Lewisville Family Law Blog

Can I be held in contempt?

  • 28
  • October

Thumbnail image for johndenke_SMALL1.jpgOne of the risks of disobeying a court order can be contempt, which is a finding by the court that a person has not followed an order of the court and an assessment of punishment for it.  Contempt can be brought in a variety of ways, but it in the family law arena, the primary ways it is pursued are for child support, child possession, and property division.

First, the contempt actions of which I have seen the most litigation have to do with child support.  When someone is court ordered to pay child support and does not pay, a contempt action can be brought against that person for nonpayment.  If the person is found to have not paid without a justifiable reason, they can be held in contempt, jailed, fined, and have attorney's fees awarded against them. A court has the authority to find someone in contempt for nonpayment of child support as child support is deemed to be in the best interests of a child, and thus not simply a debt for which a person cannot be jailed.  Needless to say, it is something that should not be taken lightly.

AContempt-court-child-support-divorce-paternity-05.jpgnother way a person can be found in contempt is through denial of court ordered possession of a child to another party.  This is often seen by the court as being as bad as not paying child support or worse, as a parent is allegedly being denied the valuable visitation time they have with their child.  Some people might think that just because a person is not paying child support that they can deny that parent visitation, which is not the case at all.  Child support and child possession are two separate matters in a family law context, and the absence or denial of one does not equate to the same for the other.

Finally, a contempt action can be brought for property division purposes.  With property, you need to keep in mind that a person generally cannot be imprisoned for the failure to pay a debt.  Thus, the remedies available for enforcement of property division are typically fines and attorney's fees, along with mandates to perform obligations under a prior order of the court regarding property.  This is usually seen in the cases of divorce decrees where parties are ordered to transfer property or pay certain debts.

If you are served with a motion for enforcement requesting contempt against you, it is vital that you speak with an attorney immediately as your liberty might be at stake.  Contempt actions can carry sentences of up to six months in jail for each violation of a court order alleged in the petition.  With jail time, fines, and attorney's fees, the punishment that can end of being ordered is probably something that you cannot afford to incur.      



  • 24
  • October

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for ted ogilvie_SMALL.jpgFor some people, thinking about what your life will look like after the divorce is a dream.  For some it's a nightmare.  Some divorcing people focus on the freedom of not being tied to the other anymore.  Some will focus on not being able to live without the other one anymore.

Thinking about what you want your life to look like post divorce is a critical step during your divorce process.  So before you begin the divorce process, you should take the time to dream.  If you cannot envision what that looks like without it being a nightmare, then you need professional help.  That's what your attorney's for.  Now, your attorney is not a Jeannie in a bottle, but your ancillary divorce professionals can help you see and achieve your wishes during the process.

During the collaborative process, we often have a mental health professional, a financial professional, and sometimes a child specialist to guide us through the peaks and valley of the divorce process.  These professionals help both parties in the divorce process to see past the present turmoil, the present uncertainty, and the present fog.  The new vision isn't always a great dream; but it's also not usually the nightmare you've been so fearful of.

The neutral professionals also help deal with the children's issues that arise.  If needed, a separate child specialist can even be included with the team to visit, counsel, and guide the children of divorcing parents to cope and continue their growth in a health way.

There's never a perfect moment to pursue a divorce, but the collaborative process can ease that awkwardness and conflict associated with this stressful time.  If you are considering a divorce, you'll definitely want to consider doing it collaboratively. 



The Role of Attorney as "Counselor"-What does that mean?

  • 22
  • October

Thumbnail image for jimsmall.jpgRecently, I was sitting in my office and happened to glance up at my law license which reads "Attorney and Counselor at Law". I paused for a minute and realized that I had never given much thought to the "Counselor" aspect of my practice.images-54.jpeg

After doing some research, I realize that this is an important part of our profession. The public views attorneys as warriors. Law school teaches us to be that way, and courtroom fights are glorified on television, publicized, and often sensationalized.

The role of attorney as counselor begins when a client comes to the office to discuss what their legal problem is and rely on the attorney to seek a solution. Attorneys need to be good listeners and gather the necessary information to help the client achieve their goals. This initial meeting is an opportunity for the client to tell their story to an independent professional who actually cares (or should care) about their legal problem. The attorney's expertise and insight is critical to help the client make an informed decision. After listening, the attorney can discuss options with the client-sometimes, these options may not include litigation but other solutions that may be quicker and cheaper.

Even if litigation occurs, the attorney's role as counselor continues in the form of guiding the client through the complex legal process, discussing settlement options, and minimizing costs.

When attorney's act as counselors, it makes the legal system and, therefore society better. Attorneys should not underestimate the privilege to serve society in this capacity.


Retroactive Child Support - How much do I have to pay?

  • 21
  • October

Thumbnail image for johndenke_SMALL1.jpgThere are certain instances when a child support obligation can be granted for the time in the past when the parents of a child were separated but no child support obligation had been established. In this instance, the court can retroactively order that a parent who did not have actual care, control, and possession of the child pay back child support for the period that the child was with the other parent. The length of time that this obligation can go back can vary, and it can be the difference between thousands of dollars based on the calculation.

Retroactive child support is based on the premise that the parent with past possession of the child needed support for the child, which was not being provided for by the other parent. When this happens, the court has the power to order and assess a judgment for past child support against the parent without possession. This amount is typically based on that parent's past income during the period when support was not being paid.images-52.jpeg

The length of time the court can go back when assessing retroactive support is four years, but this period of time can be longer if the parent with possession can establish that the non-paying parent knew or should have known the child was theirs but attempted to avoid the establishment of a child support obligation in the past. If the parent seeking past due support successfully shows these two requirements, then support can be ordered back to the date of the child's birth.

The paying parent can attempt to mitigate some of the retroactive child support by offering proof that they paid some expenses of the child to the parent with possession in the past. They may also show the hardship that will result on them as a result of the retroactive support award. Finally, they may seek to bargain with the other parent on the amount of retroactive support ordered in an attempt to avoid the cost of litigation over the issue.

If you are possibly going to be held responsible for the retroactive support of a child, you will need to determine the amount that could be awarded against you, come up with any defenses to the assessment of that amount of support, and make whatever efforts to limit the length of the support ordered by the court. This is why it is necessary to consult with an experienced attorney who can properly defend against a claim for retroactive child support.


The "Morality Clause" in child custody - helpful or harmful?

  • 20
  • October

Thumbnail image for wfneal_SMALL.jpgIf you are involved in a divorce in the State of Texas chances are pretty good you are going to have slapped on you what is commonly called a "Morality Clause". What is a "Morality Clause"? Well, in simple terms, it is a prohibition against a parent allowing anyone to whom they are involved in a dating or romantic situation to spend the night while the divorce is ongoing. The intent and purpose of the clause is well meaning and noble. It is designed to protect the stability, routine, and consistency of children while Mom and Dad are divorcing. No one could debate this goal as virtuous and protective of children. However, in the real and practical world we live in - the real questions are: does it work and is it worth it?

Does is work? In typical lawyer fashion - it depends. If the parents are mature and grown up and believe that following the rule of law is important - then yes it works. The fear of being held in contempt of court (yes, you can be put in jail for a violation) for allowing the high school sweetheart Mom or Dad reunited with on line and are now trying to rekindle their old high school passion can temporarily deter a parent from doing something that instinctively they know is not good for the kids. They will toe the line even when their self-centered emotions tell them otherwise. The children are saved from the angst and psychologically devastating effects of simultaneously being forced to deal with the loss of their family unit AND the introduction of a new adult figure in their lives. If the children are protected from this situation for even a few months, then they will be better off in the long run. If having a Morality Clause in place does nothing more than strike a moral chord in a parent to think more about their children than themselves and they begrudgingly adhere to its dictates, then it works the way it was designed and it is a good thing.moral1.jpg

On the other hand, if a parent views the Morality Clause as nothing more than an intrusion into their adult and private lives or their hormones overload their brain, then what will occur is a conscious and intentional course of action to find ways to "get around" the clause or make sure they don't get caught. The divorcing parent who won't buy into the purpose of the clause will concoct all sorts of ways to avoid it. The morality clause is designed to avoid a child getting up on a Saturday morning to watch TV and eat Cheerios and being met with some guy or girl they don't know drinking coffee in their pajamas in the kitchen. The Morality Clause doesn't prohibit the new boyfriend or girlfriend from being around the kids - only from staying the night. Therefore, most of the clauses have a time limit to define "overnight". The Denton County Standing Orders, where I practice most of the time, sets the hours of an overnight between 10:00 p.m. until 7:00 a.m. Dallas County, Collin County, and surrounding counties vary as to the starting and stopping times but each defines what an overnight will be. So, the parent that can't accept the purpose of the Morality Clause will go through all kinds of machinations to give the appearance of compliance. They make a big deal of the paramour leaving right before the start time of the overnight time then put the kids to bed and slip the new BF or GF in the backdoor and into the bedroom. The alarm is set early the next morning and Mommy or Daddy's new friend leaves early out the back door only to reappear right at 7:01 am with donuts and kolaches for everyone. What a great guy or girl. This is but one of many ways to try and skirt the Morality Clause and it is played out thousands of times each weekend by custody litigants. So, if you are a rules follower because you believe the law is there for a reason or only because you are afraid of negative consequences - then it works. A psychologist friend of mine once told me that the #1 universal truth he has found in all his years of treating his patients was that "people are going to do what they really want to do".

Is it worth it? If your divorce is in a county that has standing orders and a Morality Clause like Denton County has, you really have no choice while the case is pending. However, the issue always comes up in finalizing the divorce as to whether the parties will agree to extend it post divorce or whether the Judge of the Court you are in will make it extend into the divorce decree. The spouse or litigant that is not involved in a new relationship will always want it put in and the one who is looking to continue their relationship with the new soul mate after the divorce will always fight to keep it out - or water it down. There are as many variations of the Morality Clause as there are leaves on a tree. Lawyers can bill many hours crafting, negotiating, drafting and trying Morality Clauses. Not a financially sound idea. In addition, even if you can get one into your divorce decree - what benefit does it have to you? If your ex is determined to violate it and you bring an action to enforce it - guess who your number one witnesses are? Your kids! The only indisputable proof you are going to have is your kids testifying about waking up in the middle of the night scared and going to see Mommy or Daddy and finding someone else there also. Are you going to call your kids to testify? Of course not - that double or triples the harm you are trying to protect them from. Can you use a private investigator? Yes, but that now adds another layer of cost to your already too expensive litigation and all that PI is ever going to be able to say is that the paramour was seen entering the house or apartment and never leaving until the next morning. While persuasive - such proof is never conclusive - allowing for more money to be spent on lawyers fighting for their clients.

Repeated violations (even if proved circumstantially) can help significantly in a post divorce custody change lawsuit. However, that edge is immediately reduced to moot if your ex simply decides to get married. Paramour now becomes step mom or dad.

After 42 years of doing this and drafting countless Morality Clauses and then filing actions to both enforce them and change custody plans based on them, it is my opinion that they are, over the long term, not worth the investment of money and time. The money and time is better spend with quality mental health experts working with your kids (if necessary) to deal with the new situation or just good old common sense parenting of your children if you have successfully moved on from the hurt and pain that is caused by an affair or your ex finding a new partner. If you continue to harbor anger and resentment, and then rely on your family, friends, church and professionals to get your kids beyond it - you doing otherwise will only make the situation for your children worse.

Years ago, when I was a very young attorney, a wise District Judge gave me this advice. He said: "It is an axiom of divorce that the more a paramour is at the forefront of the case the more complicated, expensive, and time it will take to get it done". He was right - Morality Clause or not.moral.jpg

Standing Orders - What are they and how do they apply?

  • 16
  • October

johndenke_SMALL1.jpgWhen a family law case is filed in certain counties in Texas, there are orders of the court that immediately apply to the parties and govern their behavior during the case. These orders, called "Standing Orders", are typically for the protections of the parties and their children along with the preservation of property of the parties. The standing orders are typically agreed and signed to by all of the District Judges in a particular county who hear family law cases.

In Denton County, the standing orders begin with rules for no disruption of the children subject of the litigation. So, for example, the parties cannot change the children's residence without agreement or court approval, disrupt the children, hide or secret them, or make disparaging remarks to them about the other party. Also, in an original divorce case, neither party can have a person they are in a romantic or dating relationship with overnight with the children. The court is mainly trying to protect the children from changes in their routine or from involvement in the litigation with these rules.Unknown-jpg

The next set of standing orders involve conduct of the parties. Parties are prohibited from using vulgar or profane language when communicating with the other party, whether in person, by telephone, or in writing. They are also prohibited from threatening the other party, or making harassing phone calls repeatedly or at an unreasonable hour. These are pretty obvious in that they tell parties to behave themselves even though they may greatly dislike one another when a case is first filed.

After these sets of orders come the rules designed for preservation of the parties' property. These orders prevent the parties from destroying, selling, or mortgaging property, incurring debt, withdrawing money, restricting lines of credit, or terminating utilities. They also prevent a party from excluding the other party from use of the marital residence if the other party resided there within 30 days of the filing of a divorce. Parties to a case may try and take these types of actions to protect themselves and their property, but the court does not want a party to completely cut off the other party from the community estate just because a divorce has been filed.

The parties are authorized to do that which is necessary to conduct their usual business and occupation, to spend funds for attorney's fees, and for reasonable and necessary living expenses. Further, the parties are ordered to complete a parenting class if children are involved in the case.

Your attorney or their paralegal should go over the standing orders with you step by step to advise you of your rights when a divorce or other family law case is filed. They will put you on notice of your duties and limitations when it comes to behavior that is supposed to occur and not to occur when a case is filed. In addition, they can direct the parties' behavior towards one another and their children before a hearing can be held in front of the judge in your particular court.dentonDwiTimPowersCourtAppearance-3.jpg

The Reason for Divorce

  • 14
  • October

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for ted ogilvie_SMALL.jpgWhat's your reason for getting a divorce? Is it the infidelity, the drinking, the mismanagement of money, the lack of respect?

Everybody has a different reason for getting a divorce. Each marriage is different, and each couple experiences different forces and obstacles throughout their relationship. Each couple reacts and responds to daily conflict in a different manner, and each individual in the couple reacts and responds differently to those same conflicts.reasons).jpg

Sometimes a client will come in wanting a divorce when there is, as they say, "no rhyme or reason" for the breakup of the marriage. This is usually disproved, however, after probing more into the dynamics and facts of the marriage. Psychologists call this denial. We certainly get our fair share of clients choosing (consciously or subconsciously) to remain unengaged from the problems the couple faces every day.

Remember the glitzy, famous Gabor sisters? Zsa Zsa Gabor, who knew quite a bit about marriage and divorce from her own experiences, had this to say: "Getting divorced just because you don't love a man is almost as silly as getting married just because you do."

Now I don't usually go around quoting Zsa Zsa Gabor, but her way with words here sheds some light on the many relationships I've seen end when they don't really need to. The number one reason I get as a divorce lawyer is that one of the individuals does not love the other anymore. Sure, one of the reasons listed in the introductory paragraph may have instigated the loss of the love once felt, but the love is lost nonetheless.

What strikes me most about Ms. Gabor's quote is this: if you based getting into the marriage strictly on love, then it would make sense to end the marriage when the love seems to stop; but a marriage is a multifaceted relationship that cannot simply rely on one overriding facet called love. All the other facets must be examined as well to see which facet(s) need to be better maintained in the relationship. Each individual must share the focus on the relationship as a whole, and not just on the guiding emotion.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that love is not important in a relationship. It is! But you cannot expect to make up for the regular attention the other facets need and deserve. If your marriage is in trouble, get help. Seek quality marriage counseling from someone you both can trust and listen to. Just don't give up without looking at the other facets in your relationship first.infidelity1.jpg

Where to File when Two States are Involved?

  • 09
  • October


Sometimes a situation exists whereby parents are in different states and one or both seek to file for relief in a court regarding their children. Issues can arise as to which state should have the right to hear the case and decide issues of custody and child support. The rules behind where to file for relief can be complex, so it takes an attorney with knowledge in these areas to make the proper determination.

First, as a general rule, the custody action should be filed in the state where the child has lived with a parent for the past six months before the lawsuit was filed. This is called the child's "home state" for filing purposes. The court can look at the total circumstances when determining this, such as how long the child lived in the state, the parents' intent, and whether a move was voluntary.iStock_000014314271XSmall02.jpg

You may ask what happens if one parent leaves the home state with the child and the other remains there. Well, if it is an initial suit regarding the child, the home state retains the right to hear the case as long as the home state was the state where the child resided within six months of the filing of the case. So, a parent who is residing in the home state who leaves with the child one day never to return will still be subject to the court's power in the home state as long as the other parent files in the home state within six months.

There are of course occasions where the child has no home state. In this circumstance, the determination will depend on if the child has a significant connection with the state. The three requirements for a significant connection are: 1) the child must not have a home state, 2) the child and at least one parent must have a connection with the state other than physical presence, and 3) substantial evidence of the child's care and relationships must be available in the state.

Even if a child has a home state, that state can sometimes decline to hear the case if it determines that it is more convenient for another state to hear the case. This can be for logistical reasons including distance between the states, the location of evidence concerning the child, and the respective financial conditions of the parents. A court can also decline to hear a case if it finds that a parent engaged in unjustifiable conduct, such as taking the child from their home state to another state and then filing in that other state.

The preceding commentary is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to interstate child custody matters. My goal was to give you a general understanding of the law that exists when two parents claim their respective states have the right to hear their child custody case. Again, I urge you to seek the advice of an attorney if you are faced with a case involving interstate child custody concerns.usamap.jpg

The Roadmap to Success

  • 07
  • October

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for ted ogilvie_SMALL.jpg

It seems to be solid wisdom to "know where you're going." That's why it's important to ask your attorney for a roadmap of how the divorce process is expected to work for you.

Every client comes to the family lawyer with unique circumstances. It's the attorney's job to take those facts and circumstances and apply them to the Law. It's possible for that attorney, then, to estimate the steps needed to complete whatever issues come with that client. Of course, this will likely involve alternate routes, depending on the complexity and peculiarities involved.

Our firm's founding Senior Partner, William F. Neal, always stresses the importance of preparing a litigation plan for each and every client. He is a forty-plus-year lawyer who knows every in and out of the Courtroom. He is just an awesome litigator! He knows the importance of giving a client the vision he sees that client's case taking. He adjusts it as new information is obtained or the "twists and turns" lead to a different path. But he is always on top of what's going on in the client's case.

I generally have a less litigious roadmap for my clients. I prefer taking cases to resolution through the collaborative process or other alternative dispute methods. I still see the importance of a clear roadmap to present to the client to resolve conflicts with the other party. As a matter of fact, here are the usual six steps found in a Roadmap to Resolution in a collaborative case:divroadmap.jpg

1. establishing the playing field and ground rules via the collaborative law participation agreement;

2. stating and reviewing each party's goals and interests/concerns;

3. gathering information;

4. option building and creations of solutions;

5. evaluating options and solutions; and

6. entering into peaceful negotiations and selections from the available options.

We often discuss in the office whose method is better, the litigation route or the collaborative process. Even though we both understand and respect the nuances of each practice method, we agree it is important to let the client know what to expect and what the road will likely look like. We agree on the importance to communicate early and communicate often with the client. The client is usually dealing with more than enough stress and unknowns. The least we can do is to paint a picture of where we're going in the process.

Your trusted lawyer may very well do the same thing. If not, ask if a roadmap of your case can be created for you.dirovcechanges.jpg


Social Media + Divorce and Custody Cases = Bad Things

  • 01
  • October

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for ljasmall.jpgSome of us love Facebook and Twitter, to a lesser extent.. I know I do. I have enjoyed catching up with people I knew as a child, keeping up with current friends and what is going on with them, and what is happening in my professional life. Folks post everything from what they are eating, where they are, or what is currently happening with them. Including their litigation.social4.jpg

What I have found is that a lot of people give too much information about their personal lives on Facebook. As a family law attorney, it has become a treasure trove of information if you are going through a divorce or custody case. Here are a few things you should consider if you are going through a divorce or custody case that I have experienced that you should or should NOT do.

First, you should delete any pictures you have posted while you are out getting your drink on with friends. I had a client that posted a picture on Facebook of her in front of a tap on her knees drinking from the tap in a bar. Really? Her husband was contending she had a drinking problem. Take down any pictures of you drinking or partying. You really should not post these kind of pictures anyway if you have children.

Second, don't badmouth your spouse or ex on social media. Don't discuss your case. In any form. I had a case where the opposing party was discussing pending litigation on Facebook and was referring to the Mother of his child as Sasquatch. The Judge was not amused. Just don't do it.

Third, if you are married, don't take pictures of you and your paramour on vacation. Yes, this happens. Amazing.

Forth, don't disparage the Judge in your case. An opposing party in a case I was involved in disparaged the Judge after his ruling against them. Not smart.

In summary, be careful what you post on Facebook or other social media. Judges are fine with your posts being printed out and admitted into evidence. What you post can and will be used against you. I hope you and your attorney take this blog to heart.social6.jpg