Dealing with the Child Support Division of the Texas Attorney General

by Marissa Balius

The Attorney General of Texas is the child support collection agency in the State of Texas. Dealing with the child support division of the Texas Attorney General (OAG) can be a frustrating process even for the most experienced attorney. Here are some tips that will help you with the process:

 

  1. Know your OAG number. You need to provide it on all communications with the OAG. It is your identification number with their office. The number should also be on all communication they send you.
  2. If the OAG is reporting you have a child support arrearage (back support payments) and you believe that the information they are reporting is wrong, ask for a child support arrearage calculation from their office. This document will show each payment due, each payment made and any interest that has accrued on the account. Take this payment record and every court order that required you to pay or receive child support to your own attorney to review.
  3. When you call or go into the Attorney General’s office, write the name and title of the person helping you and take good notes of your conversation for future reference. In my experience, they do not always keep good records, and inevitably you will get conflicting information.
  4. The OAG is not a neutral party. If they are involved in your case they have an interest! Discussions you have with anyone in their office are not protected by attorney-client privilege and can be used against you in court.
  5. If you are served with a legal document filed by the Attorney General or receive a Notice of Child Support Review Conference, hire an attorney immediately. DO NOT go to court or attend a Child Support Review Conference without your own attorney. You need your own representative to explain the legal process and advocate for you. If you are unable to retain counsel before your first court appearance or Child Support Review appointment, be careful about what you sign. They may have you sign an appearance of counsel or waiver of service or other document that may seem harmless at the time but may adversely affect your case.
  6. Each child support office has a customer liaison and each region has an ombudsman, a liaison between the public and the child support office that tries to resolve customer complaints. If you are not getting action or the results you and your attorney deem appropriate, ask for the ombudsman’s name and contact information. Lastly, if all else fails, contact your state senator and representative. In the Dallas/Fort Worth area state congressmen have a lot of leverage in dealing with the child support office and in my experience they can get the ball rolling when all else fails.
  7. The OAG sends out a variety of letters: DO NOT DISCARD THEM. Keep everything you receive as many of the letters have time frames to respond, hearing dates and in-office appointment dates and times. The OAG has the power to ruin your credit, garnish your wages and levy your bank accounts; any correspondence you receive is important!
  8. Don’t count on their employees for legal advice! By law, they should not be giving legal advice to either parent, and the information they provide is not always accurate.

If you need an expert to help you navigate through a case with the Attorney General’s office please contact me via email at mbalius@ahrlawfirm.com or by phone at 214-423-5100.

Marissa Balius knows the ins and outs of the Texas Attorney General’s office. She is an experienced family law litigator with sixteen years of experience, including ten years as an Assistant Attorney General in the Child Support Division.

Facing Divorce in an Uncertain Economy with Collaborative Law

First Posting:  Huffington Post on 2/5/11

By Curtis Harrison

These are uncertain economic times for all of us. While the outlook is slowly improving, news updates still occasionally toss around scary catch phrases like “double-dip recession,” and “double-digit unemployment.” And for those facing a divorce or a post-divorce modification suit, the fragile economic forecast can make an already uncertain future feel more like a double-looped roller coaster.

Take heart, because you still have options. You don’t have to raise the debt ceiling just to survive this period of transition in your life. It is a matter of enlightened self-interest. You and your spouse may not be able to agree on anything else, but most couples can agree that they don’t want to bankrupt themselves in the process of getting a divorce.

While some may be able to achieve a “kitchen table” solution, for most folks, the issues are too complex to resolve without guidance. But that guidance doesn’t have to come from a trial attorney. You and your spouse can choose to keep your divorce out of the hands of judges through a process known as Collaborative Law. There are several compelling reasons why Collaborative Law may be the right tool for those concerned with their financial resources:

1. In traditional divorce litigation, both the husband and the wife can waste thousands of dollars preparing for a contested final trial that usually does not take place. Why? Because the vast majority of litigated divorce cases wind up settling prior to trial.
In collaborative cases, 100% of every dollar spent is dedicated toward achieving the goal of settlement. 0% is spent preparing for trial.

2. In traditional divorce litigation, both the husband and the wife can waste hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars with their lawyers fighting over what documents will or will not be produced to the other side. Why? Because the goal in litigation is to beat the other side; and one way to do that is to resist producing documents and information during discovery in the hope of bushwhacking the other party at trial.

In collaborative cases, the parties exchange documents freely, informally, and inexpensively. Transparency is paramount.

3. In traditional divorce litigation, both the husband and wife can waste thousands of dollars by hiring competing expert witnesses to value businesses, trace assets, or make recommendations regarding custody of the children or possession of the children. Why? Again, the goal is to beat the other side, and another way to do that is to hire experts to do battle either at the negotiating table or at trial.

In collaborative cases, experts are jointly engaged and serve as neutrals. They don’t take sides or play favorites. For most cases, no more than one neutral financial expert is needed. So there are generally no competing opinions do battle. If a second opinion is desired, they too can be jointly engaged.

4. In traditional divorce litigation, neither you nor your spouse exercises much control over the process. You have virtually no control over the outcome. Why? Because the judge or jury makes the decisions at trial; and frequently the cases that settle short of trial actually settle as a result of emotional or financial exhaustion.

In collaborative cases, the spouses control both the process and the outcome. Texas was the first state to pass a collaborative law statute that actually strips the courts of the authority to make decisions in a collaborative case. As a result, both spouses share an incentive to operate efficiently and effectively. If they can agree on nothing else, they can usually agree that they don’t want the lawyers to make off with their estate.

These are just some of the economic advantages the collaborative law model offers over traditional divorce lawsuits. The current economic climate may be tenuous and the future unknown. But if you are facing a divorce you need not climb aboard the litigation roller coaster. Consider keeping control over the process, the costs, and the outcome by learning more about the collaborative law method.

Curtis W. Harrison, Collaborative Attorney
Board Certified – Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization
Albin | Harrison | Roach; 5601 Granite Parkway,Suite 400; Plano, Texas 75024
Telephone: 214-423-5100; Fascimile: 214-423-5111
www.ahrlawfirm.com

Three Things You Should Not Do in a Divorce

Curtis Harrison is a Plano-based attorney with the law firm of Albin | Harrison | Roach. He is board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Family Law and is a member of the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas and the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

After sixteen years of practicing family law in and out of the courtroom I like to think I’ve seen or heard just about everything. Of course, that’s hyperbole, but the truth is that clients have a hard time surprising me anymore. And I have noticed over the years that even the most gentle and considerate of people fall prey to the universal human instinct for survival when faced with a divorce. This instinct can temporarily override common decency, parental wisdom, and even rationality.

Why is this? Almost without exception, folks facing the prospect of a separation or divorce feel extraordinary pressures. Those pressures are usually rooted in fear: fear the unknown; fear of the perceived lack of control over the future; and fear of how decisions others make during the divorce will affect them. These fears drive many divorcing couples to make terrible mistakes that will haunt them and their children for years to come. Some of the mistakes are made long before either spouse consults with a divorce attorney.

While the list of “do’s and don’ts” is long and detailed, here are three fundamental things you should not do in a divorce:

  1. Don’t involve the kids
  2. Don’t make unilateral decisions
  3. Don’t “over-lawyer”

Don’t Involve the Kids

Although this should be obvious, it is one of the most of the common – and by far the most tragic – mistake that I see couples make. Examples abound:

  • Mom and Dad cannot or will not contain their so-called “adult conversations” (arguing) in the presence of the children.
  • Dad picks up the kids to take them for the weekend and Mom tells the children she will miss them terribly instead of encouraging them to have a great time.
  • Mom is forced to tighten the budget at home out of necessity while Dad, who has recently moved into a bachelor-pad apartment, starts lavishing the children with Wii’s, off-road bicycles, and trips to Disney.

All of these examples, and countless others, place the children squarely on the chessboard of the divorce. The parents — whether they realize it or not — have made their own children the pawns in the chess match. And we all know what happens to the pawns in chess.

Don’t do it.

Don’t Make Unilateral Decisions

Cleaning out bank accounts, buying a new car, and leaving town with the kids are all examples of decisions most people would never consider making without discussing with their spouse. Yet, faced with divorce, that little voice in our head we call common sense seems to take a vacation. Making important decisions that affect others without discussing it with them virtually guarantees you a quick trip to the courthouse for a contested hearing.

Don’t do it.

Don’t Over-Lawyer

You can tell a lot from a name.

I frequently meet with potential clients who have already been served with a divorce suit and I have learned that you can discern a great deal about how ugly and expensive a divorce is going to be simply by looking to see who the other lawyer is. Individual lawyers have individualized reputations, and if a spouse wants to hire a Rambo-style litigator it is not difficult to find one.

Why do people in this day still seek out that kind of lawyers? Fear, grief, and anger are powerful emotions. Those emotions often drive otherwise rational people to make decisions that are not in their own best interests, much less in the best interest of their family. Ironically, folks who seek out the Rambos typically do so either to (i) get their “fair share”; or to (ii) get their pound of flesh. There really aren’t any other reasons.

The irony is that they will pay a $25,000 initial retainer to Rambo to fight for a larger piece of what is left over after he has picked over the carcass of your estate instead of seeking out an attorney with a reputation for problem solving that charges significantly less. As for getting the pound of flesh, nothing is free: Every pound of flesh you “acquire” will cost you something. That something could be the nest egg,  the children’s emotional well-being, or bitterness in the person’s heart that reduces  his or her quality of life for years to come.

Don’t do it.

Fortunately, there are qualified professionals in the industry who are trained to help couples end their marriage without scorching each other, the children, or the estate. If you would like more information about available options when it comes to divorce, including the Collaborative Law option, please feel free to visit our website, or contact me by email.

Fathers Parental Rights By Sharon Corsentino

For fathers who are not married to their child’s mother when their child is born, they often do not realize that until a court establishes their parental rights the mother has a superior right to their child. Many fathers think that simply having their name on the child’s birth certificate gives them rights to make important decisions regarding their child’s health, education, and general welfare However, that’s not really true. Having your name on the child’s birth certificate also does not provide you with specific rights to see your child. While it is important to have the father’s name on the child’s birth certificate, it is even more important to take legal steps to formally establish the parent-child relationship through the court system.
Establishing the parent-child relationship generally includes having a court declare that you are legally the father of the child the subject of the suit, determining the rights and duties of each parent in regards to the child, setting out a specific custody schedule for each parent to have possession of and access to the child, and medical and financial support for the child.
Albin | Harrison | Roach has skilled attorneys who can help you evaluate your case and pursue your legal rights. Please contact us at www.AHRlawfirm.com for more information.

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