This picture is taken with two of my law school classmates - Mark Bentley and Jim Phillips - who work in the General Counsel’s office of the University of Texas system in Austin. I met them for a visit this week, and also with the knowledge that the picture below would end up on the appropriate Facebook walls. Indeed, Mark had it up while we were just beginning our visit in Jim’s office downtown after taking the picture at the Capitol.
There may be bills about Facebook pending before the legislature now; I do not know. But I do know a whole lot about the bills that have been filed that affect Family Law.
I spent the week in Austin as a volunteer lobbyist for the Texas Family Law Foundation to help good legislation to be promulgated by the legislature. Experienced family law attorneys volunteer to spend a week in Austin to aid with that effort. Sometimes bills will be heard before the Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee of the House or before the Jurisprudence Committee of the Senate. During the 2011 session, I testified before both the House and the Senate committees. I refer to the week that I, along with Heather King and Charla Bradshaw, testified as the “Superbowl” week of the 2011 session for Family Law, as the Fraud on the Community bill, the Alimony bill, and the Paternity Fraud bill all had hearings that week. Those three bills, all of which became law, were a main part of the Family Law Section’s - and Foundation’s - 2011 legislative package.
This week in February 2013 found the committees of the Senate and House just getting organized and not yet conducting hearings on bills. So my job this week was to assist the Foundation’s lobbyists, Steve Bresnan and Glenn DeShields, in reviewing bills and explaining some bills to either the staff of the committees, to the legislative aides of senators or representatives, or, in fact, to legislators themselves.
Steve would talk to the appropriate party, and would arrange a meeting . We would explain our request for refinement, clarification or express our concerns about a bill. I believe that the Texas Family Law Foundation and its lobbyists are well respected in Austin, due in part to the fact that the Family Law Bar speaks with one voice. Not to mention skilled and knowledgeable lobbyists.
An example is that a certain legislator’s bill would have caused an impermissible retroactive modification of a family law judgment. Steve notified the legislator’s staff of our concerns and arranged a meeting with the legislator and we were accompanied by a member of the Attorney General’s staff to the meeting. After our visit and by the end of the day, we were able to suggest insertions and deletions into the bill with which the legislator, the AG’s represenative and the Foundation were all very comfortable.
So not only did I get to see how “sausage is made” but I got to participate just a little bit in that process. And hopefully made for a little bit better sausage.
Mark Bentley, Jim Phillips, Ken Raggio, UT School of Law class of 1974
Forbes Magazine recently posted an article suggesting the "Five Best Financial Tips for Women Divorcing in 2013" We thought we would expand the list to ten. Most are activites to do BEFORE a divorce is filed.
1. Gather financial documents, such as tax returns, end of year statements from banks and brokerage houses. End of year credit card statments may have a whole year of transactions. Having good information before a divorce commences can make it go easier.
2. Assess your credit. Get a copy of your credit report, and take steps to protect your credit. The filing of a divorce may prevent you from taking some steps in this area.
3. Open bank account and credit cards in your own name. That way you have funds that are not accessible to your spouse, and a credit card he can't cut off.
4. Begin to assemble a professional divorce team. Hopefully, you will have something in your estate othe than tupperware and credit card debt. Consulting with a divorce attorney, and perhaps others if there are assets or other issues that beg for analysis by experts, is a real good idea.
5. Be watchful. If you're think about a divorce, your spouse may be also. And may already be on a missionto hide assets or income. Look at the documents that come intoyour view, look at computer screens, and generally assess whether the flow of information has become restricted, or you hear cries how how "business is terrible." The anecdoctal information you gather can help your divorce team immensely when the time comes.
6. Keep track of and document significant events. Your notes to yourself can later help construct a timeline that helps you and your team figure out what has been happening.
7. Remember that you are married until the divorce decree is signed by the Judge. There is no common law divorce, where you can feel free to take up a new relationship.
8. Get needed medical and dental work done while you still have coverage while you're married.
9. Have a safe place to keep your documents that are outside the easy access of your spouse. It doesn't do you any good to collect helpful if not critical documents if they suddenly disappear.
10. Protect yourself--physically-- and your confidential information. Don't allow yourself to be initmindated or worse. 911 is there for a reason. Change your passwords that allow access to your computers, cell phone, social media, email, and finanacial sites. Don't use passwords your spouse can maybe figure out. Have your home and vehicle swept for bugs--and not the six legged kind.
The articles on the website explain in much detail what esle to expect in a Plano, Ft.Worth, Denton or Rockwall divorce.
Most women find that a consultation with one of our Dallas Divorce Attorneys helps guide them through the pre-divorce-planning and information gathering stage of their life. The Forbes article is here.
The Texas Supreme Court has approved pro se divorce forms for couples without children or property.
The court is accepting public comment on the forms, but substantial changes are not expected, the Austin American-Statesman and Texas Lawyer’s Tex Parte Blog report.
In its order approving the forms, the court said it was confident they would help address the “burgeoning population” of litigants who can’t afford a lawyer or can’t obtain one through a legal service provider.
Three justices said in a dissenting statement that they feared the forms would result in more people representing themselves even when they can afford lawyers. The statement also expressed concern that litigants would be lulled into believing the forms would adequately address their interests.
A problem inherent in the system-with or without the forms- is the inordinate amount of time that Court clerks and the Courts themselves spend dealing with the pro se divorces. One long time Dallas County Associate family Law Court Judge recently retired, substantailly becuse the judge felt overrun with pro se litigants seeking divorces, which by experience, was wrongly requested or done. If the forms eliminate this problem, great! But the forms are likely to increase the total time and efforts OUR GOVERNMENT has to pay for to guide hundreds if not thousands of people from square one all the way through the process.
An analagy is: you could build your own car, but would you want to drive it? No, you would want someone who has done it before...
A problem with pro se divorce is the high probablility of fraud--either in procurement of signatures or in the failure to disclose property such as pension plans, or other assets that are not immediately at hand. The Supreme Court's order say that this should not be possible, but experience suggests otherwise.
We shall see.