Family Law FAQs

1. Is it time to consult with a divorce lawyer?

If you are tired of being in your miserable marriage and ready to move on to the next stage of your life, our divorce team can help you make the transition more smooth. Since 1974, we have successfully represented family law clients throughout all of North Texas. We will properly handle all aspects of your divorce, including:

2. I have been the victim of or accused of domestic violence or family violence and need a divorce. Can you help me?

ABSOLUTELY! WE ARE UNIQUELY EQUIPPED WITH EXPERIENCED DIVORCE LAWYERS, A FORMER FAMILY VIOLENCE PROSECUTOR AND 81 YEARS OF CRIMINAL DEFENSE TRIAL ATTORNEYS. YOU HAVE FOUND THE RIGHT FIRM!

3. How will the judge determine which parent will have physical and legal custody of our child when we divorce?

In Texas, the primary consideration in child custody battles is what is in the best interests of the child. The court considers a number of factors, including but not limited to:

  • How much contact have you had with the child in the past?
  • How will the health, safety and welfare of the child be affected?
  • How close do you live to the child’s other parent?
  • Is there any evidence of child abuse?
  • Are you mentally and physically able to properly parent the child?
  • If the child is 12 or older, where does he or she prefer to live?

4. How is the amount of Child Support typically determined in Texas?

Usually, child support payments are determined by using the child support guidelines in the Family Code. The weighing factors include the amount of the income, the total number of children, any special needs of the children, and can also embrace many other complex circumstances.

5. My spouse is abusing me emotionally and physically. I can’t take it anymore. How can I make it stop?

A restraining order can be a powerful tool for protecting a person who has been the victim of domestic violence, spousal abuse, terroristic threats or harassment. When filed based on false allegations, a restraining order can also be a weapon used to unfairly punish an innocent party in a divorce or another family dispute. We can help you regardless of which side of that paradigm that you fall.

We stand for truth and fairness in divorce. We are aggressive advocates for our clients’ rights and act quickly to protect their interests and well-being. We know how to use restraining orders to give a measure of security and protection to victims of domestic violence. We also know how to fight restraining orders sought for the wrong reasons.

We believe that no one should use a false allegation of abuse in order to obtain a restraining order. That is a manipulative ploy that is all too often designed to influence spousal maintenance or child custody in divorce. We are dedicated to exposing these underhanded tactics whenever they occur.

At the same time, we stand up for victims of abuse. We will use our litigation skills and knowledge of the law in order to protect a client who fears for his or her safety or the safety of a child.

6. What are Child Support Modifications & Enforcements in Texas?

When a parent’s financial situation changes, a modification to child support may be necessary. Texas courts will consider a child support modification if:

  • Either parent has a job loss;
  • Either parent changes jobs;
  • Financial needs of child change;
  • The child reaches age 18.

A modification may not be granted if a parent stops working voluntarily or becomes underemployed.

In addition to modifications, our law firm can assist you with child support enforcements. If you are not receiving child support, or the payor is behind on payments, the court may issue an enforcement order.

7. How do I get Spousal Maintenance in Texas?

Alimony is technically called Spousal Maintenance in Texas. Spousal Maintenance is a payment made from a higher-earning spouse to a lower-earning spouse. It is largely based on the needs of the future ex-spouse.

Alimony is not automatic. Texas law requires the party requesting Maintenance to show economic need for those funds. In certain circumstances, you may be able to get Temporary Support ordered by the Court pending a final disposition of the divorce.

8. What are the two most important things that I DO NOT do with my child’s other biological parent?

1. DO NOT RELY ON AN INFORMAL AGREEMENT with the other party to reduce your child support or alimony. Unless the Court Order is legally and officially modified, you still owe them the money!

2. DO NOT DELAY. Modifications are retroactive only to the date the petition for modification was filed, not to the date your circumstances changed.

9. What is a “substantial change in circumstances” when it comes to modification and enforcement of child support or spousal maintenance?

LOSS OF A JOB is the best example. Child support obligations are based on your income. If your income changes significantly — or disappears altogether — your child support payment should reflect your current circumstances. But, again you cannot do that without going through the court.

MOVING. We frequently handle post-divorce modification of custody and visitation because one parent wants to move away with the children. Our lawyers can represent you if you are seeking a modification or if you fear your parenting time may be jeopardized by relocation.

10. We have a lot of assets and I want to make sure I do not get taken advantage of in the divorce. What should I do?

HIRE US YESTERDAY!

Texas community property laws can be very complicated. This is especially true when one or both of the parties of the marriage have a high level of income or own their own business, have investments in real estate, a closely-held corporation, stocks, bonds, an IRA, 401k, CDs or other assets.

11. Why is Pelley Law Office, L.L.P. the right law firm for me in my divorce that is going to involve some substantial assets and/or debts?

WE ARE A VERY UNIQUE COMBINATION. NOT ONLY ARE WE A FAMILY LAW FIRM, WE ARE ALSO A FINANCIAL AND CRIMINAL LAW FIRM. THAT IS A RARE COMBINATION.

In these cases, it is in your best interest to have our skilled trial attorneys on your side who have extensive experience in both complex domestic relations as well as financial matters. Many high asset property division cases also often involve complex child custody and child support issues as well. Some matters have collateral criminal issues as well.

12. I’m going through divorce and I suspect my soon-to-be ex is hiding assets from me. I’m so frustrated, is there anything I can do?

YES. In divorce cases involving substantial income and property, suspicions can arise that one party is unlawfully hiding assets in an effort to deny the other party of their fair share during the division of property. You need to have battle-tested divorce lawyers on your side as well as our experienced financial attorneys. Our team has both. Most divorce firms do not.

If you suspect your spouse is hiding assets during or in preparation for a divorce or is running up debt in hopes of sticking you with the bill, we can help. We have the experience and resources necessary to conduct a thorough investigation into your individual and marital finances in order to detect irregularities that may indicate an incomplete disclosure of marital assets.

13. What does “community property” actually mean in Texas?

Texas is a community property state. Community property can be a difficult concept to understand. Most people assume that community property means that assets are divided 50/50 in a divorce. That is not exactly true.

Community property means that all assets and all debts acquired after the date of the marriage are one-hundred percent yours and one-hundred percent your spouse’s. How the assets and liabilities are divided in a divorce depends on many factors.

14. So what is the difference between “separate property” and “community property” in Texas?

Assets or debts acquired before the marriage are generally considered to be separate property or obligations. Another example of separate property is that which is received by way of inheritance. However, there are circumstances in which separate property can become commingled with or become community marital property. Also, although an asset may be originally sole separate property, the appreciation of that asset which accrues after the date of the marriage is community property. This can make the division of assets and debt much more complicated.

It is ultimately up to the Court to determine the equitable or fair division of marital property during divorce. Accordingly, you need our experienced advocates who have extensive financial knowledge in order to best represent your interests. At Pelley Law Office, L.L.P., our unique knowledge as financial lawyers and as Texas divorce trial attorneys since 1974 gives us an upper hand in disputes over both separate and community property.

15. We want to adopt. What are the steps?

Bringing a new child into a loving, supportive family and offering that child a chance at a better life is the true purpose of adoption. Adoption is an act of love. It should be a happy event. It should not be overly complicated or stressful.

Unfortunately, questions and complications arise all too often in adoption. Many times, we see clients who are well into the adoption process and who encounter stumbling blocks that could easily have been avoided with proper guidance early on.

We encourage individuals and couples in North Texas who are considering adoption to speak to one of our experienced attorneys. We know the time, money and stress that can be saved by clearly understanding your rights, the rights of the child’s birth parents and the legal process from the outset. We also know the heartache and disappointment that can be avoided by having appropriate representation.

We want every adoptive parent to have the benefit of knowledgeable legal counsel. We also want to ensure that no adoption is derailed because of a needless mistake or lack of due diligence.

16. My child is in a horrible living situation. Can I terminate their biological parent’s rights?

The termination of parental rights is a drastic step that should only be taken when it is necessary to protect the safety or well being of a child. Termination of parental rights is not punishment. It is an action taken to allow others to assume clear responsibility for the child’s well being without interference.

In Texas, the courts can order the termination of parental rights on several grounds, including but not limited to:

  • Abandonment, disinterest or failure to maintain contact;
  • Child abuse or neglect (of the child in question or of another child);
  • A parent’s mental illness, mental disability or alcohol or drug-induced incapacity;
  • A parent’s conviction or incarceration for a felony offense;
  • Failure to provide support.

The courts have one overriding concern in deciding on the termination of parental rights, and that is what is in the best interest of the child in question. We share that concern, and will take all appropriate action to protect a child’s safety, security and well-being. Sometimes that requires seeking the termination of parental rights.

17. Do I have any rights with regards to my grandchildren?

In Texas, the rights of a grandparent to maintain a relationship with a grandchild — even over the objection of the child’s parents — have a long and complex history. Although a landmark decision defined some of these rights in 2000 (Troxel v. Granville), the practical application of grandparents’ rights in Texas family courts is still evolving.

If you are a grandparent who is seeking visitation, you should also know that Texas law provides you with specific rights. The nature and extent of those rights depends almost entirely on the specifics of the situation.

18. How do I establish paternity in Texas?

Paternity is not as simple of a matter as it might seem. There are both legal and biological aspects to paternity. For example, in Texas, any child born within a marriage is presumed to be the husband’s child.

If a child is born outside a marriage, there is technically no legal father unless paternity is established, either by consent (in layman’s terms, signing the birth certificate) or through a paternity suit.

These days, biological paternity is relatively easy to establish through DNA genetic testing. These paternity tests can even be court-ordered, if necessary to establish legal responsibility for a child.

That is most often what paternity suits are about — responsibility for a child. Legal fathers have a duty to provide for their children. They will be ordered to pay child support or face severe civil and criminal consequences.

Establishing legal paternity can also be about exercising the parental rights of a father. Until paternity is established, a biological father may have no legal grounds to seek visitation or custody with the child he helped bring into the world.

Finally, paternity suits may also involve defending a parent-child relationship against unwanted intrusion. Sometimes an outside party claims paternity of a child born into a relationship and seeks to exercise parental rights to visitation.

19. What are my rights as a father?

As a father, you are not just a guy who brings home a paycheck. However, that is how many fathers feel after getting the short end of the stick in a child custody arrangement. Having an experienced fathers’ rights attorney can help you achieve the results you need to maintain a meaningful relationship with your child.

Every situation is different. Some fathers wish to spend more time with their children after divorce. Some fathers wish to provide for their child by paying child support. Some fathers seek legal rights through paternity actions.

Recent studies and common sense tell us that children whose fathers have an active role in their lives are less likely to get in trouble in school and with the law and more likely to get better grades and succeed in life. Our attorneys understand how important it is to you and your child that you have a meaningful role in his or her life. We will use our legal skills and experience to protect your rights as a father.

20. CPS is saying that I am not fit to be a parent. I love my children. What is going on and what do I do?

In Texas, Child Protective Services (CPS) is empowered to intervene in cases involving allegations of child endangerment, criminal child neglect, domestic violence and child sexual abuse. It has been our experience for years that CPS is way too over-zealous and has a tendency to break up functional homes.

If an incident has been reported at your house, then it is not uncommon for Child Protective Services to intervene, even if it is for nothing more than a forensic interview with you and your children. That forensic interview can ruin entire families.

At Pelley Law Office, L.L.P., we have seen far too many examples of false reports leading to Child Protective Services intervention. Unfortunately, most parents rely on the notion that if nothing happened, CPS would not interfere with their lives and the lives of their children. That is almost never the case.

There may be a high risk that your children will be removed and placed into foster care. There is also a possibility that CPS may ask the court to have your children permanently removed. Any delay in retaining an experienced CPS lawyer will increase the chances of that happening. Since we are experienced domestic relations and criminal lawyers, we can help guide you through all aspects of your situation.

Case Results

Our client came to us after a Sexual Assault of a Child allegation came out from his wife in the middle of a child custody fight. We not only got those false charges dismissed without an indictment, we got his minor son back that his ex-wife had kidnapped after the false allegations were dropped. -B.D.R.

Our client ceased payments of agreed spousal support upon remarriage of his ex-spouse. Following another argument, the ex-spouse filed a Motion for Enforcement. At trial, the Court requested briefs that both parties provided to the Court. The Court ruled that the spousal support was unenforceable. The ex-spouse appealed, and that Court requested additional briefs. The appeals court ruled in favor of our client and ordered the ex-wife to reimburse our client for costs and expenses.-R.P.

This was an Attorney General Child support case where the father, a disabled veteran, owed in excess of $25,000 plus penalties and interest in back child support. At the hearing, delinquent support was reduced by over $12,000 and all penalties and interest were vacated. Reasonable payments toward the delinquency within the father's budget were set.- J.O.

From a Mother & Father - Thank you for taking care of our son in court. He was visibly shaking when the other side showed up today. Until that point he was doing just fine. You took him under your wing and protected him and his son. There are no words to express our gratitude.- C.K. & S. K.

A former spouse tried to have our client arrested by falsely claiming he molested their daughter during the marriage in order to gain full custody of their child and to prevent him from having access to the child. We not only avoided the criminal prosecution, but also gained the father possession and access to his minor daughter through the family law court.- A.V.

Note from a Divorce Client -- "Again, I want to thank you so much for your time and work you've put into my case. I have full confidence in Mr. Pelley and want you to know how thankful I am to have put my trust in you."- R.S.

In this Attorney General Child Support Case, our client (the father) owed a ton of back child support payments as well as penalties and interest. At the hearing, Mr. Pelley got the delinquent support reduced by more than 50% and all penalties and interest were vacated. Our client was placed on a reasonable payment plan to get caught up.- A.N.

From a Mother & Father – Thank you for taking care of our son in court. He was visibly shaking when the other side showed up today. Until that point he was doing just fine. You took him under your wing and protected him and his son. There are no words to express our gratitude. - C.K. & S. K

We saved this client a bunch of money and property after he failed to timely act after finding out his wife filed for divorce. Prior to hiring us, our client failed to file an answer after being served with a Petition for Divorce. The Court entered a default judgment awarding his ex-wife large portions of his share of the community property and 50% of our client's separate property. Additionally, the Court ordered exorbitant amounts for child support and spousal support. Our Motion for New Trial was granted and the Court vacated all prior orders.- B.M.

We got our client (the father) awarded possession of two minor females. He came to us seeking primary custody of his two minor female children. The mother filed unfounded criminal charges against the father, reported abuse to CPS, claimed that he threatened physical harm to the kids and also that he threatened to kill her. She actually filed felony aggravated assault charges against him. After hiring us, the false criminal charges were dropped, he prevailed with sole custody and the Court granted his every request about property.-S.P.

This was an incredible case where we won custody for a minor child for a brother over his biological father. The mother of minor female child died leaving the father as the only living conservator. The child wanted to live with his older brother rather than the father. We intervened and requested the Court for primary custody of the child. The father contested and the case was set for trial. Our client (the brother) was appointed sole managing conservator of the child with father's rights and privileges subject to approval of brother and the child.- R.W.

Our client owed in excess of $80K in back child support and a lot of credit card debt. We filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy for him and the Attorney General's Office failed to file a proof of claim for the child support listed in the bankruptcy. The bankruptcy was completed and the child support claim was discharged. The Attorney General's office filed multiple motions with the Federal Bankruptcy Court to allow them to proceed with collection efforts against our client. We contested their motions and the Federal Court denied all of their motions. The Attorney General then demanded a trial in State Court. We proceeded to trial in State Court and the Court confirmed that the child support was discharged and our client walked away free and clear of any child support.- D.W.

Divorce Client's Letter to our Divorce Paralegal-- Mary Jones, Thank you for all your help and support. I am blessed that God placed you in my path, along with the Pelley's. You are all amazing. Thank you.- M.S.

[I] also wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for ALL your help through this terrible nightmare. God bless and have a nice day. - B.L.R.

Prior to this custody case, our client was charged with endangering her children by driving drunk with them in the car. The ex-husband pressed hard to gain custody of the kids. However, Mr. Pelley was able to win the case and help M.K. keep custody of her children. - M.K.