Tag Archives: family law attorney

Is Your Spouse Hiding Assets?

Unfortunately for many, the divorce process can get ugly as spouses resort to playing games to get revenge on a soon-to-be former spouse. We have all heard the horror stories of a mega-wealthy CEO disguising income or hiding property to protect certain assets from a divorce settlement. However, deception is not unique to the wealthy. If you are not careful, you could fall victim to a lying spouse’s scheme.

While many couples enter into prenuptial agreements to protect their assets in case of divorce, some individuals simply resort to lying and scheming. Asset hiding can occur before or during marriage. Typically, a spouse who hopes to protect assets in divorce overstates debts and undervalues assets. This leaves the other spouse with a smaller share of property upon divorce.

There are signs that may indicate that a spouse is hiding assets. If your spouse maintains complete control over your finances or bank accounts, you may have cause for concern. Spouses who are secretive about financial decisions or the couple’s financial status may be hiding something. If your spouse erases financial files from your computer, there could be a problem. Spouses who own small businesses tend to have more opportunities to hide revenue or sales proceeds. If your spouse’s business finances seem to change drastically over a short period of time, your spouse may be altering the books to hide assets or income.

Another strategy that a spouse may use to hide assets is to report a drastic drop in the value of investments. A spouse who plans to hide assets may also open a separate bank account unnecessarily. While it may be difficult to catch a lying spouse, bank statements, checks and tax returns can be used to track an individual’s financial activities. Asset-tracing services are also available to individuals who suspect their spouse is hiding assets during a divorce.

If you believe that your spouse is hiding assets, an experienced San Antonio divorce attorney can protect your interests.

What Is Virtual Visitation?

After divorce, a former spouse may move out of town, out of state, or even out of the country. When children are involved, this can be devastating for a noncustodial parent. The coordination of a visitation schedule becomes exponentially harder when parents live far apart and, inevitably, one parent spends much less time with the child. In 2007, Texas became one of the first states to enact a virtual visitation law to improve parent-child relationships.

Texas’s virtual visitation statute defines electronic communication with a child and permits a court to grant virtual visitation rights to a noncustodial parent. Electronic communication with a child can include phone calls, email, instant messaging and video chatting. Virtual communication with a child may be the only way for some parents to frequently interact with their children. For a parent who serves in the military, virtual visitation is especially important. Services such as Skype make interaction between parents and children simple when the parent is serving in a foreign country, and these videoconferencing services allow virtually face-to-face communication between parent and child.

Parents do not need court permission to interact with their children virtually. However, couples who are unable to agree on the amount of virtual interaction between a child and parent may benefit from court-ordered visitation time. To obtain virtual visitation rights, the noncustodial parent must petition the court. Virtual visitation orders are not automatically granted. By ordering that time be set aside for virtual interaction, courts are helping to strengthen relationships between children and noncustodial parents. As technological advances continue to be made, the opportunities for virtual communication continue to improve for noncustodial parents and their children.

If you are interested in obtaining virtual visitation rights, an experienced family law attorney at the San Antonio law firm of Joseph P. Appelt can provide the guidance you need.

Prenuptial Agreements in Texas

Going into a marriage, most individuals own property. When a couple divorces, it is often difficult for one spouse to prove ownership of a piece of property separately. This is because, during the course of a marriage, lines between separate and community property become blurred. To maintain ownership of your separate property, you have the burden of proving that the property belongs to you alone.

To protect separate property owned before marriage in Texas, many couples enter into a prenuptial agreement. Prenuptial agreements provide certainty for individuals hoping to protect their personal assets in the event of divorce. However, to be enforceable, prenuptial agreements must meet specific requirements:

  • Prenuptial agreements must be in writing and signed by both spouses prior to marriage. Notarization is not required in Texas.
  • Both parties must sign the agreement voluntarily. If duress is a factor in obtaining a spouse’s signature, the prenuptial agreement may be struck down as void in court.
  • Full disclosure of each spouse’s assets and liabilities is required, as both spouses must have a complete understanding of the other spouse’s financial situation prior to entering into the agreement. If spouses fail to fully disclose their financial situations, or if the agreement is unconscionable at the time it is signed, the agreement is voided.
  • Prenuptial agreements may address spousal support plans, property distribution and other issues, but provisions that adversely affect child support obligations are not honored.
  • A prenuptial agreement becomes effective on the date of marriage and may only be modified afterward upon the agreement and signature of both parties.

If you are considering a prenuptial agreement, an experienced San Antonito family law attorney at the law firm of Joseph P. Appelt can make sure your property is protected.

Parental Alienation

Does your ex-spouse pit your child against you? Does your ex-spouse speak negatively about you to your child? Are you constantly being denied visitation for no reason? These are signs of parental alienation and, if this is happening in your life, you need to take steps to combat it before it gets worse. A child needs both a mother and a father — don’t give up on your rights to see your child and fight for child custody and visitation even if your ex-spouse is trying to alienate you from your child.

Parental alienation is often prevalent in child custody disputes. It is usually defined by a campaign of denigration and hatred by one parent against the other parent.  Family law judges will recognize this as a factor in determining the outcome of a child custody dispute, so if it is happening to you, there are some options available to help you.  If custody has not yet been decided, make sure the judge knows what is happening.  Keep a diary and provide specific evidence.

Some other options include:

  • Request a child custody evaluation ― A psychiatrist could profile both parents and present findings to the court regarding the child’s ability to form a relationship with each parent.
  • Request mediation ― You can present the dispute to a mediator who can make suggestions and provide recommendations on what the parents can do to protect the child’s best interests. This process often works well because it is less confrontational than litigation.
  • Request a guardian ad litem ― This is a special attorney who watches out for your child’s best interests. A guardian ad litem can help work out conflicts and determine what is in the best interest of your child.
  • Create a new parenting plan ― If you already have a parenting plan in place and it is not protecting your rights, your attorney can help you create a new plan that includes specific protections for time with your child.

All parents have a right to a meaningful relationship with their child, so if you are being wrongfully excluded from your child’s life, consult with an experienced San Antonio child custody attorney to determine the best course of action to remain in your child’s life.

Getting a Mortgage After a Divorce

Divorce is a scary and complicated time, and maintaining a roof over your head is likely one of your primary concerns.  While obtaining a mortgage after a divorce may be a little more difficult than you may think (especially in today’s challenging economic climate), it’s not impossible.

Banks have strict underwriting requirements that must be complied with before they lend money. The lender will look at the source of your money for a down payment and your debt ratios. The lender will also look at the following to determine if you are credit-worthy:

  • Whether you have other financial obligations, such as child support or alimony.  This will probably reduce your borrowing ability.
  • Whether you receive other financial support, such as child support or alimony. This financial support can be used to qualify for the mortgage, so long as there is a six-month history and the income is set to continue for the next three years pursuant to your settlement agreement or divorce decree.
  • Whether you are on the mortgage of the marital property with your ex-spouse and you make payments on that mortgage from a joint bank account. If so, your borrowing ability may be reduced even if the divorce decree awarded your ex-spouse that property. However, if you can show that your ex-spouse has solely made the mortgage payments on that home over the past 12 months, the new lender may not take this mortgage payment on your former home into account.  Another solution is to have your ex-spouse refinance you off of the mortgage.  You could then show those refinancing papers to your new potential lender to prove that you have no further obligation on your former marital property.
  • Whether you have joint credit card debt, auto loans or student loans with your former spouse. If so, those obligations will negatively affect your ability to qualify for a mortgage unless you can prove that your ex-spouse is solely responsible for the obligation.

The good news is that most borrowers today will be able to obtain a mortgage even after a divorce, with a little help.  Your San Antonio divorce attorney can help you avoid most of these negative effects by drafting a careful and clearly worded marital settlement agreement regarding which debt belongs to which spouse to help you start anew.

A Football Player, a Ring and a Broken Engagement

In a recent lawsuit filed in Harris County, Texas, Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams sued his ex-fiancée, demanding that she return a $785,000 diamond engagement ring. Williams alleged that Erin Marzouki broke off the engagement last January and never had any intention of marrying him. Williams accused Marzouki of absconding with the ring.

Marzouki filed a counter-suit, denying the allegations and accusing Williams of having numerous instances of cold feet and ultimately breaking off the engagement himself. Marzouki alleges that Williams made it clear in writing that he wanted her to keep the ring after their last of many breakups in December. According to her, Williams communicated his wishes in text messages to her father and brother.

This raises the question:  When the engagement is broken, who gets the ring?

Texas courts will usually consider an engagement ring to be a conditional gift in contemplation of marriage.  This means that unless the future event occurs, the gift isn’t final.  If the event (the marriage) doesn’t happen, the gift must be returned. This rule is founded upon the principle that if the person that accepted the engagement ring is the one who breaks the engagement off, then the ring should be returned because the gift was never completed.

However, a court may also look at whose fault it is that the marriage was called off.  Sometimes, a court will rule that if the ring giver had a change of heart, the recipient should be allowed to keep the ring. The issue of who broke off the engagement seems to be a big question in the Williams/Marzouki engagement, so how the court will ultimately rule may turn upon this fact.

Only time will tell if diamonds really are this girl’s best friend.  However, if you are either seeking to keep an engagement ring or get one back due to a botched engagement, working with a knowledgeable San Antonio family law attorney will help you obtain relief you desire.

Am I Eligible for Alimony?

When a couple is divorcing, the alimony question is on everyone’s mind. You may be wondering how much alimony (sometimes referred to as spousal support) you may have to pay or how much you may receive.

In 2011, the Texas alimony laws radically changed. While the new law is praised for being more fair and balanced, alimony in Texas still is not guaranteed. Alimony is need-based and is granted only to provide for a spouse’s minimum reasonable needs. A judge orders alimony only when a spouse cannot earn sufficient income to meet his/her needs and it is ordered only for a defined minimum period.

Texas alimony law allows for a payment of up to $5,000 per month, or 20 percent of a spouse’s average monthly gross income, whichever is less. Under the new law, no alimony is awarded for marriages that lasted under 10 years. If the marriage lasted between 10–20 years, alimony can be awarded for up to five years after the marriage ends. If the marriage lasted 20–30 years, alimony can be awarded for up to seven years. Finally, if the marriage lasted 30 years or longer, alimony can be awarded for up to 10 years.

A judge considers many factors before determining how much alimony to order and for how long. To identify minimum reasonable needs, the judge considers the age, education and employment skills of the spouse requesting alimony. If one spouse contributed to the marriage as a homemaker or helped the other spouse attain education, those factors are considered as well. The judge may also consider whether either party hid assets, committed fraud, committed adultery or engaged in family violence.

If a spouse’s circumstances change once alimony is ordered, the alimony order can be altered by filing a petition with the court.

If alimony is in your future, either on the paying or receiving end, it’s best to consult with an experienced family law attorney to best protect your rights.

Establishing Paternity Is Important

Fathers are generally considered extremely important to the well being of their children, both emotionally and financially. Identifying the father of a child is important because it gives legal rights and benefits to the father, the mother and the child.

Paternity refers to the legal recognition of a man as the father of a child. In Texas, if a child is born within a marriage, the law presumes that the husband is the legal father unless paternity is established otherwise in a paternity suit. If a child is born outside of a marriage, there is no legal father unless steps are taken to establish paternity.

How to establish paternity

In Texas, paternity can be established in two ways — administratively by filing a form or judicially through formal court proceedings. Proceeding administratively requires the cooperation of the mother and father. This method saves the parents money and usually proceeds quickly. The parents sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) form and file it with the Bureau of Vital Statistics. If the Bureau of Vital Statistics approves the form, paternity is established. If one parent won’t cooperate to sign an AOP, paternity must be proven judicially. It is beneficial for the parent seeking to establish paternity to consult with an experienced family law attorney to prove paternity through the courts.

Why establish paternity

Identifying the legal father is important because in addition to knowing the identity of the father, it may allow the child to receive the father’s health and life insurance benefits as well as an inheritance. Paternity gives both parents the right to get a child support order, get a court order for visitation or custody, and gives the father legal rights to have a say in many decisions made for the child. It’s important to have paternity legally recognized because if not, there is no legal recourse if the father dies, becomes disabled, or simply decides to stop paying voluntary child support.

Fathers have the duty to financially and emotionally support their children. It’s best if paternity is established sooner rather than later so that the child and the parents can all benefit.

Do You Need a Living Will in Texas?

None of us likes to think of a time when we might become incapacitated and unable to make even the most basic decisions. However, the old Boy Scout motto, Be prepared, is an excellent idea. Those who prepare ahead of time for unpleasant life events are ultimately better off, as are their families.

A living will, or a directive to physicians, is a document that clearly defines the types of medical treatment you would like to receive or not receive in certain situations. It can, for instance, instruct your doctors not to use artificial means to extend your life if you are diagnosed with a terminal condition. A related document is a medical power of attorney. This names a trusted person, called your agent, to direct your health care if you are unable to do so yourself. Most people name a spouse, partner, relative or close friend to serve as their agent.

In Texas, it is strongly recommended that citizens have a living will and medical power of attorney. Why? Because if you become incapacitated and unable to make your own medical decisions due to an illness, accident, or old age, these documents can help save your life or ensure that your wishes are followed. If you haven’t recorded your wishes regarding these matters, these decisions will be made by family members you may not want making those decisions, or by doctors or even judges. They make decisions based on what they believe to be best, not what you want.

If you are a competent adult, you can execute a living will in the presence of two disinterested witnesses or a notary public. The living will takes effect when you become a qualified patient, meaning when you become diagnosed with a terminal or irreversible condition that is certified in writing by your attending physician.

No one lives forever, much as that thought may make us uncomfortable. It is best to consult a family law attorney to draft your living will and related documents in order to be prepared before you actually need them.

What Happens to Your Facebook Account If You Die

If you’re like most young people, you spend at least some time on Facebook. You curate wonderful photos and share your activities with your friends, even perhaps posting what you had for dinner. Have you ever stopped to think what would happen to your Facebook account if you die?

Many states have proposed legislation that would determine who controls your social media accounts when you die. For instance, a social media bill in New Hampshire proposes to give the executor of a deceased person’s estate control over the social media and electronic communications accounts of the deceased person.

Currently, the various social media and electronic communication companies all have different rules governing what happens in the event of the death of a member. For instance, Facebook has a policy of either deleting the account or memorializing it once it receives notice of a death. The memorial page remains active only to allow friends and family to post comments on it. Critics point to the fact that the deceased member’s family does not have any control over the site. Such sites are often targets of cyber-bullying, which only adds to the grief of the family.

Until the social media companies either take action, or are forced to by legislation, the best that social media account holders can do is to make plans to transfer ownership of these valuable accounts to heirs, just like any other asset. Your estate planning lawyer can help you prepare an addendum to your will listing all of your social media and electronic communication accounts and correspondingly list the names of the persons you want to bequeath those accounts to. You can pick different people for different accounts. It’s best to provide the passwords to those accounts as well.

It’s important to plan for the transfer of these accounts upon your death. After all, you wouldn’t want your precious memories to fall into the wrong hands or worse yet, get deleted.