Dallas Divorce Law Blog

Same-sex divorce parental rights case could affect donors' rights

Parents in Texas who are in same-sex relationships may want to make sure they have legal documentation that states they are both the parents of their children. On Nov. 29 in Mississippi, the state Supreme Court heard arguments from a woman who hopes to get parental rights to the child her ex-spouse gave birth to. The child is now six. His biological mother said the woman had the opportunity to get parental rights during the divorce.

The woman does have visitation rights and pays child support. However, a judge gave sole custody to the woman who gave birth to him. If the biological mother dies, the child could be adopted by another couple without input from the other woman. The judge also said the sperm donor has parental rights. The woman's attorney argued that the child should have a legal relationship with both women and not the sperm donor. When the child was born, the woman was not permitted to add her name to the birth certificate. The woman's attorney argued that the state law that prevented it was unconstitutional.

Legal challenges of same-sex divorce

For many same-sex couples in Texas after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized marriages for same-sex couples, getting married became easy. For some same-sex couples who are now going through a divorce, splitting up may actually be more difficult as things are simply not as clear cut.

In 2015, same-sex marriage became legal in all states, including the 13 states that still banned same-sex marriage. In addition to making same-sex marriage legal, the ruling provided all legal protections that were given to heterosexual marriages. These protections include the rights related to medical decisions and tax benefits. When it comes to divorce, however, states handle the division of assets and alimony in different ways.

Domestic violence and co-parenting relationships post-divorce

In Texas, some marriages have been marked by domestic violence. When these types of marriages end, there may be problems with co-parenting when the former couples share children. Researchers have examined co-parenting in the year following the end of abusive marriages and found a difference that depended on the types of relationships.

Researchers from the University of Illinois examined the co-parenting relationships of women who had experienced domestic violence with their ex-spouses during the first year following their divorces. The researchers looked at the types of domestic violence relationships that the women and their ex-spouses had during their marriages in order to determine whether those prior relationships had an effect on the co-parenting relationships.

Child support and uninsured medical expenses

When parents in Texas divorce, both are usually committed to providing their child or children with necessary financial support. To this end, divorce decrees often address the obligations of both parents with regards to child support payments, health insurance coverage and which parent is responsible for extraordinary expenses.

One type of extraordinary expense that is addressed in state law and divorce agreements is uninsured medical expenses. When health insurance plans don't cover a child's treatment, it is up to the parents to pay it. In situations where the parents are divorced, it isn't always clear who has the responsibility for the medical bill.

Child support a major reason for garnished wages

Some Texas noncustodial parents may have their wages garnished if they fall behind on child support. About 7 percent of all American workers face wage garnishment, and the highest percentage are for nonpayment of child support. These and other findings were in a study released by the ADP Research Institute on Sept. 27.

The researchers examined anonymous payroll data on 12 million workers to reach its conclusions. It looked at garnishments for several different categories in addition to child support such as student loans and taxes. Of people whose wages were garnished, over 70 percent were men, and most of their garnishments were for falling behind on child support payments. Women tended to have their wages garnished for other types of debt.

Tax changes that happen after divorce

Texas couples should be aware that after getting a divorce, their tax situation will change as well. If the divorce occurred on or before the final day of the calendar year, people will not be considered married for that year. If the marriage is annulled, it will also be necessary to file amended returns for all the years of the marriage since legally speaking, the couple is no longer considered to have been married.

Certain exemptions and tax credits are no longer available or are only available to one person. Only one parent, usually the custodial parent, may use the dependent exemption for the couple's children. A noncustodial parent who is claiming the credit instead must include Form 8332 with the tax return. Alimony can be claimed as a deduction but only if it is included in the divorce agreement. The person who receives alimony must pay taxes on it as income. Child support is separate from alimony and is neither tax deductible nor taxable.

Providing consistent household rules after a divorce

Texas parents who are getting a divorce may need to decide on a consistent set of household rules if their children will be moving between their homes, but this can be challenging. However, it is important for children to have this stability in their lives. Parents may want to decide ahead of time whether there are certain issues, such as bedtimes or video games, that they will not budge on and other issues they can be more flexible about. This may help them work toward compromises.

Some parents will still find it impossible to reach an agreement in this way. However, there are resources that can help. A therapist, family law court or attorney may be able to recommend parenting classes. These classes avoid bias toward one or the other parent, but they may give examples that demonstrate parenting norms or emphasize how harmful it can be for children if rules are inconsistent. Another potential resource is a mediator. This is a neutral third party who helps parents resolve conflicts and reach a nonbinding agreement.

Who should pay for the back-to-school costs?

When parents in Texas are going through divorces, they may overlook some potential issues concerning who will be responsible for paying for their children's back-to-school supplies, clothing and other related expenses. The financial responsibility of paying for these items may depend on the parenting and custody arrangements that the parents have.

Buying all of the items for going back to school can be expensive, and the costs may lead to disputes between the parents. Generally, if one parent has primary custody and the other pays child support, the custodial parent should be responsible for paying for these costs. Child support should include enough money to pay for the ordinary costs of raising the children, including the back-to-school items.

Preparing an order to divide a TSP.

Retirement benefits accrued during the marriage by a spouse are subject to division when a Texas couple divorces. This can included amounts accrued by a federal employee in a Thrift Savings Plan.

The balance of a TSP can be used to offset assets received by the other spouse or a portion can go to the former spouse. If the former spouse is to receive a portion of a TSP, it must be identified in the divorce decree, property settlement agreement or other court document. Like other retirement plans, specific language must be used for the order dividing the TSP to be valid. Care must be taken in drafting the agreement to avoid unnecessary delays. For this reason, many people choose to retain an attorney for this purpose.

Estimating monthly child support payments

Making the finances work after a Texas parent files for divorce can be difficult. However, if the parent will have primary custody of the children, he or she could expect the other parent to be ordered to pay a certain amount of child support every month. Like all other states, Texas has child support calculator tools that the custodial parent can use to estimate what those payments will be.

In order to get a child support estimation, the custodial parent will need financial documentation. This should include both parents' monthly income, any tax benefits either parent receives and the amount of debt the former couple is responsible for paying. There are other factors that could have an impact on the monthly child support payments, such as how much time the child spends with each parent.