Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Family law mediation

Divorce mediation is a process where you and your soon to be ex-spouse (or signficant other) meet with a neutral trained third party family law mediator to reach a settlement in your lawsuit (divorce or SAPRC  or modification).

There is no time limit to the mediation so that you have time to explore and discuss options.  There is no limit as to what issues can be discussed - spousal support, child support, assets, debts, visitation, children's hobbies, children's special needs, etc.

However, if a party admits to child abuse or threatens to commit a crime then the mediator MUST immediately stop the mediation process.  Other than those situations, mediation is a confidential, private process.

Many people like mediation because it is cheaper and faster than going to court.  The mediator asks both parties to be honest and negotiate in good faith.  The mediator attempts to level the playing field.  Neither party is allowed to emotionally or physically abuse the other spouse.  A mediator will attempt to diffuse emotions and focus on common goals to resolve your differences.  You will not be forced to enter into a final agreement.  The process is entirely voluntary.  You always have the right to continue with litigation and trial in front of a judge if you are not satisfied with the mediation process.

Many people like the fact that mediation is a private and confidential process.  The offers made cannot be mentioned to the Judge.  (Just like the Las Vegas ad -- what happens at mediation, stays at mediation.)  Often the mediator will "think outside of the box" and bring creative solutions that a judge could not offer because the Judge must follow the Texas Family Code.  A mediator can offer solutions outside the TX Family Code that might work better for you and your children.

Mediation can often begin the healing process to allow the parties to begin to co-parent their children.  Even though the marriage is ending, the parents will be co-parenting their children for the rest of their lives.  In fact, they will be co-grand-parenting their future grand-children.  It is often said that a marriage might be ending but the family endures.  Mediation is much less adversarial that a trial.  At trial, "mud" will be slung to show how bad each of you are - the hurt feelings are traumatic and will probably impact the children.  After "slinging" all that dirt then you get to leave the courthouse and try to co-parent your children together.  Mediation helps the divorcing couple create a parenting plan that focuses on what is best for the parents and the children.  No judge knows you and your children as well as you do.  A judge will make decisions -- but they will probably be decisions that neither of you like.

Mediation is usually not recommended if there has been extensive physical or mental abuse.  Attorneys recognize that there are a small percentage of cases that just need to go to trial in front of a judge.

If you reach an agreement, everyone signs a document called a Mediated Settlement Agreement (MSA) that is filed at the courthouse.  It is binding and cannot be changed.  In other words, you are "stuck" with what you sign. The case is done - finished - completed.  Then an attorney must take the MSA and prepare the final paperwork so that a judge can sign it so that can be "enforced" at a later date if one of the parties does not follow the agreements that both of you agreed to do.

Mediation is one form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR).  There are many excellent websites that cover mediation.  Each state handles mediation slightly differently.  In the State of Texas, mediation is normally required before you can get a trial date before a judge.

Most family law attorneys won't tell their clients this when a case first starts, but over 90% of family law cases settle before trial before a judge or jury.  Most cases do not go before a jury because in Texas juries only hear a limited number of family law issues -- plus the cost is prohibitive to most people (expect to pay over $20,000 if you want a jury trial.)

If you have a family law case in Harris County, Texas, anticipate being sent to mediation before you get a hearing date in front of a judge.

There are 2 free mediation services in Harris County.  Private mediators charge from approximately  $250-$1,000 per side for 4 hours.

Chapter 31 - Removal of Disabilities of Minority in the Texas Family Code

Emancipation is called "removal of disabilities of minority" in the State of Texas.  You can find it under Chapter 31 in the Texas Family Code.

The chapter is very short.

The judges interpret this law very strictly.  There is no flexibility in the courts of Harris County.  You must meet every requirement.  For example, you must be at least 16 years of age to apply.  If you are 15 years old and 10 months, please don't call an attorney because you cannot file the paperwork at the courthouse!

YOU must be self-supporting -- that means your boyfriend or a family member cannot be supporting you.  You must be able to pay for your rent, food, clothing, utilities, etc. all on your own!  If you have a roommate, that is ok if you are able to pay for your 50% of everything.

You must be able to state where your living parents are currently located.

You must be able to clearly state why the judge should grant your request.

You must be able to clearly state the purpose for this request.

The judge shall appoint an amicus attorney or attorney ad litem to represent the interest of the person (teen) making this request.  The teen MUST pay this attorney.  How much do they charge?  Most attorneys charge at least $1,500 - $2,500 because they have to do a lot of work - interview you, your parents or guardian, perhaps your teachers, your neighbors, your relatives, your employer, visit your home - this takes many hours of their time.

How long does this take to be finalized? I would plan on at least 4 months.

Goggle has made me an "expert" on emancipation & name changes in Harris

I have been receiving a lot of phone calls  (approximately 5-6 calls per week) on name changes for adults and children.  Plus, many calls for teenagers and even parents wanting to force their minor children to be emancipated because they cannot control them.  (Apparently the police make this suggestion when they are called out for "out of control" teens.)

I finally figured out why I receive so many of these calls - when you "Google" something like Texas emancipation I show up in the middle of the page -- but I'm the only listing with a tiny photo so people click on me.  Even though my blog posts on these topics are almost 2 years old, they just call - they never bother to read any of my other posts that clearly state that I no longer litigate or that there are many requiremenets in order for a teen to qualify to be emancipated.

In order to emancipate (called "removal of disabilities of minority" in the State of Texas) you must meet EVERY requirement or the Judge cannot sign the paperwork.  There is no flexibility in the statute.

Some attorneys will take your money and file the paperwork then apologize when the judge denies your final order.  I personally don't want to waste your time or money if I know that the judge is not going to sign the final paperwork.

READ -- Chapter 31 of the TEXAS FAMILY CODE - REMOVAL OF DISABILITIES OF MINORITY -- available on-line.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

I am a 9 year Breast Cancer Survivor!

This summer marks my 9th year of being a breast cancer survivor.

Chemo gave me a new motto - "it's easier than chemo"!

It also gave me a new perspective in life -- I became a mediator.

I am an attorney truly believes that most family law issues can be resolved without escalating to court involvement. 

Of course, a small percentage of cases need a judge to be involved - those cases that involve the mentally ill, drug abuse, physical abuse, etc. 

But overall, most family law cases should be resolved peaceably and confidentally between the parties with their attorneys acting as counselors and advisors. 

Important News regarding Patricia Bushman Law Office

Jessica in Patricia Bushman's office has left her employ & taken a new job at a catering company! 

So all of my posts telling people to talk to Jessica are now wrong!

Pat is now going to have to replace her. 

I just learned of this change this afternoon when I went to the office after being in court all morning.

Please be patient as her office goes through this transition.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Family mediation in Texas

Mediation is an affordable, effective, alternative to litigation that preserves the ability of the parents to work together to raise their children.

In family mediation, the parties (and their attorneys - if the parties hire attorneys) meet with a neutral third party facilitator known as a mediator - who assists them in reaching their own settlement.

The mediator guides and assists the parties in coming to their own outcome.

If the parties come to a decision, it is final and binding on the parties.  That means, if a decision is reached a Mediated Settlement Agreement (also known as a MSA) is signed and is filed with the Court.  It cannot later be changed by either party.  It is a final decision -- just like a judge ordered and signed it.  In other words, if you sign it, you are "stuck" with it.

The parties then need to get the agreement typed up by an attorney so that a Judge can signed the final order so that it can be enforced by the Judge in case one of the parties does not follow the agreement.  The mediator that prepares the MSA cannot do the paperwork for the Judge to sign.

The mediation process empowers the parties by giving them the power to make the decisions regarding their future without a Judge making the decisions.

The mediator is trained to remain neutral.  The setting for the mediation is more comfortable and relaxed than at the courthouse and there is usually less stress on the parties.  The parties are allowed to communicate more openly than is allowed in front of a Judge.  The mediation process is confidential -- except when child abuse or criminal activity is concerned.

A family mediator has taken the basic 40 hour mediator training plus an additional family mediation training class.  Additionally, most family mediators have taken many additional mediation classes.  In the Houston area, mediation training is offered year round.

You do not have to be a lawyer to be a mediator.  In fact, many excellent mediators are not attorneys.  Most of the Harris County family law judges will not appoint non-lawyer mediators at the present time.  I believe this is because they want mediators that are familiar with the Texas Family Code.  Prices for mediators vary dramatically.  My rates are $250 per side for a 4 hour mediation - which is very reasonable for Harris County mediators.

There are 2 free mediation services in the Harris County area - Dispute Resolution Center and the Harris County Domestic Relations Office.  The DRO has their own staff.  I volunteer at the DRC and have since 2005.

If no agreement is reached by the parties, then the mediator notifies the Judge than an impasse was reached - nothing else.  No details regarding what happened at the mediation ever leaves the mediation process.

Normally the parties save money by participating in mediation rather than pay an attorney for a trial in front of Judge.  Plus, they save the emotion toll of a trial.

One of the roles of a mediator is to try to balance the needs of the child and the desires of the parties.  The mediator assists the parties in identifying the areas of conflict.  The mediator brainstorms possible creative solutions that might not be possible if presented to a Judge who would be limited to following the Texas Family Code.

The mediator can spend more time than a Judge has in getting to know the parties and the children to determine what are going to work best regarding visitation in the long run and avoid conflict between the parties.  The mediator looks at ways to make it a win-win for both parties.

The mediation process can take several hours.  My longest mediation took over 10 hours.  Everyone wanted to continue because we were making progress.  There were many complex issues and no one wanted to leave.  It look several "drafts" of the Mediated Settlement Agreement to get it right and have everyone sign it.

Usually only the parties attend mediation.  Sometimes if a party has re-married, the new spouse is allowed to attend.  Normally, fiances are not allowed to attend.  (FYI: Rarely teen-age children are only allowed to attend -- if everyone agrees and then they would be in a separate room and they would be interviewed by the mediator and then a third party would drive them home.)

Check out my website -

Preparing to Separate

There are many things you need to do BEFORE you leave your current situation - whether you are married or just living together.

Of course, if you are in a dangerous situation, the most important thing to do is JUST LEAVE!  Your life is more important than your possessions!  You can replace your stuff - you cannot replace your life!

That said, if you are able to take time and plan your exit in a calm & slow manner, this is what I have read that you should do before leaving.

It is NOT everything -- but it is a sample list of things that you should think about doing before leaving...

1.  Opening a checking or savings account in your own name.

2.  Leave money, an extra set of keys, copies of important documents, and extra set of clothes and medicines in a safe place or with someone that your trust.

3.  Get your own post office box.

4.  Find a safe place where you and your children can go or a person who can lend you money.

5.  Always keep the shelter phone number and change or calling card for emergency phone calls.

6.  If you have pets, make arrangements for them to b e cared for in a safe place.

What you need to take with you...

(this is not just a suggested list -- you might think of more things that you need to take with you -- if in doubt take it with you!)

Your driver's license.

Birth certificate and your children's birth certificates.

Social security cards.


Take copies of your last 5 years tax returns.

Take copies of the last 6 months of pay stubs.

Take copies of all credit cards - front & back.
(take some credit cards with you if possible)

Take copies of all checking & savings accounts for the past 5 years.

Take copies of all investment accounts - such as 401(k) & IRAs - everything you can find for the past 5 years.

Take copies of leases, car registrations, car leases, car purchase contracts, insurance papers, health insurance, medical records, etc.

Take copies of your children's school records.

Take originals (or at least copies) of legal papers -- such as all wills, trusts, divorce and custody papers -- including all TX Attorney General papers.

Take copies of all death and marriage licenses.

Take prescriptions medications that you and your children take daily.

Take all valuable jewelry -- often these things "disappear" after you leave.

Anything that is irreplaceable or an heirloom -- again this often "disappear" & or get "broken" during separation!

Take your address book.

Take all diaries, letters, cards & correspondence.

Take your computer and/or a back-up of your information & your children's on the computer.

You need to be prepared in case information "disappears" after you leave your home.
If you cannot take the originals, then make a copy of all these files & put them in a "safe" place - with a trusted friend.  DO NOT PUT THEM IN THE TRUNK OF YOUR VEHICLE  OR IN YOUR HOME - where these copies could be "discovered" by the other person!

I think the above list should assist you in thinking about what you need to do before you separate.

Good luck!


Judge Judy Warne, Judge of the 257th Judicial District Court of Harris County, Texas has been named Jurist of the Year by the American Academy of the Matrimonial Lawyers.

This is a very high honor & Judge Warne is to be congratulated.  She is an exceptional judge and Harris County residents should be honored to have such an outstanding judge on the bench.  Judge Warne is a frequent speaker at legal events.

Her husband, Doug Warne, is a retired District Court judge too.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Mediations - $250 per side for 4 hours

$250 per side for 4 hours

If we go longer than 4 hours then it's $125/hour or $75/per side
cash only - no checks or credit cards

I prefer to do them AFTER a lawsuit has been filed.
That way it is binding if one of the parties does not comply with the Mediated Settlement Agreement.

Remember, if I serve as a mediator I cannot act as an attorney
Some people think that they can hire me and I can be attorney/mediator - untrue!
I am unable to prepare the final paperwork - you must still use an attorney

Attorneys:  I can mediate at my office -- mornings - afternoons - evenings & week-ends
(we have our own a/c and heat)
I can come to your office if that is more convenient

Name Change for a Child

Doing a name change for a minor child is easy -- if both parents agree.

If both parents do not agree, the judge will not do it!

It does take some time because the Harris County courts are pretty busy.
Believe me when I say it is really worth it to hire an attorney -- you will be glad that you did.
Otherwise, you can waste a lot of time trying to figure out how to get this done.
A good family law attorney can really help you get this done & make it look simple.

I encourage you to hire an experienced family law attorney that knows the judge so that you don't waste your time and money.  If you try to do it yourself, it can be very frustrating and time consuming. 

You can go to the Harris County Law Library in downtown Houston -- but I don't know how good their forms are since so many people go down there -- they might be worn out or someone might have torn the necessary pages out of their form books.  Also be careful about some of the people that hang out there & say that they are attorneys -- there was a guy down there 4 years ago that was a disbarred attorney on drugs that was not mentally stable -- I don't know if he's still down there -- he was giving people bad advice & taking their money. 

Please don't buy a kit off the internet or t.v. 
Those are junk & you are wasting your money!!! 
Plus, they do not include the required State and County forms that the Judge will want. 

Unfortunately, the filing fee is approximately $300. 
All of that money goes to the county.

I'm only mediating these days so please don't call me. 

Call Patricia Bushman at 713-807-9405.
Her first appointment is FREE.
Talk to Jessica in her office for an appointment. 
She books up -- so please be flexible. 
Please let Jessica know that FRAN referred you to their office. 
I rent space in their office. 
They are located at Loop 610 & Kirby by Reliant Stadium.

Filing for emancipation in Texas

I receive more phone calls on emancipation than any other topic.

I have been licensed over 20 years and I have never done an emancipation. 

Why?  Because (a) they are expensive - plan on paying a total of $5,000 (b) you need to be at least 16 years old and have a job and be fully supporting yourself and (c) judges in Harris County do NOT like them and will not approve them.

Be aware that you can pay $5000 and have a full-time job and you still might not get a judge to sign the paperwork.

The only thing that you will accomplish by being emancipated in the State of Texas is being able to sign a legal contract.  That is it.  You will be able to sign a lease.  However, that does not mean that a landlord will lease to you.  You still might have to get someone to co-sign a lease with you.  If you want to buy a car, you will be able to sign a contract but it does not mean that you will qualify for a car loan.  It does not mean that a company has to give you a car loan. 

Being emancipated does not perform miracles.

By the way, it is called REMOVAL OF DISABILITIES in the State of Texas.

You can read about it in the Texas Family Code which is available on-line.  There are many hurdles that you must "jump" in order to even qualify.  If you do not meet them all, a judge cannot sign the document.  The judge will read the Code carefully before signing the paperwork.  The Judge will make sure that you fulfill all requirements.  They are tough! 

In my 20 years, I've only had one young lady that met them all.  She decided to buy a car instead of spending the money to go to court.

FYI:  Living with your boyfriend or girlfriend, is not enough to get the judge to sign your paperwork.  And, if your parents won't agree, it will make it much more difficult to get the judge to sign the paperwork -- not impossible -- but harder.

I don't do them -- call PATRICIA BUSHMAN at 713-807-9405.  Talk to Jessica in her office - her first appointment is FREE.  Tell her FRAN sent her. 

Alienation of affection in the State of Texas

I have received a few phone calls on this matter so I will repost on this issue.

I have posted on this subject before so you can look back on this blog & read my comments before.  It's been a long time since I posted comments on alienation of affection.  Since this matter is a "mute" issue in Texas it just not come up much.  However, recently several people have called me regarding this matter. 
I hope this post clarifies this topic for you.

The Texas legislature eliminated "alienation of affection" as a possible lawsuit many years ago.

In other words, if your spouse is involved with someone else, you cannot sue that person for "dating" your spouse.  There is no lawsuit available to sue that person.  No judge can do "anything" to that person for "entrapping" your spouse and/or causing your spouse to fall in love with that person.  You cannot get any sort of damages (money) from that person.  A judge cannot issue a restraining order against that person. 

If you are angry that your spouse spent money on a third party, then you would need to sue for divorce and in the divorce ask the judge to order your spouse to "reimburse" you for community funds spent on a third party. For example, spouse spent $10,000 on a third party -- you are entitled to $5,000 of reimbursement since 50% of the money is yours and you did not want your 50% spent on the third party. 

In summary, a judge does not have any sort of legal remedy that he/she is able to "punish" the third party (the person dating your spouse) in the State of Texas. 

However, if the person is harrassing you with phone calls or threats of bodily harm, then call the police or the District Attorney's office.  That is a criminal matter.  That would be completely different than a civil matter. 

Civil and criminal lawsuits are handled completely different;

     *  Civil matters are where you sue someone.  Civil cases are between individuals. 

     *  Criminal lawsuits are where the persons violates a law and the community sues the person and the punishment would be jail time and/or a fine (money).  The District Attorney represents the community.  You would not be involved.  You might be called as a witness since you would be the "victim". 

Houston Lawyer Referral Service contact information

Houston Lawyer Referral Service


Their motto is - helping the Houston metropolitan community to find quality legal representaiton in all areas of the law since 1958.

I'm doing CPS mediations at the Harris County DRC

I completed the Dispute Resolution Mediation Training of Harris County, Texas on July 27, 2011.

In August, 2012, I finally decided to try my hand to mediating CPS cases at the Harris County DRC. They are definately challenging and different from other mediations that I have handled since I became a mediator in 2005.

These are unpaid mediations, but since not many mediators will volunteer to handle a CPS mediaiton, I have agreed to do at least 1 a month.

Wish me luck!

Free Seminar for the Public at UH Law School - September 29, 2012


Classes on law issues that are relevant to the public in everyday life

September 29, 2012 - Saturday from 8 am - noon

University of Houston  Law Center - Main Campus - Consumer Law Project - The People's Law School

Call 877-839-8422 for information

Reservations required

Constitution Day - September 17th

September 17th is Constitution Day. 

What will be  happening in Houston on that day?

All citizens who report for jury duty will receive a pocket-size copy of the Constitution that day.

The Houston Bar Association (HBA) is recruiting volunteer attorneys to speak at local elementary schools to spend an hour at classes to speak to students about the U S Constitution. and education children about the importance of the U S Constitution. Attorneys will read a book then the book will be donated to the school's library.  I don't know the name of the book that is being donated - it was not mentioned in the article in the Houston Bar Bulletin for September-October, 2012.

The HBA and the Houston Chronicle will partner  again this year to provide classroom guides to teach middle and high school students about the Constituion and how it affects their daily lives.  Teachers are provided with "The Constitution in the News," an eductional curriculum that examines court rulings on issues such as student drug testing, file sharing, wiretapping, First Amendment issues, student cheating and gun laws, as wells as how the news media covers the issues.  These guides are available free of charge to classrooms. 

Happy Constitution Day!