The Top Six Family Law Myths in Texas

Family law covers a wide range of legal issues related to marriage, divorce, child custody, child support, adoption, and other family-related matters. In Texas, like any other state, there are numerous misconceptions and myths surrounding family law matters that can lead to misunderstandings and misguided decisions. It is crucial to separate fact from fiction to ensure individuals have accurate information when navigating family law matters. Here are some of the most common family law myths in Texas:

  1. Mothers Always Get Custody of Children

When it comes to family law matters, few myths are as pervasive and misleading as the assumption that mothers always receive custody of children in Texas. This long-standing misconception has led to significant misunderstandings and misguided beliefs, impacting decisions made by parents and family members involved in custody disputes. In Texas, the guiding principle in all child custody cases is the best interests of the child. The courts aim to create a custody arrangement that promotes the child’s physical and emotional well-being, stability, and overall quality of life. When determining custody, judges evaluate various factors, including:

  • Parent-child relationship: The court considers the existing relationship between each parent and the child, including the level of involvement, bonding, and emotional connection.

  • Home environment: The stability and suitability of each parent’s home environment are taken into account, including factors such as the child’s living arrangements, neighborhood, and access to schools and essential services.

  • Child’s preferences: Depending on the child’s age and maturity, their preferences may be considered, although the weight given to their wishes varies depending on their age and other circumstances.

  • Parental capabilities: The court evaluates each parent’s ability to meet the child’s needs, including providing emotional support, guidance, and a safe and nurturing environment.

  • Parental history: The court examines the history of each parent’s caregiving responsibilities, involvement in the child’s life, and any previous misconduct or criminal activity that may impact the child’s well-being.

  • Co-parenting abilities: The court assesses the willingness and ability of each parent to foster a positive co-parenting relationship, encourage the child’s relationship with the other parent, and effectively communicate and make joint decisions regarding the child’s upbringing.

It is important to emphasize that Texas family courts are bound by the principle of gender neutrality. This means that the court does not favor one parent over the other based on gender alone. Rather, the court focuses on the specific circumstances and evidence presented in each case, aiming to protect the child’s best interests without bias towards either parent.

  1. Child Support Payments Are Fixed and Unchangeable

Child support is a critical component of family law, aimed at ensuring the financial well-being of children when their parents are no longer together. In reality, Texas law allows for modifications to child support orders under certain circumstances. Child support is determined based on guidelines set forth in the Texas Family Code. These guidelines consider factors such as the income of both parents, the number of children involved, and the custody arrangement. Once the court establishes a child support order, it is legally binding, and both parents are obligated to comply with its terms.

Contrary to popular belief, child support payments in Texas are not set in stone and can be modified under certain circumstances. It is essential to understand the following scenarios where modifications can occur:

  • Substantial Change in Circumstances:

If there has been a substantial change in the circumstances of either parent, such as a significant increase or decrease in income, loss of employment, or changes in the child’s needs, the court may consider modifying the child support order. It is crucial to demonstrate that the change is significant enough to warrant a modification.

  • Three-Year Rule:

Under the “three-year rule” in Texas, a child support order can be modified if the monthly amount of the existing order differs by either 20% or $100 from the amount that would be awarded under the current child support guidelines. This rule allows for a modification every three years or more frequently if the substantial change in circumstances applies.

  • Emancipation of the Child:

When a child reaches the age of majority (18 years) or becomes emancipated before turning 18, the child support order can be modified or terminated. It is important to note that certain circumstances, such as a child with disabilities, may extend the obligation for child support beyond the age of majority.

  • Agreement Between the Parties:

Parents can voluntarily agree to modify child support payments outside of court. However, it is crucial to ensure that any modifications are documented, signed, and approved by the court to avoid any future disputes.

  1. Pre-nuptial Agreements Are Only for the Wealthy

Pre-nuptial agreements, often referred to as prenups, are legal documents that couples sign before getting married to outline how their assets and debts will be divided in the event of a divorce. However, there is a common misconception in Texas that prenuptial agreements are only necessary for wealthy individuals. In reality, prenups can be beneficial for couples of all financial backgrounds. Prenuptial agreements are not solely focused on protecting significant wealth. They also safeguard assets that individuals acquire before marriage, such as personal property, real estate, retirement savings, and even businesses. Regardless of the overall value of these assets, a prenup ensures that they remain protected and allocated according to the couple’s wishes.

Marriage often involves the merging of financial responsibilities, including debts. A prenuptial agreement allows couples to outline how debts should be allocated in the event of a divorce, ensuring that one spouse does not assume an unfair burden. This is particularly relevant when one partner has significant debts, such as student loans or credit card debt. Also, prenuptial agreements can also address future financial planning. Couples can include provisions regarding spousal support, estate planning, and other financial arrangements that may arise during the marriage or in the event of a divorce.

  1. Common Law Marriage Automatically Occurs After Living Together for a Certain Time

In the realm of family law, one persistent myth that continues to circulate is the idea that common law marriage automatically occurs after a specific duration of cohabitation. In the state of Texas, this misconception often leads to misunderstandings and mistaken beliefs about legal rights and responsibilities. It is essential to debunk this myth and shed light on the reality of common law marriage in Texas to ensure individuals have accurate information when it comes to their relationships and legal standing.

Common law marriage, also known as informal marriage, is a legal concept that recognizes a marriage between two individuals who have not obtained a marriage license or had a formal wedding ceremony. While some states recognize common law marriages, Texas is one of the few states that still allows for its formation. However, contrary to popular belief, common law marriage does not automatically occur after living together for a certain period. To establish a common law marriage in Texas, three essential elements must be met:

  • Agreement to Be Married: The couple must mutually agree to be married. This agreement can be expressed orally or through their actions.

  • Cohabitation as Husband and Wife: The couple must live together as husband and wife. This means they share a residence and present themselves to others as a married couple.

  • Holding Out: The couple must hold themselves out to others as married. This includes referring to each other as husband and wife, introducing themselves as married, and filing joint tax returns.

  1. Alimony Is Awarded in Every Divorce Case

One of the most prevalent misconceptions surrounding family law in Texas is the belief that alimony, also known as spousal maintenance, is automatically awarded in every divorce case. Alimony is a financial support arrangement provided to a spouse following a divorce to help them maintain their standard of living. However, the reality is far from this common myth. In Texas, alimony is not granted as a matter of course and is only awarded under specific circumstances.

Contrary to the myth, alimony is not automatically awarded in every divorce case in Texas. The state has specific guidelines that must be met for a court to consider granting alimony. The following are key criteria:

  • Insufficient Property: The spouse seeking alimony must demonstrate that they lack sufficient property, including both community and separate property, to meet their minimum reasonable needs after the divorce.

  • Minimum Reasonable Needs: The spouse requesting alimony must establish their minimum reasonable needs, which include essential expenses such as housing, utilities, food, and healthcare. These needs must be based on the standard of living established during the marriage.

  • Duration of the Marriage: In Texas, alimony is more likely to be awarded in cases where the duration of the marriage was ten years or longer. However, there is no strict rule, and the court has discretion to consider shorter-term marriages under certain circumstances.

  • Disability or Incapacity: The court may consider a spouse’s physical or mental disability or incapacity as a factor when determining alimony. This criterion can apply to both short-term and long-term disabilities.

  • Domestic Violence: Instances of family violence may be taken into account when considering alimony. If the court finds that family violence occurred during the marriage, it can influence the award of alimony.

  • Ability to Pay: The spouse from whom alimony is sought must have the ability to pay. The court will assess their financial resources, earning capacity, and overall ability to meet both their own needs and those of the requesting spouse.

  1. Domestic Violence Does Not Affect Child Custody Decisions

Family law matters involving domestic violence are among the most sensitive and critical cases that courts handle. In Texas, as in many other states, there is a common myth that domestic violence does not significantly affect child custody decisions. However, it is essential to dispel this misconception and shed light on how domestic violence can profoundly impact child custody determinations in Texas family law. Understanding the truth is crucial for ensuring the safety and well-being of children involved in such cases.

One of the most dangerous myths surrounding family law is the belief that instances of domestic violence have little to no bearing on child custody decisions. This misconception can lead to grave consequences, perpetuating an unsafe environment for children. However, it is important to note that Texas courts prioritize the child’s best interests in custody matters, and domestic violence is considered a significant factor in these determinations.

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

If you have any questions about the material 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 the world of Texas family law as well as about how the filing of a divorce or child custody case may impact your family’s circumstances divorce or child custody case.

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