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Texas family code statutory update 2015

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In 2015 the Texas Legislature threw Divorce Attorneys in Dallas and all across Texas for a loop by changing a few small but fundamental areas of Texas Family law. Changes included adding electronic communication and social media to standard restraining orders, broadening the application of protective orders, making it harder to modify child custody orders in a temporary hearing, and greatly strengthening the requirements of child custody evaluations. Michelle O'Neil of O'Neil Wysocki, a Dallas Texas family law boutique firm with 6 lawyers, provides an overview of the changes to the Texas Family Code in 2015.

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Texas family code statutory update 2015

  1. 1. Texas Family Code Statutory Update 2015 Michelle May O’Neil, O’Neil Wysocki P.C.
  2. 2. Michelle May O’Neil “She is a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty.” • Licensed 1992, State Bar of Texas, 23 years experience. • Baylor University J.D. 1991, B.B.A. 1989. • Board certified, family law (TBLS) 1997, recertified 2002, 2007, 2012. • Licensed by the United States Supreme Court 1999. • Texas SuperLawyer in family law 2011-2015. • Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in DFW 2014-2015. • Best Lawyers in America 2016 in Appellate Law. • Recognized family law appellate authority; numerous published appellate cases in family law. • Published author of Basics Of Texas Divorce Law (Lulu press) and All About Texas Law And Kids (ALM Media). • Noted speaker and author of continuing legal education seminars. • Blog author, www.dallastxdivorce.com and www.lgbttexasfamilylaw.com .
  3. 3. Standard divorce orders coming into 21st century • Expands scope of actions prohibited in standard Texas Family Law temporary restraining order in Texas Family Code 6.501. • The laundry list of prohibited actions comes further into the 21st century, prohibiting parties from communicating and threatening each other via electronic voice transmission, video chat, or electronic messaging such as email, social media, etc. • Once a divorce is filed and these orders are put in place, divorcing parties are prohibited from cussing each other out in email, opening the other spouse’s email and reading it, forwarding the other spouse’s email to anyone, deleting any email or other electronic evidence, using the password of the other spouse to access any electronic information, and/or deleting anything off of social media. • The definition of property now includes intellectual property and electronically stored or recorded information. • Effective 9/1/15.
  4. 4. Definitions of family violence and abuse expanded with new law • The law pertaining to the definition of family violence has been expanded by the Texas Legislature. Now, the code prohibits family violence, including a person who applied for a protective order. • The prior version of the law prohibited violence against the victim, but left a loophole for violence against a person who claimed to be a victim in an application for protective order but who may not, at that point, have been. • Now the law includes both victims and those who apply for protective orders. The point of adding this language is to prevent retaliatory violence against a person who may apply for a protective order. • Further, the definition of abuse is expanded to include trafficking of people for prostitution, taking obscene photos or videos of a child, using drugs to cause physical, mental, or emotional injury to a child, or causing a child to use drugs. • Effective 9/1/15.
  5. 5. Tougher reporting requirements regarding domestic violence in Texas divorces • Parents in Texas have more stringent reporting requirements. A parent must disclose to the other parent if:  The parent establishes a residence with a person who is subject of a final protective order in effect when the residence is established;  The parent resides with or allows unsupervised access to a child by a person who is subject of a final protective order; or,  The parent is subject of a final protective order issued after the date of the conservatorship order. • Notice must be given to the other parent as soon as practicable but not later than 30 days after a parent starts residing with a person who is subject to a protective order for the first requirement, the 90th day after the date the final protective order is issued for the second requirement, or 30 days after the protective order was issued for the third requirement. • Failure to make this notice required by this section is a Class C misdemeanor. • Effective 9/1/15.
  6. 6. Enforcement remedies for Texas temporary and final orders regarding children broadly expanded • A new Texas law broadly expands the options parents have for enforcing orders pertaining to children, providing that a court may enforce “any provision” of either a temporary or final order rendered in a suit regarding a child. • Further, the new law goes on to expand the availability of contempt of court to “any provisions” of either a temporary or final order rendered in a suit regarding a child. • The law also broadens the definition of a “temporary order” under the statute to include a temporary restraining order, standing order, injunction, and any other temporary order rendered by a court. • Effective 9/1/15.
  7. 7. High bar for temporary orders in divorce modification suit • When filing a modification suit regarding children and seeking temporary orders to change the designation of the person who has the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child, a new law requires that an affidavit be filed with the initial pleading setting out the grounds for the request. • The party seeking the change must file an affidavit right out of the box containing facts based on the person’s personal knowledge that support the allegation. In absence of such affidavit or where the affidavit fails to rise to the level of proof required, the court (in Dallas County family law courts, that will be the associate judge) must refuse to set a temporary hearing and deny the relief sought. This determination is made based solely on the allegations contained in the affidavit before a hearing is held or a witness is called.
  8. 8. Dental insurance now required in Texas child custody orders • The Texas Legislature passed a new law adding dental insurance to the list of required insurance provisions in child custody orders in Texas, including Dallas. This expands the requirement of medical support beyond just routine health insurance. • “Dental insurance" means insurance coverage that provides preventive dental care and other dental services, including usual dentist services, office visits, examinations, X-rays, and emergency services, that may be provided through a single service health maintenance organization or other private or public organization. • "Dental support" means periodic payments or a lump-sum payment made under an order to cover dental expenses, including dental insurance coverage, incurred for the benefit of a child. • Effective 9/1/18 (yes, 2018).
  9. 9. New standards for child custody evaluations coming in 2016 • New standards will apply to child custody evaluations to be conducted in Texas cases involving children. The new law replaces the old term “social study” with the new term “child custody evaluation”. • The child custody evaluator is required to keep detailed records of the actions taken and performed, including oral interviews conducted, during the evaluation. • The child custody report in a private appointment must be completed and provided to the attorneys of record at least 30 days prior to trial in the suit.; whereas, the evaluation report conducted by a domestic relations office must be provided no later than 5 days before trial. • No witness may testify to an expert opinion or recommendation regarding conservatorship or possession of a child unless he or she has conducted a child custody evaluation. • Effective 3/1/16.
  10. 10. The basic elements of a custody evaluation, necessary for a recommendation, include: • Personal interview of each party to the suit; • Interviews of each child the subject of the suit, regardless of the age of child, during a period of possession of each party to the suit but outside of the presence of the party; • Observation of each child the subject of the suit in the presence of each party to the suit, including during supervised visitation, unless good cause is stated; • Observation and interview of any child not the subject of the suit who lives full time in a residence that is subject of the evaluation; • Information from relevant collateral sources, including review of school records; physical and mental health records of each party and each child the subject of the suit; records of Department of Family and Protective Services; criminal history information of each child, each party, and each person living with a party to the suit; any other collateral source with relevant information • Evaluation of the home environment of each party seeking conservatorship or possession of a child the subject of the suit, unless the condition of the home is not in dispute; • Criminal history and contact with the Department of Family and Protective Services or any law enforcement agency regarding abuse or neglect; and • Assessment of the relationship between each child subject of the suit and each party seeking possession of the child.

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