Single, single dad and mom face many challenges when battling rich dad and mom for custody and assist of youngsters in Texas
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What happens when you pit custody and alimony against a celebrity or other wealthy person? If your finances are tight and the case isn’t related to a divorce battle – you never got married – Texas has the odds stacked against you. Not only can the “haves” easily outperform the “woes” in terms of legal fees, but the Texas child support limit greatly benefits wealthy individuals.
As a divorce attorney in Fort Worth, I’ve represented clients and seen inequalities on both sides of the equation. Many “emergencies” can make life miserable for the other parent as well. However, my duty as a member of the State Bar of Texas is to make arrangements where fairness wins, especially for the kids caught in the middle.
With money comes power – an imbalance of power in favor of wealthy parents.
Divorced couples dealing with child custody and alimony issues can compete on much the same playing field as couples who have never married. While Texas courts can mandate that funds from the marriage balance be used to pay legal fees to an inactive spouse during a divorce, the courts do not have jurisdiction over the property of unmarried parents in custody and child support cases.
In such cases, the state of Texas does not require a person with the available resources to pay the other party’s legal fees. This means that one party has a lot of money on legal costs while the other party has very little. This ultimately enables the court system to favor high net worth individuals who have a child with a non-monetary person. Doesn’t sound like a fair and equitable justice system, does it?
Without the financial resources to represent themselves on an equal footing with the other party, parents with limited resources can find it difficult to pay legal fees and win in court. In order to promote the inequality of the situation, the affluent party has the time and money to put pressure on the other side to agree to their wishes regarding the child’s place of residence, schooling, medical care, and even religious upbringing.
Parents’ disagreements about religion are growing.
Making decisions about a child’s religious and moral upbringing is a right listed in the Texas Family Code. Parents who are joint conservators both have the right to direct the child’s religious and moral education during their tenure. The US Constitution also grants us freedom of religion.
As a result, every parent actually has these rights, but this means that children may learn two different religions, which can be very confusing for the child. Unfortunately, our firm finds that if a parent objects to the religious preferences of the other parent’s Texas courts, they will rarely enforce those rights.
Nowadays, with fewer Americans (40%) attending church services and more people having children with parties of different faiths, the question of religion often becomes complicated. It can be particularly difficult for unmarried parents who have not been complained about to uphold their right to make religious decisions for their child.
When that parent is faced with a wealthy, prominent parent – with the money and power to bankrupt them with lawsuits – there may be little that an uncritical parent can do to prevent their child from following the other parent’s chosen religion is exposed. They could refuse to allow the wealthy parent to order a visit from their court, but that would simply bring the uncritical parent back to court and face more legal fees that they cannot afford. The parent with the deep pockets wins.
The Texas limit on child benefits penalizes some children if the parents have a child together.
Many other states set the maintenance for children logically, that is, they base maintenance on the time of possession, who pays what expenses and what resources are available to the parents (financial and otherwise). Not Texas.
Child support in Texas is based on the high-level assumption of a standard visit, the number of children shared, and the payer’s net monthly resources. That parent then pays a percentage of those net resources based on the number of children supported.
Texas is getting it wrong here. The state currently limits net monthly resources to $ 9,200. For the single mom who is barely able to make ends meet and shares a child with a multimillionaire professional athlete or a renowned surgeon – that’s roughly $ 1,840 a month.
That $ 1,840 doesn’t cover food, rent, clothing, and medical supplies, much less private school tuition, day care, extracurricular activities, and so on. Of course, many wealthy parents offer to pay more child support, but this is not always the case.
How can we improve the playing field for unmarried, unearned parents in Texas?
In an ideal world, our country’s legislators would create a national system that is uniform from state to state. Unless it’s a national resolution, the state of Texas needs to update its outdated formula for child support and ensure that non-monetary parents have equal access to the same legal representation as their wealthy adversaries.
Just because you live in Texas doesn’t mean you should pay less than you can afford to support your child. Too often children get into nasty maintenance and custody disputes in which the “haves” and “have nots” are involved. It is time for the state to make these children a priority and no longer allow the legal system to favor wealthy and prominent parents.
Justin Sisemore is the founder of Sisemore Law Office, a leading family law practice in Fort Worth. He can be reached at https://www.thetxattorneys.com/contact.