Jason Partney has received the distinction of “Rising Star” from Texas Super Lawyers Magazine for the third year in a row! Only 2.5% of lawyers in Texas achieve this honor. To be eligible for inclusion in Rising Stars, a candidate must be nominated and younger than 40 years old or in practice for 10 years or less. While up to 5% of lawyers in a state are names to the Super Lawyers list, no more than 2.5% are named to Rising Stars. Congrats to Jason and Katie at Partney Law for receiving recognition for their great work for their clients!
Many people come to me with large amounts of past-due child support. The interest alone can represent a large portion of their amount owed. I have seen lots of people go to jail due to their failure to pay child support. In most cases, the non-paying parent has paid nothing for months or years and now their past payment history (or lack thereof) is being used against them to show their true character.
Many people assume that if they don’t have the full amount then they should not pay anything. Please note that child support is different than other consumer debt. Child support gets sent to a centralized office where the amount you pay is noted in your computer file and then the money is passed along to the receiving parent. Note that you can either send the payment in as a check or make a payment online through a credit card or bank account transfer. See the Texas Attorney General Child Support Webpage for more information on where to mail or make the payments.
If you cannot make a full payment on your child support, it is in your best interests to send something, anything, in rather than not pay at all. If you ever have to go in front of a Judge they will be more likely to give you a second chance if they say you have been sending in something every month as opposed to seeing months and months of zero payments. Judges hate to send people to jail (at taxpayer expense) and want to give delinquent parents as many chances as they can. Let your payment history be the best evidence of how you have been paying something, not nothing. That shows the court that you are at least attempting to comply. Keep in mind that if you have a reduction in wages, either through a layoff or move from full to part time, you might qualify for a reduction in your child support. Call an attorney (preferably me) to discuss whether a reduction is proper in your case.
I get calls asking, “If my spouse and I agree on the terms of our divorce, can we just sign an agreement now and do the paperwork later?” My answer is usually, “it depends.” What the caller is usually wanting to know is whether the agreement will stick if things go sideways before the divorce finalized.
Parties who want something quick and fast can sign an agreement, called a “Rule 11 agreement,” and file that with the divorce/custody case at the courthouse. Rule 11 agreements are hard to enforce, but a good way of outlining a tentative deal. Rule 11 agreements are very brittle. One side can revoke their agreement at any time before a final agreement is signed by the Judge. That negates the whole reason for getting something signed and moving on. Judges will of course review Rule 11 agreements and a party’s reason why they revoked their consent (new issues sometimes crop up, like drug use, violence, and other bad situations). If the agreement was revoked for a reason that the Judge does not like, then there is likely to be an unfavorable outcome for that party revoking the agreement when the case does to a contested hearing. Revoke your consent to a Rule 11 only if you have a very good reason for doing so, or it might come back to haunt you later in the case.
What’s the solution? How do you reach an agreement and have it stick? The sure answer is to go to mediation. The more affordable, local mediation office is called the Travis County Dispute Resolution Center. It’s located off I-35 and Hwy 290 intersection in Austin. There are many other mediation options to fit all prices and match the complexities of your case. Having a mediator who is also a family law attorney is usually helpful as they will have a better understanding of the issues. Getting a signed mediation agreement is the best way to get an enforceable agreement that cannot be undone, except in extreme danger-to-children situations. Mediation is always the best way to made a divorce agreement enforceable until the final paperwork can be submitted to the Court/Judge.
The next-best alternative is a little known statute, Texas Family Code 6.604. These are known as Informal Settlement Conferences or Informal Settlement Agreements. It allows parties and their attorneys to sign off on agreements and for them to be almost as unbreakable as a mediated settlement agreement. The requirements are that, (1) it must be in writing, (2) it must be signed by ALL the parties involved in the lawsuit, (3) it must be signed by ALL the attorneys involved in the lawsuit, (4) it must have a bold and capitalized statement that the agreement is not subject to revocation, and (5), it must be filed with the Court. A party is entitled to then draft an Order that matches this agreement and can set a hearing for the Judge to sign that Order after showing that it follows the terms of the agreement.
Informal Settlement Agreements are a little better at holding up than Rule 11 agreements. Informal Settlement Agreements can be set aside, in limited situations. If the Court finds that the “terms of the written informal settlement agreement are not just and right, the court may request the parties submit a revised agreement or set the case for a contested hearing.” Tex. Fam. Code 6.604((e). That means that if there was intimidation, deceit, other “sketchy” behavior in getting the agreement done, AND the agreement is totally lopsided, a party can have this long-shot chance to show the court how the agreement they signed is not “just and right.” In my opinion, that would mean it is not fair because one side got the vast majority of the assets, or was given the vast majority of the debts, or there was a vastly unfair visitation schedule thrust on someone. In my opinion, this does not mean that slight imbalances will result in setting the agreement aside. Slightly higher than normal child support, slightly skewed visitation schedule, or now wanting the sofa instead of the love seat and recliner would likely not get the agreement set aside. It would have to be a very blatant unfairness to justify the Judge to not uphold the informal agreement. This is where speaking to a family law attorney about your situation is helpful. They will be able to advise you, based on your specific facts, whether such an agreement might be set aside by the Judge if contested.