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What Are Standing Orders and How Do They Affect My Life During a Divorce?

Filing a divorce means that your life, for some time, will be dictated by people, events, and rules that you have only indirect control over. One of the things that we take for granted, or at least took for granted, before this pandemic was the ability to make decisions for ourselves. Having autonomy over our lives and our children is a hallmark of being an American and a Texan. Getting up and go, making changes in our employment, and exercising our rights to determine the future course of our lives are benefits of living in this country.

Unfortunately, a divorce puts a temporary end to those sorts of rights. No matter if you live in Harris County, Montgomery County, Galveston County, or any other county in southeast Texas, you will become familiar with living under rules that someone else came up with. While you can play a role in developing additional rules to abide by, there are basic rules in place for divorce cases to provide some semblance of consistency and stability in your home for as long as the divorce case persists.

This is one aspect of a divorce that is frequently overlooked and changes you will need to become accustomed to if you enter into the divorce process. Most people in your shoes consider the changes to how they see their kids or the need to move residences as being the most impactful portions of a divorce. However, the need to adjust the way you live your life daily through the imposition of Standing Orders and/or temporary orders is another important component that deserves mentioning.

A divorce is almost like a game that you played with friends as children- and I don't just mean that there will be a lot of yelling that goes on. I mean that there are two ways to play a game as a child: with pre-established and agreed to rules or with the rules made up as you go along. It may be a pain to establish well-thought-out rules at the beginning of a game, but it does make the actual gameplay more enjoyable more often than not. On the other hand, coming up with rules as you go may have been easier at the beginning game (no waiting around!). Still, it undoubtedly can create a situation where the gameplay is less enjoyable and more chaotic.

Now, let's consider a divorce case. In the same way as a child's game, a divorce can either be full of rules for you and your spouse to abide by, or it can contain relatively few rules that help to dictate behaviors. With so many moving pieces, a divorce is much more complex than any game you played as a child. Furthermore, the implications and consequences of a divorce are far more critical to you and your spouse.

A lack of ground rules can cause problems in the legal aspects of your divorce. The failure to pay child support, household bills, and other issues like these can arise easily if you all do have set rules on how to follow through with payments for necessary items during your divorce. By the same token, your personal life can be thrown into a topsy turvy situation if you do not know what to expect from your spouse. Are they going to drop off your kids on time? How do you even decide on how to divide up parenting time with the kids?

Rather than asking yourself how to function within the divorce without any guideposts, you can look to temporary and/or standing orders for perspective and consistency in determining your actions. In today's blog post, we will consider just how important Standing Orders are and what function they may play in your divorce case.

What is the standing order?

A standing order is a court order that goes into effect as soon as your divorce case begins. If you were to file for divorce, a Standing Order would be attached to your Original Petition for Divorce. Not all counties in Texas have standing orders, however. For example, Harris County does not have standing orders, but Montgomery County does. The same general principles apply to any county, no matter if they have standing or temporary orders. These orders are important and will be a part of your life and case from the moment they go into effect.

Counties that have standing orders will likely have temporary orders that go into effect at some point in time, as well. It is up to you and your spouse to negotiate on the terms of your temporary orders, especially if there is an issue that needs to be addressed that is not mentioned in the standing orders. For example, you all may have household bills or other expenses that need to be detailed in temporary orders. That is no problem since standing orders are very general due to their need to cover several subjects likely to apply in a wide range of divorce cases.

Standing orders typically cover a range of topics. Children are probably the most frequently cited topic, followed by property provisions. For the remainder of today's blog post, I would like to walk you through some aspects of a typical standing order that you may encounter in your divorce case. Remember that your county may not have standing orders, or your county's standing orders may not cover these topics. It is best to speak with an attorney, like one with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, who has experience handling divorce cases in your area, to gain a better understanding of what you will likely encounter for your divorce.

Leave them, kids, alone!

To steal a lyric from Pink Floyd, courts typically do not want the parents of children doing anything to disturb them while they are learning in school. Your children will have a tough enough time as it is adjusting to all of the changes that come with your divorce. With that said, you will not be able to take your children outside of the State of Texas for any reason once the divorce begins. This will allow the kids to maintain some degree of stability and consistency in their lives and prevent disruptions in their education.

It is possible that with your spouse's agreement, you would be able to take the kids on a trip to see a relative or even on vacation during the divorce. Another way to get around this prohibition against taking your children outside of the bounds of the state of Texas during the divorce is if you were to get permission from the court to set the principal residence of your child in another state. I think this is pretty unlikely, but it is possible- especially considering how families in our area have in many cases just recently moved here for employment or other reasons.

Abduction of children during a divorce is not an uncommon theme. At least the threat of abducting kids is a threat that some parents will make when frustrated or upset by the events of a case. A standing order prohibiting your spouse from taking your children from you and not disclosing where they are is not a full-proof plan towards keeping the kids safe, but it is better than nothing. It at least gives your spouse something to think about before they make a bad decision to remove the children.

Finally, many standing orders that I am familiar with are specific in mandating that you and your spouse not use disparaging language about the other parent in front of the kids. I realize how easily nasty words can come out about a spouse during a contentious divorce. I have firsthand seen frustrated and upset parents say and do things towards their spouses that you would not believe. However, I would recommend that you stop looking at that person as a soon-to-be ex-spouse and instead look at them as a parent to your child. I can almost promise you that looking at them from that perspective will improve that sort of language you use about them.

Act nicely during the divorce

Another aspect of a standing order is to help ensure that your behavior is maintained at a civil level throughout the case. As I can imagine, people find themselves on the edge of sanity during a divorce. If you think this is an exaggeration, then wait for your divorce to begin in earnest. It will test your patience and your ability to get along well with other people. Needless to say, some of the animosity (maybe most of it) is directed from spouse to spouse.

For that reason, many standing orders contain provisions that mandate that both you and your spouse play nice in the sandbox during the divorce. This includes using nasty language at the other person either in conversation, email, or text messaging. One of the most consistent parts of representing people in divorce cases these days is reading through printouts from text message conversations between two spouses. Consider what you type in a text message before you send it. I always tell clients to assume what your text will end up in front of a judge.

One aspect of behaving nicely for your spouse is not tracking their computer usage, emails, or opening their mail. I know that this may sound like spy-type activities but believe it or not, they do become relevant in many divorce cases. Sometimes you will find a spouse who thinks they are slick and puts software on the home computer after moving out to track the keystrokes or web browsing. To avoid having this sort of issue brought before a judge, it is best to refrain from doing so.

Here is a real-life example that I consistently point to when I encounter a client considering some action that may get them into trouble during the divorce. I represented a client some years ago who worked out of state most of the year. He would come home on weekends, see his son, pack up clean clothes, and go out to work in another state. This was a routine that he and his family were used to. He worked in oil and gas and made a good living doing so.

Unfortunately, his wife decided to file for divorce while working outside the state on a month-long project. He was left trying to respond to a divorce, negotiate a settlement, and make sure he was getting a fair deal while living and working thousands of miles from home. During the divorce, he decided to surprise his son and come home early for the boy's birthday weekend. He called ahead to make sure he was ok to come home where his wife and son were living to pack up some belongings to take him out of state. He got the go-ahead from his wife and proceeded to come into town.

When he got home, he found that his large gun safe (which he kept personal belongings, cash, etc. inside) had been tampered with. Tampered is not exactly the correct word. The safe had its keypad torn off. Inside the safe was virtually nothing but a few coins and some jewelry. This man had thousands of dollars in the safe (in cash) that he would use as an emergency fund if his wife needed money. Nobody else knew the password to the safe (obviously).

He frantically called me to say that he had money taken from him. He considered contacting the police but then thought to call a locksmith first. Maybe the locksmith could come by and offer some information about how the safe's keypad had been cracked? When he called the local locksmith and gave him the address to his house responded by saying that he had just been to his house to remove the keypad of a safe in their garage. It was his wife who had hired the locksmith and broken into his safe.

I immediately called the wife’s attorney and had a talk with her about that. Eventually, she was able to speak to her client about what had happened, and the money was returned. This contentious divorce involved two spouses who did not see eye to eye on much of anything. It was unfortunate that this was happening in this way. I mention this story to point out a couple of issues relevant to today’s blog post topics.

First, you will be held accountable for your bad actions. Do not assume that you are as sly as you think you may be. Everyone is watching for things that could go wrong during a divorce. To this day, I still don't know what possessed this former client's wife to try and steal the money from the safe. I mean, ultimately, it was community income that she was an owner of. Going to those lengths during the divorce was not only silly, but it violated the standing and temporary orders outlined in her case. Had she not returned the money, that was going to be extremely bad for her. We were planning on filing a motion for an emergency hearing with the judge to address the problem ASAP had she not returned the money.

For most people, the above example should give you pause before doing something that you know to be wrong or underhanded. Not only do you have your code of morals to concern yourself with, but you also need to consider how your children would view your actions if they knew what you were up to and how a judge will view what you did regarding any potential violations of orders in place for your case.

Questions about the materials contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the materials contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about Texas family law and your family's circumstances relating to the law.

Our attorneys and staff take a great deal of pride in representing our community. You can find our lawyers in the courtrooms of southeast Texas daily, standing up for our clients and our families. Please reach out to us today to learn more about how we can best serve you and your family.

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