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Common law marriage is a rapidly disappearing concept in American family law. This is reflected in the fact that very few states throughout the country recognize common law marriage in their legal system. Texas is among the few states left in the union which still recognize this unique institution. In this post, we will discuss the basics of common law marriage here in Texas, highlight how this institution can be created, and point out the contexts in which this institution has the most significance.

Basics of Common Law Marriage

Common law marriage – commonly known as “marriage without formalities” or “informal marriage” in Texas law – describes a relationship which has the outward appearance of marriage without the formality of marriage. In other words, the couple doesn’t have a certificate of marriage signed and approved by the state. The couple has many of the external signs of being married, such as living together, sharing bank accounts, sharing expenses, filing joint tax returns, and so forth.

If a marriage is in fact a common law marriage and is recognized as such by the state, then the couple will have the same privileges and benefits as couples who are formally married. Hence, the determination of whether a common law marriage is valid is a highly important matter.

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Posted on in Divorce

As hard as it may be for younger people to believe, at one time, divorce was a very rare occurrence. In fact, in certain eras, divorce was almost taboo, something approaching a scandal. Things have changed substantially in recent decades, and now divorce is exceedingly common. What's more, the stigma of divorce has gradually dissipated as well. The stigma has receded in tandem with the increased frequency of divorce and changing perception of marriage and relationships in general.

In this post, we will look at some recent statistics on marriage and divorce to get a sense of what's going on here in the Lone Star State.

Divorce Rates in the State of Texas

Let's look at data from a few years ago, as this data are more readily available. Back in 2017, the divorce rate in Texas was 2.2 per 1,000 inhabitants. This rate represents a steady decrease in recent years. For instance, back in 1990, Texas had a divorce rate which was more than double the current rate at 5.5 per 1,000 inhabitants. By 2007, the rate had dropped to 3.3, and then in 2016 it was 2.6. So, although divorce is much more common now than it was several generations ago, the rate of divorce in Texas has actually been declining in the recent past.

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Recently, we have discussed some of the basics regarding child support awards and spousal maintenance awards. As we saw, both of these obligations are based on complex systems built into the fabric of Texas family law. What we didn’t discuss in any detail, however, is the fact that both of these obligations can be modified after an initial determination. Depending on the circumstances at hand, a Texas judge can decide to change or, in the case of spousal maintenance, even eliminate an obligation altogether.

In this post, we will discuss some of the factors which go into the decision-making process underlying these modifications.

Modifying a Texas Child Support Award

As mentioned, child support awards are determined according to a well-established system in Texas. But, after an award has been created, this doesn’t mean that this obligation will remain in place indefinitely. Whenever there is a significant change in either parent's life, or the child's life, this change may be sufficient to amend the award.

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If your spouse or partner avoids being served legal orders through conventional methods, Texas now allows service of process through social media and email. This change took effect at the beginning of 2021, after the Texas Supreme Court approved changes to rules in the state.

Some people try to evade service processors, so they can avoid receiving divorce petitions, custody orders, and other legal documents. The law change makes it much easier for you to serve legal documents on a current or former spouse. However, you still have to try the old-fashioned ways first.

First, try to serve documents the traditional way

Your first attempts to serve legal documents must include these traditional methods:

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One of the central aspects of child care is parental visitation. When a married couple breaks up, they need to develop a child custody agreement. The custody agreement determines certain things such as who will have primary physical custody, shared legal custody, and so forth. Visitation rights are another key part of caring for the child shared between the parties. In this post, we will lay out the basics on how the State of Texas deals with this critically important matter.

Texas Believes in the Necessity of Dual Parental Involvement

The first thing to know when it comes to visitation rights in Texas is that our system believes that the welfare of children is best promoted by having involving from both parents. This is sort of the “first principle” when it comes to understanding how our visitation rights work. Unless a parent is unstable, or potentially dangerous, the State of Texas adheres to the notion that a child should have regular contact with both parents. This principle informs Texas's laws on visitation, as is reflects in Texas's “Standard Possession Order,” which we will discuss below.

Parents Can Develop Their Own Visitation Schedules

The next thing to know is that parents are able to develop their own visitation schedules if they choose to do so. In some ways, this is the best option, because parents often have unusual schedules which may make following a pre-arranged schedule a difficult task. Suppose one parent is a police officer or firefighter; that parent may be called into work at random times with very little notice. Or, that parent may have to work very long hours during a particular stretch of time, which prevents that parent from being able to see his or her child on a certain schedule. The key point is that Texas courts will generally approve a visitation schedule developed independently by parents.

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Going through a divorce can be a devastating experience. It can be even more challenging under the bright lights of the social media age. If you are a fervent user of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other platforms, it's vital to your future to understand how these applications can affect the outcome of your divorce.

Social media dos and don’ts during divorce

So many Texans’ lives are chronicled these days on social media. But once you decide to end your marriage, you need to change your social media habits, since anything you post may be used against you in court. Here are some general rules for managing your online presence:

What you should do with your social media accounts:

  • If possible, stop using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram until your divorce is final
  • Change your passwords so your spouse or others can’t access your accounts
  • Change your security to the highest level possible to restrict what others can see
  • Monitor your children's social media activity

What you should NOT do on social media:

  • Vent against your soon-to-be-ex or refer to them at all
  • Mention anything about your divorce
  • Post photos that cast you in a negative light
  • Discuss controversial or unpleasant topics
  • Mention or post photos of a new love interest
  • Never post pictures of a new romantic partner with your children
  • Boast about or show pictures of expensive purchases, such as a new car

Social media silence is golden

Sometimes, divorcing spouses attempt to mess with each other by posting unkind messages or pictures. Don’t take the bait. Instead, if your spouse makes threatening or rude comments or exercises any of the behaviors above, alert your attorney as it may be evidence that can help your case.

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In most cases, child support payments end in Texas when your child graduates from high school or turns 18 years old, whichever comes last.For example, if your child is still enrolled in high school after turning 18, support continues until they graduate. If they graduate at age 17 or younger, support typically ends the same month they turn 18 years old.

Support may continue for children with disabilities

There are exceptions. Support payments may be required beyond a child's 18th birthday and high school graduation in certain circumstances. If the child has a disability, support can be ordered for an “indefinite” period. For that to happen, the court must believe that:

  1. The child requires substantial supervision and treatment.
  2. The child cannot care for themselves due to a mental or physical disability, regardless of whether they live at home or in an assisted living facility.
  3. The child's disability existed or was known to exist before they turn 18 years old.

The formula for calculating support for a child with special needs is different from a standard child support order. Payments are actually established on a case-by-case basis.

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At one point or another, most people have heard of the process referred to as “mediation” in family law. Most people understand that mediation is essentially an alternative to the traditional, court-based divorce process. However, few people know much about the details of how the mediation process works. Mediation is an increasingly common alternative, both in Texas and throughout the nation, mainly because it offers several key advantages. Depending on the specifics of the situation, mediation can be a viable method for developing the agreements (i.e. child custody, visitation, etc.) necessary to accomplish a divorce.

In this post, we will go over the essentials of the mediation procedure here in Texas. Then, we will point out the two main advantages of this process.

Basic Overview of the Mediation Process

Mediation has a formal structure which is consistent from one case to another; however, the results of any given mediation depend completely on the facts, circumstances and desires of the parties involved. In other words, although the mediation structure is predictable, the outcome of any given mediation is not so predictable. A single person will assume the role of the “mediator” in the mediation process. This person literally acts as the facilitator who assists both sides of the aisle in coming to agreements on the disputes of the divorce. In mediation, both sides attempt to independently come to agreement on any disputed issues of the divorce, such as child custody, visitation, property division, asset protection, alimony and so forth.

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Spousal maintenance – also referred to as “alimony” in many states throughout the nation – refers to financial support given to a person by that person's former spouse. Spousal maintenance can be given for a variety of different reasons in the State of Texas. When considering spousal maintenance, Texas judges conduct a case-by-case analysis and give weight to a range of factors; however, certain conditions must be present in order for a spousal maintenance request to be considered initially. Judges have some leeway in determining whether maintenance is appropriate in a given situation, but Texas law is rather strict in its treatment of the duration and amount of maintenance orders.

In this post, we will discuss the qualifications of spousal maintenance, and the standing presumption against maintenance in Texas. We will also go over some of the factors which play into spousal maintenance determinations, and how duration is decided.

Qualifications of Spousal Maintenance in Texas Law

Under Texas law, either spouse can request spousal maintenance following a divorce. But, in order for a maintenance request to even be considered, the requesting spouse must demonstrate that he or she lacks the ability to provide for essential or basic minimum needs. In addition, once that hurdle is met, the requesting spouse must show that at least one of four conditions are present: (1) the maintenance giving spouse was convicted of domestic violence within the last two years before the filing of the divorce, (2) the couple was married for a minimum of 10 years, and the requesting spouse lacks the ability to provide for basic minimum needs, (3) the requesting spouse possesses a physical or mental disability which impedes his or her ability to provide for basic minimum needs, or (4) the requesting spouse must take care of a child who requires supervision due to a physical or mental disability, and this parental responsibility inhibits the spouse from being self-supportive.

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Adoption can be a wonderful way for a child to receive a caring, loving parent. As most readers know, adoption is the formal transferring of parental rights to another person who may or may not be related to the child. The circumstances under which adoption may arise can vary tremendously. In some cases, a stepparent may choose to adopt the child of his or her spouse; in other cases, a person may choose to adopt simply because of a desire to parent a child. Finally, infertility may lead others to adopt. Whatever the case may be, the procedure for adopting a child in Texas is complex and requires expert guidance to fully traverse.

In this post, we will go over the essentials of the adoption process; those who would like to learn more are encouraged to contact The Ramage Law Group for more information.

Adoption vs. Conservatorship

Before discussing the adoption procedure, we should point out that adoption is legally distinguishable from another kind of custody – conservatorship. In the State of Texas, a court may grant a non-biological relative or third-party a conservatorship over a child for numerous possible reasons. This conservatorship bestows upon the holder various rights which are similar to the rights possessed by a biological parent. However, conservatorship is distinct from legal parenthood on several critical points. For one, a child who has a conservator does not automatically have inheritance rights; this is different from a parent-child relationship in which the child has automatic inheritance rights. What's more, the full rights of the conservatorship are actually limited to those which have been specifically identified by the court. This is unlike a legal parent who has full rights. And finally, conservatorships can always be subject to change in the future. In an adoption, the parent-child relationship is established and is not subject to change.

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Too many Texas spouses struggle going through the motions of an unhappy marriage. Often, it's due to the belief that things will get better, or they’re afraid of the impact divorce will have on their children.

However, in many cases, divorce is a positive step for the entire family. Once a marriage is broken beyond repair, it's vital to change course when anger, frustration and resentment consume the relationship.

Five “freeing” effects of divorce

Divorce is never easy, and families are forever changed. But it's often for the better as ex-spouses can focus on the needs of their children to forge a new dynamic. The benefits include:

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Prenuptial agreements – also referred to as “premarital agreements” in Texas – are a curious thing in the context of marriage. On the one hand, many people insist that these agreements are necessary to ensure that no spouse is unfairly impacted by a divorce. On the other hand, prenuptial agreements are not exactly the most romantic things, and in some ways seem incongruous with the general purpose of marriage to begin with. The best approach is likely to be somewhere in the middle: use prenups when necessary, but they may not always be necessary. Texas is a community property state, which has a decisive role in property division in divorces without a prenuptial agreement. If a couple feels that this default position is fine, then perhaps a prenup is simply not necessary.

In this post, we’d like to give a basic overview of how courts treat prenuptial agreements. Most readers have at least a general idea of how these agreements work. A prenuptial agreement is a contract which predetermines things such as property division, asset protection, inheritance, debt responsibility, and so forth. But how do courts treat these agreements? Let's discuss in a bit of detail.

Texas Courts Apply Basic Contract Law Principles to Agreements

Chapter 4 of Subtitle (1)(B) within the Texas Family Code deals with both premarital and marital property agreements. This is where we can find the specific rules which govern prenuptial agreements. When it comes to the enforcement of these agreements, if we look at the code, we can see that Texas courts apply many of the basic principles of contract law. This means, for instance, that prenuptial agreements must be entered into voluntarily in order to be upheld. This is taken right from basic contract law which states that there must be a valid “acceptance” to create a contract.

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The thought of ending a once-loving relationship can be bad enough on its own, but adding an uncertain financial future to the equation presents an extra layer of fear and anxiety to any divorce between Texas spouses.

But the good news is there are steps you can take to protect your new life as a single person. First, consult with an experienced and compassionate family law attorney who can guide you through the process.

Five steps to protect your future financial well-being

In addition to charting a budget for paying monthly bills, including mortgage or rent, utilities and other expenses, it's vital to take steps to protect assets by:

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When Texas spouses decide to end their marriage, nothing is more painful than telling their children they are getting a divorce. While it won’t be easy, kids should hear the news from both parents at the same time.

How your children respond will likely depend upon their age and what you choose to share. Younger kids will need reassurance that the breakup is not their fault, while high schoolers will want more details about the divorce and how it will impact their lives.

Keep it simple and skip the messy details

Present a united front with your spouse and avoid blaming each other, as it can force kids to take sides. Instead, keep the messaging uncomplicated and focus on the future, such as:

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Nesting is a relatively recent trend among divorced and divorcing parents in Texas who share the family home, taking turns being with their children. As a result, kids remain in familiar surroundings, which can help them better adapt to their new situation.

The parents can stay in separate areas in the home, but most live in other locations. Some share an off-site apartment or house when they are “off-duty,” while others live part-time with family or even friends.

Putting the children first

Research shows children of divorced parents suffer more psychological and behavioral harm when their parents don’t get along. Nesting can give them a stable environment, especially in the early stages of a divorce.

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The end of a marriage can take a heavy toll on spouses, children, close friends and family members. The emotional consequences can be even greater when private information surrounding your divorce is available for the public to see.

Keeping those details away from prying eyes depends upon your behavior and working with an experienced family law attorney who understands how Texas privacy laws can keep certain information from becoming public.

Avoid venting on social media

One key to minimizing the harm for children is for both spouses to remain civil. Avoid bashing the other party through digital communications, including emails, texts, tweets, Facebook posts or anything that could appear before a judge.

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Co-parenting after a divorce or separation is never easy. Every relationship is different, and some ex-spouses have more conflict than others.

While each marriage and divorce are unique, the common goal should be to ensure that children have a safe, stable and close relationship with both parents.

Remember! It's not about you

Putting aside negative feelings for a former spouse can be extremely challenging. However, unless abuse or neglect is present, Texas parents need to remember that children of divorce can still thrive when both mom and dad play a positive role in their daily lives. Here are some crucial things to remember:

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Today, the Texas Legislature passed a law that would extend the statute of limitations on special education cases from one year to two! This will make Texas law consistent with Federal law. More importantly, it allows time for parents to gather information and make informed decisions about legally enforcing their child's right to a Free Appropriate Public Education.

This is a huge victory for parents of disabled children. It is not unusual for it to take the better part of a school year to realize the impact of schools either not implementing an IEP, failing to provide appropriate services, or the impact of an inappropriate placement. Frequently, parents realize the problem after almost a year has passed, and that leaves little time to hold schools accountable and pursue better services for their children. The expansion of the limitations period will offer greater protection to parents and children.

Parents and their attorneys and advocates have been pleading for this for years. Now the law has passed both the House and the Senate. Now it is up to the Governor to sign it.

The key to a successful co-parenting relationship is creating a peaceful and loving environment for your child. Those goals can usually be accomplished when parents abide by the terms of their parenting plan while remaining flexible with their ex.

Regardless of whether Texas co-parents get along or try to avoid contact, it's crucial to detail the co-parenting relationship by keeping a journal, which may be a book or an app that keeps comprehensive records.

Details to include in a co-parenting journal

Diligence and consistency are the keys. You should make an entry after every exchange with the other parent. Include the date and time for items, such as:

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Going in front of a Texas judge for any family law matter can be a frightening and intimidating experience, especially if you aren’t familiar with the legal process.

However, doing a little homework and working with an experienced family law attorney can go a long way to presenting a persuasive and thorough case to achieve the best possible outcome.

Types of family court matters

A variety of circumstances exist where one or both parents, children, grandparents or others may be called before a family court judge. These include:

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