You may have fond memories of your wedding day in Dallas, but since then your marriage has deteriorated. Divorce is not an experience anyone wishes to go through, although many do. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50 percent of marriages end in divorce within 20 years. Texas has the highest number of divorces compared to any other state. If you are considering a divorce, or your spouse has asked for a divorce, it is important that you know your rights.
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Grounds For Divorce
Texas is one of the states in which there are grounds for divorce, although couples can also divorce using the grounds of “insupportabilty,” which is not a fault. A well-known ground for divorce is adultery. It is important that you understand that adultery need not be proven, but can be shown to exist by circumstantial evidence alone. Credit card bills, phone records, bank statements, emails, text messages (sexting), photos or videos can show that adultery was being committed.
Other examples of grounds for divorce include cruelty, abandonment, living apart for at least three years, being confined to a mental hospital or prison or convicted of a felony.
Grounds for divorce are important because they can impact the division of property or alimony determinations.
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One of the more emotional issues regarding a divorce is the child custody determination. Parents are encouraged to come to an agreement regarding custody. If the parents can’t agree, the court will make the determination.
There are four basic combinations of child custody, which are:
- Joint legal and joint physical custody (the most common)
- Joint legal and sole physical custody (the noncustodial parent has visitation)
- Sole legal and joint physical custody (one parent makes the important decisions, but parenting time is shared)
- Sole legal and sole physical custody (uncommon but would be awarded in the case of domestic violence)
A parenting plan will need to be developed and agreed to as part of the divorce decree.
When the noncustodial parent fails to pay child support as ordered, the custodial parent can seek enforcement by the court. In Texas, methods of enforcement include wage garnishment, seizure of lottery winnings and tax refunds and suspension of drivers’, business and hunting licenses. If the child support continues to go unpaid, the noncustodial parent can be held in contempt and be sentenced to six months in jail.
Generally, the obligation ends when the child reaches 18 years of age or the child graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. However, a court can order the obligation to continue for an indefinite period if the child is disabled.
Child Custody Modifications
If there is one constant in life, it is change. When your life changes your child custody arrangements with your former spouse may also need to change. When that happens, you and your spouse will need to agree to child custody modifications. Examples of reasons to change child custody include:
- Change of employment for one parent
- Illness or medical condition of either parent or the child
- Relocation either within Dallas, or farther away
- Education considerations such as special schooling
Even when the child custody change is uncontested, it is wise to obtain the legal advice of an experienced divorce lawyer.
Occasionally the primary custodial parent will want to move out of state and take the children. This cannot be done without express permission and a child custody modification. Whether you are the parent wishing to enforce your visitation rights, or you are the parent who needs to move for some reason, advice from a divorce attorney is important. Taking the children without a proper child custody modification approved by the court could result in criminal charges.
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In Texas, the marital property is considered community property, although the division is not necessarily a 50/50 split. Property is divided in a manner that the court determines is fair. For example, if one spouse is found to have committed adultery, that spouse could receive less communal property or be required to pay alimony. Likewise, if a spouse would normally be considered eligible for alimony, but committed adultery, the alimony could be denied.
Alimony Or Spousal Support
Alimony, also called spousal support, is only allowed under certain specific circumstances in Texas. Alimony can be awarded if:
- There was domestic violence within two years of the divorce (alimony goes to the victim)
- A spouse of at least 10 years lacks the skills to earn a living wage (alimony goes to the under-earning spouse)
- A spouse is mentally ill or physically incapable of earning a living wage (alimony is paid by the wage-earning spouse)
Division Of Property
A Dallas couple with few assets might find it easy to make a list of their assets and debts and divide them. For other couples, it is not quite as simple. It is important to keep in mind that both the assets and the debts are divided. So if there is a $15,000 credit card bill, it belongs to both parties, even if one party was responsible for using the credit card. An exception might be if the credit card contained charges related to adultery. The types of assets included in the property division are:
- All real estate including the family home
- All liquid assets such as stocks, bonds, checking and savings account balances
- Jewelry, clothing and furniture
- All motor vehicles
- Collections of items (guns or artwork for example)
- Retirement funds (Keoghs, 401(k)s, IRAs)
- Credit card balances and other unsecured debt
Items that are not included in the division of property include:
- Premarital retirement funds
- Property acquired before the marriage
- Inheritance or other similar gifts, if they were kept separate and not mingled with marital property
Divorce And Bankruptcy
One very good reason to have an attorney is to protect your interests in the event of an impending bankruptcy. For example, if your spouse is ordered to pay a credit card debt as part of the divorce agreement, and declares bankruptcy after the divorce, the creditors could come after you. Skilled legal advice will be needed to handle these types of issues.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women who experience severe aggression by men, such as having their lives threatened, are more likely to be unemployed or have health problems. Domestic violence is one of the grounds for divorce, and can also impact the division of property and an alimony award.
- If you have been subjected to domestic violence, it is critical that you seek legal advice and that you and your children remain safe during the divorce process.
- If you have been falsely accused of domestic violence, it is critical that you seek legal advice to protect your parenting rights and obtain your portion of the marital property.
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There are few life events more stressful than a divorce. Even when it is something that you want, it can still bring about feelings of failure and concern for the well-being of your children. A divorce lawyer is there to look after your best interests, at a time when you might have difficulty looking after yourself.
A lawyer will explain the process to you, each step of the way, and will give you legal advice based on experience. Your attorney will give you legal options, although the choices will always be yours to make.
How To Choose A Divorce Lawyer
When looking for an attorney, make certain that he or she practices regularly in Dallas County, as well as in Collin, Denton, Kaufman and Rockwall Counties if that is appropriate for your location.
Look for a Dallas divorce attorney who focuses his or her legal practice on divorce. You may have a family lawyer for other types of business, but for a divorce, you want a lawyer who concentrates his or her practice on divorce. Look for experience and look for someone you can talk to. For a short while, your divorce attorney will be your closest ally. Choose wisely.