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HB 93 Will Take Us Back to the Bad Old Days

Posted on May 10th, 2017 by The Red Headed Lawyer

Back in 1970, Texas became one of the first states to offer couples a less confrontational, less expensive way to end a failed marriage. It was known as “No Fault” Divorce, and many at the time believed it would be a disastrous social experiment with American families. However, there is evidence now suggesting that rather than encouraging divorce, the long term effect of this option has been to make divorces less frequent.

During the 1970s and into the early 1980s, divorce rates did rise as each state eventually passed legislation to offer some kind of no fault option. In economic terms, you could say there was pent-up demand that was suddenly being satisfied by the change in laws.

One common measure of divorce rates is the number of divorces per 1,000 people. From about 4.6 per 1,000 in 1970, divorces in the US rose throughout the decade, peaking in 1981 at about 6.9 per thousand. Since then, the numbers have steadily declined, dropping to 4.0 per 1,000 in 2000 and just 3.2 today. Here in Texas, we are fortunate to have a divorce rate below the national average at 2.7 per 1,000.

Clearly, this is one of those rare occurrences where it’s good to be below average!

Texas House Bill 93 (and a companion bill that lengthens the waiting period from 60 to 180 days) would undo years of progress on dealing with divorces in the state and bring us back to the bad old days. If this Bill becomes law, couples whose marriages have failed will no longer be able to claim the no-fault option of “insupportability” – basically another way of saying irreconcilable differences. Instead, they will need to file using one or more of the fault-based grounds – adultery, abandonment, cruelty, felony conviction, living apart for three years or confinement to a mental hospital.

In my opinion, this Bill would be a disaster for Texas couples. They are already going through one life’s most stressful events. Now, they will be forced to adopt a confrontational approach and air their dirty laundry in public. Kids will be forced to take sides with all the long-term hurt and emotional baggage such conflict would sow.

And what about the parents? Should they be penalized for admitting that they are no longer compatible? Currently, it is estimated that as many as 90% of divorces in Texas are filed on no-fault grounds. Eliminating this option will make divorces much more expensive as one party will have to prove malfeasance as described above. This could entail the hiring of private investigators, expert witnesses, and the like. These proceedings will also take much more time to complete, which will also run up the bills.

But it’s not just about money. For women (and men) who are in abusive relationships, a no-fault divorce can be the only way out. After years in such a destructive relationship, the abused party will likely be very reluctant and afraid to report the partner to authorities, which would be required in an at-fault divorce. There is more data supporting current law – since no fault divorces became common, studies show female suicide has dropped 8 – 15%, domestic murder is down 10%, and domestic violence (for male and females) has fallen as much as 30%. Also, given the inevitable rise in costs that would ensue, would divorce become an option only for the wealthy?

There are many groups that support this change in law, but I can tell that as an attorney, I do not support it. Kids will suffer, parents and their families will suffer, and what if people lose their jobs and careers? How would this development help the lives of those involved?

If you have any questions on this or any other family law matter, please feel free to contact us here at the Essex Law Firm.

 

Why Am I Called the Red Headed Lawyer?

Posted on January 2nd, 2017 by The Red Headed Lawyer

I mean, besides the obvious reason (that I am a redhead), why promote my hair color to prospective clients? Is it just a marketing gimmick – an easy way for people to remember my website when they are seeking or recommending legal services? One can’t deny that “redheadedlawyer.com” is much easier to remember than “howelldonnerandblitzenllc.com.”

First of all, I don’t do gimmicks. When someone comes to me with a legal concern, it is serious business. At that point, what I am hearing is that all other traditional means of working out an issue have failed, and legal action is being entered into reluctantly, as a last resort. So this is no time for joking around. However, I (and everyone at the Essex Law Firm) do want to help people, and the website URL is distinctive. It makes us easier to remember and get in contact with so we can help.

But that’s not the only reason for “redheadedlawyer.com.”

Years ago my mother told me that I was one in a million. At the time, I thought she was just being a good mom, but later I learned that biologically speaking, she was onto something. According to the National Institutes of Health, around 1.6 percent of the global population has red hair (about one of every 64 people.) At the risk of getting too “Big Bang Theory,” red hair is the result of the recessive gene known as MC1R located on chromosome 16. Both parents must possess this gene for any shot at redheaded offspring, and even then, there is only a 25% chance that each child will be a carrot top. As a result, families can go generations before even knowing anyone carries these genes.

So how does my hair color help you in a legal situation? Believe it or not, it helps in many surprising ways.

Heightened Sensory Powers

Studies suggest that redheads are able to detect changes in their environment much better than others, such as subtle variations in temperature and humidity. They also have a higher pain threshold, but at the same time, require more anesthetic to knock them out during surgery. These unique characteristics may help in negotiations when opposing counsel becomes uncomfortable or otherwise exhibits a change in behavior. Maybe redheads have built-in lie detectors – not a bad quality when negotiations get heated. And perhaps the higher pain threshold guarantees a level of performance that will be maintained during illness or injury. As an attorney, you can’t afford to have an off day.

Produce Vitamin D

Redheads have lighter skin pigment, and as such, have to be careful about sunlight. To compensate, their bodies produce their own vitamin D. In addition to being important for physical health, this vitamin is also important for regulating mood. If you want your lawyer to be cool, calm, and collected, find a redhead!

Most are Left Handed

This is interesting because it addresses that old tale about redheads having a hot temper. While there isn’t any scientific evidence to prove that true, history does show something similar for lefties. In peaceful societies, data show that on average, about 3% of the population is left handed. The figure jumps to 27% in war-like societies. For some reason, lefties are more successful in battle. Believe me, everyone at my firm will go to battle for you. Possibly, this is a reflection of their enhanced environmental sensitivity and ability to self-regulate mood, but I believe it all adds up to an advantage for clients of the Essex Law Firm.

What do Alexander the Great, Winston Churchill and Thomas Jefferson have in common? They were all redheads who got down to business and won. We will do the same for you here at the Essex Law Firm.

 

How to Find An Affordable Divorce Attorney in Spring

Posted on November 28th, 2016 by The Red Headed Lawyer

Finding an affordable divorce attorney in Spring (or anywhere) can be a difficult and time-consuming process. Stress levels are often already sky high during the breakup of a marriage, making the research and consultations even more frustrating. Everyone just wants to move forward and get closure.

And it’s no wonder – the legal tradition of collecting an up-front payment from clients and spending it as needed is so unlike what people normally do. Consider that before you even walk into a store to buy shoes, or sign on to Amazon to order a video game, you have a pretty good idea of how much your items will cost. And by the time you check out, you know exactly what you have purchased and how much you spent. With legal services, it’s usually a black box where you shovel money in and wait for results.

(Maybe a black hole is a better description.)

At the Essex Law Firm, we understand what people need from their attorneys during stressful times. For 30 years, we have handled all types of sensitive issues with care, discretion and skill. In addition, most of our services have a fixed price so there is no “nickel and diming” and no surprises.

We are proud to differ from other traditional practices because of the three “Cs” – communication, consultation, and cost-effectiveness.

Communication – If we can’t reply immediately, we will answer all inquiries within 24 hours, period. And we will set up an email journal with you to facilitate communications so information/events pertinent to your case can be recorded quickly while the facts are still fresh.

Consultation – We offer a low fee initial consultation, which generally lasts one hour.  This enables us to get the facts of the case and your expectations while we get to know each other. Even if you don’t hire us, we make sure that you leave with valuable information about your case and the legal process.

Cost-Effectiveness – We are careful stewards of your money. During the initial consultation, we will give you our honest assessment on the legal remedies you seek, and tell you what it will cost. Most of our services (such as divorce, child custody, child support, and adoption) are fixed price so there are no surprises.

Unlike most law practices, we also offer a payment plan. This way, you know the exact total cost of our service, the down payment, and the monthly installment. Please visit our website for more details on our payment plan.

We are completely transparent about our fees and payment schedules. Because we value your business and want you to get the best result possible, we are also happy to help you save time (and possibly money) as your case progresses. As the affordable family legal firm here in Spring, we are happy to share a few hints on how to keep your legal expenses down and everything moving forward:

First, read my September 21 “Don’t Forget the Details” blog. There are many steps you can take prior to a divorce that will make your proceedings less complicated. By closing certain accounts, dividing memberships appropriately and handling some obligations in advance, there will be less to negotiate later. This usually translates into a faster resolution at a lower cost.

Also, be sure to complete any legal paperwork or requests for documents as quickly as you can. Delays in providing information to opposing counsel can throw off filing and court appearance dates, which will delay your case and possibly increase its cost.

If you have non-urgent questions, try to consolidate and submit them periodically rather than one at a time. I can tell you that it’s much easier to focus on a given case and address multiple related issues at the same time.

Lastly, make sure you are organized. Keep notes about what you sent and when, and save copies of everything (including emails.)

At the Essex Law Firm, we take our goal of providing quality, affordable family law services very seriously. Please feel free to contact us for an initial consultation.

 

Education Counts – Staying Current in Texas Law

Posted on November 16th, 2016 by The Red Headed Lawyer

In law, as in life, education counts. You wouldn’t want your doctor working on that pesky gas leak at your house. You want someone with specialized training. It’s the same when it comes to legal representation. When you are faced with a legal issue, you need someone with the training and experience to step in and solve your problem.

I agree with both the gas leak and lawyer scenarios. According to the Texas State Bar, there are more than 86,000 actively practicing lawyers in Texas. How do you find the right one for your particular situation?

Here in Texas, there is an organization called the Texas Bar College. Described as an “honor society” for attorneys, this body is dedicated to promoting education for members of the legal profession in the state. In fact, it is the only such organization in the U.S. Members believe in high ethical standards and the benefits of continually improving ones self and skills through voluntary classroom studies. To qualify, one must complete double the annual state requirement for continuing education. Currently, this means 30 classroom hours per year.

Only about 5% of practicing attorneys in the state are TBC members. I can tell you one reason why – it’s not easy. The 30 classroom hours are just part of the commitment – there is also the travel time to the facility and back, preparation, etc. But I assure you, the education is invaluable and completely worth the time and expense. Being able to more effectively pursue and obtain legal satisfaction for a client makes it all worthwhile.

There’s yet another reason why continuing legal education is so important here in Texas – the court system. It is complex, with five separate layers featuring overlapping jurisdictions and two top courts of appeal. The five are the Justice of the Peace Courts, Municipal Courts, County Courts, District Courts, and the 14 Courts of Appeals. There is also the Texas Supreme Court (for civil and juvenile matters) and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for all other cases.

The law is constantly changing, and no one can hope to remain current on all of its twists and turns without education. At my firm, I insist on maintaining the highest standards because people’s families, livelihoods, and sometimes lives are at stake. These are responsibilities we take very, very seriously. By maintaining specialty certification and membership in the Texas Bar College, clients know we are always fully prepared to represent them, argue their case, and arrive at an advantageous settlement.

Education does matter. At the Essex Firm, we believe in continuing education, and I do my best to lead by example. Please call us with any questions on our qualifications, recent classwork, or changes in Texas law.

 

In a Divorce, Don’t Forget the Details

Posted on September 21st, 2016 by The Red Headed Lawyer

in-a-divorce-dont-forget-the-details

If you look up “what are the most stressful life events,” divorce is second – right behind death of a spouse.

In some ways both are synonymous. Each involves a death of sorts, and there is something else these events have in common. Both will require you to make critical, potentially life-altering decisions at a time when your mental capacity is taxed by stress. But in both cases, the decisions will need to be made quickly and thoughtfully, because most will be irrevocable.

Everyone can list the major decisions involved in a divorce:

  1. Child custody
  2. Disposition of marital home
  3. Visitation
  4. Support payments
  5. Division of major assets/liabilities

These have to get resolved and they are on everyone’s radar from day one. But in the heat of “battle,” don’t lose sight of those other issues that, if left unaddressed, can cause additional expense, emotional pain, and wreck havoc with future relationships.

Credit Cards

Chances are, if you’ve been married for a number of years you have joint credit cards with your spouse. It is often simpler to pay these off before the divorce heats up. It doesn’t really make sense to have your attorney negotiate with opposing counsel over a $300 Target balance, but if you forget, it will need to be on the table. And even when there is no balance, if the card was issued jointly it could be a problem down the road. Call the company to determine how you can remove a currently authorized user. Sometimes it’s fairly easy and sometimes not, but it must be done. Remember that removing a user is better than closing an account completely for credit score purposes, but sometimes you won’t have a choice.

Utilities

This situation will be similar to the credit card scenario. Utilities (including phone, cable and Internet) are often joint obligations. Obviously, whoever is to remain in the house needs to have the control and the liability. So check them – the departing spouse should assure that he/she is no longer connected to the utility accounts. You may to have to jump through a hoop or two to remove a name, but it will be worth it.

Club Memberships

Some club memberships include a credit account. Even if yours doesn’t, at some point you’ll need to separate yourself from your ex so Sam’s, Costco, and others treat you as an individual with (in same cases) a new address. Besides, do you really want your ex to know about your shopping habits?

Netflix, etc.

This can become an issue, particularly if it’s not resolved early before things get heated. Consider what might happen during a custody battle if your viewing habits suddenly became public information. It might be embarrassing, or it could (depending on what you watch) become a morals issue used against you in court to take away your child(ren.) Tread carefully during custody discussions – you don’t want anyone to think your home activities create hazards for children.

Gag Orders

It is common in a settlement agreement to include language stating that one spouse cannot slander or speak badly of the other. This is usually to maintain the relationship with a child or children. But don’t forget that slander can apply to others. What if your ex-spouse decides that his or her new favorite activity is bad-mouthing the person in your current relationship? It’s hard to prove in court, but the parties will know exactly what is happening. Unless it is prohibited, either specifically in the document or by some broader statement, a situation could develop where your friends, relatives, and kids become a sounding board for your ex’s complaints and comments. Don’t let this happen – be sure you protect yourself.

There are many more areas of entanglement that must be severed prior to divorce. Go through your wallet or purse and look at everything – chances are you will find more. Gym memberships, anything that is autobilled like yard service, reward program points – the sooner you address these the better. By paying off bills, separating or closing joint accounts, dropping users, and protecting yourself from torment, you save time and money during your divorce. It is also easier to resolve these issues early before emotions take over.

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions on settlement agreements or divorces.

 

Domestic Violence and Firearms – Some Texas Laws Could Be Changing

Posted on August 2nd, 2016 by The Red Headed Lawyer

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Here in Texas, we have a long (and some would say loving) relationship with firearms. Even before becoming a state in 1845, early settlers found their muzzle-loaders indispensable in obtaining food and dealing with predators and unsavory reptiles. There were also frequent skirmishes with the native Comanches.

Today, Texas has more gun dealers (about 8,500) than any other state according to Federal statistics. In addition, there is no registration requirement, no waiting period, and no limit on purchases. Gun control advocates are quick to demonize Texas for these reasons, but if you check the statistics, the state ranks 30th in deaths by firearms. This is better than Washington DC and Pennsylvania, each with some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation.

The debate on gun control will likely rage on, but that’s not my topic today. Rather, it’s about existing Federal and state laws pertaining to gun ownership by people convicted of domestic abuse, and how Texas law on this subject may change.

First, here is a sad statistic. According to FBI and state crime data crunched by the Associated Press, a woman is shot in the US by her romantic partner every 16 hours. We all have heard that crime victims usually know their attackers – here’s some proof. Federal and state law acknowledges that domestic abusers should not own guns, and both make buying and possessing them after such a conviction illegal.

But there’s a legal wrinkle. There are no current laws requiring those convicted of domestic abuse to surrender firearms they already own. All ideology aside, I think everyone can see that leaving weapons in the hands of those already convicted of violence against their partners is a big gamble. Tempers are already running hot, and one could easily argue that the intent of current law is to keep these victims safe. If keeping these people from buying and owning guns is a good idea, then taking away those already owned seems to be a good idea too.

Dallas County agrees, and the process, while very new, is pretty simple and will likely be effective. And from a victim’s rights perspective, it is a welcome process because it doesn’t need legislative approval (which couldn’t occur until next year at the earliest anyway.) Judges in Dallas County have instituted a process where domestic abusers covered by certain types of protective orders are required to turn in all firearms. If they don’t own any, they must attest to this fact under oath. Under certain conditions, firearms will eventually be returned to the original owners, in theory when a protective order expires (usually two years in Texas.) Some abusers subject to this process will never have their relinquished weapons returned.

This process was launched in May 2015, so it is too new for Dallas County to have useful data on its success or failure at this point. But clearly, Texas demographics are changing, as are attitudes towards firearms. It is possible that this process could catch on in other jurisdictions.

We are glad to represent clients with domestic abuse issues.