March 2011 News: The Houston Family Law Blog

The Houston Family Law Blog

March 2011 Archives

Texas Child Abuse Prevention Programs Could Lose Funding

Proposed budget cuts in the state could affect child abuse prevention programs in Texas that have been proven effective through research. For this reason, Houston families and Texans who work with at-risk juveniles should be concerned about the consequences of these proposed cuts.

At a time when the Lone Star state is facing a budget shortfall of up to $27 billion in the next two fiscal years, Texas lawmakers are proposing a 32 percent cut to some key child abuse prevention programs. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports that local child abuse prevention advocates fear that the number of children abused will increase if funding for prevention programs is cut. Hence, these cuts could end up costing state and city government even more money in future years.

Does Texas Have Inadequate Foster Care?

There are tens of thousands of abused and neglected children in Texas who are in foster care and looking for a home. This is why the organization Children's Rights has filed a class-action lawsuit against Texas officials, alleging that the state has not done enough to get the kids in state custody into permanent homes.

The Texas Tribune reports that caseworkers with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services are supposed to have 18 months to reunify children with their biological families or find them adoptive homes. If none of these options are available after 18 months, the child is supposed to move into a permanent managing conservatorship.

Divorce Becoming More Common in Rural America

Forty years ago, divorces in the United States were most common among people living in urban cities and suburbs. However, The New York Times reports that now for the first time, people living in rural America are just as likely to be divorced as the nation’s city dwellers.

There could be many reasons for this trend in rural areas, but some researchers say that the increasing divorce rates among rural Americans could be due to the lack of individuals in these areas that pursue higher education. College-educated Americans are now more likely to get married and stay married than those with only a high school diploma. Only one in six rural residents have college degrees in the United States, which is far fewer than the college education rate in urban areas.

Mechelle Gandy Filed Paternity Suit Before Her Death

The case of the Arlington woman who was stabbed to death before her apartment was set on fire this week is shocking many people in the Tarrant County community. Fox News reports that the victim Mechelle Gandy and her 16-month old son were found dead in the 2200 block of President's Corner Drive late Sunday night. The baby boy also died in the home, most likely due to the fire that was apparently deliberately set after the stabbing.

Just a couple weeks prior to Gandy's death, the mother reportedly filed paperwork in court to force the man she believed was her baby's father to take a paternity test. Paternity testing would have legally established who the biological father was, which could have eventually secured financial support as well as custody and visitation rights.

Visitation for Non-Custodial ParentsThrough Facebook?

It's now easier than ever for non-custodial parents to keep tabs on their kids and make appointments for a chat. This is because Facebook.com and other social networking websites allow parents to feel like they're involved in a child's life through status updates and pictures being posted.

AllFacebook.com reports that a non-custodial parent might learn even more about their kids through social networking websites than they would otherwise. That is, if the child chooses to keep their mother or father as "friends" on Facebook. This brings up the question of whether Facebook can be an effective supplement to regular in-person visitation.

Many parents might not like the idea of their children drinking the alcoholic caffeine drink Four Loko, especially if the child consuming the alcohol is less than two years old. The Houston Press reports that Harris County authorities responded to a child endangerment call last month after receiving a call from neighbors about a mother letting a toddler get drunk.

The child was transported to a hospital and was found to have a blood-alcohol level of .09 percent. The mother LaShwanda Allen reportedly admitted that she had accidently gave her child Four Loko and said that she didn't call an ambulance for help because she feared losing her children.

Co-Parenting With a Special-Needs Child After Divorce

Coming up with a parenting plan can be difficult after a divorce, especially if there's a special-needs child in the family. One in 110 children today are diagnosed with autism and 1 in 10 children are diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), according to the Huffington Post. With the divorce rate at near 50%, it almost certain that many of these children will end up with divorced or separated parents.

We reported in an earlier blog post that about 80 percent of couples with autistic children get divorced, mostly due to the high levels of stress that can fly around even in the healthiest of marriages. Raising a special-needs child requires a great deal of collaboration, even after a divorce. This is why it is essential to have a parenting plan that is consistent and addresses the needs of the child.

"Choose Life" License Plates Bill Might Become Available in Texas

A bill passed through the state's Senate Health & Human Services Committee earlier this month that would, if passed into a law, allow Texas to offer license plates reading "Choose Life," in an attempt to discourage abortions. The Associated Press reports that the bill would pool money from its license plate sales and private donations to a Choose Life account, which would benefit organizations that assist women considering adoption.

Matthew Simpson from the ACLU of Texas has expressed concerns of state license plates becoming a forum of debate for controversial topics. Is it wrong for the state to allow one point of view of a political issue on license plates, but not other points of view? Perhaps the state of Texas shouldn't be taking a stance on the subject of abortion, or maybe there should be "Right to Choose" license plates available for sale as well.

Thirteen People Arrested For Unpaid Child Support in Nacogdoches

If you owe child support money in the state of Texas, you better either pay up, or you are at risk of doing time in jail. This is because Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has no tolerance for the non-custodial parents that cannot comply with a child support order.

KTRE quoted Abbott saying, "I consider a parent's failure to pay child support to be child abuse of its worst form." Delinquent parents in the state can be arrested on civil warrants and can face up to six months in jail for their failure to pay.

Dallas Morning News Won't Publish Gay Wedding Announcement

The same-sex couple Dante Walkup and Mark Reed made national news last year when they tried to become legally married in Texas by having a Washington D.C. officiant perform their marriage from the nation’s capital through Skype. We reported in an earlier blog post that this marriage was annulled because a marriage ceremony in Washington D.C. must apparently be performed within the District of Columbia with all parties in physical attendance.

Yet this policy didn’t stop Walkup and Reed from tying the knot. The couple simply decided to travel to D.C. to be officially married. The two men were of course proud of their marriage and wanted everybody in the Dallas community to know about it.

A case in Beaumont shows just how important paternity testing can be. According to KFDM.com, Michael Thomas divorced his wife in 2006 and was ordered to pay $400 a month in child support as a non-custodial parent. However, months after the divorce decree, Thomas says that he found out that the child he was paying money for wasn't his.

The child in this case is now eight years old, but Thomas claims that a DNA test shows that there is a zero percent chance that he is actually the father of the child. Meanwhile, the Texas Attorney General's Office is still ordering Thomas to pay support to the child, which means that Thomas will have to appeal to the court to get the child support order changed.

Fewer Young Adults Having Sex Compared to Nine Years Ago

The latest statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that fewer young adults are currently having sex compared to the young adults during the year 2002, which is the last time the survey was conducted.

According to USA Today, 27 percent of males and 29 percent of females among people ages 15 to 24 have never had any sort of sexual contact with another person. In 2002, only 22 percent of both males and females said in a survey that they've never had that type of sexual experience. Results of the government study lead experts to believe that today's generation of teens and young adults are less inclined to experiment with drugs or sex.

Facebook Responsible For Twenty Percent of Divorces?

Social networking websites like Facebook.com have definitely transformed the way many people communicate with friends and family members, but it might be a bit surprising to learn that Facebook actually helps to break up a significant number of relationships each year.

According to SanDiego.com, a recent survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) found that one in five divorces are caused by Facebook-related antics. Many family law attorneys across the country say that they're not too surprised by the study, as social networking websites like Facebook allow easier access for users to engage with people of past relationships or get romantically involved with people from the internet.

Denison Ranked as U.S. City With the Most Divorces

The state of Texas has a high rate of divorce, compared to the national average. However, there’s one city in the Northern region of the state that definitely sticks out for having an incredibly high number of divorces per capita.

The city of Denison was recognized as the U.S. city with the most divorces in Bloomberg Businessweek’s feature of “America’s Most Extreme Places.” The Texas town near the Oklahoma border, with a population of just over 24,000 people, has 41 percent of the town’s children living with a single parent. More than 20 percent of people over the age of 15 in Denison are divorced, which is almost double the national average.