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2007 Texas Family Law Legislative Changes

There were several significant changes passed by the Legislature that affect family law that have either already been signed or are on the Governor's desk. The legislation's highlights are:
  • increase in guideline child support
  • Provides specifically for lump-summing a child support obigation upon an obligor's death and also ordering the obligor to carry life insurance.
  • significantly eased the parenting plan requirements in all cases involving children
  • deals with some characterization and reimbursement issues
  • specifically provides for electronic communication between a parent and child, including those on military deployment
  • provides guidance for assisted reproduction / artificial insemination
  • clarifies the rights of Associate Judges in family law cases
  • gives more enforcement powers to the Attorney General and clarifies how child support arrearages are collected

    Signed by Governor Already

    SB 430
    This act clarifies the burden of proof for certain claims for reimbursement.
    It provides that "[t]he party seeking an offset to a claim for reimbursement has the burden of proof with respect to the offset."
    This Act was signed by the Governor on May 10, 2007 and goes into effect on September 1, 2007.
    SB 430 can be viewed at 80(R) SB 430 - Enrolled version - Bill Text
    http://www.capitol.state.tx.us:80/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=80R&Bill=SB430

    SB 432
    This act addresses consent to and annulment of marriages.
    The act modifies the language of Texas Family Code §§ 2.102 and 2.103 by regarding who, other than a parent, can consent to the marriage of a minor. The act broadens the language from a "judicially designated managing conservator of the applicantís person" to a "person who has the court-ordered right to consent to marriage for the applicant". The act repeals Texas Family Code § 6.101 and states adds language clarifying that a marriage is void if either party to the marriage is younger than 16 years of age, unless a court order has been obtained under Section 2.103.
    The act was signed by the Governor on May 10, 2007 and goes into effect on September 1, 2007.
    SB 432 can be viewed at 80(R) SB 430 - Enrolled version - Bill Text
    http://www.capitol.state.tx.us:80/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=80R&Bill=SB432


    Passed and Sent to Governor

    SB 228
    This act relates to suits affecting the parent-child relationship, including proceedings for the establishment, modification, and enforcement of child support, parentage, and possession of and access to a child. The act also provides a civil penalty.

    The act amended the Texas Family Code to include provisions regarding electronic communication with the child by a conservator, adding the child enlisting in the military as a event upon which child support terminates, and setting forth standards regarding compliance concerning partial termination of support obligations.  (new Section 153.015) The act also adds provision to the Texas Family Code that states that the court retains jurisdiction to render an order for retroactive child support in a suit if the petition requesting retroactive child support is filed not later than the fourth anniversary of the childís eighteenth birthday.

    The act also amends the Texas Family Code to increase the time period during which the court retains jurisdiction to render a contempt order for failure to comply with a child support order from not later than six months after the child becomes and adult or child support otherwise terminates to the second anniversary of the date the child becomes and adult or on which the child support obligation terminates under the order or by operation of law, to include an arrest warrant ordered under the chapter, instead of just a capias, and to include Title IV-D service fees that the obligor is responsible for on the priority list of how child support is applied.
    The act makes Title IV-D service fees part of the child support obligation, and the fees may be enforced against the obligor by any means available for enforcement of child support, including contempt. The length of time before a person taken into custody on capias and not released on bond must be brought before the court that issued capias has also been increased, as has the length of time before a hearing on the alleged contempt must be held. The act also provides the Title IV-D agency with new remedies, such as withholding from severence pay and withholding from lump sum payments, such as bonuses, commissions, or amounts paid in lieu of vacation.

    The act also makes amendments to the Texas Family Code with regards to assisted reproduction. The amendments define "donor" with regard to assisted reproduction and includes section that establish an unmarried manís paternity of the child of assisted reproduction, require the signed consent forms for certain assisted reproduction actions must be kept by a licensed physician, and that deal with the effects of dissolution of marriage or death of a spouse prior to the placement of sperm, eggs, or embryos.
    This act was sent to the Governor on May 28, 2007.
    SB 228 can be viewed at:80(R) SB 228 - Enrolled version - Bill Text
    http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=80R&Bill=SB228

    HB 448
    This act relates to the computation of child support obligations.

    The act raises the cap on net resources subject to the child support formula from $6,000 of monthly net resources to $7,500 of monthly net resources. This means that the maximum guideline child support for 2 children rises from $1500 to $1875 per month. The act also provides that this dollar amount is to be adjusted for inflation every six years. The Title IV-D agency shall compute the adjusted amount based on the percentage change during the preceding six-year period in the consumer price index, as rounded to the nearest $50 increment, and publish the adjusted amount in the Texas Register before September 1 of the year in which the adjustment takes effect.
    The act also includes language with regard to taking expenses for health insurance coverage for the obligor's child into account in determining child support. If the obligor has more than one child covered under the same health insurance coverage, the court is directed to divide the total cost to the obligor for the insurance by the total number of minor dependents, including the child, covered under the plan.

    This act was sent to the Governor on May 28, 2007.
    HB 448 can be viewed at  80(R) HB 448 - Enrolled version - Bill Text

    HB 555
    This act makes revisions to the "parenting plan" provisions of the Texas Family Code.
    The act amends Texas Family Code § 153.007(d) to limit the power of the court in situations were the court does not find that the agreed parenting plan is in the best interest of the child. The amendment provides that if the court finds the agreed parenting plan is not in the child's best interest, the court may request the parties to submit a revised parenting plan. If the parties do not submit a revised parenting plan satisfactory to the court, the court may, after notice and hearing, order a parenting plan that the court finds to be in the best interest of the child. Prior to this amendment, if the court found that the agreed parenting plan was not in the best interest of the child the court could either request that the parties submit a revised parenting plan or the court could render an order for conservatorship and possession of the child.
    The act amends Texas Family Code § 153.0071, adding that the provisions for confidentiality of alternative dispute resolution procedures apply to the work of a parenting coordinator and to the parties or any other person who participates in parenting coordination. The subsection does not however, affect the duty of a person to report abuse or neglect under Texas Family Code § 261.101. The act also amends Texas Family Code § 153.133(b) to make alternative dispute resolution procedures permissive in agreed parenting plans, rather than mandatory.
    The act amends the definitions of "dispute resolution process", "high-conflict case", "parenting coordinator", and "parenting plan" in the definitions set forth in Texas Family Code § 153.601. The definition of "dispute resolution process" is broadened to include "any other method of voluntary dispute resolution." The definition of "high-conflict case" is narrowed by requiring that the court finds that the parties have met the factors required for a "high-conflict case". The act removes the requirement for a temporary parenting plan, as set forth in Texas Family Code § 153.602, and states instead that in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship temporary orders are not required to include a temporary parenting plan. The amendment also precludes local rules or practice from requiring the submission of a temporary parenting plan. Texas Family Code § 153.603 is amended to provide that a parenting plan must be included in any final order in a suit to affecting a parent-child relationship except as provided in § 153.603(b).
    The act also amends the language of Texas Family Code § 153.606, changing the "authority of the parenting coordinator" to "duties of the parenting coordinator". Texas Family Code § 153.607(b) is amended to require, rather than permit, the court to remove a parenting coordinator on the request and agreement of both parties or on the motion of one party if good cause is shown. This act was sent to the Governor on May 28, 2007.

    HB 555 can be viewed at:80(R) HB 555 - Enrolled version - Bill Text
     
    HB 930
    This act relates to certain orders rendered by, and preservation of the record in matters heard by, an associate judge under the Family Code.
    With regard to the powers of the associate judge, this act grants the associate judge the power to render and sign a final order in a case in which a party files an unrevoked waiver made in accordance with Rule 119, Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, that waives notice to the party of the final hearing or waives the party's appearance at the final hearing, and to sign a final order that includes a waiver of the right of appeal pursuant to Section 201.015. The act also provides that an answer filed by a party who previously waived notice to the party of the final hearing or waived the party's appearance at the final hearing revokes that waiver.
    With regard to preservation of records in matters heard by an associate judge, the act adds language to § 201.009(a) that a court reporter is required to be provided when the associate judge presides over a contested final termination hearing. The addition of the word "contested" seems to mean that it is no longer required to provide a court reporter in uncontested final termination hearings. The act also adds language to § 201.009(c) which states that except as provided in § 201.009(a), in absence of a court reporter or on agreement of the parties, the record may be preserved by any means approved by the associate judge. The seems to mean that except in situations where a court reporter is required by § 201.009(a) (where the associate judge presides over a jury trial or a contested final termination hearing) the parties can agree to preserve the record by any other means approved by the associate judge.

    This act was sent to the Governor on May 28, 2007.

    HB 930 can be viewed at 80(R) HB 930 - Enrolled version - Bill Text
    http://www.capitol.state.tx.us:80/BillLookup/Text.aspx?LegSess=80R&Bill=HB930
     
    HB 1995
    Appeal of Associate Judge's Ruling 
      Amending Section 201.015, the bill provides that a party now has until not later than the "seventh working day" after the date a party receives notice of the Associate Judge's ruling to appeal--applicable to suits involving the parent child relationship filed after September 1, 2007.  Comment:  This one confuses the powers of an AJ. The former statute dealt with ALL cases that an AJ can hear;  this change applies specifically to parent-child cases.  So now what is the appeal time limit--if any-- for non parent-child cases (divorces without children) heard by the AJ?  Or is there even an appeal in such cases?  It would appear that the clear legislative intent was merely to change the three day appeal period to a seven day period in all AJ cases.  Which Court of Appeals will step up first to insert what was omitted in the statute? 
    HB1995 can be viewed here.

    SB617
    Allows the Court to determine the amount of unpaid child support (including medical coverage) that would have accrued after the obligor's death, and lump sum it as a charge again the obligor's estate.  Also allows the Court to require an obligor to get life insurance to cover the future expected child support obligation--with benefits payable to the obligee. Section 154.015, 154.016.
    SB617 can be viewed here.
     
    We will update after the deadline for the Governor to sign or veto--June 17th--passes.  We will also update when more arcane provisions in other bills are discovered.