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Will a New Texas Law Eliminate Adoptions for Non-Christians and LGBT Families?

Rainbow flag with religious icons

Although Texas currently has hundreds of thousands of children living in foster or adoptive care, the recent enactment of a law designed to shield child welfare providers, those who deny services due to their religious beliefs, may significantly restrict the number, types, and religious affiliations of families who are permitted to foster or adopt a child. Texas House Bill 3859, enacted in June 2017, is likely to face constitutional challenges in the near future, but could have a near-immediate impact on many Texas families, particularly non-Christian and LGBT families who wish to foster or adopt a child.

Shielding Child Welfare Providers

This new Texas law prevents state authorities from taking adverse actions (like stripping state licenses or issuing injunctions) against child welfare providers who deny various services to certain individuals based on their religious beliefs. Although cited as a measure necessary to preserve these welfare providers’ religious freedom, many cite this law as a license to discriminate based on religion, sexual orientation, and other federally-protected characteristics.

In addition to ensuring a child welfare provider will face no legal repercussions for refusing to place a foster child with an otherwise well-qualified same-sex or non-Christian couple, this law also gives state-licensed foster parents the ability to legally refuse to vaccinate their foster children, to deny contraception to foster teens, or even to send foster teens who identify as LGBT to “conversion camps” that promise to eliminate any same-sex attraction.

What Impact Will This Law Have?

This law has already been widely criticized by a variety of civil rights groups and even some Texas law professors, who cite it as overbroad and therefore unconstitutional. Referring to this law as “prejudicial,” California’s Attorney General has already placed a moratorium on state-sponsored travel to Texas; other states that have expanded protections for LGBT foster and adoptive parents may soon follow suit.

Because laws that restrict one of an individual’s fundamental constitutional rights are reviewed under a strict scrutiny standard, meaning that they must be written as narrowly as possible and designed to fulfill a “compelling state interest,” overly broad laws that permit otherwise unconstitutional discrimination or that don’t have a clear and necessary goal are often struck down by the appellate courts. Similar laws in other states, including Michigan, have previously been deemed unconstitutional, although some Texas lawmakers indicate that this is simply a “status quo” extension of constitutional religious freedom laws.

At least one civil rights organization has already announced its intent to challenge this law once it takes effect. Unfortunately, for the issue to be “ripe” and therefore open for appeal, this means that at least one Texas family will have to show that their rights were violated and they suffered harm as a direct result of this new provision. Other organizations (and even state governments) hope that the controversy this law has generated may spur lawmakers to preemptively amend it to better comport with the Texas and federal constitutions, so that no families will be harmed.

It is important to note that although the law has changed in order to protect adoption and foster care agencies from repercussions should they decide against a couple due to their religious beliefs or sexual orientation, there are many more factors to consider when contemplating adopting a child.  Additionally, this new law does not mean that it is impossible to adopt in Texas if you a non-Christian or identify as LGTB; it just means finding an agency that doesn’t discriminate against these qualities.  If you are considering adoption but aren’t sure what the specific adoption laws in Texas are, or how to go about finding an agency that is a good fit for you, contact family attorney Frank Mann.  He will listen to your needs and concerns, and give you informative advice on how to proceed.

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How Can a Failure to Pay Child Support Impact Your Vehicle Registration?

Judge Barnstar Hires

Whether you haven’t always received the child support payments to which you’re entitled or you’ve fallen behind on payments yourself, you’re not alone–only about half of all divorced or separated parents have a formal child support order in place, and fewer than 70 percent of these payments are actually made on time.

However, a new program sponsored by the Texas Office of Attorney General is attempting to change the trend of unpaid child support. The Denial of Motor Vehicle Registration Renewal Program (DMVRR) has collected more than $1 million in delinquent child support since September 2016 by preventing the renewal of vehicle registrations to those who have had a delinquent child support obligation within the prior 6 months. It is important to know what you’re facing when child support issues arise, and the DMVRR will affect every Texas driver that has fallen behind on child support.  Let’s take a look at what you can expect if you’ve missed a few child support payments yourself.

What Does the DMVRR Program Do?

For years, lawmakers and courts have struggled with the question of how best to (legally) enforce child support obligations. While courts have the power to hold a non-complying party in contempt for failing to abide by the court-ordered support obligation, incarcerating parents for failure to pay support has drawn criticism by those who say spending time in jail makes it even harder to hold down steady employment.

A recent legislative amendment now permits the office of the Attorney General (Texas Title IV-D agency, which handles Texas child support enforcement) to withhold vehicle registration renewals from those with delinquent child support obligations. An expired registration can subject drivers to hefty civil penalties if they’re pulled over, and the lack of a renewal sticker on a car windshield can provide enough probable cause for a traffic stop–even if the driver is otherwise obeying all traffic laws.

What License Renewal Options Are Available for Those with Delinquent Support Obligations?

Fortunately, this program doesn’t require those with delinquent child support obligations to make payment in full before they can renew their registrations; instead, you’ll be able to seek renewal immediately after entering into a payment plan with the IV-D department. As long as you adhere to this plan, even if it takes some time to get fully caught up, you won’t be restricted from renewing your auto registration.

You’ll also be provided with at least 90 days of notice that your ability to renew may be in danger, giving you plenty of time to come up with some extra funds or otherwise make arrangements to cover your support obligations. In some cases, it may be worthwhile to seek a modification of your support obligation going forward.  While a child support modification judgement in your favor won’t erase your past due child support, a lower payment going forward can provide you with a bit of extra breathing room in your monthly budget.

Keep in mind that defaulting on any agreed upon payment plan can carry some stiff consequences, so if you find yourself unable to meet your obligations, you’ll want to notify the IV-D program coordinators as soon as possible and make alternative arrangements. Failing to communicate about your reasons for defaulting can only harm your case and make it that much harder to seek registration renewal in the future.

If you have found yourself in a situation where it is difficult to make your full child support obligation, and don’t want to find yourself driving illegally, contact the Law Offices of Frank E. Mann, P.C. for a free consultation.  We can evaluate your case and help you find a realistic solution.

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What Does the Alex Jones Verdict Mean for Public Personalities Fighting for Custody?

Even if you try to avoid political news, you may have heard about the custody trial (and travails) of ultra-conservative radio host Alex Jones, who was recently stripped of his rights to his children by a Texas jury. While Jones contended that many of his most outrageous public remarks were made in the name of entertainment, his ex-wife and her legal team disagreed, likening him to a “cult leader” who was brainwashing their children. The jury agreed, awarding custody to Jones’s ex-wife, in a 10-2 vote after deliberating for nearly 9 hours.

While this case received a great deal of media exposure due to the fame and flamboyance of the personality involved, there are many other similar custody negotiations and battles that take place under the radar. Are public personalities at risk of having custody removed because of controversial or offensive comments they make on air?

However unfortunate, it would seem that publicly disseminated remarks may be used against public personalities, as well as the public at large, in custody battles where offensive comments may sway the jury.

What evidence was used against Alex Jones in his custody case?

Although Alex Jones’s ex-wife sought to introduce a substantial number of media clips of her ex-husband’s remarks, such as his statements that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax and his claim that police smoke seized marijuana to test its effectiveness, only two video clips were deemed relevant enough to be admissible. These included:

  • An Election Night clip of Jones, obviously inebriated, shouting “the age of man is here” and announcing his intent to urinate on a tree; and
  • A clip of Jones smoking marijuana (in a state where the use of marijuana is legal) that was first broadcast on a television show.
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    The impact of these clips on the jury was unclear, but it’s doubtful that they didn’t affect, in some way, jury members that aren’t like-minded.  More compelling seemed to be the testimony that Jones was grooming his 14-year-old son to take over the “Infowars empire,” that he had attempted to limit his children’s contact with their mother, and that he was deliberately putting his children in danger by, among other acts, encouraging his 14-year-old son to appear on television after Jones received credible death threats against his family.

    Ultimately, the jury determined that Jones’s ex-wife was in the best position to dictate decisions about their three children, including where the children should live.

    Could this happen to other entertainers or public personalities who make controversial remarks?

    This case is a decidedly unusual one, but other public personalities who espouse unpopular or controversial views may be likely to find themselves facing the same type of legal battle fought by Alex Jones. In the interest of justice, the judge in Jones’s case did her best to eliminate any discussion of political views from the process, concentrating on the real issues — whether either parent could be deemed stable enough to care for three minor children.  However, any jury is made up of citizens that obviously have their own political ideals, which may conflict with the ‘evidence’ at hand.

    To the extent one’s public comments or actions could be viewed as abusive, illegal, or indicative of mental illness, drug abuse, or similar issues, may be fair game in a custody proceeding; but simply holding and expressing an opinion — even in an offensive way — should not, alone, be sufficient to justify removal or modification of custody.

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    Could Presumptive Equal Custody for Fathers Be Coming to Texas?

    Father and Child (1799496420)

    Making the decision to divorce your spouse can be one of the hardest of a lifetime – especially when you still have minor children at home. For fathers worried about their ability to maintain a physical and emotional relationship with their children during and after divorce, the fear of an ‘every-other-weekend dad’ can often be strong enough to support staying in an unhappy marriage. However, a pending change to Texas law could provide some relief for fathers worried about their ability to gain equal custody.Texas House Bill 453, introduced by James White-R, seeks presumptively equal custody between both parents of minor children.

    How will TX House Bill 453 change the way custody is decided during divorce?

    Under the current family law system in Texas, if a divorcing couple is able to come to agreement on interim custody arrangements while a divorce is pending, the trial court will almost always accept this agreement without modification.

    However, if you and your spouse are unable to agree on who should have custody, the matter will go before the court, which may order sole physical or legal custody to only one spouse. Because the inertia of the status quo can be a powerful force, the parent who is able to gain sole custody during the pendency of the divorce is often in the perfect position to advocate for sole managing conservatorship (or custody) on a permanent basis.

    House Bill 453 proposes to mandate 50/50 custody in all divorce cases where the parties are unable to agree on proper custody arrangements. This can put both parties in a fairer bargaining position prior to the issuance of a permanent custody order, and can significantly decrease the odds that one parent (most commonly the father) will be relegated to non-custodial status.

    What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of this proposed law?

    Like any piece of legislation, HB 453 has both advantages and disadvantages.

    One of the clearest advantages, particularly for fathers worried about their ability to gain custody during divorce, is the presumption that 50/50 custody is the ideal arrangement.

    However, this presumption can often cut both ways. If your soon-to-be ex-spouse is engaging in behaviors that have you worried about the well-being of your children, you may have more of an uphill battle in proving this presumptive 50/50 custody isn’t in the best interests of your children. Although clear situations of abuse or neglect can still be dealt with on an emergency basis, removing judicial discretion can sometimes leave the court powerless to intervene in a situation that doesn’t rise to an emergency but clearly isn’t healthy for the children involved.

    In addition, some detractors of HB 453 are protesting its impracticalness.  What does life look like for a young child whose time is split down the middle between two homes?  Many former spouses don’t wind up residing in the same neighborhood.  How to accommodate for a full school year, as well as extracurricular activities, will be a challenge.  The presumption of 50/50 custody may make it a fairer fight in family court, but many say that the reality of it is not quite so cut and dry.

    If you’re preparing for divorce and want to ensure you’ll be able to maintain a relationship with your children both during and after the proceedings, your best bet is to contact an experienced family law attorney who can help you fight for your rights.

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    What Can You Do About Missed Child Support Payments?

    While divorce is often a complicated process, it becomes even more so when children are involved. Most parents wish to retain custody of their children, but often in divorce rulings, there is assigned a custodial parent and a non-custodial parent. However, it is challenging to raise a family on one income, and both parents are seen as having a financial obligation to their child, so the non-custodial parent is often required to pay some form child support.  Child support obligations are meant to ensure that children of divorce don’t suffer unnecessarily because of the break-up of the family, and continue to have the best possible opportunities for success. This is a legally binding contract that both parents must abide by. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the non-custodial parent to miss some full or partial child support payments, for various reasons.  Some of the more reasonable explanations are unexpected expenses (such as a medical emergency) or a significant loss of income.  On the other hand, it does happen where a non-custodial parent chooses to withhold child support payments out of retaliation towards their former spouse.  In either case, parents who are struggling to receive child support payments have several tools at their disposal.

    Communication with the Other Parent

    Often times divorce can end on poor terms, and because of this divorced parents may try to talk to each other as little as possible. While this may represent an effort to keep peace and the child custody arrangement simple, it can backfire when missed child support payments come into play. In some cases of missed child support payments, the entire situation can be defused by simply reminding the non-custodial parent of their legal duty. They may have forgotten that the payment was due, or there may be financial issues at the moment. For example, if either parent has switched banks or opened a new primary account recently, the child support payment simply needs to be rerouted. It is entirely possible that a missed support payment is a minor issue that can easily be cleared up though some communication on the part of the parties involved.

    Utilize the State’s Child Support Program

    Parents who have exhausted all options within their power can always rely on the Child Support Program of the State of Texas. This department, which is headed by the Texas Attorney General, is responsible for enforcing child support agreements, and handles each case individually. They have the power to enforce child support agreements by helping to:

    1. Locate the non-custodial parent if this person is missing
    2. Enforcing child support agreements, payment plans, and visitation schedules
    3. Collecting child support payments through a variety of means, such as wage garnishing
    4. Adjusting child support payments when necessary
    5. Enforcing medical support payments if a child is ill or injured
    6. Helping to establish paternity where there may be doubt

    The Texas Attorney General provides all of these services free of charge.  However, it can be useful to retain a lawyer when involved in a child support dispute.  Whereas the Attorney General’s office is dedicated to making sure that all children in Texas receive what is legally due them (whether it be payments or visitation), they are a state agency with a large case load.  In addition, they are committed to maintaining impartiality, whereas an experienced family law attorney will work to achieve what is in the best interest of their client.

    Javad alizadeh divorce-child

    Never Withhold Visitation Because of a Missed Child Support Payment

    Some custodial parents think about withholding visitation rights as a ‘punishment’ for missed child support payments. In many cases, they believe that this could force the other parent to hold up their ‘end of the deal’.  However, it is important to remember that the prescribed visitation schedule issued by a family court carries the same weight of the law that support payments do. If the custodial parent denies the visitation rights of the non-custodial parent, they are also in violation of the child custody agreement, and could be subject a charge of contempt of court.

    However contentious a divorce may be, it is important for parents to remember that child support and visitation rights are not things that can be used as bargaining chips.  These are legally binding rulings issued by a family court judge.  If you are experiencing any issues with your current child support or visitation agreements, contact the Law Offices of Frank E. Mann, P.C. immediately.  We can help guide you through the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of your current custodial situation, and work to secure the best outcome for you and your child in future family court proceedings.

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    What Happens to the Family Home in a Divorce?

    Bigger single-family home

    For most couples, the family home represents the largest investment and largest asset – so what happens to it when you divorce? There are a few factors that can determine who ends up with the family home in a Texas divorce.

    Texas is a community property state, so the items you’ve acquired during your marriage are owned by both partners. For most families, there is a strong emotional attachment to the home; if kids are involved, both parties (and the court) often prefer to keep the children and the primary custodial parent in the home. There are several possible outcomes for the family home:

    One partner keeps the home:

    If one spouse wants the home and is able to afford the mortgage payments either on their own or with assistance from the other spouse, they may be able to keep the home. The remaining spouse may be awarded other assets from the marriage so that the property is equally divided. If there are children in the home, the custodial parent, or parent with primary custody may be able to keep the home until the kids are grown, provided it is financially feasible. This is often a short term arrangement, based on what is best for the children; the home will eventually need to be refinanced in just one partner’s name or sold entirely.

    One partner buys out the other:

    If there are enough assets in the marriage, one partner may be able to buy out the other, compensating them for the equity in the home with other assets. The home will often need to be refinanced into the sole owner’s name.If you are the partner gaining the home in this scenario, you need to be able to eventually secure a mortgage in your own name or save up the funds to buy the home outright. If you are the partner giving up the home, you need to make sure that you are no longer on the mortgage; simply relying on your former spouse to pay the bills could be a financial disaster for you. Keeping the obligation of the mortgage without owning the actual property exposes you to too much financial liability and could damage your financial outlook and future.

    The home is sold:

    If neither spouse can afford the home or neither wishes to keep it, the house can be sold and any proceeds divided between the former partners. This may take a while, as the home needs to be prepared for sale, listed on the market and sold, but allows for a more even split of the proceeds.

    If you are facing divorce and are concerned about what happens with your home, we can help. Contact Frank E. Mann, Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer, to learn more about your options and to get the help you need to make it through the divorce process.

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    Splitting Up the Kids in a Custody Case

    When you are involved in divorce proceedings where children are involved, it’s going to be a difficult time for the children, and any final outcome will be a big adjustment. This is especially true when you have multiple children together. Many tough decisions must be made regarding child custody and parenting.  In some cases, parents may feel that it is in the best interest of the children to split them up. Should that ever be a consideration? When one child wants to be with one parent, and the other child with the other parent, is it a feasible option? There are endless questions and strong opinions surrounding the splitting up of siblings.

    Many new families choose to have multiple children in the first place so that the children can grow up to be close in nature. Buddies, best pals, playmates; that’s what we think of when we consider siblings. A built in best friend for your child, or in the case of bigger families, more playmates to go around. In the event of divorce, the dream of what you thought your family should be will have to change considerably.

    To Split or Not to Split

    Each family’s situation is unique, and the court system recognizes that.  However, many family court judges will consider the divorce process to be somewhat traumatic for young children, and not be readily in favor of adding to the trauma by separating them from their sibling.  In the event that the children actually prefer to be separated from each other, a judge may be more willing to sign off on a split custody arrangement. This option is usually only considered in cases where the children are old enough to be part of the decision making process. Although it varies by state, in Texas a child must be at least 12 years old to be considered old enough to have a voice in his or her own custody arrangement.  At this age, a judge may take the child’s wishes into account, but by no means is held to honor those wishes.

    A Personal Decision

    It’s a very personal decision during a custody situation to decide whether or not to split up your children. If both parents agree to splitting up the children, the judge may be more likely to go along with the request, although it’s not the usual route taken. Primary custody, or sole managing conservatorship as it’s called in Texas, is usually awarded to one parent for all of the children involved.  Many split custody situations come about as a natural progression of the children aging and the parents becoming more relaxed about the custody agreement.  In these situations, the custody agreement can be legally modified to reflect the current living arrangements.

    It is always important to have an experienced custody lawyer representing you in all custody court proceedings.  If you have questions or concerns about your own pending custody arrangement, contact the Law Offices of Frank E. Mann, P.C.  Child Custody Attorney Frank E. Mann will work diligently to help secure the best arrangement possible for you and your children.

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    Top 7 Texas Family Laws That Were Effective September 1, 2015

    Seal of Texas

    As 2015 rolled to a close, the Texas legislature was busy making bills that directly affect family law. The changes to various provisions of the Texas Family Code could potentially affect a wide range of people and the legal activities as they pertain to their families. Here’s what you need to know about the laws that became effective on September 1, 2015.

  • In House Bill 1447, the Code of Criminal Procedure was amended to expand the people who can file a protective order on behalf of certain victims of stalking, sexual abuse, trafficking and sexual assault. In addition, this bill entitles the victims, or their parent or legal guardian, to more rights as crime victims in regards to the protective order.
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  • Senate Bill 314 changed the Family Code in regards to which information the Department of Family and Protective Services is required to give to a non-parent who has been appointed by the court as a child’s managing conservator.
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  • In Senate Bill 815, the types of activities that a court can prohibit using a temporary restraining order issued as a marriage is dissolved were expanded.
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  • House Bill 1500 changed the language of the Family Code to require a person who wishes to file a motion whose purpose is to modify the relationship of the parent and child. This bill requires that person to attach an affidavit to this motion that attests to and provides supporting evidence that the circumstances of the child’s present situation significantly impact and impair his or her emotional development and physical health.
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  • In House Bill 826, the Family Code was changed to require that a modification to a child support order contain a statement detailing the circumstances supporting a change to that order.
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  • Senate Bill 550 provides the court the authority to issue an order for dental support when there is a suit in which the relationship of the parent and child is affected or when a proceeding involves the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act. The Insurance Code, Family Code, Labor Code and Government Code have been changed to reflect this ruling.
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  • Under Senate Bill 818, the Family Code was modified to stipulate that each guardian of the child must divulge certain information to the other guardian of the child if the guardian is involved in a certain context with a person who is a final protective order’s subject or if the guardian is the subject of this type of order. Deadlines were established for notification of this information and failure to do so is deemed a Class C misdemeanor.
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    The list above is not a comprehensive one. If you have a legal matter in involving a child in the state of Texas, it is in your best interests to contact an attorney that is well versed in the newest modifications to the Texas Family Code. Contact Mann Family Law today for knowledgeable and professional legal services.

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