Thursday, November 19, 2015

2016 rates

My rates for 2016 will remain (unless something changes) at my rate for mediation will remain what it's been for the past several years:

$300 per side for 4 hours - 2 people then $600, 3 people then $900, 4 people then $1,200. This is non-negotiable. The more parties -- the more work.

If we go longer than 4 hours then it's $75 per person per hour.
The parties control the process.  At the end of 3-1/2 hours if people want to end then I can declare an impasse. If they want to continue, then I expect to be paid for my work.

No personal checks accepted.

I accept cash, debt or credit card or attorney check.

No billing - payment is due at the time the service is performed.

I expect a $150 per side non-refundable deposit per party paid at least 3 hours before the actual mediation.

Due to the no shows for pro se (no attorneys) mediations, I have been forced to require a non-refundable deposit of $300 BEFORE I will even schedule the mediation on my calendar.  (Sorry but I've been abused my no shows and I want to know that you are committed to the process.)

I do offer discounts, totally at my discretion.

Example, if a person is disabled military on limited income, on disability with no assets then I have been known to discount my rate.  No freebies. I find that people need some "skin" in the game.  During the mediation is I determine the person has financial resources then I reserve the right to eliminate my discount or terminate the mediation due to misrepresentation.

I do lots of pro bono through the Dispute Resolution Center, Lone Star Legal, Houston Volunteer Lawyers and South Texas College of Law -- I don't do involuntarily pro bono (free) work.  So don't ask.

Based on my level of experience and training my rates are way below market price. I know it.  My husband says that I'm worth much more.  So do not attempt to negotiate with me. I know the market, I know my competition and I'm really good at what I do.  If you want to negotiate or get a freebie, look elsewhere.

I have shown a commitment to keeping my prices affordable to everyone.

Contacted again to be on a pilot t.v. show

Approximately 4 hours years a production company (that actually has shows on cable t.v.) contacted me about being their "mediator" on a new tv show.  Unfortunately, they wanted a "Judge Judy" type.  I tried to explain to the gentleman that mediation is not yelling at people - it's helping people resolve their issues in creative and non-aggressive ways.
Mediation is no 5 minutes and done -- it's a slow process that often takes time and patience to fully develop. I actually made it through 3 rounds with the "producers" but they lost interest in me.  So far no "mediator" tv show has made it to my cable provider so I suspect that what the producers wanted and what competent mediators could actually produce were in conflict.

Today I received a call from another company that does similar shows. (I have actually watched several of their productions on my local Comcast cable tv). They want to do a show about teenagers and emanipation.  I told them that obviously they don't understand the Texas Family Code since emancipation of minors is extremely limited and very difficult.

I talked to a very nice gentleman for over 15 minutes and I have agreed orally to proceed with "discussions".  Since it's a national show I would not appear as an attorney and give legal advice. I would give "common sense" advice to families with teen-agers.  I suspect these families would be in "crisis".  We are going to "skype" soon -- he promised me that he could help me "skype" since the last time I tried "skype" it did not work.  I prefer Facetime.

After being a lawyer almost 25 years - 5 of which were at Houston Volunteer Lawyers where I handled anything that walked in the door - I feel, at my age and on my third marriage, being a parent and, briefly, a step-parent,  that I can easily give people advice! As I always say on my free phone consults -- my opinion is worth what you pay me.

Of course, if they don't like me I highly recommended Attorney Rose Cardenas.  She is often interviewed for Spanish speaking tv (not just in Houston) and she is the "queen of sound bites".  I've watched a couple of her interviews and she "nails" it every time.

Maybe Rose and I should be the dynamic duo!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

2015 Top Houston Family Law Attorneys by Houstonia Magazine

Here is the list of attorneys listed by Houstonia Magazine as a "top family law attorney" in Houston:

Benee Bellue

Paul Calzada

Lennea Cannon

Shannon Cavers

Thomas Conner

Laura Dale

Holly Davis

Cynthia Diggs

Judy Dougherty

Thea Fabio

James Gilbreath

Shari Goldberry

Daniel Gray

Liza Greene

Erin Groce

Hal Hale

Debra Herndon

Michael Hiller

Reginald Hirsch

Joseph Indelicato

Denise Khoury

Lacy LaFour

Diana Larson

Erik Larson

Allecia Lindsey-Pottinger

Luis Midence

William Moore

Susan Myres

Stephanie Proffitt

Mary Quinn

Mary Ramos

Judy Ritts

Leonard Roth

Donald Royall

Barbara Lynn Schnack - no longer takes private cases - works for Harris County DRO

Lindsey Short

Matthew Skillern

Christopher & Spofford

Angela Stout

Harry Tindall

Norma Trusch

Hilary Unger

K Nicole Voyles

Laurden Waddell

Brian Walters

Sam "Trey" Yates

Most I know & many of them I've mediated with -- a few I do not personally know. 

When hiring an attorney you need to be aware that the Harris County Family Lawyers group is a tight-knit "family".  We might be on opposite sides, but if someone has a problem or issue, the other family law attorneys will always work together to handle the matter in a professional and ethical manner. In Texas, attorneys are held to a professional code of conduct and all judges expect us to follow it.  

If you need a family law attorney, check on, look on the State Bar of Texas website to see if your attorney has any discipline issues with the State Bar and visit their websites.  Also, check with friends and family on who they used and liked.  

Be aware that Texas law is changed by the Texas legislature every 2 years and what happened in your friend's case 10 years ago might not happen today.  So hire someone that goes to court often, knows all the judges and their personalities and is reasonably priced.  Family law is expensive and can run into thousands of dollars.

What no one tells you is that over 90% of all cases settle at or before mediation since most people cannot afford to go to trial.  If you want a trial anticipate $15,000 minimum and more if you want a jury trial.  Plus, judges dislike jury trials because they back up their docket so they will put you off until their calendar is clear - could be over a year to get a first trial date with a jury trial.  

Many judges now require mediation prior to even setting temporary orders and definitely before trial.  I often mediate a case 2-3 times before a trial setting.  I don't settle them all but I save folks a ton of money and a lot of time.  Always consider mediation before litigation.  

How much does a case cost? At $350 

2015 Houston Magazine lists top Houston mediators

Here is the list of mediators listed as "Top Houston Mediators" by Houstonia Magazine:

Jeffry Abrams

Ron Bankston

W. Robins Brice

Fran Brochstein - me!!

Sherri Cothrun

Tammy Manning

Michael Wilk

That's 7 out of the hundreds of mediators that live in Houston!

Plus, I did not pay any money for this endorsement.

I am proud to be included on this short list of mediators that I know & respect.

Thanks Houstonia Magazine - my 3rd year in a row being listed on their attorney lists!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

9 things to consider when hiring a family law (divorce) mediator

There are many people that advertise on the internet as mediators.

No one "licenses" mediators. Therefore, anyone can call themselves a mediator.
So do your research before hiring a mediator.

Anyone that has completed the basic 40 hour mediation training can call themselves a "certified mediator" since they received a "certificate" when they completed this basic course.

I take approximately 25 hours each year in Texas family law and another 25 hours in mediation training.

So...would you hire a 16 year old that just received their driver's license to drive your car or would you want someone that has extensive training and years of experience to borrow your car?

This is what I look for when I personally need to hire a mediator:

1. Knowledge of the laws of the state that I live in.

Many mediators are former attorneys.

A person does not have to be an attorney to be a mediator.

However, it's important to pick someone that understands current laws in your state.  It's time consuming and difficult to keep current on state laws.  I suggest that you hire someone that has current up-to-date information on your area of conflict.

2. Someone that is familiar with the judge and how the judge usually rules.  The Texas Family Code is used throughout the State of Texas -- but each judge is different and has a lot of latitude in their interpretation of Texas laws. So what works in East Texas probably won't work in Harris County.  So know your judge!

Even though the mediator does not give legal advice or make decisions for you, they should be there to offer you "common sense" advice and "reality test" the issues that the parties are discussing.

I've seen many people offer to pick the kids up on Friday at 6 pm but they don't get off work until 7 pm - there is no way that is going to work and the parties need to discuss these decisions before entering into unworkable arrangements.

Some mediators just write down whatever the parties say and no one takes the time to actually think about how the family is going to function AFTER this matter is finalized.

3.  Someone what is not "afraid" of issues regarding potential domestic violence.

I see a lot of mediators that will not touch any case where there might be a sliver (or potential) of physical or verbal abuse.  Unfortunately, abuse and possible abuse is the reality of the practice of family law.

Hire someone that has taken advanced training in domestic violence and conflict resolution.

I mediate cases where there is a protective order in place -- but I take pre-cautions and have the parties arrive and leave at different times.  They are never allowed to interact with each other at the mediation.  I keep the parties separated.

Don't assume that a mediator will automatically do this - many mediators always have the parties in the same room and that might not be appropriate for your case.

4. Someone that does not want to "deal" with "feelings" of the parties.

Every relationship that ends has hurt feelings involved. Anger, fear, panic, retaliation occurs in family law cases - it's something that might need to be addressed.

How can a person make major life decisions unless their fears (or concerns) have been addressed?

Some mediators are "lazy" and only want the easy cases.  They don't like people getting vocal or difficult to deal with -- I don't use these type of mediators.

5. Price - a mediator can charge whatever they want to charge.  So shop around for pricing.  Prices can vary from free (Dispute Resolution Center) to over $2,5000 per side for an 8 hour mediation.

6. Location - Pick a location convenient for everyone. Harris County is huge and you could select a mediator over an hour away from you - so look before you book.

7. Availability - Mediators pick their own schedules.  Some will only do one mediation per day. Others only work at their mediation practice on a part-time basis.

Some mediators do 3 mediations per day - that limits you to a short 4 hour session.  If you don't finish then you will need to pay for and schedule a second session.

8. Flexibility - Each mediator is different.  Some are more flexible than others.  So look around before booking a mediator.

9. Involvement - some mediators just write down what you agreed to do.

If they are not an attorney, then they will not file the Mediated Settlement Agreement with the court.

The burden falls upon you to do so.  If it's not entered at the courthouse then the value is limited.  If the judge is unaware a Mediated Settlement Agreement has been signed then it's worthless.

Also, a Mediated Settlement Agreement needs to contain certain "magic" words.  I've seen some mediators that are new forget these essential words - if not done then it's revokable.

In summary, select your mediator carefully.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

New TX Family laws now include electronic communication

Effective /1/15 expands the scope of prohibited actions that may be contained in a temporary restraining order granted during a Texas divorce proceeding. 
The list of prohibited actions will now include prohibiting parties from communicating and threatening each other via electronic voice transmission, video chat, or electronic messaging such as email, social media, etc. 
The definition of property now includes intellectual property and electronically stored or recorded information.
Once a divorce is filed and these orders are put in place, divorcing parties are prohibited from cussing each other out in email, opening the other spouse’s email and reading it, forwarding the other spouse’s email to anyone, deleting any email or other electronic evidence, using the password of the other spouse to access any electronic information, and/or deleting anything off of social media.
COMMON SENSE ADVICE - Don't post anything on social media that you don't want the judge to read! Basically, stay off social media entirely! And, if you post beware that even if you delete it is information that can be shown to the judge.  Judges don't like people that post "nasty" things on social media. 
So, here is the "basic" list of the usual things to avoid doing -- effective 9/1/15. 
(1) intentionally communicating in person or in any other manner, including by telephone or another electronic voice transmission, video chat, in writing, or electronic messaging, with the other party by use of vulgar, profane, obscene, or indecent language or in a coarse or offensive manner, with intent to annoy or alarm the other party;
(2) threatening the other party in person or in any other manner, including by telephone or another electronic voice transmission, video chat, in writing, or electronic messaging, to take unlawful action against any person, intending by this action to annoy or alarm the other party;
(3) placing a telephone call, anonymously, at an unreasonable hour, in an offensive and repetitious manner, or without a legitimate purpose of communication with the intent to annoy or alarm the other party;
(4) intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to the other party or to a child of either party;
(5) threatening the other party or a child of either party with imminent bodily injury;
(6) intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly destroying, removing, concealing, encumbering, transferring, or otherwise harming or reducing the value of the property of the parties or either party with intent to obstruct the authority of the court to order a division of the estate of the parties in a manner that the court deems just and right, having due regard for the rights of each party and any children of the marriage;
(7) intentionally falsifying a writing or record, including an electronic record, relating to the property of either party;
(8) intentionally misrepresenting or refusing to disclose to the other party or to the court, on proper request, the existence, amount, or location of any tangible or intellectual property of the parties or either party, including electronically stored or recorded information;
(9) intentionally or knowingly damaging or destroying the tangible or intellectual property of the parties or either party, including electronically stored or recorded information;
(10) intentionally or knowingly tampering with the tangible or intellectual property of the parties or either party, including electronically stored or recorded information, and causing pecuniary loss or substantial inconvenience to the other party;
(11) except as specifically authorized by the court:
(A) selling, transferring, assigning, mortgaging, encumbering, or in any other manner alienating any of the property of the parties or either party, regardless of whether the property is:
(i) personal property, real property, or intellectual property; or
(ii) separate or community property;
(B) incurring any debt, other than legal expenses in connection with the suit for dissolution of marriage;
(C) withdrawing money from any checking or savings account in a financial institution for any purpose;
(D) spending any money in either party’s possession or subject to either party’s control for any purpose;
(E) withdrawing or borrowing money in any manner for any purpose from a retirement, profit sharing, pension, death, or other employee benefit plan, employee savings plan, individual retirement account, or Keogh account of either party; or
(F) withdrawing or borrowing in any manner all or any part of the cash surrender value of a life insurance policy on the life of either party or a child of the parties;
(12) entering any safe deposit box in the name of or subject to the control of the parties or either party, whether individually or jointly with others;
(13) changing or in any manner altering the beneficiary designation on any life insurance policy on the life of either party or a child of the parties;
(14) canceling, altering, failing to renew or pay premiums on, or in any manner affecting the level of coverage that existed at the time the suit was filed of, any life, casualty, automobile, or health insurance policy insuring the parties’ property or persons, including a child of the parties;
(15) opening or diverting mail or e-mail or any other electronic communication addressed to the other party;
(16) signing or endorsing the other party’s name on any negotiable instrument, check, or draft, including a tax refund, insurance payment, and dividend, or attempting to negotiate any negotiable instrument payable to the other party without the personal signature of the other party;
(17) taking any action to terminate or limit credit or charge credit cards in the name of the other party;
(18) discontinuing or reducing the withholding for federal income taxes from either party’s wages or salary;
(19) destroying, disposing of, or altering any financial records of the parties, including a canceled check, deposit slip, and other records from a financial institution, a record of credit purchases or cash advances, a tax return, and a financial statement;
(20) destroying, disposing of, or altering any e-mail, text message, video message, or chat message or other electronic data or electronically stored information relevant to the subject matter of the suit for dissolution of marriage, regardless of whether the information is stored on a hard drive, in a removable storage device, in cloud storage, or in another electronic storage medium;
(21) modifying, changing, or altering the native format or metadata of any electronic data or electronically stored information relevant to the subject matter of the suit for dissolution of marriage, regardless of whether the information is stored on a hard drive, in a removable storage device, in cloud storage, or in another electronic storage medium;
(22) deleting any data or content from any social network profile used or created by either party or a child of the parties;
(23) using any password or personal identification number to gain access to the other party’s e-mail account, bank account, social media account, or any other electronic account;
(24) terminating or in any manner affecting the service of water, electricity, gas, telephone, cable television, or any other contractual service, including security, pest control, landscaping, or yard maintenance at the residence of either party, or in any manner attempting to withdraw any deposit paid in connection with any of those services;
(25) excluding the other party from the use and enjoyment of a specifically identified residence of the other party; or
(26) entering, operating, or exercising control over a motor vehicle in the possession of the other party.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

FIND GOVERNMENT OFFICES IN YOUR COUNTY is an internet database of county government offices in the United States. 

Use this site to locate your county assessor, board of elections, chamber of commerce, child support offices, colleges, coroner, courts, and much more, with all relevant details.

Texas websites for info on family law and divorce in Texas - lots of resources about family law in Texas - a short informational guide about splitting financial assets, like annuities, during a divorce - a more general website about divorce with many articles, blog posts and a community forum - all forms on this site have been approved by the Supreme Court of Texas and judges must accept the form if properly filled out.  Also, a lot of excellent information for Texas residents on many topics. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

What is child abandonment in the State of Texas?

I get asked this question almost weekly from folks.

So I looked it up in the Texas Family Code.

Chapter 262 - Procedures in Suit by Governmental Entity
Subchapter D - Emergency Possession of Certain Abandoned Children
Section 262.301-307

This is the only chapter that the General Index of the Texas Family Code addresses "abandoment of children".

It basically covers what happens when a child is abandonment at a hospital or other emergency care provider.

I often ask a follow-up question when I'm asked this question - what do you hope to accomplish?

The answers are basically one of the 4 below:

1. I want to terminate his/her parental rights.

Ok. Generally in Texas (not 100% -- but it's not easy) a judge will not terminate a parent's rights unless there is a new person in the wings ready, willing and able (must be able to pass a criminal background check and the child has to want to be adopted by the person if the child is old enough to speak).

In Texas, normally a fiance cannot adopt. If you want the new person to adopt then get married and wait approximately a year.  Why? Because if the new person adopts and then you divorce since that person is now the "father/mother" you will be co-parenting with that ex-spouse.  And that spouse would be paying child support and carrying health insurance just like the prior parent did.

Most courts frown on "bastardizing" children. If you were to die then your child would be an orphan without anyone to raise the child.  Judges don't like leaving a child a possible orphan.

If the parent is current on child support then it is very hard to terminate a person's parental rights.

Parental rights are taken seriously in Texas and there are several hurdles to overcome this basic human rights presumption.

Termination normally requires a lot of work and an attorney to represent the child's interests. You have to pay for it. It is not cheap. Most attorneys that do this sort of work charge several thousand dollars. I normally warn people that if they don't have $5,000 for legal fees and expenses then they need to think a long time before filing a lawsuit to terminate parental rights.

I'm not saying it's not impossible -- but it's not easy.

Also, merely because you want to terminate your parental rights a judge will probably not do it.
Both parents are supposed to financially support their children.

2. I want to make all the decisions regarding the child.

Again, most judges expect parents to co-parent with the other parent.  You might be apart but it does not mean that the other parent is "forgotten".

The child is 50% you and 50% of the other parent.

I have seen in some pretty horrible custody cases where a judge will change custody if one parent refuses to co-parent effectively with the other parent. Again,. it's not easy to lose custody but it has been done in Texas courts.

3. I want him/her out of my life.

See #2 above.
That is not a valid argument.

4. He/She is difficult and is "controlling".

See #2 above.
This is not a valid argument.
If the other parent is "controlling" there are options like for communication between the parents to avoid nasty and hostile communications.

You might also seek counseling to learn how to work with difficult, controlling people.

In summary, abandonment is a term that lay people use but that family law attorneys rarely use.

If you need more information, you need to schedule a meeting with an attorney in person to discuss your options.