Top 10 Questions Family Law Clients Ask

Every family law matter is different. Since I began practicing law, I have probably handled hundreds of cases, each one with a different fact pattern and each client with a different personality. However, I have noticed that many of the same questions come up in initial client meetings. I have tried to compile the ten most common questions I am asked, and provide general answers here. And, since every case is different, the answers to these questions will vary depending on the facts of each case, but consider this a general overview on Texas family law on the most commonly asked topics:

1. How long will the divorce take?
Under Texas law, divorces must be on file for at least 60 days before they can be finalized (except under very limited circumstances). When I say that, the typical response is “so what are the chances we will be divorced on the 61st day?” While each divorce is different, most are not finalized within the 60 days. I have had a small percentage settle in the 60-day window, just as I have had a small percentage drag on for 2 years or more. The most common length seems to be between 6 months and one year.

2. How much will I pay/receive in child support?
The Court, in its discretion, determines the amount of child support you pay/receive. While there is no set amount that you will be guaranteed, the Texas legislature has set forth child support guidelines, which are as follows:

  • 1 child – 20% of the paying party’s net monthly resources
  • 2 children – 25% of paying party’s net monthly resources
  • 3 children – 30% of paying party’s net monthly resources
  • 4 children – 35 % of paying party’s net monthly resources
  • 5 children – 40% of paying party’s net monthly resources
  • 6 children – Not less than the amount for 5 children

The guidelines apply to net monthly resources of up to $8,550 per month. A court may go above the guideline amount as appropriate, depending on the income of the parties and the proven needs of the child.

3. How much alimony will I pay/receive?
Texas does not recognize alimony (except it is enforceable as a contract if agreed to by the parties), but Texas courts can order spousal maintenance under limited circumstances. The amount of spousal maintenance is limited to the lesser of $5,000 per month or 20 percent of the paying spouse’s average monthly gross income. For more information on the amount of spousal support, click here.

4. Is everything split 50/50?
Not necessarily. Texas law calls for the community property to be divided in a “just and right” manner, which is not always 50/50. In my experience, Courts usually divide property within the 55/45 range, with the more severe cases being 60/40. Only in very rare instances will the community property be subjected to more than a 60/40 division.

5. What if I don’t want a divorce?
Unfortunately, if your spouse wants a divorce, it will be granted. While it takes both of you to agree to be married, it only takes one party to get a divorce.

6. Does joint custody mean 50/50?
No. Conservatorship (typically referred to as custody) and possession/access are two different concepts. Conservatorship includes the rights and duties a parent has regarding a child, such as the right to make medical, educational and psychiatric and psychological decisions on behalf of the child. Joint conservatorship, or joint decision-making rights, is presumed to be in the best interest of the child. However, that does not mean that each parent will have possession of the child 50 percent of the time. Usually, although both parents will have joint conservatorship, one parent will have possession of the child more than the other parent.

7. Can I get the wedding ring back?
Typically, no. Wedding rings are considered gifts to a spouse, which are the separate property of the receiving spouse.

8. If my ex doesn’t let me see my child, do I still have to pay child support?
Yes. Section 154.011 of the Texas Family Code states that “[a] court may not render an order that conditions the payment of child support on whether a managing conservator allows a possessory conservator to have possession of or access to a child.” If your ex is not letting you see your child, there are other remedies besides withholding child support, such as asking the Court to enforce the possession order.

9. Is my premarital agreement enforceable?
Premarital agreements are presumed to be enforceable as long as they comply with the requirements set forth in Chapter 4 of the Texas Family Code. In Texas, a spouse can only set aside a premarital agreement if the party did not sign the agreement voluntarily or the agreement was unconscionable when signed and the party was not, or could not have had (and did not waive), a reasonable disclosure of the property or financial obligations of the other party.

For more on the enforceability of premarital agreements, click here.

10. How much will this cost?
This one deserves to be much higher on the list, as it is definitely one of the top questions asked. However, it is the hardest one to answer, so I have it at the bottom. I can’t tell anyone how much it is going to cost, since we charge an hourly rate and cannot accurately predict the hours that will be spent on the case. It depends on many factors, such as how much Court time will be required, how much discovery will be conducted, and how many issues will be in dispute. There are certainly actions you can take, however, to keep the costs low. Those actions can include gathering your financial documents early on in the case, setting realistic goals and communicating effectively and efficiently with your attorney.

As I said earlier, these seem to be the most popular questions I encounter in potential client interviews. If you can think of more, feel free to leave them in the comments below. If you have more questions, I can be reached by phone at 214-526-5234 or by email at [email protected]. VernerBrumley’s principal office is located in Dallas, Texas.