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Family Law Questions (Please click on a question to see the answer)

Can I do my own divorce?

If you have acquired no assets and no debt during the marriage and you have no children, sure - go to the nearest Law Library and do your own divorce. Otherwise, there are too many pitfalls that will affect you and/or your children financially now and in the future and that will affect your children detrimentally if not handled by a seasoned Family Law Attorney.

How should I choose my attorney?

First of all, ask for a referral from a friend or co-worker who has used the attorney. If the matter is not urgent, and you are not in need of a Protective Order or other emergency orders, then you should select an attorney like you would buy a house. See at least three before you decide who to use. It should be an attorney who will listen to your needs, and with whom you feel comfortable. Also, you want an attorney whose primary practice is in Family Law and you want an attorney with at least ten years experience in Family Law.  There are attorneys who charge a very minimal fee up front but who will hand you a packet and basically say, "Good Luck; you are on your own." Some will charge a small amount up front just to pull you in as a client and then bill you excessively once the initial retainer is gone. If you don’t pay your bills the attorney will often withdraw as counsel leaving you without legal representation at all. Some will charge huge initial retainers and then create unnecessary notices and orders causing you to take extra time off from work and running back to Court every so often just to run up your bill, and use up your retainer so they can bill you more. Most will set a mid-level retainer to be paid up front and then will bill you for time and fees incurred on your behalf.  The Law Office of Elaine K Ryan charges a mid-level initial retainer and then issues monthly statements so you will have a regular accounting of how your retainer is being used. You will be forewarned if the retainer is nearly gone and if additional funds are needed to continue work on your behalf. At all times we try to work as economically and as efficiently as possible to make your retainer last as long as we can. In some cases, the initial retainer may cover all costs. Usually, however, some additional amount will need to be added to the retainer as your case proceeds.

What is the meaning of “Board Certified” and do I really need a Board Certified Attorney?

You can get a detailed definition of “Board Certified” from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. However, the most important factors in choosing a Family Law Attorney are: a. Does he/she have at least ten years experience in Family Law; and b. Does he/she focus at least seventy-five percent of his/her practice on Family Law?

How long will my divorce take to complete?

It depends (isn’t that a typical lawyer answer)! However, it does depend on several factors including but not exclusively:
a. Is it a completely agreed divorce on 100% of all issues? There are usually several details that can cause amicable parties to become contentious once the process begins.
b. Does the other party have an attorney?
c. If the answer to b. is yes, then the time involved often depends on who the other party’s attorney is. Some attorneys are better than others at promptly returning phone calls and responding to letters, e-mails and faxes. If there is a delay in receiving a response to communication, there is not a lot your attorney can do, other than filing a Motion that requires the attorneys to go to Court on a relevant issue, which can cost both parties more money in attorney fees.
d. Is the client getting back to the attorney promptly with information needed to draft the final decree? Sometimes the attorney waits for weeks for the client to deliver factual information such as account numbers, vehicle identification numbers on cars, legal description of real estate, etc. Without the requested information, the decree cannot be finalized.
e. Are there ANY issues or items in the decree as drafted to which the opposing party and/or his/her attorney do not agree?
f. Has the client met all requirements of the attorney/client contract?
g. Is a trial necessary?
h. Has mediation been ordered? If so, with what mediator? Some mediators have very tight schedules.
i. Is it a Collaborative Law case? These cases generally take less time to resolve than a Litigated case - but also depend on the busy schedules of four or more individuals (the litigants, their attorneys and any allied professionals such as a financial planner).
j. Was your case filed around a holiday period, such as July 4th, Labor Day, Thanksgiving or Christmas when the Court is closed for a few days? All of these factors can go into determining how long it takes to complete a divorce. If there are NO contested issues and there is no difficulty in locating the other party and both parties communicate promptly and amicable, etc. it is possible for a divorce to be completed in sixty-one days!

What is the difference between Joint Custody and Sole Custody?

“Joint Custody” is a term the Courts began using several years ago and which has now become by far the most often used term to apply to parents who are sharing custody, regardless of the agreed upon or Court ordered visitation schedule. In other words, you may have Joint Custody and the visiting parent may have “standard visitation” (1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends, etc.) or you may be sharing one week with one parent, one week with the other parent and so on. The visitation will depend on many factors, such as both parents’ work schedules, parenting skills, past and current involvement with the child or children, etc. Parents who have Joint Custody must be reasonably able to agree on most issues where the children are concerned. When one parent has a history of seriously endangering the children or others, or has a seriously addictive drug or alcohol problem, the custodial parent (the one who the children live with most of the time) may end up with “Sole Custody.” However, the other parent has to be found to be an incompetent parent to get this title in the present Court climate. The sole custodian is typically the only parent who can determine whether a minor child (unmarried and under eighteen) can join the armed services or marry before he/she reaches his/her eighteenth birthday or graduates from high school. In years past, “Sole” meant the party who the children lived with and “Possessory” meant the parent who had visitation rights. There are a few other nuances but the differences between Joint and Sole/Possessory Custody are no longer truly significant.

Do mothers and fathers have equal rights when we go to Court?

Technically, yes.

How much child support will I receive?

This is based on the paying party’s total annual income, including bonuses, overtime, etc. Deduct from this taxes, social security and other required withholdings (i.e., not savings deposits or 401K deposits etc.) and multiply the net monthly figure by the proper multiplier depending on the number of children before the Court in this case and taking into consideration the number of other children the paying party is legally obligated to support (i.e., an obligor who has multiple children with various partners and who is paying child support to multiple partners will receive what I call a “volume discount” on child support paid to you for your child or children). Note, that the cost of covering health, dental and vision insurance on the child or children is also a factor used in calculating child support. It also depends on who is providing the insurance for the children.

If I let my spouse have one half the time with my children will my child support go away or be reduced?

There is no definitive answer to this question. There are a great many unknown factors which will go into determining the outcome of the answer to this question. Some of those are:

a. Who is the Judge in your case?
b. Is it exactly equal shared time?
c. Is there a large disparity in income between the spouses?
d. Is either spouse paying for extra expenses such as day care, camps, extracurricular activities at school, band instrument, etc. If so, is that spouse paying 100% of those costs or one half or some other portion?
e. Is there going to be a large amount of travel expense for the parent who does not have primary custody? (i.e., one parent typically has the right to decide where the children will live and to decide where they will go to school and has the right to receive child support. "This person is usually the primary Joint Conservator.") Remember, however, these are just labels and as long as you and your spouse can agree on how to raise your children and can trust one another at least where the children are concerned, you will be handling decisions and expenses on your own by agreement. The issues of who will be the primary is not as critical when the parents have agreed to share equal time with the children. Sometimes parents agree that the children’s primary residence will remain in a specific school district until they are 18 and have graduated from high school.

Do we still have any Grandparent Rights?


Yes, under a very specific set of facts and circumstances, a grandparent can still pursue the right to see their grandchildren under the Texas Family Code. Do not hesitate to seek legal counsel if you are being denied reasonable access to your grandchildren!

The Law Office of Elaine K. Ryan

669 Airport Freeway, Suite 310
Hurst, Texas 76053-3984


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E-mail: info@elainekryan.com

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