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Houston Business and Family Law Blog

Can I get alimony if we were not formally married?

Like many other Texas residents, you may have had a long-term relationship with someone without having been formally married. Some states recognize common law marriage, which can give couples certain legal protections during their relationship and after they split up. In common law marriage states, property division and other matters are treated much the same way as divorce among legally married people.

What about alimony, you may wonder? If you and your common law spouse were never married, are you entitled to spousal support after the relationship ends? First, it can help to understand the definition of a common law marriage. As FindLaw explains, Texas recognizes common law marriages when the following conditions have been met:

  • You and your partner agree to be married.
  • You both live (cohabitate) together as a married couple.
  • You tell others you are married and conduct your business as a married couple – for example, apply for loans as if you are legally married.

Questions same-sex couples should ask before divorcing

Every couple who gets married in Texas intends to make a commitment that will last a lifetime. Unfortunately, circumstances often arise that make the relationship untenable. Same-sex couples are no more immune to these forces than heterosexual couples, and divorce is no easier to contemplate for same-sex couples than their traditionally married heterosexual counterparts. As a matter of fact, at Laura Dale & Associates we have observed that divorce can actually be more difficult for same-sex couples because of unique legal circumstances that apply. 

An understanding of how the current laws may apply to your situation may help to make the process easier. Forbes Magazine identifies important questions for you to ask as you and your spouse contemplate divorce. 

What should same-sex couples know about domestic violence?

Domestic violence can happen to anyone, regardless of social or financial status, race, gender and sexual orientation. You and other Texas residents should know that those in same-sex marriages are also vulnerable to intimate partner violence. In fact, some studies have shown that those in the LGBTQ community may be more prone to experiencing domestic violence and less likely to seek or get help than heterosexuals.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, studies suggest lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to have experienced sexual assault, physical violence and stalking by a romantic partner than straight women. You may also find it disturbing to learn that 45% of LGBTQ victims do not report domestic violence to authorities because they think they will not receive help.

Dealing with an ex who denies visitation

The tension between you and your ex is still strong, but at least the court-ordered visitation schedule allows you a fair amount of time with your child. However, on your day for visitation, your ex messages to say the child will not be available because of some other obligation. Perhaps you never get a message, but when you arrive at your ex's house to pick up the child, no one is home.

This is not the first time, and you are feeling the precious time with your child slipping away. How do you deal with this matter? Should you withhold child support? Should you call the police? Do you need an attorney?

Cutting costs in divorce

Whether you are close to retirement or still have many years of earning an income ahead of you, a divorce can upend your financial situation and damage any security you may have had. In essence, a divorce divides a couple's wealth and doubles their household expenses. Additionally, the expense of the divorce process can be exorbitant. Some estimate that the average divorce can cost a couple in their 50s as much as $100,000.

If these details make you nervous, you are not alone. However, it is possible that remaining in your marriage is not an option. Like many, you may be looking for ways to split with your spouse without facing bankruptcy at the end of the process. Fortunately, there are ways to cut the cost of ending your marriage.

Sole legal versus physical custody?

Texan parents who are seeking divorce must deal with matters of child custody. In some cases, joint custody may be the preferred option. In others, you may lean toward sole custody and the various options therein.

FindLaw states that there are two specific types of sole custody that you may hold as a parent. One is legal custody, and one is physical custody. Sole legal custody means that you alone are responsible for the major decisions that will impact your child's life, upbringing, and formative years. This can include decisions involving:

  • Religious matters
  • Education
  • Moral and emotional development
  • Medical care
  • Other matters regarding the child's welfare

How you can benefit from a mediated divorce

When potential clients come to us here at Laura Dale & Associates PC seeking advice about their impending divorce, one of the first things we always tell them is that in most Texas counties, including those in and around Houston, the family law courts require that a divorcing couple go through an out-of-court mediation process prior to seeking a trial. If you and your spouse are talking about divorce, you need to be aware of this requirement and the many benefits it can afford you.

The American Bar Association points out that unlike a divorce that starts and ends with litigation, a mediated divorce gives you and your spouse the opportunity to divorce in the most amicable way possible. Specifically, mediation provides you the following advantages:

  • The opportunity for the two of you to meet with a neutral mediator in a private, nonthreatening environment
  • The opportunity for the two of you to negotiate together so as to make your own decisions rather than being forced into decisions made by a judge or jury
  • The opportunity to save a considerable amount of money since mediated divorces often cost somewhere between 40-60% less than fully litigated divorces
  • The opportunity to avoid public court records detailing you and your spouse’s private lives
  • The opportunity to avail yourselves of a flexible timetable within which to negotiate and conclude your agreements

What do you know about paternity tests?

If you are like other men here in Texas, becoming a father fills you with mixed emotions. On the one hand, you could feel anxious and fearful, and on the other, you can't wait to meet your child and watch him or her grow. Even with these conflicting emotions, you don't shy away from your responsibilities and want to be part of your child's life.

The only problem is that the law does not consider you the legal father of your child if you are not married to his or her mother. You have to establish paternity, and a big part of doing so involves a DNA test to determine biological paternity, especially if the mother will not acknowledge your parentage.

Why a Facebook divorce is a really bad idea

At the law offices of Laura Dale & Associates PC, we work with clients every day who wish to obtain a Texas divorce. Along with the advice we give them regarding their custody arrangements, property settlement agreements and possible spousal support requests, we also strongly advise them not to post any personal information on Facebook and the other social media while going through the divorce process.

As FindLaw explains, a divorce situation represents the precise time during which you should steadfastly refrain from putting information online that could come back to haunt you at your divorce hearing. While you may think that such an event is highly unlikely, you need to know that many divorce attorneys make it a practice to go through the Facebook and the other social media postings of their clients’ spouses in order to discover negative information about them that they can subsequently use against them in court.

Should I wait until my divorce is final to update my estate plan?

Changing your estate plan can seem like a painstaking task, especially if you are undergoing a significant life change, such as a marriage or a divorce. When you are going through a divorce, the last thing you want to do is complicate your life even further. Like other Texas residents in this position, you may decide to put off updating your will and trusts until after the divorce is final. However, there are many reasons you may want to update your estate plan now, during the divorce process.

As Forbes explains, your life can unexpectedly change before your divorce is finalized. You may get in an accident and become incapacitated, or you could pass away. Even though you are going through a divorce, you are still legally married. This means your spouse remains entitled to the assets and benefits in your estate planning, if you have not updated your plan. For example, he or she may serve as your health care proxy or power of attorney, which might not be something you want during your divorce. You may also want to name someone else as the executor of your will and prevent him or her from inheriting items that solely belong to you, such as an inheritance you received or family heirlooms.

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