. Don’t buy a house with your mistress before the divorce is final with community funds.
  73. Don’t call your mistress as witness #1 as to why you should have custody of your children.
  74. Don’t wear your “world’s greatest dad” t-shirt to your enforcement hearing.
  75. Don’t post “f–k the judge” on Facebook.
  76. Don’t go to your kids’ game and brag to everyone there about the lies you are going to tell about your husband in court.
  77. Don’t make a video saying the judge can eat booty like groceries and then post it on social media during your trial.
  78. Don’t ask the bailiff to pass your number to another offending parent while waiting for your CPS case to start.
  79. Don’t be laying in bed during your zoom hearing.
  80. Don’t marry your pregnant mistress while your divorce is pending and post pictures of the wedding and marriage license on Facebook.
  81. Don’t wear your gun to a divorce hearing.
  82. Don’t wear flip-flops and super short cutoff shorts to court and then yell at your lawyer in the hallway because you didn’t know you shouldn’t wear those things.
  83. Don’t strip in a public bar to celebrate your birthday, regardless of whether or not your kid was at said bar.
  84. Don’t bring home THC infused lube from Colorado and try to have a bunch of relations with your soon-to-be-ex as an attempt to make her test positive for weed.
  85. Don’t wear a necklace with the letters spelling “b*tch” to your custody hearing.
  86. Don’t e-mail the judge a poem where you tell him you’re smarter than him and could have passed the bar if you wanted to without going to law school.
  87. Don’t look at the judge and say, “I am a sweet person d*mnit.  You have got to talk some sense into these vindictive angry emotional women.”
  88. Don’t wear a sequin tube top, spandex and body glitter to court.
  89. Don’t let your key witness at a custody hearing wear a shirt that says “Sexy B*tch” on it.
  90. Don’t no-show for the second scheduled deposition and let your friends tag you on Facebook on a pub crawl at the time you should have been there.
  91. Don’t play the Tammy Wynette song “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” on your iPhone when the judge leaves the courtroom.  He can still hear it from his chambers.
  92. Don’t use videos and photos of your soon-to-be-ex as revenge porn.
  93. Don’t tell your lawyer you don’t do drugs and then admit on the stand you smoked meth a few times with your spouse last month.
  94. Don’t take pictures in court and post them to Facebook during your trial.
  95. Don’t sign an affidavit saying you caught your ex smoking meth and then tell the judge at the emergency hearing that you never told your lawyer you saw her do drugs.
  96. Don’t post on Facebook what a great deal you got in mediation and what a “f-ing loser” your ex is when he hasn’t yet signed the mediated settlement agreement.
  97. Don’t update your Facebook profile to show off your new breast augmentation prior to your hearing on interim attorney’s fees.
  98. Don’t testify you don’t have any idea how you tested positive just before you pass out on the witness stand.
  99. Don’t complain that your soon-to-be-ex was a stripper if you met her in a strip club.
  100. Don’t testify about all of the horrible things your husband did to you and then get mad the judge gave you exclusive use of the house and didn’t order you to live together, yell in the courthouse that “Jesus doesn’t want us to get divorced,” and then promptly dismiss your case.

The next time you find yourself involved in a family law proceeding, keep this list handy!

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In divorces and cases involving the parent-child relationship, the court will establish a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the child. This parenting plan includes the rights and duties of a conservator and a possession schedule for the child. Courts may consider several factors when determining what is in the best interest of the child, but the Texas Family Code provides some guidance when it comes to possession schedules. Texas law presumes that the Standard Possession Order provided in the Texas Family Code is in the best interest of the child. But this presumption does not apply to children under 3 years of age. This means that when dealing with a child under 3 years old, there is no standard schedule or any guidance in the Texas Family Code. This doesn’t mean the court will not award the standard possession schedule, but it does mean the standard possession schedule is not always the court’s default possession order. When dealing with possession or custody schedules for a child under three, the court will look at many factors. These factors will include the age and development of the child, the length of time the parents have been separated, the relative involvement of each parent in the child’s life up to that point, and the distance between the parents’ residences. Based on these factors, the court will determine what type of schedule will help the child develop and maintain a healthy and trusting relationship with both parents.

Children under the age of three are still developing and have different needs than older children. Parents are always able to present agreed possession schedules to the court for approval, but it is important to keep a few things in mind when developing a visitation schedule for children under three. Having shorter but more frequent visits between the noncustodial parent and the child will help the child feel secure and develop trust with the noncustodial parent. Frequent and consistent visits will also help the child develop a healthy attachment to both parents. Depending on the age of the child at the beginning of the case, the visitation schedule may be divided in to three periods: birth to 18 months, 18 months to 3 years, and finally 3 years and older. The child will have different needs throughout these stages, so it is best to have a step up or change in the possession schedule at each stage that will support healthy development and emotional attachment with both parents. It is a good idea to include gradual steps towards either the standard possession order or a mutually agreed upon possession schedule once the child turns three. This will prevent the need for either parent to seek a modification of the possession schedule once the child is older than three. This is also beneficial since the frequent but shorter visits may become cumbersome for both the parents and the child as the child gets older.

While the best interest of the child is always the primary concern for family courts and judges, it is important to recognize that for young children, the standard possession schedule is not always best. If your divorce or child custody case involves a child under three, it is so important to develop a phased or stair step possession schedule that will continue to serve your child’s needs as he or she continues to grow and develop. Contact The Draper Law Firm to help you create and establish a possession schedule that is in the best interest of your child.

Blog post by Shmyla Alam

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A premarital agreement or “prenup” is an agreement between prospective spouses to alter their marital property rights without court involvement. Chapter four of the Texas Family Code governs these types of agreements.  Parties can agree to the division of household responsibilities, payment of support and living expenses, sharing of child-rearing responsibilities, religious upbringing of children, procedures for conflict resolution, and the disposition of property in the event the relationship ends.  Almost anything that the parties think of can be included so long as it does not (1) violate public policy or a criminal statute, (2) adversely affect a child’s right to support, or (3) defraud a creditor.  Premarital agreements are used to cover both current and future assets.

Who should get a premarital agreement?

Many people believe that premarital agreements are just for the wealthy.  That is not necessarily the case.  Any couple who wishes to pass separate property to children from a prior marriage, avoid conflict in the event of divorce, protect their spouses from each other’s debts, or clarify financial responsibilities may want to consider a prenup.  If a couple chooses to make a prenup, the best practice is to require separate legal representation for each party.  Separate representation helps avoid potential arguments that one party had unequal bargaining power over the other.

What are the requirements for a binding premarital agreement?

In order to be enforceable, a premarital agreement must be in writing.  The parties must fully disclose all property and financial obligations.  The agreement must be signed by both parties before they marry, and it must be sworn to so that it can be recorded in the court records where relevant property is located.  Neither party is required to pay for a premarital agreement.  The only consideration required is the parties’ mutual promises to marry; however, a premarital agreement must be signed voluntarily.  It will not be effective if one party is under duress when they sign.

When does a premarital agreement become effective?

A premarital agreement becomes effective on the date of marriage even though it must be signed before the marriage.  There is no specific requirement on what type of marriage ceremony the couple must have in order to make the agreement effective.

What should I do if my partner wants a prenup?

The first thing you should do is have a conversation with your partner to understand what his or her goals are in asking for a premarital agreement.  Keep in mind that the decision on whether or not to sign a premarital agreement is a personal decision and does not reflect on the level of love or trust in your relationship.  You should look for an attorney to review the premarital agreement independent from your partner’s attorney.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions and importantly, communication with your partner is key.

What if I don’t sign a premarital agreement?

If a couple chooses not to sign a premarital agreement, Texas law governs the division of property and debts in the event of a Texas divorce.  Texas is a community property state, which means that each party will own 50% of all property accumulated during the marriage (including salary, real property, retirement, and personal property).  Any property that the party accumulated prior to the marriage remains that party’s separate property, but the burden is on the spouse claiming separate property to prove it.  A court will divide the community property if the parties cannot agree.

Blog post by Samantha Mori

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In Texas family law cases involving children, one parent is often ordered to pay child support to the other. For one reason or another, a parent may fall behind on child support payments. If you are the parent who has been ordered to pay child support, you may be wondering what can happen to you if you fall behind. In the alternative, if you are the parent receiving child support, you may be wondering what you can do about the other parent failing to pay. There are several potential ramifications if a parent fails to pay his or her child support obligation. Below are several ways a child support order may be enforced.

Contempt: A person can be held in either civil or criminal contempt for unpaid child support. In civil contempt cases, the court may order confinement in jail for up to six months and may issue a fine for each missed child support payment. A jail sentence must be served even if full payment is subsequently made. Criminal contempt cases entail an obligor being sentenced to jail until the individual complies with the court order. Typically, the order states the obligor is to pay a certain amount of money or pay all of the unpaid support.  Sometimes courts will issue a suspended commitment, meaning the jail sentence is suspended so long as the obligor makes all child support and arrearage payments going forward.  Courts can also put the obligor on probation for a period of time.

License Suspension: If a person fails to pay child support, his or her licenses may be suspended. This applies to a driver’s license, but it may also include hunting, fishing, and even processional licenses.

Passport Denial: A person may be denied a new or renewed passport if they fail to comply with a child support order.

Lottery Prizes: Although this one rarely occurs, a person’s lottery prizes can be intercepted and applied towards child support and dental and medical support arrears.

Liens: Many people do not realize child support arrears can cause a lien to be placed on a person’s property. A lien can be filed on a person’s property, bank accounts, retirement accounts, and even personal injury claims. It is important to note that a lien cannot be placed on a person’s homestead if it is exempt under the Texas Constitution or the Property Code. If a lien is improperly placed on your homestead property, contact an attorney to assist you with having the lien removed.

Tax Refunds:  The Attorney General will often intercept tax refunds from anyone with past due child support obligations.

It is important to stay on top of your child support obligation to prevent the above measures from being taken against you. If you have lost your job or had a change in employment and can no longer afford your current child support obligation, contact an attorney to assist you in having your child support amount lowered as soon as possible.  Remember, you can never modify child support going backward.  You can only modify it going forward.  If you are a parent who is to receive child support and the other parent has fallen behind, you can contact the Attorney General’s Office for assistance with an enforcement action. You can also contact an attorney to bring an enforcement action on your behalf. Often, private attorneys are able to bring a child support enforcement action much more swiftly than the Attorney General’s office. Regardless of your situation, The Draper Law Firm is here to assist you with various child support issues.

Blog Post by Sarah Marrone

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In Texas, most courts will order a geographic restriction as part of any child custody proceeding.  One parent is often awarded the exclusive right to designate the child’s primary residence.  A geographic restriction limits the child’s primary residence to a designated area. In cases where neither parent is given the right to designate the primary residence, the geographic restriction limits where both parents can live with the child.

Why do we have Geographic Restrictions?

The public policy of the State of Texas is to assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of the child.  Courts should encourage parents to share in the rights and duties of raising their child after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage.

A geographic restriction prevents custodial parents from moving the child outside a particular area without agreement from the noncustodial parent or a court order.  In some cases, neither parent is awarded the right to designate the primary residence, and the parties need guidance on where the child will live.  A geographic restriction will provide parents with that guidance.

How big is the Geographically Restricted Area?

Each court handles geographic restrictions slightly differently, and the size of the geographic restriction varies.  In Collin County, judges will often order restrictions that read, “Collin County and counties contiguous to Collin County.”  A restriction worded that way would allow the custodial parent to move the child’s primary residence anywhere within Collin County or a county contiguous to Collin County, but not outside of that area.  Sometimes judges will restrict the residence to only the county.

If you go to court, you may not have as much flexibility in determining your specific geographic restriction.  We encourage parties to work together to negotiate geographic restrictions that will fit their unique needs.  You should work with your attorney to find a geographic restriction that works for you.  Do not feel bound by broad county restrictions.  If you are negotiating a settlement, you can tailor a geographic restriction based on a specific intersection, school districts, or other landmarks. You can use city boundaries, a radius based on a specific point, or boundaries drawn on a map.

Keep in mind that your possession schedule will also impact your geographic restriction.  A 50/50 possession schedule will require a much narrower geographic restriction because it is in the child’s best interest to limit long drive times.  Even with an expanded standard possession order, the further apart the parents live, the harder it is on everyone for exchanges.  You should consider how long it will take for the child to get to school or daycare, extracurricular activities, and how far apart the parents’ residences will be.

Is my Geographic Restriction permanent? 

Yes and No.  The geographic restriction is in effect until one the following: 1) written agreement between the parents or 2) court order.  If a parent wishes to move the child outside the geographically restricted area, he or she will have to get permission from the other parent in writing.

If the parties cannot agree, the parent wishing to move the child will have to file to modify the order that includes the geographic restriction.  The likelihood of winning a modification will depend on the facts of your situation.  Several factors affect whether a court will order a modification of the restriction, including:

  • whether the move is in the best of the child;
  • the involvement of the parent opposing the move;
  • reason for the move;
  • comparison of education, health, and extracurricular opportunities;
  • special needs or talents of the child;
  • effect on extended family relationships;
  • effect on possession and access with the noncustodial parent; and
  • whether the noncustodial parent has the ability to relocate.

Can I move without a court order or agreement?

No.  If you move the child without agreement from the other parent or a court order allowing you to do so, you may violate your orders.  Your violation could serve as grounds for the other parent to modify custody.  You could face contempt of court, resulting in court-ordered punishments of fines or jail time.  Additionally, the other parent could file a petition to return the child.

Can I move if the other parent moves?

Maybe, but it depends on how your court order is worded.  Many geographic restrictions are worded such that the restriction only applies if the non-custodial parent resides within that zone, but that is not always the case.  If the other parent moves out of the permitted zone and your order allows for it, you can move outside of the zone.  If the other parent has not moved too far, be prepared for that parent to file to modify in an effort to keep you close.

If you are considering moving outside of the area designated in your order, be sure to consult an attorney to find out your options before committing to the move.  The last thing you want to do is have money invested in a move only to find out the court will not allow your child to move there.

Blog post by Samantha Mori

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Many families find themselves faced with the challenges of separation and divorce. Divorce can be a very stressful time in someone’s life. It is often said to be one of the most difficult transitions a person may face. One way to lessen the stress of the divorce process is for you and your spouse to divorce amicably. Here are five tips to assist anyone who may be interested in proceeding through the divorce process in an amicable manner:

  1. Find an attorney that understands your goal of an amicable divorce. Selecting your counsel is one of the most important decisions you will make during the divorce process. If you would like to minimize the contention during your case, you must ensure you hire an attorney who understands your goals and is capable of keeping your desire for an amicable resolution at the forefront of the process.
  1. Utilize a waiver of service. A waiver of service is a document that can be signed by your spouse after receiving a copy of the Original Petition for Divorce. If the waiver of service is properly executed, you will not have to have your spouse personally served with the petition. No one wants to be personally served. Many individuals going through divorce are served with papers at their place of work or home. This can be embarrassing and will likely make them angry. If your goal is an amicable divorce, it is usually preferable to begin by providing your spouse with a waiver of service to sign. If they refuse to sign the waiver of service, your attorney can then have your spouse personally served.
  1. Go to mediation. Many people are adamant they do not want their case to go to mediation. The general negative feeling towards mediation is often unwarranted. Most courts now require parties to attend mediation prior to the case proceeding to trial. This is because many cases can be resolved by utilizing an impartial third party to help the parties reach a resolution. Settling in mediation will save both sides money and lessen the stress that accompanies trial. In most cases, mediation leads to a better resolution for both sides. This is because mediation allows the parties and attorneys to be creative when creating a solution. When attending mediation be sure you go into the process with an open mind and a positive attitude. If you decide the process will fail before you even begin, the process is more likely to fail. Try to keep the focus on your goals and reaching a resolution both you and your spouse can live with. Remember, no settlement agreement is ever perfect for either side, but it is usually better than what the outcome would be at trial.  Even though it may be tempting, it is not a good idea to go to mediation without an attorney.  The mediator’s job is to get a deal done, and she cannot give you legal advice.
  1. Consider seeing a therapist. The end of a marriage is a very emotional transition for everyone involved. It affects the parties and the children. It is important to be aware of your emotional state and to recognize when you may need the assistance of a therapist or counselor. Many individuals need to be able to speak to someone such as a counselor or therapist to help them through this transition. Dealing with your emotions in a healthy way will assist you in keeping the divorce process amicable and preventing resentment. Divorces surrounded by resentment and anger tend to take longer to resolve and are ultimately more costly for both parties.
  1. Focus on the future. Remember that this is a time of transition. You are transitioning out of your marriage and into the next phase of your life. Focusing on the future is even more important to those who have children. If children are involved, you will continue to have a relationship with your spouse even after the divorce is finalized. There is no better time than the present to begin practicing communicating with the other parent. Even if you and your spouse were not ultimately successful long-term partners, you can still be successful co-parents. Parents who divorce amicably are typically better equipped down the road to resolve parenting disputes without the court intervening. Rather than getting hung up on the minutia, focus on your overall goals. If you hire an attorney who understands your goals, your attorney will be able to assist you with staying focused on what is most important.

Take the time to discuss these points when consulting with an attorney. At The Draper Law Firm, we understand this is a difficult time for you and your family and we are ready to help guide you through the process.

Blog post by Sarah Marrone

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Depending on the circumstances of your divorce or family law case, you may hear the Latin terms “amicus” and “ad litem” referenced by the attorneys or the judge in your case. We’re here to help clarify the purpose of an amicus attorney and an ad litem and explain when it would be beneficial to have either one appointed to your case.

The word “amicus” means “friend of the court.” When an amicus attorney is appointed in your case, it is important to know that the amicus does not represent any of the parties or children involved in the case. Rather, the purpose of an amicus is to gather information and help the court determine what is in the best interest of the child. The amicus will not only interview the parties and the children involved but will likely gather information from any other individuals that have valuable or relevant information. This can include teachers, counselors, doctors or other family members that are not parties to the case. This process allows the amicus to gather a significant amount of information, which can include evidence that may not be admissible in a hearing. Requesting that an amicus be appointed in your case is beneficial when the case is very contentious or involves a question of whether a party may be causing significant impairment or harm to a child.

“Ad litem” means “to represent in litigation.”  There are two types of ad litems we see in family law cases: an attorney ad litem and a guardian ad litem.  Unlike an amicus attorney, an attorney ad litem is appointed to represent the interests of a party.  In Texas, a Court may appoint an attorney ad litem when a party is not capable of representing himself or when a party has been served by publication.  An attorney ad litem is sometimes appointed to represent the child and advocate for what the child wants.  In cases involving CPS, the Court will always appoint an attorney ad litem in order to ensure that the child’s interests are protected.  A guardian ad litem may or may not be an attorney and is appointed to represent the best interests of a child.  Occasionally, a court will appoint an attorney in the dual role if attorney ad litem and guardian ad litem for a child.  In the event there is a conflict between what the child wants and what is in the child’s best interest, both need to be appointed.  CASA often serves as the guardian ad litem for the child in CPS cases in certain counties.

If your custody matter is complex, an amicus attorney or an ad litem may be an important tool to protect the child’s interests. Contact the attorneys at The Draper Law Firm, P.C. We’re ready to help.

Blog post by Shmyla Alam

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Digital assets are a huge part of our everyday lives.  The pictures on your iPhone, your Netflix account, documents saved in Dropbox, your Kindle library, and your Instagram page are all examples of digital assets.

While it may seem that digital assets are inconsequential when it comes to a divorce, that may not always be the case.  Technology has become such a significant part of our daily lives that digital assets may have significant monetary value beyond just the sentimental value.

A digital asset is intangible content that is stored in various types of digital formats.  Examples of common digital assets include: e-mail addresses, social media accounts, web sites and domain names, digital media (photos, videos, e-books, movies, and videos), blogs, reward points, data storage accounts (Dropbox, OneDrive), digital storefronts, and virtual currency (such as Bitcoin).

If these digital assets were acquired during the marriage, they will be considered part of the community estate and will be subject to a just and right division by the court.  When going through a divorce, each party should take an inventory of all digital assets that are considered community property.  If a digital asset was acquired prior to marriage, was a gift, or was inherited, it will be considered separate property and not subject to division in the divorce.

Once the digital assets have been identified as part of the community estate, they will be valued.  Valuing these assets is highly case dependent and will often require negotiation between the parties.  For example, a party’s personal social media page may have no monetary value.  However, if a couple has a social media page or website that generates revenue (such as a blog or Instagram account), the parties will want to give it a monetary value and determine who will be awarded the account.  There will certainly be some digital assets that have no value and you should focus on those digital assets that are most important.

When the parties divide the digital assets, the final decree should include language that allows the party who has been awarded the account the ability to change the password.  Additionally, the decree should include language that the party who is awarded the account is responsible for any fees associated with the account.  For example, if one party is awarded a domain name, that party will be required to pay the fees associated with the domain moving forward.

Some digital assets can be “shared,” which a great way to avoid conflict during divorce.  In many cases, digital assets can be copied and re-created so that both parties can have family photos or videos.  In some instances, digital libraries can be copied, but you cannot violate licensing agreements.

It may be a pain to divide these digital assets, but it should be dealt with during the divorce proceedings, particularly any income-generating assets or virtual currencies.  You do not want to deal with this after your divorce has been finalized.

You should not change passwords or block access to a digital asset until you have agreements with your spouse or a court order allowing you to do so.  Preemptively removing a spouse’s access can create bigger problems for you in the long run and in many instances would be a violation of the county’s standing orders.

When going through a divorce, take the time to discuss your digital assets with your attorney.  These are as important as ever and the attorneys at The Draper Law Firm are ready to help.

Blog Post by Samantha Mori, Associate Attorney

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Today the Texas Supreme Court issued its opinion in the landmark child custody case In re C.J.C.  Holly Draper served as lead counsel for the father, with Brad LaMorgese of Orsinger, Nelson, Downing and Anderson serving as co-counsel.  The case began back in 2018 when the child’s mother was tragically killed in a car accident.  The child was three at the time.  Both the maternal grandparents and the mother’s fiance sued for joint custody with the father.  The Court of Appeals ruled the grandparents did not have a right to sue for custody because they could not prove the father was unfit, and the grandparents were dismissed from the suit.  Texas law did not include a similar requirement that the fiance prove the father was unfit, so he was allowed to remain in the case.  A Denton County judge then gave the fiance rights and possession time with the little girl over the father’s objections.  We sought relief from the Texas Supreme Court, arguing that the trial judge violated the fit father’s constitutional rights when she gave rights and possession to a non-parent.

The case has garnered national attention, with nine different organizations filing amicus briefs into the case in support of our position.  The State of Texas and the Texas Public Policy Foundation participated with Holly Draper in oral arguments in support of the father.  Oral arguments were held via zoom on April 22 after COVID-19 delayed the original argument date.

The Court’s ruling today is a huge victory for parents in Texas.  Eight justices joined the majority opinion, with Justice Lehrmann issuing a concurring opinion.  The majority opinion found this case to be very similar to the landmark United States Supreme Case of Troxel v. Granville and rejected the opposing party’s position that the fit parent presumption should not apply because this case involved a modification.  The Court held that “we read any best-interest determination in which the court weighs a fit parent’s rights against a claim to conservatorship or access by a nonparent to include a presumption that a fit parent acts in his or her child’s best interests.”  The Court also clearly found the father to be fit in this case.  You can read the entire opinion here.

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