Definitions of Terms Relevant to Family Law Matters

Alimony – Texas has court-ordered post-divorce alimony available to persons having marriages of 10 years or more and without the power to meet their reasonable minimum monthly necessities after the division of the marital estate. The alimony statute was designed for spouses that have been in long-term marriages and not in the workforce, maintaining the marital household and raising the children. In some circumstances, being the victim of family violence can make you eligible for alimony even in marriages of less than 10 years.

Child – Unemancipated minor to whom a parent owes a duty of support.

Child Custody – An action that is brought by the other parent or other person with the legal authority to request the court to grant them the right to primarily raise the child.

Child Support – A specified amount paid periodically by one parent to the other parent, or person with legal custody of the child, for the benefit of the child. The health insurance premiums and uninsured medical costs incurred on behalf of a child are also enforceable as child support.

Collaborative Law – This is a new type of divorce process. In a collaborative law divorce both parties have lawyers whose only job is to help them resolve their issues. If necessary, the attorneys work to minimize costs by agreeing to retain one or more experts when necessary to perform such services as valuing community property assets, as well as counseling with children and families to minimize the negative effects of a divorce on the parties and their children. The parties and their lawyers agree to work together to resolve both parties’ interests and will retain a necessary mediator in order to assist with the process and move the matter to conclusion. No one may go to Court or even threaten to do so and if that should occur, the collaborative law process terminates and both lawyers are disqualified from any further involvement.

Community Property Law – Community property is defined in the Texas Family Code as to all property in a marriage that is not separate property.

Conservatorship – The legal term for custody in Texas. Although the Texas Family Code permits providing a distinction for the person with sole custody as the “Sole Managing Conservator” and the “visiting parent” as the “Possessory Conservator”, these terms are now only used where the is a reason for providing something less than “Joint Managing Conservatorship.” The Texas Family Code presumes all parents will be named “Joint Managing Conservators”, dividing the relative rights and duties between the joint managing conservators.

Divorce – The dissolution of the marriage and division of the assets and liabilities.

Family Law – All types of litigation involving the relationships as in divorce or child custody issues.

Grandparents Custody – Grandparents are given some preference over 3 rd party non-parents in custody cases, however the genetic connection alone is not enough to overcome the prevailing “best interest” test in custody cases.

Grandparents Visitation – Grandparents have the right to ask for Court-Ordered visitation with their grandchildren in certain circumstances.

Marital Agreements – Spouses may enter into an agreement, enforceable as a contract that characterizes the property collected during marriage so that determination is not left up to a court should the parties dissolve their marriage by divorce.

Marital Property Distribution – The Texas Family Code mandates that a court make a division concerning assets and liabilities that are accumulated during marriage in a manner that is “just and right” according to the circumstances.

Marital Property Law – The Texas Family Code governs the methods of management, control and distribution of all assets and liabilities accumulated during the marriage.

Parents’ Rights – In Texas the rights and duties of a parent are enumerated in the order originating from any suit affecting the parent-child relationship. There are rights and duties that parents have at all times, rights and duties that each parent would have during their respective periods of possession of the child and rights that either parent may have exclusively.

Parental Kidnaping – A parent who wrongfully takes their child secretly from the other parent, can be found to be both civilly and criminally liable for such acts. Further, the offending parent’s right to visitation with the child may be restricted, if not eliminated.

Paternity – A father of a child who is not married to the mother. The father must demonstrate his parentage to a Court in order to receive the benefits of a parent. A Paternity or Parentage suit, in addition to establishing the legal relationship between a father and child will also deal with other issues such as child support, visitation, health insurance, uninsured medical, pre- and post natal expenses and surname of the child.

Post-Divorce Modification – The Court granting the divorce has continuing jurisdiction to revisit all issues relating to the child post-divorce, including custody, visitation and child support.

Post-Nuptial Agreements – see “Marital Agreements” definition.

Premarital Agreements – Persons intending to marry have the right to enter into an agreement to maintain separate property as separate and to characterize community property after marriage as separate, which is significant as no court has the authority to divest a person of their separate property.

Spousal Support – Each person has a statutory duty to support their spouse. If a divorce is filed, the court may order one person to pay directly to the other spouse.

Step-Parent Adoptions/Termination of Parental Rights – In the event a step-parent wants to become a “legal” parent of their step-child, they may get together with their spouse and have the court establish a “legal” parent-child relationship between themselves and the child. The rights of the other parent must be terminated before the adoption can be granted. In order for a parent to be relieved of their legal duties as a parent and in order for another individual to adopt a child, that parent’s legal rights and duties must be terminated for all time.

Third Party Custody – Other persons, not the parent of a child, may petition a court for custody of a child. To qualify as such a person the individual must have significant contact with the child. In Texas the Family Code scrutinizes any non-parent in their bid for custody and requires an extremely high burden be met by the non-parent seeking custody over a legal parent.

Visitation Rights – The Texas Family Code outlines guidelines for possession and access to any child who is the subject of a suit affecting the parent-child relationship.