The relationship you have with your pet is like nothing else. Pets can be man’s (or woman’s!) best friend, a constant companion and a source of comfort – especially during a difficult time. So, it’s no wonder that we often see divorces in which spouses’ greatest source of conflict is deciding who will keep a beloved family dog or cat. If you’re worried that your divorce may affect your relationship with your pet, here’s what you should know.
Texas Law on Pets in Divorce
Currently, Texas law treats family pets the same way it treats property. Courts seek to divide the property equally, deciding who gets the pet the way they would decide who gets any other asset – without regard to a spouse’s personal connection with the pet or where the pet would be happier.
Essentially, the current law treats a beloved family pet the same way it would any other personal property, like a lamp or a desk. In theory, a court could order that a pet be sold and the profits be divided equally between the two spouses.
Courts have explained this decision in the context of resources: Courtrooms are already full of people who are involved in heated child custody disputes or child custody modifications. Courts have said they simply don’t have the resources to hear pet custody cases, too.
The Law Might Be Changing…
Legal experts think that the law may change in the future. In fact, it already has changed in states like Alabama, Vermont, Alaska and California, and a change in the law seems likely in New York. These states have taken first steps to considering “puppy custody” by taking the best interests of a dog into account when determining which spouse the dog should live with.
Legal experts explain the change by taking into account the pet’s significance: Why should the law prevent spouses from dividing time with a pet? After all, the courts already let spouses work through extensive conflict related to inanimate objects. For many people, family pets are much, much more significant than any object.
How to Protect Your “Pet Custody” During a Divorce
So, how can you protect your relationship with your pet during a Texas divorce? If your relationship with your pet is important, mention it to your lawyer right away. Knowing that it is critical, your attorney can strategically work to protect your relationship with the pet during the divorce process. Often, it is possible for your attorney to negotiate with your spouse’s attorney so that the dog or cat lives with you after the divorce.
To get started protecting your relationship with your pet, call the Fort Worth, Arlington, or Keller/Alliance office of Schneider Law Firm, P.C., at 817-755-1852.
We sometimes hear from parents who are confused and upset by the court orders they received from Texas courts. For example, a child custody order might say different things on different pages, or it might be written in a way that doesn’t make sense or that’s too vague to follow.
The court order makes child custody and visitation a challenge, and it can cause disagreements between the parents. Sometimes, one parent accuses the other of not following the order when that parent was just following a different part of the order. Not following the order is called “being in contempt.” It’s a serious problem that can get you into deep trouble in Texas courts.
A Motion to Clarify
If your child custody order doesn’t make sense to you or the other parent, or if it’s causing conflict in your custody arrangement, there are actions you can take. Texas law allows parents and their attorneys to file something called a “motion to clarify.” The motion asks a court to clarify an order if the court finds that the order is not specific enough and that one parent could be held in contempt if the order was clarified.
Your lawyer can help you seek a motion to clarify before the court finds that one parent is in contempt, as part of a contempt proceeding, or after a denial of a motion for contempt.
What a Motion to Clarify Doesn’t Do
When the court grants the motion to clarify, it simply rules to change the order to be less confusing. There are things that a motion to clarify does not do, including:
- Substantively change the order: A change in a court order is called a “child custody modification.” If you would like the order changed so that the terms of the arrangement are different, seeking a modification is probably a better fit for you. Talk with your attorney.
- Apply retroactively to hold a parent in contempt: The order only applies going forward, so you can’t ask the court to clarify the order, and then immediately hold the other parent accountable for not following it in the past.
Get a Lawyer’s Help for Confusing Child Custody Orders
When a child custody order is confusing, it’s best to get legal help. Following only your interpretation of the order can lead to trouble. And if the other parent isn’t following the order because of confusion, get legal help too. Your attorney can protect your interests and your relationship with your child. Start by calling the Arlington office of the Schneider Law Firm, P.C., at 817-799-7125.
In a divorce, property division can be complex. When a family business is involved, it can be especially complicated. Here’s what you should know.
Background: Property Division During Texas Divorces
Texas is a community property state, which means that property acquired by both spouses during a marriage is divided 50/50 during a divorce. The property acquired during the marriage is called “community property,” and other property is called “separate property.” Separate property includes things like property acquired before the marriage, property received as a gift by only one spouse and property inherited by only one spouse.
Businesses are divided according to these property division rules. If a business was started during the marriage by both spouses, a Texas court would be likely to consider it community property. But what if it was started by one spouse before the marriage, and then grown by both spouses working together? A Texas court might decide that part of the business was separate property and part was community property.
And what about the value of the business itself? How much is 50/50? Businesses are valued based on their fair market values – the amount that would be paid in cash by a willing buyer who would like to buy the business, but wasn’t forced, to a willing seller who would like to sell, but wasn’t forced.
It’s common for the spouses to disagree about the value of the business. The spouse who operates the business and plans to keep it after the divorce typically wants the valuation to be low. At the same time, the other spouse typically wants the business valued at a greater amount so they will receive a greater portion of the assets.
The Role of Experts in Business Valuation
Spouses and their lawyers typically turn to experts to assist in business valuation. These experts are usually certified public accountants (CPAs) who are accredited in business valuation. Sometimes one spouse hires a CPA. Other times, both sides hire their own experts to conduct independent valuations as part of the divorce process.
How the Value of a Business Is Determined
There is no one right way to value a business, and different CPAs may use different methods to arrive at different numbers. Different methods for business valuation include:
- The asset approach: This approach calculates the value of the business by finding the value of the business’s assets after liabilities have been subtracted.
- The market approach: This approach compares the business to other, similar businesses in similar markets.
- The income approach: This approach looks at economic data to project the future income the business will generate. CPAs then convert that number into a present-day value.
No matter which method he or she chooses, a CPA has to review a significant amount of information in order to value a business. The financial records are critical, and business valuation often takes time and resources.
In Business Valuation, Have the Right Legal Team
If your divorce involves business valuation, your lawyer can work with a well-regarded CPA to properly value the business and make sure your rights are protected. Start by calling the Arlington office of the Schneider Law Firm, P.C., at 817-799-7125.
Couples save for their retirement in many ways. Over time, retirement assets can accumulate and become one of the most significant assets to divide in a divorce. At the Schneider Law Firm, P.C., we work hard to protect our clients’ interests now, and in the future, so we pay special attention to protecting their retirement savings.
When we talk about retirement assets with our clients, we discuss:
- Deferred compensation accounts,
- 401(k) accounts and 403(b) plans
- Other retirement savings
How Texas Family Law Divides Retirement Assets
How Texas law divides retirement assets depends on when the contributions were made. Texas is a community property state, which means that property acquired during the marriage is divided 50/50. Property acquired before the marriage is considered separate property. The spouse who originally had it can keep it.
Accordingly, when retirement asset contributions were made before the marriage, they are considered to be separate property. When retirement asset contributions were made during the marriage, they are community property – even if the contributions were made by only one spouse. Like other community property, the retirement assets are divided between the spouses.
It sounds simple, but it isn’t. Documenting and calculating which retirement assets are separate property can be exceptionally complex. For example, it’s common for separate and community property to exist within the same retirement account. Lawyers often consult with financial experts to make an accurate calculation.
Pensions, military retirement and Social Security spousal benefits all have different rules for eligibility, as well as for when an ex is entitled to receive funds. And for most retirement accounts—like 401(k)s—Texas courts aren’t required to divide the asset 50/50 like other community property.
Through their lawyers, divorcing spouses sometimes work out agreements that are best for the couple and that do not require cashing out part of a 401(k). For example, a spouse might keep the 401(k), but the other spouse will keep a vehicle with a value equal to that spouse’s share of the community property.
Questions About Your Retirement Assets? Ask a Lawyer.
When your retirement assets are on the line, it’s important to get advice that’s tailored to your exact situation. Get started by scheduling a confidential consultation with a lawyer at the Ft. Worth office of the Schneider Law Firm, P.C. Call 817-755-1852.