Family law consists of many issues, including marriage, adoption, divorce, protective orders, and paternity. The Texas Legislature has covered almost all of these issues with very specific statutes.
Divorce decrees must address and dispose of all issues the couple has. The following is a brief overview of these issues.
Conservatorship of the Children
Most people think conservatorship refers to who sees the children on what days. Actually, conservatorship refers to which parent has specific rights and duties to the children. There are two basic types of conservatorship:
- Joint conservatorship, in which both parents have the same or equal rights and duties, and
- Sole managing conservatorship, in which one parent is the sole managing conservator with all the rights and duties toward the child and the other parent is the possessory conservator with only limited rights and duties.
Courts will almost always order joint conservatorship, unless one parent is using illegal drugs, is an alcoholic, is a convict, or has some other catastrophic problem.
For a listing of the rights and duties that apply to these two categories and to whom these rights and duties are allocated, please see the chart.
In addition, if the court orders joint conservatorship, the court may impose a geographic restriction on the parents that they must live in the county in which they lived when they divorced or a county contiguous to that county.
Visitation does refer to who sees the children on what days. Parties can agree to whatever visitation schedule they want. However, if they can’t agree, the Texas Legislature has enacted lengthy and specific statutes that give the parents a set visitation schedule. This schedule is called a Standard Possession Order. Most decrees incorporate this schedule as a backup in case the parties cannot agree. In addition, many attorneys can print a calendar based on the statutes that the parents can use to clarify whose day it is. For more details, see the Standard Possession statutes.
The decree will state with whom the child is to live. The other parent will pay child support for the child in an amount the parties agree to or, if they can’t agree, the amount the Texas statutes set, unless the child needs substantial care above and beyond most. If the parent paying has no other children living in another household, the parent paying will pay the following percentage of what is roughly their take-home pay:
- 1 child 20%
- 2 children 25%
- 3 children 30%
- 4 children 35%
- 5 children 40%
- 6+ children Not less than the amount for 5 children
These payments continue until the children turn 18 or graduate from high school, whichever is later. Child support will usually be withheld by the paying parent’s employer and paid directly by the employer to the parent with whom the child lives.
Health Insurance for the Children
As additional child support, the parent paying child support must also pay for health insurance for the children. The parent paying can either have the children covered under their health insurance plan or can reimburse the other parent the cost of the children’s premiums. The parties then usually split children’s uninsured medical expenses.
Division of Marital Estate
The couple’s assets and debts must be divided between them. The decree should list them all and list who gets them, including the house, cars, bank accounts, retirement accounts, credit cards, mortgages, and car notes. As a reminder, getting a divorce does not relieve a party from the obligation to pay a debt.
Federal Income Taxes
The decree should state who pays the federal income taxes for all years prior to the year of divorce and who pays the federal income taxes for the year of divorce. The decree should also state who pays any delinquent taxes for prior years and who receives any refunds for prior years. The decree should also specifically state which parent has the right to the dependency exemption for which child on their federal income tax return.
The decree should also list the parties’ credit cards and who gets them and who doesn’t get them.
Transfer and Delivery of Property
The decree should also contain provisions for the transfer and delivery of property between the parties, including but not limited to the parties’ home, utility deposits, house title documents and keys and electronic devices, deeds, powers of attorney to transfer cars, titles to cars, furniture, bank accounts, etc.
This brief overview does not address all issues for all cases. It is just a quick list of items to cover in divorce decrees. Family law consists of many issues, including marriage, adoption, divorce, protective orders, and paternity. The Texas Legislature has covered almost all of these issues with very specific statutes.