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Family law in the age of mobility and migration

Houston is an international city. No, you’re not reading a blog from the Houston Chamber of Commerce. That is the sort of statement you would hear trumpeted as a means to entice people from other parts of the country and the world to invest in our city, which many do. However, I mean to bring up this fact as a jumping off point to discuss an increasingly important topic in the field of Texas family law.

We live in times where it is likely that you or your spouse are either from another state or from another country. You may be living in another country while your spouse resides in Texas with your children. Or, you could both be Texas residents, yet you own real estate in a foreign country. You both came here to the United States to begin a life together and quickly had a baby or two. There are a countless number of combinations as far as international family dynamics are concerned.

This is why international family law cases are becoming very common and relevant to the courts in Texas. You can take all of the different combinations of factors and circumstances that are relevant in a domestic family law case and multiply them by a factor of 1,000 when it comes to international family law cases. There are just more concepts and variables in play. Distance, culture, and language are just a few of the many ways that an international child custody case or divorce can differ from their domestic counterparts.

The challenges that a family faces in an international family case are many. You are having to put together many different circumstances into one, cohesive case. This is what we would like to talk to you about today. How can you choose the correct path to take towards achieving whatever goals you have in a family law case?

Looking at a family law case as a handful of separate, yet interconnected, issues

Here is the tough part of a family law case: there are not only many issues that are associated with each case, but those issues are often times very unique in comparison with one another. On top of that, those issues are all connected in some form or fashion. So, what you have to deal with is a lot of seemingly different, yet interconnected subjects, that impact each other in different ways.

This is one of the most important reasons why I always advise folks to seek out the advice of experienced family law attorneys. Even if you do not hire an attorney, it is crucial that you have some perspective on these subjects before engaging in a family law case. Do not think that because you have a cousin or a nephew who has gone through a family law case without an attorney that you can as well. The truth is that their case is nothing like yours, even if you think that it is.

What court (in what country) gets to decide the issues of your case?

Every other issue in a divorce takes a back seat to that of jurisdiction. Jurisdiction centers around the issue of which court is able to exert its authority over your divorce or child custody case. We will approach this topic from the perspective of what are the factors that affect jurisdiction over a family law case for you and your family.

First off you need to do an honest assessment of you and your spouse/partner. Do both of you have sufficient ties to the state of Texas that either of you, on your own, could qualify as residents and therefore file for the divorce or child custody case here?

Next, think about if the court in Harris/Ft. Bend/etc. the county has authority under Texas law to handle your divorce and whatever issues are attached to your divorce. Do you own a home in Texas or do you own a house in Arizona? Is your business located in Colombia or in Cypress?

Finally, if the State of Texas and another state/country both have authority to hear your case, which one is in a better position to assert a claim to your case? Which jurisdiction is better for your case? Which one is better for your spouse/partner?

These are questions and topics that are vitally important to your case. Temporary orders, the final decree of divorce (final orders) and many issues in between will depend on what jurisdiction your case is heard in as far as what is actually decided in your divorce. Unfortunately for you (and the court) this is not always a simple question to ask yourself. You may be in a position where multiple courts have jurisdiction over your case.

The law in one country may vary a great deal from the law in the United States

Family law in the United States is likely quite a bit different than family law in another country. The laws of one jurisdiction compared to another may provide you with the sort of tiebreaker information that you need to determine what court would be most advantageous for you to file your divorce or child custody case in.

For instance, most family courts in the somewhat recent past (last thirty years, or so in most states) required that if you were to file for divorce you would also have to assert a fault grounds for moving forward with the divorce. Basically, this means that you could only divorce your spouse for a good reason. Simply having "grown apart" was not good enough.

Those days are long since gone in most states, Texas included. Now all you have to do is say in your Divorce Petition that you and your spouse have irreconcilable differences and that there is no chance of a reconciliation between the two of you in order to get a divorce. However, you may find yourself having to choose between Texas and a jurisdiction that still does require fault grounds be cited in your divorce petition in order to get a divorce.

Next, you need to consider what kind of property division is allowed in the jurisdictions that are relevant to your case. Texas is a community property state, which basically holds that any income earned or property acquired by you and your spouse during the marriage is joint/community property. You could have been a stay at home mom for the duration of your marriage, but any dollar that your spouse earned from his primary job is just as much yours as it is his. The beautiful house that you live in, that his income purchased, is just like yours as it is his. It doesn't matter if you didn't work a day in your life during that marriage. However, most states in the U.S. and many foreign countries do not have community property laws in place. Those jurisdictions utilize an equitable distribution of marital property, which would significantly diminish your claim to the property that we just finished talking about.

Prenuptial agreements and marital agreements

If you and your spouse negotiate on either a prenuptial or marital agreement then you and your spouse will want to make sure that whatever jurisdiction you file into will honor these agreements that you spent money and time completing. The whole purpose of these documents is to do away from the drama that is associated with dividing personal property, cash, and real estate.

Spousal maintenance and alimony

These are important subjects, especially if you have not worked in years and are relying on money from your spouse to stay on your feet which you search for a full-time job. In Texas, you need to show that you and your spouse were married for at least ten years and that now you are unable to provide for your minimal, basic needs. Other states or countries may be more liberal in its allowance of spousal maintenance awards.

Foreign countries applying laws of other foreign countries in divorce cases

It does happen that a court may have jurisdiction over your case but has to apply the laws of another country. Be aware that this is common and can cause a lot of questions to be asked about the case by clients. Ask your attorney for more detailed questions about this subject.

How to provide notice to your spouse that you are suing him for divorce

For a divorce case to begin, you must first notice your opposing party that he is being sued for divorce by you. No matter what jurisdiction you are in there is going to be a set of rules that are in place as far as what paperwork needs to be filed (and by what date) as well as what legal notices are to be attached to that paperwork.

Service of process laws can vary significantly across countries. Pay close attention to the requirements that are in existence for the country or state where you have chosen to file your case. It is frustrating to go through the trouble of hiring an attorney, drafting and filing your paperwork and putting the ball in your spouse’s court to respond. If you can get your case moving at a decent speed at this stage then the later episodes of your case will appear much faster.

What to do about discovery in family law cases

Discovery in Texas refers to the part of a family law case where you and your opponent are both preparing yourselves for a trial. Gathering documents, witness statements and other relevant information to bolster your case is what discovery is all about.

Many countries, I would be so bold as to say most other countries, do not allow for discovery to the same degree as we in the United States do. Taking the deposition of a witness, requesting documents from the opposing party, or simply learning your spouse's theory of his case is common in the world of discovery here in the United States. You may also be able to hide information under the guise of it being privileged, whereas in other countries those laws are nonexistent.

Dividing up property in an international divorce case

As we have already touched on, you and your lawyer will have to determine how property is set to be divided in your divorce. If yours is an equitable division court where the community property will be split according to whose income contributed to its acquisition, you may want to file for divorce in Texas.

Next, you will want to see if there are any assets that are not subject to division. Some retirement accounts would fall under this category. When it comes to dividing up a family home you will need to find out how that property can be valued and what evidence is relevant to coming up with a value for that property for the purposes of your divorce. Finally, if foreign attorneys, real estate agents or government officials submit estimates of a home’s value, will a Texas court accept those estimates? These are the types of questions you should ask yourself before getting too deep into a divorce.

Questions about divorce in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are equipped to handle any divorce or child custody situation that you are facing- even one that spans two countries. We are involved in cases in most every family court in southeast Texas, where we have earned our stripes representing hard-working, decent folks just like you.

A free of charge consultation is only a phone call away. These consultations are a great opportunity to learn more about your case, ask questions of an attorney who has been there before and to have your issues addressed honestly. Don't rely on a friend or neighbor's advice (however well-meaning) who has never walked a mile in your shoes. Our attorneys and staff are here for you and will work tirelessly on your behalf to help you to succeed.

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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Kingwood Divorce Lawyer

The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's important to speak with ar Kingwood, TX Divorce Lawyer right away to protect your rights.

divorce lawyer in Kingwood TX is skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles Divorce cases in Spring, TexasCypressSpringKleinHumble, KingwoodTomballThe WoodlandsHouston, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris CountyMontgomery CountyLiberty County, Chambers CountyGalveston CountyBrazoria CountyFort Bend County and Waller County.

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