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Domestic Relations

Marriage

Who can I marry?

As long as your spouse is 18 or older-or is 16 or 17 and has parental consent-and is not a relative of yours within the first degree of blood relationship (no, you cannot marry your first cousin), and as long as neither of you is already married, the joinder is legal.

Can I get an annulment from the State if things do not work out?

The grounds are very limited. Broadly - here are the grounds recognized by the State of Texas: you can do this only a) if one of the parties is under 18 and without parental consent, b) if either party is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, c) if either party is impotent and the other party was unaware of it at the time of the union, d) if there is fraud, force, or duress to cause the wedding to happen (a shotgun wedding), e) if there is mental incapacity, f) if a concealed divorce occurred within 30 days of the new wedding, or g) if the action is sought within 72 hours of the ceremony. There are some exceptions and limitations to these rules, so please consult an attorney before you try to proceed.

Divorce

Can I get a separation in Texas?

Texas law does not provide for a "legal separation." You are either married or not.

What is "no fault" divorce?

Texas has a "no fault" divorce law which allows spouses to file for divorce without having to prove grounds, (such as mental cruelty, adultery, abandonment, etc.). The spouses simply have to prove that the marriage cannot be saved because of irreconcilable differences.

How long after I file the Petition for Divorce can I get divorced?

There is a 60-day waiting period from the date that you filed for divorce before you are granted a final hearing to finalize the divorce. If there has been family violence, the 60-day waiting period is waived. Evidence of family violence includes: 1) An active Protective Order in place or 2) a final conviction of or deferred adjudication for an offense involving family violence against the petitioner or a member of the Petitioner's household.

Is alimony allowed in Texas?

Texas does not provide for alimony, but does provide for spousal maintenance for up to five years for a person who has been in a marriage of between ten and twenty years duration, up to seven years for a person who has been in a marriage between twenty and thirty years duration, and up to ten years for a person who has been in a marriage over thirty years duration, provided the person does not live with another partner with whom they are in a relationship. In all cases, the spouse must lack the ability for self-support or have a child that requires substantial care due to a disability that prevents the spouse from being self-supporting. Another way to be eligible for this type of support is if a person lacks sufficient property to provide for their own reasonable needs and the other spouse was convicted, or has been granted deferred adjudication and placed under community supervision, for an act of family violence within a two-year time frame prior to the filing of the divorce or during the time the divorce is pending; in these circumstances, the marriage can be for any duration of time, even less than ten years.

Do I have to hire an attorney?

No. However, it is only advisable for you to do your own divorce if:

  • the divorce is uncontested,
  • there are no children of the marriage,
  • you do not own any real estate, and
  • you have agreed to a division of the personal property and debts.

Child Support

How is child support calculated?

The court will determine the child support based upon what is in the best interest of the child. Texas law has established guidelines for child support-for one child, 20% of the monthly net income of the paying parent; for two children, 25%; for three children, 30%; for four children or more, 35%.

The obligation to pay child support carries with it the obligation to provide medical insurance for the children. The non-custodial parent should provide medical insurance for the children through their employment. If insurance is not available through employment, the paying parent must reimburse the custodial parent for the cost of carrying the children on the custodial parent's insurance. If the custodial parent is unable to provide medical insurance for the children, then the paying parent must pay to cover medical expenses. The cost of the medical insurance is in addition to, not part of, child support.

What if there is a change in the income in the parent who is responsible for child support?

If the parent paying child support has a negative change in their financial situation, the parent should file a modification and request that the child support be reduced. The parent collecting child support can also file a modification to request an increase in support if no support order or modification has been made in three years and the difference in child support would increase $100 or more, or if the overall child support will increase by 20%.

Visitation

How does the court decide visitation?

The court will determine custody and visitation of the child based upon what is in the best interest of the child. However, parents are encouraged to come to their own agreements in regards to visitation. This is because you understand your child's needs and those of your family better than a judge who does not know you. If you cannot come to an agreement as to visitation, the Texas Family Code has a suggested visitation formula that provides for the non-possessory parent to have custody of the children every other weekend and alternating holidays.

What is the Standard visitation schedule?

The standard visitation allows the non-possessory parent to have visitation with the child on the first, third, and fifth weekends of the month. There is also a provision for midweek visitations on Thursday evenings. Additionally, the Non-possessory parent has 30 days of Extended Summer visitation each summer. The major holidays such as: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Spring Break, alternate in even and odd years between the parents. The visitations begin and end at 6 p.m.

Once there is a court ordered visitation schedule in place, can it be changed?

There may come a time when there is a change in circumstances and the visitation schedule with the child needs to change. One example could be a change in one parent's work schedule. A modification can be filed to make changes to the visitation schedule.

Paternity

What if I have a child by a man who later denies responsibility for fathering the child?

You can file a paternity lawsuit. Once this occurs, the court will order blood tests. If the court determines that the man is the father, the court will determine custody, visitation rights and child support. If neither the mother nor the father want the father to be involved with supporting or raising the child and if the mother does not apply for welfare support, no paternity action is required. If the custodial parent applies for governmental financial assistance, the County Attorney or Attorney General will bring suit against the non-paying parent to recover moneys they have paid to the custodial parent for child support.

In addition, a man who has already filed an acknowledgment or denial of paternity may file a statement withdrawing the previously stated denial of paternity within 60 days of signing the original acknowledgment/denial or before any proceeding occurs in which the man is a party to adjudicate an issue relating to the child, whichever is first.

Military Parents who are Deployed

What happens if I am deployed during my child visitation rights?

If you are the primary custodial parent you can designate someone to fill that role in your absence during deployment. If you are the non-possessory parent you can designate someone to exercise your visitation in your absence, and once you return from deployment you can petition the court for make-up visitation. In order to make any of these elections, you have to file a modification and request temporary orders, which will expire upon the end of your deployment. You do not need to prove a substantial change in circumstances to get the modification, provided that deployment is the reason the request for temporary orders was filed.

Grandparent Access

What rights do grandparents have?

Grandparents do not have any statutory legal rights. Grandparents can petition the court for possession or access to their grandchildren if: 1) there is a living parent who has not had their parental rights terminated and 2) the grandparent can prove that the child's physical health will be endangered and the child's emotional well-being and development will be impaired if access is not granted. Judges are given discretion on whether or not to grant grandparent access.

Stepparents

What rights do Stepparents have regarding their spouse's children?

Typically, stepparents do not have any legal rights in regard to their spouse's children. However, a custodial parent can delegate certain parental rights to the stepparent in documents such as: a medical power of attorney, a durable power of attorney, or a document on file at a child's school that authorizes the stepparent access to the child's educational records and the authority to sign parental documents on behalf of the child. If a stepparent formally adopts a child, they have all the rights and responsibilities to the child as the biological parent. In order for a stepparent to adopt, the non-possessory parent's rights to the child must be terminated and if the child to be adopted is 12 years or older, the child must consent.

Spousal or Child Abuse

What if someone abuses me or my child?

Most importantly, protect yourself and your children by moving out of harm's way to a friend's house or possibly to a battered women's shelter. If you live in Travis County, you may obtain a protective order free of charge through the Travis County Attorney's office. A protective order is an option in cases of:

  • abuse by a family member;
  • abuse by a person with whom the victim has had a "dating relationship;"
  • sexual assault.

Violation of a protective order can be punished by confinement in jail for up to one year or a fine of up to $4,000, or both. If you are a victim of abuse, or if you have knowledge of abuse, there are community organizations that can help. (See the list of community resources at the end of this handbook.) Texas law requires any person who suspects or has actual knowledge of child abuse to report the situation to the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services.