My ex-husband is a successful business man. We divorced three years ago and he moved to New York immediately. Four months ago, he stopped making alimony payments. What can I do here in Houston to help this?

You definitely need to seek legal counsel from a trusted Houston divorce law firm.  Texas courts most often limit alimony payment to three years.  It would be a good starting point to review your divorce decree to see what time limits there may be on alimony payments (“spousal maintenance”) that your husband is required to make to you.

In the state of Texas, time limits of spousal maintenance are set out in the Family Code, unless the parties agree to a different time frame. The Family Code in the state of Texas says the support order is not effective after three (3) years, with the date the divorce decree was signed as the starting time. Of course, it is possible that wording in your own particular divorce degree may supersede this.

The courts of Texas generally limit the spousal support to the shortest possible time for the spouse to begin employment which will provide for his/her “minimal reasonable needs”. Only a disability can continue the time frame indefinitely, and once the disability has been removed, then a motion to modify will likely occur from the ex-spouse.

Texas law has limited the amount of spousal maintenance: the support cannot exceed $2,500.00 per month or 20% of the ex-spouse’s average monthly gross income. The amount set will be only enough to provide the spouse with their minimal reasonable needs. However, parties can agree to a larger sum.  Again, the details regarding your entitlements to alimony can be found in your divorce degree.

Your ability to collect depends entirely upon the wording of your divorce degree.  If your ex-husband, for example, has agreed to pay spousal maintenance (alimony) for 10 or 20 years and it is stated thusly in your divorce degree, then you may be entitled to recovery of these funds.  Otherwise, it is highly unlikely.

As mentioned previously, it would be prudent to seek the advice of a Houston divorce lawyer – a competent, experienced lawyer can quickly review your divorce degree and provide you with the answers and options you seek.  Furthermore, you will most likely need the services of a lawyer to recover your alimony payments if it is found these payments are rightfully due you.  Before beginning, it is good to know that extracting alimony payments from your ex-husband may be difficult as states usually offer a lot of assistance in collecting child support, and significantly less help collecting past-due alimony.  Reach Lacy Lafour and her team at LaFour Law today and let us help you fight for what’s yours.

- I’m contemplating divorce from my wife, and I have sizable retirement accounts and investments. How can I protect these from her during the divorce proceedings here in Texas?

Texas is a community property state. Community property is defined as property that either spouse acquired during marriage. According to state law, all property is presumed to be community property unless and until the party claiming otherwise can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that it is separate property. You will definitely need an experienced Houston divorce lawyer, one with particular and specific expertise in advocating on behalf of high net worth and asset laden clients to guide you through the process of this divorce.

Point blank – it is highly unlikely that you will not be required by Texas law to share your retirement accounts with your spouse if the two of you have been married for at least 10 years. To the extent that a married person accumulates an interest in a pension, retirement, profit sharing, or other employee benefit plan during the marriage, it is community property and subject to division upon divorce. If a court awards a portion of one spouse’s retirement benefits to the other spouse, the attorneys will prepare a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to be sent to the employer, who will be ordered to distribute benefits to each spouse in accordance with the court’s order.

In the case of a 401(k), the employer usually disburses the funds in 30 to 90 days. In the case of benefits to be paid upon retirement, such as a pension plan, the employer will be given a calculation of a percentage to be applied when payments begin, and the employer will be ordered to send the appropriate amounts to the other spouse in accordance with the court’s order.

Like other community property assets, retirement and pension accounts do not have to be divided exactly equally between the spouses. If each spouse has a separate retirement account or pension for his or her own job, for example, the court might simply award each spouse his or her own account, particularly if the amounts in each are relatively similar or the award of other community property makes up the difference.

In terms of protecting your financial assets, many lawyers advise freezing or closing joint bank and credit card accounts to prevent you from being responsible for buying sprees by your soon-to-be former spouse. Car insurance policies and the like should also be changed to reflect your new solo status.

With your attorney’s help, ask for a full disclosure of all joint and individually owned financial assets so you can know where your money is and where it goes. Make copies for safekeeping of loans and credit card accounts.  Also make copies of documents such as home equity lines, past tax returns,  and business debts. Identify all non-marital assets that are considered to belong to only one spouse, such as property brought to the marriage, inheritances and gifts given specifically to one person.

If you enlist the counsel of Lacy LaFour and her team at LaFour Law, you can be assured of rock-solid advocacy on your behalf throughout this entire, complex divorce process.  Reach us today at 713.223.7700 for a private consultation.

I divorced my husband two year ago, and we have shared custody of our two kids. I want to move to Tennessee. Can I take the kids with me?

The short answer is “No.”  If you and your husband share joint custody of the children, you cannot just pick up your kids and leave, even if you are the custodial parent. If your ex-husband does not want you to leave the state, it is advised that you seek legal counsel with a Houston child custody lawyer as your case is not a simple one.

In most cases, initial custody orders prohibit the primary parent from moving outside of a specific area (usually the child’s current county of residence plus any contiguous counties). Therefore, when parents want to move out of state with their children, they need to get a court order allowing them to do so; they can’t just pick up and leave.

Even if you have an older order (or agreement) that doesn’t restrict your child’s residence to a particular area, you still need to give your ex-husband notice if you intend to move with the children. If your ex-husband wants to stop you from moving, he may file an application for a temporary restraining order which prevents you from moving until a court can hold a relocation hearing.

At the hearing, you’ll have to show compelling reasons for the proposed move, which may include a job relocation (if you can’t find comparable work locally), or a relocation to be closer to family, who will help support and care for the child. If the court suspects that you’re moving to interfere with the child’s relationship with your ex-husband, you will not be allowed to go.

Courts in Texas typically award divorcing parents “joint managing conservatorship” (referred to as “joint legal custody” in some states) over their child. This means the parents will share the right to make important decisions about their child’s life, including where the child will live.  In cases involving domestic violence or abuse the court may award physical and legal custody to one parent alone (sole conservator.

Note:  If your child does move to a state other than where their custody case was decided, it is possible that the state with jurisdiction over your child custody case may also change. For example, if the children move away, yet maintain a strong connection to the original home state of the custody case, (by frequently visiting their non-custodial parent in that state), that state retains jurisdiction.  If both parents move to states other than the original home state of the custody case, the new state of residence of the children becomes the one with jurisdiction over the case.

Once again, child custody questions in Texas can be complex and far reaching. You need the expertise of the team at LaFour Law to navigate these waters.  Reach them today at www.lafourlaw.com or 713.223.7700 to schedule a private consultation.

My husband cheated on me, and I’ve filed for divorce in Houston. But, he won’t grant the divorce. What can I do?

Note:  Before beginning, if your husband has filed an answer or a general denial, or has come to any court proceeding in your case and will not agree to sign the Final Decree, your case is contested. It is very difficult to represent yourself in a contested case. If your case is contested, you should seek the advice and assistance of an experienced Houston divorce attorney.

If your spouse does not want the divorce, you are still able to pursue the divorce on your own provided he decides to completely ignore the petition for divorce.  Default judgments almost always favor the petitioner.  To get a default judgment, you must file a sworn statement telling about your husband’s military status.  This is called “the Service Member’s Affidavit”.  In this affidavit you will state the facts showing the court either:

1. Your husband does not serve in the military, or

2. Your husband does serve in the military, or

3. You cannot determine whether or not you husband serves in the military.

The court can grant a default judgment if your husband does not serve in the military. If the he does serve in the military, the court must appoint an attorney to represent him. If the court cannot determine whether or not your husband serves in the military, that court may require you to file a bond. The bond is money which would be used by your husband, if it is later determined that he was serving in the military and suffered a loss because of the default judgment.

As a service member, your husband may ask the court to cancel a default judgment that was announced while he was in the military or one that was announced within 60 days of his discharge from the military. Your husband, as a service member, would have 90 days from the time of his discharge from military service to ask the court to cancel the default judgment entered during those time periods.

When asking the court to grant a default judgment, you must also file a Certificate of Last Known Address. This is a signed statement that tells the clerk your husband’s last known address. The clerk will send your husband a notice that the default judgment was entered.

You will also need to prepare the Order for the judge to sign (in a divorce, this is called the Decree of Divorce). In some cases, when service was accomplished by posting or publication, you also need to prepare a Statement of the Evidence for the judge to sign.

If a default judgment is awarded, and a record of testimony is not made, your husband may be granted a new trial, if he requests a new trial within 30 days from the day the judgment or order is signed. Always make sure a court reporter will be on hand when you file.

Look, if your husband cheated, you’re hurting enough. Let the trusted divorce team at LaFour Law come alongside you and provide compassionate advocacy during this difficult, but necessary fight.