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.

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.

What is forensic accounting and how can it impact high net worth divorces in Texas?

Merriam Webster defines the term “forensic” as “relating to or dealing with the application of scientific knowledge to legal problems”. A Forensic Accountant is often retained to analyze, interpret, summarize and present complex financial and business related issues. Forensic Accountants can be engaged in public practice or employed by insurance companies, banks, police forces, government agencies and other organizations. Forensic accountants integrate investigative, auditing, and accounting skills. A forensic accountant is used to review data in a critical manner in order to identify patterns of suspicious behavior. An experienced forensic accountant does not solely rely on statistical probabilities but instead turns to experience in similar situations, instinct, and practiced problem solving.

Do you have a significant amount of property and assets at stake in your divorce in Texas?  If so, then you may have more to lose during the divorce.  Clients with a high net worth have more at stake when dividing up property and determining asset splits.  Are you worried about the outcome of the case and your finances?  If so, you should aggressively seek out legal protection in the form of a expert attorney with solid experience advocating for clients in high net worth divorce proceedings.  That ensures that you can obtain a favorable outcome in your case.  One of the priorities in any divorce is to untangle finances.  But be cautious because these types of decisions can affect you all the way to retirement.  Consulting a high net worth divorce attorney who can bring in a knowledgeable forensic accountant to work on your complex case is a huge advantage as you begin your legal battles. There are some tips you can follow to make sure you are prepared in any scenario of a divorce: have access to your own funds, make copies of important documents, understand the basics of property division.

It is highly encouraged for high net worth divorce parties to aggressively seek out and invest in an experienced high net worth attorney who can bring to bear a formidable forensic accountant.  Don’t let your former spouse gain any more time to hide information from you. The sooner you hire your expert divorce attorney, the more money, time, and and sanity you’ll save in the long run. During divorce proceedings, you want a forensic accountant familiar with legal concepts and procedures who will work hand-in-hand with your lawyer.  This forensic accountant will be an experienced hand in assisting with legal proceedings, including testifying in court as an expert witness and preparing visual aids to support trial evidence.

If you or anyone you know is going through a high net worth divorce in or around Houston, Texas, you need to retain the counsel of Houston’s premier divorce attorney, Lacy LaFour. Visit www.lafourlaw.com or call 713-223-7700 to schedule your initial consultation, today!

Determining Community property and Shared property

When assessing the split of property during a divorce, it is important to understand the difference between “community” and “separate” property.

Community Property/Assets

From the beginning of marriage, all money earned is owed by both parties till the separation date. All property acquired using community money is owned equally by husband and wife. Whomever makes the purchase during this time frame does not matter. When looking at debts, all debt accrued during marriage is also split between both parties as community debts. Community debts may include unpaid balances on credit cards, home mortgages and car loan balances. It goes without saying that it is recommended to cancel all bank accounts, credit cards and joint accounts after divorce.

Separate Property/Assets

Separate property is considered anything owned prior to marriage, inherited or received as a gift during marriage, or anything earned after the date of separation. When one party gives up any property to the other party in writing, the property is then classified as separate property. There are instances where separate property can become tied-in with community property.  Either party may have to show evidence that documents payment paid via “separate” money instead of “community” money. Any debt incurred prior to marriage is considered separate debt, meaning it stays only with the original party who accrued it. Examples of separate debt include student loans, job training loans, or even adult education course debts. If one person covers the down payment on a car, and then pays off the car with community money after marriage, the original down payment will be paid back because it is considered separate property.

Dividing the Property

In some states, the parties’ community property has to be divided “equally.” That does not mean that each item of community property has to be divided equally, but the distribution has to be nearly equal division of the total value of the community property. Many community property states, allow the court to make an “equitable” division of community property that is “fair” to both spouses. In these states, the courts will consider various factors when making the division, such as each spouse’s current income and future earning potential. Some states will consider a spouse’s fault in causing the divorce or fraud in dealing with the parties’ property or assets during the marriage lifespan. Sometimes the “community” property tag is automatically put on most assets in the divorce, and each party must provide documented evidence of its “separate” value.

The Bottom Line

If you’re going through a divorce in Houston, Texas, and you have a spider web of properties and assets at stake, you need an experienced Houston Divorce Lawyer from LaFour Law to work directly with you and provide the legal representation that’s necessary to ensure an outcome in line with your best interests. Please call LaFour Law today at 713.223.7700 or reach us at www.lafourlaw.com.

 

Cohabitation in Texas

While the Texas legislature has not enacted any provision in the family code for a cohabitation agreement, the feeling in the legal community is that agreements are valid and can be upheld to the court.  In general, courts like parties to make clear agreements and spell out their rights.  Cohabitation agreements are important in Texas because of the concept of common law marriage.  Texas law states that if a man and woman agree to be married and, after the agreement, they live in Texas as husband and wife and represent themselves as common law married, they are in fact common law married.  A common law marriage is valid in Texas as a ceremonial marriage that has been performed by a minister.

Problems commonly arise when a man and woman live together and other people think they are husband and wife.  They occasionally check into a hotel as husband and wife or join a gym due to commonly extended retail discounts.  Perception becomes reality, so to speak. Issues arise when the relationship frays and it becomes necessary to enter into divorce proceedings. One of the two parties might believe that what they thought was their property is actually classified under Texas law as community property.

This is why you need a cohabitation agreement. A cohabitation agreement is a marital contract that is entered into by two people who are in a long term relationship and live together.  This agreement specifies how income, property and debt will be divided if the relationship should end.  Additionally, a cohabitation agreement can specify what/if any form of spousal support is expected to be paid and the amount of support and the duration of support payments in the event of a separation or divorce.  Another common feature of cohabitation involves life insurance policies to protect the person who is financially dependent on the other.

Generally speaking, under Texas law, unmarried cohabitants do not get to enjoy the same rights as married couples, particularly with the respect to property acquired during the relationship.  Marital property laws do not apply to unmarried couples, even those are in long term relationships.  The characterization of property acquired by unmarried cohabitants is less clear than married couples whose property is governed by marriage laws.  Some of the property acquired by unmarried couples can be owned jointly, but it may difficult to divide such property when the relationship comes to an end.  There is no financial obligation attached to a couple who cohabits absent a clear written agreement.  If the relationship ends, and there is no cohabitation agreement in place, the aftermath as both parties engage in a veritable free-for-all can be worse than the reasons for the breakup in the first place!

If you’re cohabiting in Texas, you need to consider the ramifications of your relationship, especially in the event of a breakup. It’s time to consult with a premier Houston divorce and family lawyer, Lacy Lafour and her team at LaFour Law.  To reach them today, visit www.lafourlaw.com or call 713.223.7700.

My 10-year old son tells me every time he comes to visit that he wants to live with me, not his mom. I’m not his primary caretaker, but think I should be especially since he tells me he wants to live with me. What can I do to get primary custody here in Texas?

Texas family courts have recognized several situations that would qualify as a material and substantial change in the circumstances of a child or parent affected by a custody or visitation order. Examples include a parent’s remarriage, a medical condition that adversely affects a parent’s ability to function and work on a regular basis, a parent’s criminal acts and convictions, or a parent’s changes in residence that make visitation a hardship for the other parent.

When analyzing what we know about custody, we have to first break it down into two concepts, “conservatorship” and “possession”. “Conservatorship” is defined as the time a parent has decision-making rights a parent has on behalf the child. For example, selecting a school to attend, decisions made on medical, and other major decisions. “Possession” refers to the time when parents have physical possession of the children.

Children over the age of 12 can use the “Child Preference” option to select which parent they want to live with. Usually an interview in the judge’s private quarters will be held with the child. Even when older children ask to switch parental custody, the courts have to determine that it is in the best interest of the child.

If a custodial parent has voluntarily given up care and custody to another person for a least six months, the courts may modify the original custody order. This situation is only invalid if a custodial parent has to relinquish the care of a child during a period of military deployment, mobilization or duty.

When a parent files a motion to modify a child custody order within one year after the original order was made, he or she must also submit an affidavit to the court. The affidavit must include at least one of the following allegations, including support for the parent’s contention:

  • the child’s current environment may endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development
  • the custodial parent is seeking the modification, and the modification would be in the child’s best interests
  • the custodial parent has voluntarily relinquished the custody and care of the child, and the modification would be in the child’s best interests.

Outside of the other parent fully agreeing with your request to modify a child custody or visitation order, you should seek help from an experienced Texas family lawyer. Given the high stakes, you need counsel from Houston, Texas’ premier divorce and family lawyer, Lacy Lafour. Contact her today and ensure the best possible outcome for you and your child.

A Prenup in Texas

Weddings are supposed to celebrate the love of two happy people.  However in legal terms, marriage in Texas (and every other state) is a contract that involves financial rights and obligations.   A prenuptial agreement in Texas helps a couple define their rights and protects both of the parties in cases of divorce or death.  It can also be used for the following:

  • Determining the responsibility for premarital debt
  • Defining the ownership of the home
  • Distribution and estate planning after a death
  • Deciding which items are separate property and community property
  • The resolution of financial disputes
  • Spousal obligations
  • Children support

There are 7 reasons you might want to consider a prenuptial agreement in Texas:

1)       You have children from a previous marriage:  A prenuptial agreement in the state of Texas ensures that your assets are protected for the children in case of a death or divorce.  Many prenuptial agreements in Texas make clear that the agreement won’t be valid after a certain number of years.  If you are supporting children from a previous marriage, you might cancel the agreement in Texas after your children are grown.

2)      You own a business: If you own a business and your marriage comes to an end, it could be possible that your spouse ends up owning a portion or all of your business with a prenuptial agreement.

3)      You have significant debt: If you have a large debt load, a prenuptial agreement can protect your spouse and property.  If your partner has a lot of debt, an agreement protects you from being responsible for the rest of the debt if the marriage comes to an end.

4)      You have property that you would like to remain in your family:  Having a prenuptial agreement will ensure you that your family heirlooms or valuables will remain in your family after a divorce or death.

5)      You have inherited wealth or you make more than your partner:  A prenuptial can be used to limit the amount you will pay in support if the marriage ends.  It ensures that your spouse is marrying you for love and not for money.

6)      You earn a lot less than your partner:  Just as this agreement can be used to protect a spouse, it can be used to ensure spousal support of the person with less income.

7)      You plan to quit your job to raise the children: Quitting your job to raise children affects both future, current and potential income and earnings.  A prenuptial agreement ensures that your financial cost of raising children is shared equitably by both parents and the parent who decides not to work is supported if the marriage ends.

In a perfect world, prenuptial agreements wouldn’t be necessary. But here in Houston, Texas, and the real world for that matter, they can sometimes be an absolute necessity before a couple ties the knot. If you live in the Houston area, and you’re contemplating marriage to a high-income earner or you yourself are a wealthy individual, you need legal counsel that can construct a prenuptial agreement that protects you and your assets in case the marriage fails. You need Lacy LaFour and her team of divorce attorneys at LaFour Law Firm PCReach them today and gain trusted, expert counsel from veteran attorneys who’ve represented hundreds of high net worth clients across Houston.

Repercussions of Hiding Assets during Divorce

When dealing with a high net worth divorce, the process can be arduous and very complicated. It is important however to not become anxious and make a mistake that could jeopardize your validity. The most important thing you will have in the courtroom is your credibility. To put it plainly, the more honest and upfront you are, the faster this process can come to completion. Many people and even less than reputable attorneys will advise you to hide your assets. A popular option is to transfer money to third parties, friends, business partners, and family members. If your attorney recommends this course of action, they should be fired immediately. Lying in the court of law could not only hurt your case, but have you sacrificing much more than what was worth hiding in the first place.

Early in the divorce process, you will need to fill out a financial affidavit amongst other financial documents mandated by the law. Proper inventory and accurate information is critical despite the time consuming nature of the matter. Make sure all the recorded information is current and accurately recorded. Omitting information in these documents could position you to end up holding onto liabilities that wouldn’t have originally been there. You could also end up giving up more assets or paying more in alimony that would have otherwise been the case.

The best course of action, when preparing for a split, is to be transparent with your finances. Although you may end up “losing” more than anticipated, there shouldn’t be any extra problems reverberating from ill-conceived dishonesty. During litigation there is a process called “discovery” where each party searches for any assets the other is in possession of. Both sides are obligated to turn over financial information to the other side. During discovery, you are under oath, and lying in a court of law is highly discouraged. If you are discovered hiding assets, this can be considered perjury. Committing perjury is a punishable crime. You could also face sanctions on top of perjury charges. Think about it from this angle, you might give a little more than you preferred during distribution, but at least you walk away with a clean record.

All in all, hiring a good divorce attorney will give you access to a credible source specializing in these types of matters. If you’re in Houston, Texas, you need an attorney with expertise in high-net worth divorces, an attorney who will protect your interests and seek the fairest divorce settlement possible. That attorney is Lacy LaFour and her team at LaFour Law. Reach them at http://lafourlaw.com/contact or 713.223.7700, today.

Determining Community property and Shared property

When assessing the split of property during a divorce, it is important to understand the difference between “community” and “separate” property.

Community Property/Assets

From the beginning of marriage, all money earned is owed by both parties till the separation date. All property acquired using community money is owned equally by husband and wife. Whomever makes the purchase during this time frame does not matter. When looking at debts, all debt accrued during marriage is also split between both parties as community debts. Community debts may include unpaid balances on credit cards, home mortgages and car loan balances. It goes without saying that it is recommended to cancel all bank accounts, credit cards and joint accounts after divorce.

Separate Property/Assets

Separate property is considered anything owned prior to marriage, inherited or received as a gift during marriage, or anything earned after the date of separation. When one party gives up any property to the other party in writing, the property is then classified as separate property. There are instances where separate property can become tied-in with community property.  Either party may have to show evidence that documents payment paid via “separate” money instead of “community” money. Any debt incurred prior to marriage is considered separate debt, meaning it stays only with the original party who accrued it. Examples of separate debt include student loans, job training loans, or even adult education course debts. If one person covers the down payment on a car, and then pays off the car with community money after marriage, the original down payment will be paid back because it is considered separate property.

Dividing the Property

In some states, the parties’ community property has to be divided “equally.” That does not mean that each item of community property has to be divided equally, but the distribution has to be nearly equal division of the total value of the community property. Many community property states, allow the court to make an “equitable” division of community property that is “fair” to both spouses. In these states, the courts will consider various factors when making the division, such as each spouse’s current income and future earning potential. Some states will consider a spouse’s fault in causing the divorce or fraud in dealing with the parties’ property or assets during the marriage lifespan. Sometimes the “community” property tag is automatically put on most assets in the divorce, and each party must provide documented evidence of its “separate” value.

The Bottom Line

If you’re going through a divorce in Houston, Texas, and you have a spider web of properties and assets at stake, you need an experienced Houston Divorce Lawyer from LaFour Law to work directly with you and provide the legal representation that’s necessary to ensure an outcome in line with your best interests. Please call LaFour Law today at 713.223.7700 or reach us at www.lafourlaw.com.