Protecting Children, Parents And The Family

leavesMy passion for representing hard-working families and individuals stems from my upbringing. I grew up in Gillette, Wyoming, on the sprawling high plains, roughly between Devils Tower (think "Close Encounters of the Third Kind") and Yellowstone National Park. My family has always been close knit and hardworking: My mom owns and operates two daycares and dad worked at a coal mine and industrial parts company before retiring. I have, despite my hardheadedness, acquired their work ethic. I also developed a great appreciation for children and the parent-child relationship, working as a teacher at my mother's day care several summers and after-school.

I founded TLC Law, PLLC, in Tyler because I believe hard-working families deserve to have access to quality, personalized family law services without the high cost of a downtown law firm. My objective for every client, in every case is to help families traverse the often-complex family law system, particularly in the area of child custody, CPS and emergency relief.

Issues Affecting Families

Each family is unique and ever-changing; family members have various viewpoints and goals, sometimes good-intentioned and sometimes not, and these viewpoints and goals can be quite fluid, changing by the month or over the course of years. It's no wonder then that family disputes arise frequently, and that the government is often tasked with settling these disputes. Texas, like other U.S. states, has adopted a fairly flexible family law system that accounts for the broad and complex nature of family disputes. It provides set rules and guidelines, of course, but also many ways for parties to come to a resolution without trial.

Mothers And Fathers Deserve To Be Heard

I take pride in representing all types of parties in custody disputes. I’ve represented mothers, fathers, relatives and even children in CPS cases. Some law firms focus almost entirely on father’s rights. I do not, but I do strongly believe that fathers, all things being equal, should play as big a role in their children’s’ lives as mothers.

Fathers are not "supposed" to be at an inherent disadvantage in custody proceedings. In reality, they often are, especially when the child is very young. Some of this is self-inflicted; many fathers live up to the label "deadbeat dad" and create a stigma that tarnishes the image of other, respectable and reformed, fathers. For those that are not deadbeats, it can be difficult to overcome the stigma. This is especially true when a father has made mistakes in the past and it becomes very easy to pigeonhole him with other dads that have obviated their responsibilities. You need an attorney that is able and willing to fight for your perspective. Even if you’ve made mistakes, your parental rights deserve protection. You deserve the right to be heard. Fathers, like mothers, are entitled to as much custody as is in the best interest of the child. Fathers, like mothers, make mistakes. And fathers, like mothers, should share parenting responsibilities if they are deemed fit to do so.

Suit Affecting The Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR)

A SAPCR is a suit requesting custody of or access to a child, child support, or the establishment or termination of a parent-child relationship. It can be, and often is, filed as part of a divorce.

Who can bring suit: Standing to bring suit can be a contested issue in SAPCR's. Some of the many parties that can file a SAPCR include:

  • Parents/guardians and legal representatives
  • Men claiming to be the child's father
  • Grandparents in specified instances
  • Close relatives
  • Individuals that have had physical custody of the child for a requisite time period

Petition to Modify a SAPCR

Even if you have been to court and are subject to what is called a "Standard Possession Order" (an "SPO") or other "parenting plan" you might not be happy with the terms. SPO's are essentially the default order given to parents when neither parent is found to be truly unfit. SPO's are very detailed and control each parent's possession and access to the child. But an SPO doesn't work for everyone. Circumstances change; one parent might have engaged in abuse or neglect, abused drugs or committed a crime. Or, a parent might have moved away, lost a job, or simply decided that they want more possession for one reason or another. Whatever the reason, you should contact a Tyler area family law attorney if you are no longer happy with your SPO. You might have a good case for modification.

More About Rights For Grandparents And Close Relatives

While grandparents often bring suit, their right to sue is rather limited: they generally need to show that the child is in imminent danger of physical or emotional harm or that the grandparent has had physical custody for the requisite time-period.

Resolution Of SAPCR suits

  • Settlement: In some instances, a SAPCR is not highly contested and the parties can come to an amicable settlement. A Tyler family law attorney can help facilitate settlement through an informal meeting with the opposing party, and his or her attorney, through mediation, and by other means.
  • Temporary orders: A Tyler family law attorney can help his or her client obtain temporary relief through temporary orders. Temporary orders are meant to be a stop gap, providing for the safety and welfare of the child while a SAPCR is pending and no final order or settlement has occurred. For instance, temporary orders can provide a party temporary child support, custody, attorney's fees, and other protective measures.
  • Best interest of the child: The court's primary consideration in determining custody is the best interest of the child. Innumerable factors can be considered in making this determination, including the emotional and physical well-being of the child now and in the future. Because a best interest determination is so broad and subjective, all forms of evidence could be important. A major part of the attorney's job is to find and emphasize favorable evidence while developing a counter-attack that diminishes unfavorable evidence.

CPS Cases

Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) can terminate your parental rights in cases of child abuse and neglect. However, there are strict guidelines regarding how and when CPS can terminate or otherwise limit your parental rights. In high-stakes cases like this, a Tyler family law attorney can help ensure that proper procedures are being followed and that your perspective is being heard. I currently take CPS court appointments and represent adults, as well as children, in CPS cases in Gregg and Cherokee counties.

Emergency Relief

Family violence? Abuse and neglect? Has your ex taken off with your child? An effective East Texas family law attorney knows there are many types of emergency relief that can protect children and parents quickly and without undue delay. Protective orders, temporary restraining orders, writs of attachment, and writs of habeas corpus are just some examples of the relief available.

Child Support Enforcement

So, you've been ordered to pay child support. What now? Well, first and foremost, you should make sure that you pay it monthly and don't get behind. The Office of the Attorney General enforces child support obligations and has many tools at its disposal to do so, including:

  • Withholding wages
  • Suspending licenses
  • Filing a Motion to Enforce: The OAG can file this motion when you are behind on child support payments (in arrears). It is often granted unless you can show an inability to pay despite your best efforts. This is a very high standard that typically requires a physical or emotional handicap. If granted, you will likely be placed on civil probation (or community supervision), which has specific terms, such as reporting to a probation officer and paying probation fees.
  • Filing a Motion to Revoke: Failing to abide by the terms of your probation can result in a motion to revoke. If granted, you will likely be placed in jail for 90 days. Smith County is especially strict on probation violators.

Suits To Determine Parentage

Determining parentage, who is the mother or father of the child, is often the first step in many family law proceedings. Parentage, in the case of a man, can be based on one of three prongs: it can be presumed, acknowledged or adjudicated. Until one of these three prongs is established, a man is an alleged father. A presumed or acknowledged father generally has four years to rebut a parent-child relationship, which is often done through genetic testing (DNA). An alleged father, on the other hand, can file a suit to determine parentage at any time.

A man is presumed to be the father if one of several circumstances exist, including if:

  • He is married to the mother of the child and the child is born during the marriage OR before the 301st day after the date the marriage is terminated.
  • He continuously resided in the household in which the child resided for the first two years of the child's life AND represented to others that the child was his own.
  • He married the mother of the child after the child's birth, he voluntarily asserted paternity of the child, and he is voluntarily named on the child's birth certificate.

A man can acknowledge paternity as well, by completing and filing an acknowledgement of paternity (AOP). An AOP, however, can't establish parentage if there is a presumed father, unless the presumed father files a denial of his presumed paternity.

There are many more potential wrinkles involved in determining or challenging parentage. Given that parentage is such a pivotal issue, I urge you to speak to a Tyler family law attorney about any concerns you have.

Need information about filing for divorce? Visit my General Family Law page.

Contact My Office For A Free Phone Conversation With A Qualified Lawyer

From my office in Tyler, I represent clients in custody and family law matters in Texas and communities throughout Smith County and East Texas. Call me at 903-871-1620 for a free initial phone consultation or send an email explaining your circumstances.

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