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Family Law and Divorce Law Resource Blog

Break Free without Breaking the Law

Sometimes, people break laws they don’t even know exist when trying to defend their child custody or divorce case. Make sure you know the legalities of your actions before you do something that could negatively impact the results. You may find that something you expect to grant you an advantage will actually do more harm than good.

Setting Up an Ex Sets You Up for Failure
It happens more often than you might think: During a bitter divorce, each spouse sees the worst in one another. They both begin to fear losing what they value most, whether it be the children, the home, the bank account or even the family dog. When tensions and stakes are running high, it’s easy to feel a need to show the world – or at least the courts — just how bad you think your ex really is. It’s a compulsion that often results in imprudent stunts to not only make the other person look bad, but to capture self-generated evidence for the courts.

For instance, you’ve probably heard tales about jilted husbands and wives who hire an investigator or actor to pose as a flirtatious stranger, hoping to trick the other spouse into illicit behavior. Another sneaky scenario can involve one spouse trying to intentionally get their ex intoxicated, for the purpose of recording the event and showing it to the court to “prove” that the duped party is unfit to be a parent. Essentially, designing an incriminating situation for your ex can be equated to lying to the court.

When trying to get the upper hand in a custody or divorce case, the best advice to follow is relying on good behavior and sound legal guidance. Avoiding vindictive, entrapping solutions will save you a lot of heartache – and can keep the court in your favor.

Handling Injunctions
Breaching an injunction, no matter how innocent it may seem, is another major woe. If there’s an injunction mandating that two spouses don’t communicate, a single Facebook message violates that. Even a few sips of alcohol violate a sobriety injunction. Withdrawing a small sum out of a joint account violates an injunction that bars spouses from stealing marital assets. When it comes to the law, there’s no such thing as “a little bit won’t hurt.” A little bit can hurt – big time.

This particularly applies to child custody cases. If an injunction is barring you from spending the time you want with your children, or from seeing them at all, it is very important that you follow the law while you work with a qualified lawyer to modify the legal arrangement.

This is especially trying for parents who have an injunction against them because of false allegations made by the ex or another family member. Your lawyer should be able to help you work through unjust allegations and court orders, but you must keep your actions lawful. Violating a parental rights injunction is illegal and, in some cases, sets you up to face kidnapping charges. No matter how good a parent you are, courts do not look favorably upon these indictments. Being patient and following legal counsel is the most loving thing you can do for your children if you are ever faced with this type of situation.

Tread Lightly When Using Social Media
Online rants about your former partner may feel therapeutic in the moment, but be extremely careful what you say in a public space. Commentary about somebody else’s behavior could land you in hot water if it’s deemed harassment or slander. Snooping in your ex’s social media or other online accounts is not legal, and should be avoided altogether. Similarly, it’s best to not address your ex at all on social media, lest you end up with a harassment complaint on your hands. See some of our other tips for handling social media during divorce.

Divorce is rarely simple, and trying to take matters into your own hands can only make it more complicated. To make sure you’re setting yourself up for a win in court, consult with the family lawyers at Nichols Law.

Understanding Grandparents’ Rights and Helping Grandchildren Cope through Divorce

When parents divorce, many relationships are changed. One is the bond between children and their grandparents. Divorce can make this relationship more difficult or, in the worst cases, end it altogether. On the other hand, the bond sometimes becomes stronger when grandparents step in during or after a divorce to play a bigger role in caring for their grandchildren.

As a grandparent, there are a number of ways you can help children through their parents’ divorce. In some cases, you may first have to overcome legal obstacles that threaten your relationship with your grandkids. Here’s a brief look into the rights and expectations grandparents should have:

Grandparents’ Rights in a Divorce

Ultimately, parents are the legal decision makers when it comes to who may visit their children and under what circumstances. In a majority of divorce cases, the parents have no qualms about letting their children stay in touch with their ex-spouse’s family members. In these situations, grandparents are free to interact with their grandchildren as usual.

In more difficult divorce cases, one or both parents might decide they don’t want other relatives to have visitation rights with their children. When these sorts of conflicts arise, grandparents in Texas must be prepared to fight a hard battle. Under Texas law, grandparents do have some rights to visitation or custody, but they are limited.

If one parent is attempting to bar grandparents from visiting, the grandparent must overcome the court’s presumption that the disapproving parent is acting in the child’s best interests. To do this, they must prove to a judge that the grandchild will suffer in physical health or emotional well-being from the grandparent’s absence.

Before proving your case, though, Texas courts also require that at least one parent maintains their parental rights. Furthermore, you can fight for custody of your grandchildren if your son or daughter (the parent) does not have custody because they are deceased, in jail, declared incompetent by the courts or do not have court-sanctioned rights to their children.

Helping Grandchildren through Divorce

When parents divorce, a grandparent’s role in a child’s life can become especially valuable. Provided that you have visitation rights to your grandchildren, you can help provide them the safety, support and assurance they need during this tumultuous time.

Provide safe, loving and nurturing physical and emotional spaces for your grandchildren. Allow them to process the feelings they have about the divorce. You probably have your own emotions about the situation, but be careful not to speak harshly of either parent or the decisions they make. Children need extra stability during divorce, and judgments from relatives will further undercut the family structure.

Even if you can’t be present, try to make holidays, life milestones and other occasions special by sending notes or calling your grandchildren. Your love and participation in their lives can make all the difference.

Of course, you must respect court-ordered judgments. If court mandates don’t allow you to be as big a part of your grandchildren’s lives as you want to be, work with your lawyer to find a way to rectify the situation. But above all, don’t jeopardize your chances by disobeying court orders.

Texas laws for grandparent visitation are complicated. To understand your rights as a grandparent, contact the experienced family lawyers at Nichols Law.

Adjusting to Stepparenting: How to Build Strong Bonds

 

What’s the hardest, most rewarding job in the world? Kids might say an astronaut, a football player or a zookeeper, but if you have kids – you probably know that being a parent can be one of the hardest, yet most rewarding jobs of all.

The same can be said about becoming a stepparent, which may even be a bit harder but equally as rewarding. However many new stepparents aren’t prepared for the range of emotions and difficulties they will face as they try to bring a family together. So when the going gets tough, remember that the hardships of any type of parenting do pay off in the end. Blending a family is a huge adjustment and can take years, but you can make it easier by preparing yourself ahead of time.

“You’re Not My Mom!”

At some point, every stepmom or stepdad hears this. Gaining respect and acceptance is a process. It takes a lot of patience and thoughtfulness to achieve.

  • Allow kids to have feelings of anger and opposition, but set rules regarding how they are allowed to express their feelings. For example, your stepchild isn’t obligated to open up to you, but he or she should be obligated to answer your questions with courtesy and respect.
  • Allow your spouse to be the one who enforces the rules, until your stepchildren have accepted you as a legitimate authority force. If a child has been disrespectful, you can send them to their room or ask them not to behave that way, but their birth parent should be the one who talks to them and define penalties for bad behavior.
  • Lead by example! Treat your stepchildren with kindness, patience and respect. Continued love and patience will pay off in the end.

Differing Discipline Styles

Disagreements over how to parent can happen between you and your new spouse. Added complications can incur amongst parenting styles of the ex-spouse(s) as well. Always keep in mind that there is no perfect, one-size-fits-all parenting style.

If the disparity occurs between you and your spouse:

  • Collaborating on how to set rules at home is healthy for the whole family, but traditional wisdom says to let the birth parent have the final say on their child’s discipline. A new authority figure is a big adjustment for kids, and older ones especially respond better to the authority they’re used to – their birth parents.
  • Be supportive of your spouse’s decisions. Even if you don’t agree 100%, support and stand behind the decision that is made for the child. Be open and honest to your spouse about parenting styles and tactics, but make sure it is not done in front of the children. There is going to be a learning curve on both sides!

If the disparity is between you and an ex-spouse:

  • You cannot control somebody else’s parenting style. What you can do is make it clear that the rules between each household are different. Tell the kids, “It’s fine for you to leave your dishes in the sink at your mom’s house if she doesn’t mind you doing so, but in our house you will wash your dishes after each meal.” This attitude is especially helpful because it shows respect for the child’s other family.
  • Know that there is a bright side to the situation! It’s healthy for kids to adapt to a variety of rule systems and social settings. They already encounter these shifts on a regular basis as they transition from home to school to their friends’ houses to after school activities. Each setting has a different routine and a different standard of behavior – this variety is good for child development. One more environment in the mix is not going to hurt.
  • Just as you wouldn’t criticize your spouse’s parenting in front of the children, you also shouldn’t criticize an ex-spouses’ parenting style in front of the kids either.

Getting More than You Bargained For

Kids who seemed reasonable and well-behaved before you moved in with them can surprise you with tantrums, obstinacy and bad habits that surface once you’re all under one roof.

  • Keep your emotional balance by maintaining a weekly “me time” schedule that restores a little serenity to your week. Taking care of your own emotional needs frees you up to be a more relaxed, more present parent.
  • Have a conversation with your spouse to figure out if there are changes the two of you can make together to make the situation less overwhelming.
  • If the problem is with kids in the 10-15 year old group, remember that this age is usually a tumultuous time for all families, blended or not. The added impact of a new family structure and a new authority figure can jostle teenage feelings even more. Focus on being compassionate and patient.

Spending Time with Stepchildren Who Don’t Live with You

Stepchildren don’t always live with your family. When you have a limited amount of time to spend with them, it can be hard to form a relationship while still making sure they stay close with their birth parent.

  • Each time they visit, plan a schedule that allows the whole family to spend time together, but also leaves room for alone time between your spouse and his or her children. Kids of divorced parents need a personal bond with their birth parent, and that can be hard to maintain if kids see the stepfamily as “always in the way.”
  • Kids who only visit occasionally may take much longer to warm up to you, but it’s just as important to be a stable, supportive part of their lives as it would be if they lived with you. Show up for their extracurricular activities, send them encouraging notes and let them know that they always have a place in your life.

If you have children of your own, you know parenting is a trying experience, full of ups, downs and unknowns. The same holds true for parenting stepchildren. But hang in there. With time, patience and love – you’ll discover it’s the most rewarding job of all.

The Child Custody Battle: A Hard Decision

If you are already at the point of considering a court-mandated child custody ruling, deciding on an out-of-court agreement can be even harder than initiating the divorce proceedings or coming to grips with the fact that your family’s life is taking a drastic turn. However, an out-of-court decision will save you countless time and money, and can be one of the better decisions made for all parties involved – including the children.

Beliefs and Opinions Are Not Evidence

Most parents genuinely love their children, are responsible enough to keep them safe and healthy, and are willing to work toward giving them the best life possible. In short, most parents are trying to be good parents.

However, you may not like your spouse’s parenting skills, but it’s more than likely that he or she makes parenting decisions based off what he or she thinks would benefit the children. Unless a legitimate question regarding abuse or neglect already exists, each of your attorneys will have a difficult time “proving” to a judge or jury that one of you is an unfit or “better” parent.

Convictions and feelings cannot be used as evidence in a court of law. A judge or jury cannot make a rational decision based on either parent’s fears or hopes. Even having a plan for how you will handle being a single parent means little unless you can prove you are in a good position to actively pursue it.

Because of that, attorneys often have to rely on debasing the other parent’s character in order to sway a judge or jury. And it can be a difficult process across the board.

In Custody Battles, Expect Some Attacks

When a custody battle goes to court, parents are compared to each other in brutal detail. Since the majority of parents are caring and generally responsible, the battle becomes a matter of dredging up and dissecting every mistake and questionable life detail from the past and present. Did you get in trouble for underage drinking in college? Did you once forget to pick your child up from daycare? Did a friend ever record you saying politically incorrect things while you were tipsy?

In a courtroom, all those instances are going to be put on stage and blown out of proportion to make you look like a bad person. But the truth is, every person has slipped up – even once in their life. Every parent forgets something, loses their patience and behaves selfishly every once in a while. Making mistakes is part of being a human being. That’s true for you – and it’s probably true for your spouse, too.

After A Court Ruling, There’s No Going Back

Court-ordered custody draws a hard line, leaving one parent standing on the wrong side. In most cases, each parent is resolute that they are in the right and that they will win custody. Yet one will have to lose. Are you willing to take the risk that it could be you?

If both parents are capable of providing their child or children with a long-term, healthy and loving environment – the most important thing in any child’s life – then we recommend finding an agreement that allows both to share at least partial custody rather than having the court select a single parent. While special circumstances may allow some changes to your order, a custody modification post court ruling requires tremendous time and financial costs.

Does What You Want Line Up with the Best Interest of the Child?

For children, court custody battles only drag out the hurtful and confusing process of divorce. Settling matters outside of a court is gentler on children, allowing them to stay in close contact with each of their parents. At the end of each day, every kid wants a safe, stable place in which to curl up in bed – a place where Mom or Dad watches over them. If possible, don’t delay that for them. They deserve that. They need that. And they need both of the parents that they know and love, even if they get them as separate packages rather than a unit.

Making the Final Decision on Court-Ordered Custody

This is a difficult and arduous process for both parents. You don’t have to decide all the details right away. Keep in mind that, in cases where court-mandated custody is being considered, there is almost no solution that will fully satisfy either parent. But if you can live with a “pretty good” solution, you may avoid potential heartbreak should the court rule in the other parent’s favor. You will certainly avoid putting your children through unnecessary stress and uncertainty. 

No perfect resolution exists in divorce situations. As a parent, no matter what your new living arrangement may be, providing a stable, safe and loving home should always be at the forefront of your priorities.

Visit our resource page for more information on child custody in Texas. If you or someone you know is struggling with a child custody battle, contact the attorneys at Nichols Law. With decades of family law experience, we pledge to always be caring and responsive to your needs.

 

In the Minds of Jurors: Persuasion and Psychology

If your divorce trial ends up in court, you can request that a jury be present. Jurors provide a unique outside perspective to help settle complicated divorce matters, like asset division and child visitation rights.

Studies have uncovered a great deal about how groups of jurors think – what makes them empathetic to one party over another and what persuades them to change their minds. As soon as you know your case is going before a jury, you and your legal team must shift focus from “just the facts” to considering how you will relate to your jurors. And, of course, what you can do to increase the chances of them selecting a ruling that favors your interests.

Psychology and Law

When jurors are deciding fault in a divorce trial, they typically use two methods to determine right actions from wrong actions. The first is established laws and rules. For example, if a plaintiff was charged with breaking and entering into the home of their spouse’s lover. Despite the fact that the other spouse was the one cheating, more often than not, the jury will look unfavorably upon the one who blatantly broke a law.

The other method jurors use to determine fault in a divorce case is their personal standard of conduct and beliefs. Essentially this means that, if one spouse has habits or behaviors that run counter to “social norms,” the jurors may hold it against them – even if that spouse isn’t doing any harm. For example, jurors may feel puzzled or uncomfortable upon finding out that a mother puts a toddler through intensive exercise programs or a father allows a nine-year-old to stay home alone. Whether or not there is anything wrong with such behaviors is for the jury to debate, but members are generally uncomfortable with extreme or unusual behaviors that fall outside social normalcy.

In-Court Behavior

A big part of the jury’s decision hinges on your actions right there in the courtroom. It should go without saying that all parties involved should dress, speak and act professionally. Beyond that, keeping your emotional responses in check will demonstrate that you are reasonable, thoughtful and self-possessed. Bad behavior in the courtroom isn’t limited to angry outbursts. Sarcasm, eye rolling, interrupting, body language that demonstrates annoyance, and huffing and puffing when you don’t like what your ex is saying all needs to be avoided. You want jurors to have confidence in your ability to handle children, a household, finances and properties – and impatient behaviors won’t work in your favor.

Out-of-Court Behavior

Finally, a huge part of appealing to your jurors is displaying honest actions. Some spouses let their fear or anger get the best of them, and resort to provoking or tricking their ex into bad behavior. From years of experience, we can say that jurors are pretty good at sniffing out disingenuous ploys to make the other party look bad – and they’re never impressed by it. Entrapment, snooping, manipulation and all-around sneakiness are surefire ways to end up in the jury’s crosshairs. Juries tend to respect people who are genuine, compassionate and reasonable – even if they are imperfect.

Dealing with judges and juries is no simple matter. Nichols Law has been helping our clients wade through the details of divorce court for decades. For help preparing for your own divorce trial, contact us today.

 

Understanding Child Custody and Child Support during Divorce

When going through a divorce, one of the most important factors for parents will be what happens to the children. Deciding on custody of a child, child support and visitation rights comes down to what will be best for your own children post the divorce.

We’ve outlined a brief overview of what to expect and what courses of action you can take to protect your children during a divorce. Remember, any legal matter will present its own unique complexities. Depending on your particular family situation, your divorce case may vary from the options outlined below.

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What to Expect When Filing for a Divorce

Getting a divorce is an emotionally draining experience on its own, and the actual legal process of divorce can be quite overwhelming. Immediately upon entering into the divorce process, you will be faced with questions like where each partner will live, who will support the children or who will pay the mortgage. Because there are so many details to work out during divorce, it can take from several months, or in extreme cases several years, to sort everything out. Keep your head above water by learning how the divorce process works and what issues will be presented during the proceedings. Remember that every divorce is a little different, you may have other issues come up in your particular case that change the proceeding.

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Social Media Insight: Are Online “Friends” Impacting Marriage Success?

Social media sites have become an integral part of our daily lives. We are now able to connect with friends and family, streamline news and updates, and develop new relationships – all at the touch of our fingertips. We’ve witnessed amazing emergences out of social media: people being rescued from dangerous situations due to pleas for help via a social site; medical breakthroughs via online brainstorming; rises to political revolutions and the overthrowing of oppressive governments. However, social media can come at a very hefty price.

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Prevent Social Media from Being an “Expert Witness” in Your Case

Did you know that online rants can be construed as harassment if they are judged to be opinion-based rather than fact-based? A survey in 2010 by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers revealed that 81% of their members saw an increase in the utilization of social media evidence over the last five years for divorce cases.

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The Balance of Love & Money

We’ve all heard the common expression “Love conquers all.” We have also heard “Money makes the world go ’round.” So which is it? On one hand, we have an emotion that makes life worth living. On the other, cash is a cold hard necessity of life. Can the two coexist peacefully? The answer is “yes.” All that’s needed is balance.

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