What is Divorce Mediation?

For many people, divorce is one the most stressful times in their lives. When a marriage ends, spouses experience a variety of feelings and sometimes act on those feelings in ways that hurt themselves and other people. One way that spouses can forego some of the pain associated with divorce is by using mediation to reach an agreement with their spouse. Divorce lawyers in Houston, TX can help with mediation and facilitate an agreement between the parties during divorce.

The Mediation Process

Mediation starts with the mediator gathering information from the spouses about the divorce, the issues in the divorce, the marriage, and the spouse’s lives. After the mediator has a good picture of the situation, there’s usually an initial meeting introductions between each spouse, that spouse’s attorney and the mediator. In the Houston area, spouses are generally in separate rooms and do not see each other at the mediation. The attorneys occasionally conference together with the mediator.

The mediator goes back and forth between the two spouses gathering information about their positions and what they’d be willing to accept in a divorce settlement. The mediator only tells the other spouse what each spouse authorizes them to tell. They also ask pointed questions about each spouse’s desires in an effort to find common ground. Because the mediator knows the extent of each party’s position, they can see where the positions overlap.

Divorce lawyers in Houston, TX sometimes act as mediators for their clients; counselors and former judges often have mediation firms as well. If the parties can reach an agreement, it’s a critical for each of them to review the agreement with their attorney. Throughout the mediation, the parties need to be open to communication and willing to make compromises in order for the mediation to succeed.

Benefits and Drawbacks to Mediation

In general, mediation can be less stressful, less costly and lead to a better life after the divorce. If the parties can agree to resolve their differences without litigation, they stand a better chance to have an amicable relationship after getting divorced. Also, divorce litigation can be costly because it takes a lot of time to prepare for hearings in front of the judge or jury.

Mediation may not be suitable for victims of domestic violence, although some people find the process empowering even after an abusive relationship. It’s not a perfect solution to everyone’s problems, which is why spouses should consult with their respective divorce lawyers while in mediation.

When Should I Hire a Lawyer?

examBefore reaching an agreement with a mediator and your spouse, it’s a good idea to hire an attorney to discuss your rights and what a reasonable settlement offer would look like. Divorce lawyers in Houston, TX review these settlements and advise their clients on the rights and privileges they may be giving up. If an agreement cannot be reached, the spouse can proceed directly to litigation.

At Ramos Law Firm, our divorce lawyers in Houston, TX are happy to help our clients with mediation and other divorce proceedings. Contact our office to speak with an attorney or learn more about divorce proceedings today.

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Family Law: 9 Common Misconceptions

Happy couple in a convertible car waving with just divorced signDivorce is a traumatic process for the individuals whose marriage is ending as well as their families and children. Because the process is messy, filled with emotions and incredibly stressful, there are many misconceptions surrounding divorces. People should consider these common misconceptions and remember that hiring a Houston divorce lawyer can help them find a reasonable resolution to their marriage.

1. Dissolution of Marriage vs. Legal Separation

Many people are interested in the idea of a legal separation. In some states the dissolution of marriage and legal separation are actually quite similar. They both involve an agreement that the parties reach about child custody, marital property, child support and other elements of the marriage. The difference is that when a couple is only legally separated, they cannot legally enter into a new marriage contract with someone else, while dissolution of marriage allows people to remarry. However, Texas does not recognize legal separation. The only options for couples in Texas is to remain married or to divorce.

2. No Fault Divorce

Under Texas law, there are a variety of legal reasons to justify divorce, including abuse, adultery and insupportability- which is a kind of catchall term for when a couple cannot go on being married.  Almost every person who wants a divorce in Texas can legally get a divorce using the irreconcilable differences justification, or the no fault divorce. Most agreed divorces are granted on the terms of insupportability.

3. Custody Dispute Standards

The Texas courts are required to examine the best interests of the child when ruling on custody. In this analysis, the judge may examine the spouse’s home environment, history of abuse, employment, and a variety of other factors to determine what’s best for the child. A Houston divorce lawyer can help their client make a strong custody argument to the judge.

4. Age When the Child Can State a Custody Preference

In Texas, children are not allowed to testify in court. Many years ago children of a certain age could sign papers stating a preference as to where they will live, however that is no longer allowed. Upon the motion of one party, the court may speak to children at least 12 years of age in the judge’s chamber. Even if the child prefers one parent over the other, the court may overrule the child if they feel another arrangement is in the child’s best interest.

5. Joint Custody Involves Equal Time with the Children

Divorce and  Separation conceptCustody is called conservatorship in Texas. In Texas, courts presume that parents have joint managing conservatorship. A parent with joint custody has the right to manage the child’s affairs like schooling, legal affairs, medical needs, upbringing and extracurricular activities. Just because a parent has joint custody doesn’t mean they have equal time with the child; they just have a say in managing the child’s life. The possession determines how often each parent sees the child, and Houston divorce lawyers can help people form solid parenting plans that include conservatorship and possession.

6. Computation of Child Support

There’s a defined schedule for child support for parents who make less than $8,550 a month that starts at 20% of income per month for one child and increases with more children from there.

7. Wage Assignment

Texas garnishes wages, also called wage assignment, in order to ensure that child support from one parent reaches the other parent. The money is taken directly from the supporting parent’s paycheck.

8. Division of Property

Courts usually divide marital property equally, but they have some discretion to make unequal distribution if, for example, one of the spouses hides assets or one spouse significantly out earns the other, or if one spouse is at fault in the breakup of the marriage. Spouses can also trade off property that they find important for consideration in other property.

9. Cost of Divorce

Divorce is often expensive. By utilizing processes like mediation and effective negotiations, spouses can save themselves time and money. When the divorce drags on through litigation hearings in court, however, it can become expensive.

Contacting a Divorce Lawyer

Qualified Houston Divorce lawyers are able to diligently analyze a spouse’s circumstances and rights to develop an effective and cost controlled plan for dealing with the divorce. If things don’t go as planned, they can also aggressively pursue their client’s interests in court.

The Houston divorce lawyers at Ramos Law Firm are committed to finding the best solutions for our clients. Contact our office for more information or to speak with an attorney today.

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Divorce Mediation: Ramos Law Firm Debunks the Myths

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/13/Statistika_razvodov_v_rossii1.jpgDivorce is an emotionally draining process. Much of this is by nature, as it’s hard for people to avoid feeling pain while ending their marriage. Some emotional pain, however, can be avoided, and mediation is a good way to do this. There are many myths surrounding mediation, but the process benefits a variety of divorcing couples. Divorce lawyers in Houston are able to help with or conduct the mediation process.

What is Mediation?

Mediation is a non-adversarial way to settle issues in a divorce through compromise. During the mediation process, the spouses are separated and the mediator goes back and forth between the spouses gathering information and relaying positions. The mediator is only authorized to tell the other spouse what the first spouse allows, but they have the benefit of hearing both sides of the divorce and can guide the spouses towards common ground. Hopefully, the process ends with an agreement on the major issues of the divorce.

Many divorce lawyers in Houston are certified to perform mediation. Judges will often order mediation as part of the divorce proceedings.

Mediation Myths

1. Mediation is inconvenient.

Mediation takes less time than litigating and is often less costly as well. For any divorce lawyer in Houston, preparing for custody, property and other divorce hearings entails many billable hours of work. By using mediation, the clients save this time and ultimately reduce the costs of divorce. Also, where divorce litigation may take longer to prepare and drag on for weeks, it’s possible to conclude all the issues in a divorce in a four-hour mediation session.

2. Mediation makes one side powerless.

Mediators are trained to recognize power imbalances and can call out one side or stop the session if one party is trying to dominate the other. Additionally, the mediators are only authorized to disclose what each side allows, and each spouse has complete control over what they offer to the other spouse. The spouses are usually not even in the same room, so there is less chance of feeling intimidated.

3. Lawyers aren’t involved in mediation.

Many divorce lawyers in Houston are mediators themselves or you should always have your lawyer with you during the mediation process. It’s in each party’s interest to have an attorney review the settlement and explain to them the rights and privileges they’re getting and giving up in the agreement.


4. Every Divorce Can Benefit From Mediation

Many divorces can benefit from mediation, but the process is not fail-safe. If there was abuse or criminal behavior in the marriage, then the abused spouse may not want to participate in mediation because they have little to compromise. Additionally, if one party wants the marriage to drag out, they can use the mediation process to try to coerce the other party to remain married or delay the final divorce settlement. People can speak with their divorce lawyer in Houston for advice on whether the process would be beneficial to their situation.

How to Decide if Mediation is Right for You

Like other issues in a divorce, mediation is a personal decision (unless the spouses are ordered to try mediation by the judge). If you suspect that your spouse is not committed to divorce or know they are abusive, you can try to forego mediation or quickly end the process. Otherwise, it’s something to consider as a way to find a beneficial resolution to a divorce. Mediations often speed the resolution of a divorce.

Our Ramos Law firm divorce lawyers in Houston are happy to assist our clients with mediation or answer any questions concerning the process. Contact our office for more information or to speak with an attorney.

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What is Uncontested Divorce?

Divorce decree and envelope on wooden backgroundDivorce can be one of the most stressful events in a person’s life, not only for themselves but for their children and entire family. Uncontested divorces are one way to minimize the stress of this major life event. Uncontested divorces happen when the two spouses agree to a divorce settlement without going through the arduous process of preparing for and testifying in a divorce trial. A divorce attorney can help the parties negotiate an uncontested divorce without the stress of trial or the anger inherent in an adversarial system. In an uncontested divorce, there are no winners or losers, only people agreeing on the best way to end their marriage. A divorce lawyer can guide you through an uncontested divorce, ensure that all of your paperwork is complete and make sure that this process as easy as possible given your life circumstances.

Definition of Uncontested Divorce

Uncontested divorces happen when the spouses agree to the terms of the divorce decree or settlement and one spouse signs a waiver agreeing not to hire an attorney and waiving notice and citation.

When one party files for divorce, they file an Original Petition for Divorce. In an uncontested divorce, the filing spouse simply gives a copy of the petition to their spouse along with a waiver to be signed and proposed final decree of divorce. The proposed final decree includes all the terms of the divorce including the split the marital property, child custody, child support and any other elements that may be at issues. If the two spouses have agreed to the divorce settlement, the non-filing spouse can sign a notarized waiver of service that lets the judge know they consent to the proposed settlement as well as signing the final decree.

In a contested divorce the Petition must be served on the other party by a third party process server. Spouses in a contested divorce have 20 days plus the following Monday in Texas to file an answer to the divorce petition. If an answer is not filed, the petitioner, or spouse who filed the petition, could possibly get a default judgment against the other spouse. Both spouses can hire a divorce attorney to represent them in the case. If the non-filing spouse cannot be found, there are requirements for public notice of service, but eventually the party can be found in default in the divorce, and the filing party’s settlement becomes legally enforceable. A default is similar to an uncontested divorce in that only one decree and one story is presented to the court, but a default decree is not reached as part of an agreement. One spouse has all the say in a default.

What Happens if the Spouse Contests the Divorce?

A spouse contests the terms of the divorce settlement by filing a written answer to the petition for divorce, usually with the aid of a divorce attorney. After the judge receives the answer, they usually issue a temporary restraining order preventing either spouse from stealing marital property, hiding marital assets, harassing the other spouse, stealing mail and engaging in other similar behavior. The judge also rules temporarily on child support and visitation for the couple.

Usually in contested divorces, the two parties continue to negotiate with each other to find an appropriate divorce settlement. This happens as the parties prepare for the legal proceedings of a divorce trial. At a trial a judge or jury holds hearings on dividing marital property, child custody, support and visitation schedules. In many cases the spouses come to an agreement before the trial that covers all elements of the divorce.

The Benefits of a Divorce Lawyer

A divorce lawyer can help their client negotiate an uncontested divorce proceeding before filing for divorce. Divorce lawyers first ascertain whether it’s possible for spouses to settle the elements of their divorce without a trial and prepare the necessary paperwork. In the event that an agreement cannot be reached, however, a divorce lawyer can pursue their client’s interests aggressively in court.

Ramos Law Firm tries hard to find cooperative solutions to divorce, but also diligently represents their client’s interests in divorce court if an agreement cannot be reached. Contact our office for a free consultation with an attorney today.

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Determining Alimony in Texas

DivorceIn addition to being an extremely challenging emotional life event between spouses in their marriage, divorce is a matter of law. Therefore, there are certain legal protections that are intended to prevent unjust financial outcomes to the proceeding, regardless of the emotions involved. One of these protections is alimony or spousal support, which protects against one spouse from suffering from extreme economic hardship after the divorce. Only a limited number of couples qualify for alimony under  Texas law. Divorcing spouses should speak with attorneys in Houston honestly about alimony to determine their rights and potential liability.

Definition of Alimony

Alimony is support that one spouse pays to the other in addition to child support and distributions of assets from the divorce settlement. The idea behind alimony laws is ensure that the lower earning or non-earning spouse can meet his/her reasonable and necessary needs and avoid serious economic harm or poverty due to the divorce. For example, if one spouse was a homemaker for 15 years during the marriage before divorce, that spouse’s lack of work experience and job skills means that it will be hard for them to support themselves and find a job immediately after the marriage dissolves. Alimony may be used to prevent the spouse from falling into poverty or other harms. Good attorneys in Houston aim to make sure their clients don’t suffer too drastically after divorce, as well as making sure their clients don’t pay out too highly for a spouse that is able to support his/herself.

Who Qualifies for Alimony

There are four different conditions according to Texas law that qualify a spouse for alimony. Those conditions are:

  • One of the spouses was convicted in a court of law of family violence against the other spouse or the child of the marriage.

  • A spouse is unable to earn enough income to provide for their basic needs because of a physical or mental disability

  • The marriage lasted for 10 years, and one spouse is unable to earn enough income immediately after the marriage ends to provide for reasonable and necessary basic needs.

  • One of the spouses cares for a child of the marriage that has physical or mental disabilities, preventing the spouse from earning enough money to provide for themselves.

Attorneys in Houston can help their clients present evidence to the judge that shows they qualify for alimony. If the spouse claims they cannot support themselves immediately after the marriage, it’s also their burden to show they’ve looked for jobs and have encountered some barrier in finding gainful employment.

The judge determines the amount and length of time that a spouse receives alimony. There are also statutory limits to alimony in Texas based on the length of the marriage.

Other Financial Benefits in Divorce

Divorce attorneys in Houston can also help a spouse establish child support, distribute marital property and resolve other elements of the marriage. One should also consider more cost effective and convenient methods to going about divorce if possible, like uncontested divorce and mediation, that help reduce the stress of divorce. However, even if your divorce is uncontested and alimony is not an issue good divorce attorneys in Houston can help guide you through the process quickly and efficiently, explaining your financial rights and obligations and saving  you money in the long run.

At Ramos Law Firm, we have qualified attorneys in Houston that are committed to explaining all of our clients’ rights in full. Contact our office for more information or to speak with an attorney today.

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Should I move out of the marital home during a divorce?

Often one person decides to move out of the marital home prior to or in the beginning stages of a divorce. If the home was purchased during the course of the marriage, then the home is considered community property no matter who is living in the home, or whose name is on the paperwork, at the time of the divorce. Moving out will not affect your financial interest in the property, you will be entitled to share of the equity in the home regardless of where you are living.

Moving out can have several other consequences, however, and is a step that should be considered carefully. While both parties are entitled to a portion of the equity of the home, this does not necessarily mean the home must be sold. Sometimes, one party wants to remain in the home and ‘buy out’ the other party. If both parties are hoping to continue living in the home after the divorce, the person who moves out will have a weaker case. The person who moves out will have to convince a judge to change something, while the person who stayed in the home will just have to convince the judge to keep things the way they are. If you want to keep the home after the divorce, it is important to remain in the home while the divorce is pending.

Additionally, if you have children, staying in the marital home can strengthen your custody case. While numerous factors are considered in determining which parent should have primary custody, the ability to provide consistency is an important factor. If you remain in the home, your children will be able to stay in the same school and same bedrooms- the change in your children’s lives will be minimized by staying in the marital home. The person moving out initially is often forced for financial reasons to rent a less spacious residence, with less room for the children. The home environment can also play a role in a custody determination. Additionally, if you move out while the children stay, you will have created a situation in which you are the visiting parent. The court will look at the decisions you make, and if you have voluntarily left the children behind, this will be a consideration. Therefore, if you want to be the primary parent it is important to stay in the home or bring the children with you.

You do not have move out just because your spouse tells you that he/she wants you to leave. Both parties have a right to stay in the home. No one, including the police, can force you to leave your residence without a court order, unless there is domestic violence. In order to get such a court order in a divorce, a temporary orders hearing must held. During a temporary orders hearing the judge will determine who is awarded the exclusive use of the home. This means that if you and your spouse cannot agree as to who will live where while the divorce is pending, the judge will make a temporary decision for you. In some cases, when there are spare bedrooms, the spouses may agree to live together until the divorce is finalized in order to save money and ease the transition for the children. For other families, continuing to live together causes too much stress. The decision to move out is one that should be considered carefully, and discussed with a caring family law attorney who can help you make the best decision for you and your family.

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What happens to the family dog during a divorce?

Although pets feel like family, they are considered property for the purposes of a divorce. That means like all property, if the pet was purchased (or adopted) during the course of the marriage, the pet is considered community property. If the pet was acquired prior to the marriage, then the pet is the separate property of the person who brought it into the marriage, regardless of who cared more for the pet, or paid for the pet during the marriage. Gifts and inheritance are also separate property, so if the pet was given to one party, or acquired through inheritance, then the pet will belong to the party to whom the pet was given.

Usually, parties come to an agreement regarding the care of the pet, with one person receiving the pet full time. As with most issues in a divorce, however, if the parties come to a different agreement, the court will generally approve the parties’ wishes. For example, parties occasionally reach agreements in which both spouses see the pet on alternating schedules.

Because pets are property the value of the pet is considered during the division of the martial estate. During a divorce both parties prepare an inventory of all of the belongings, assets and debts and the determine how to split them up. The monetary value of the items awarded to each party is considered in determining whether the property division is fair to both parties. The value of the pet will be included in this consideration. Although our pets are often priceless to us, the monetary value is usually nothing, or very small, except in very rare cases of purebred animals. Then the value of the animal is usually based on the market price, or how much someone would buy it for.

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Is there common law marriage in Texas?

Texas recognizes an informal marriage, or what is often called a common law marriage, in very limited circumstances. Simply living together, sharing a residence, or even having children together is not enough to create to a common law marriage, regardless of how long you have been a couple.

Several specific factors must be met in order to create an informal marriage under the Texas Family Code:

1.      A man and a woman, neither of whom are married to anyone else and who are over the age of eighteen,
2.      must agree to be married,
3.      must live together in the state of Texas,
4.      and must represent themselves as a married couple to others in Texas.

If all of these factors are not fulfilled a common law marriage has not occurred. Often, one or more of these factors are missing. For example, the parties may live together and occasionally tell people that they are husband and wife, but if they have never agreed to be married, then an informal marriage has not occurred. Sometimes parties agree to be married in the future, then a common law marriage has not occurred. Sometimes the parties have only told people who live outside of Texas that they are married, for example parents who reside out of state. In this case, a common law marriage has not occurred.

If your relationship meets all of the requirements of a common law or informal marriage, then it will be treated like a formalized marriage for the purposes of a divorce. If that is the case, it is important to contact an experienced divorce attorney, who will help protect your interests.

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Have you been the victim of domestic violence during your divorce?

Divorce is a time of extreme emotions for many people, and, unfortunately, domestic violence sometimes occurs immediately before or after a divorce filed.  No amount of stress can ever justify violence, and if violence has occurred in your home you need to take actions to protect yourself, and your children. The divorce process is long and stressful, and if domestic violence has occurred once, it may happen again. The most important thing to do if you are ever the victim of domestic violence is to call the police. Even if you love the abuser and want to protect him or her, calling the police is necessary to protect yourself.

The police will first serve to stop any more violence from happening in the moment. They will also document what happened. This is important because during divorce proceedings there are sometimes false claims of domestic violence. Third party documentation will help you show the judge that domestic violence occurred in your case. It is also important to photograph all of your injuries, preferably with a camera that indicates the date and time the photograph was taken. If your abuser tries to contact you, encourage him or her to do so via text or email so that everything that is said is in writing. This way, if you are later accused of making things up, you will be able to show that you are telling the truth.

If the domestic violence occurred prior to the divorce, contact the district attorney’s domestic violence unit and explain your situation. You can contact them through their website http://app.dao.hctx.net/HelpingVictims/FamilyCriminalLaw.aspx. They will help assess your case and determine if you qualify for a protective order.  In order to qualify for a protective order you must be able to prove that family violence has occurred and is likely to occur in the future. A protective order can prevent your spouse from coming near you, threatening you, or harming you in any way. If your children have also been victims, the protective order can protect them as well.

If your divorce is already pending, you will need to use your divorce attorney, or a different private attorney to help you get a protective order. In Harris County there is a single court, the 280th District Court, which is entirely dedicated to protective orders. At the Ramos Law Firm we have helped numerous clients gain the protection that they need in court. If you cannot afford a private law firm, we recommend that you contact one of the many free legal referral services to find an attorney who will help you at no cost. AVDA, Aid to Victims of Domestic Violence, is an excellent resource.

A protective order will also be considered in your divorce proceedings. If there is a protective order against your spouse you may be awarded sole conservatorship in a custody dispute, instead of joint conservatorship, and visitation with the children may be restricted or supervised in some way. Remember, family violence is never acceptable. If you are the victim of family violence you must take immediate steps to protect yourself. An experienced family law attorney can help guide you through this challenging process.

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Texas Family Court Records Online

Records of family law proceedings are available online in many Texas counties. Divorces are usually a matter of public record and many Texas counties are working to make such records more easily accessible to the general population. The information available online varies by county, but generally case details such as the style of the case and the names of the parties are available. Many counties also provide information regarding court costs, hearing dates, lists of all pleadings, names of attorneys involved, and even images of some court documents, like original petitions for divorce or temporary orders signed by the judge.

Searching online records is a great way to stay informed and up to date on the status of your case. Keep in mind, however, that there is often a delay between when the documents are filed with the court and when the documents appear as images online. Additionally, some records can be sealed at the request of the parties, and some counties do not release certain information during the initial stages of family law proceeding. Remember to check with your lawyer if you have any questions.

Below please find a list of Texas area counties with information regarding how to access family law records in each county.

Texas Family Law & Divorce Court Records:

Presently, we only list a few counties but with your help our goal is to build a complete Texas list. If you find a Texas Family Court Records site please forward to our webmaster at the following email address: webmaster@ramosfamilylaw.com.

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