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Family law encompasses many types of cases and is probably the most highly charged emotionally. Having representation to protect your rights is perhaps one of the best things you can do in these emotional circumstances.
Divorce is stressful in the easiest of circumstances. If you and your spouse are able to communicate and come to an agreement on terms regarding children, property, and debts, you may be able to do an uncontested divorce. While all the same requirements such as a petition, service of process (or valid waiver of service), and a final decree are still necessary, an uncontested divorce avoids necessity for court intervention and can generally be accomplished both quicker and cheaper than a contested divorce. Manriquez Law Firm cannot represent both parties in a divorce, but if you and your spouse are in agreement on terms, we can represent one of you, taking on the work on behalf of that spouse in taking the case through the process beginning to end, and allowing the other party to participate through agreement to the presented final documents drafted. Even if you think your case will be contested, there are still procedures which may allow for the parties to work out differences without court intervention, such as mediation or informal settlement conferences.
When getting a divorce, a final decree of divorce must be signed by the judge detailing terms for care of the child and for distribution of property and debt. Issues concerning children are determined under a best interest of the child standard and include things like child support, visitation, and distribution of rights and duties of each parent in regards to the child. The Texas Family Code does define certain standards which are presumed to be in the best interest of the child. Most of us have heard of child support payments as being 20% for one child, 25% for two, etc. This is what is often referred to as guideline support and although presumed in the best interest of the child, some cases may warrant variations from the standard, such as when a child has a disability, the paying parent has other children he is responsible for, or by party agreement. This is also true for the standard possession order. This is the commonly known schedule whereby the non-custodial parent gets 1st, 3rd. and 5th weekends, Thursday evenings in the school year, alternating holidays, and extended summer time. Many times in divorce, when both parents have been active in a child's life, you see variations on the schedule allowing more time with the non-custodial parent.
Of course, property and debts are also an important consideration in divorce, as stated above. While many think assets are divided on a strict 50/50 split in divorce, the actual standard is whatever the court believes to be a just and right or equitable division. The court can only divide community property. Separate property is not divided. The court may consider things such as how much separate property a party has, fault in the divorce, or earning potential of the parties in determining what is an equitable division. All property is presumed community property unless it is proven to be separate property. It is the burden of the party claiming the separate property to prove to the court that something is separate property. It may be separate property by virtue of owning it before marriage, or acquiring it during marriage by gift or inheritance.
But divorce is not the only family law matter we handle. The same standards mentioned above apply to original suits concerning children outside of marriage as well as to modifications of orders from divorce or otherwise concerning children. It is often necessary to have terms regarding children modified over the years due to change in income or living situations. If the party paying support has a change in income child support may be modified accordingly to pay more or less. In some circumstances, custody may be modified after changes in either party's or the child's situation. This will likely necessitate changes in child support as well. These cases may also be handled on an uncontested or contested basis.
Adoptions are also a part of family law, and honestly, my favorite part. In order to adopt a child, the rights of the biological parents must be terminated. This may be done voluntarily or involuntarily. Occasionally I am asked if a parent can simply terminate their rights to a child that they do not want to be involved with. While this can be done, it should be noted that doing so does not necessarily eliminate the obligation to support the child. Many courts will still require the terminated parent to pay support unless another party (such as a stepparent) is planning on adopting the child and becoming responsible for support in their place. Adoptions also require home studies and background checks of the adoptive parents. At Manriquez Law Firm, we limit our adoption cases to domestic adoptions (meaning we do not handle international adoptions) and to those involving adoption by family members or through placement of the child by a state agency.