Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Do You Need a Premarital Agreement?

If you’re engaged to be married, congratulations! But, do you and your spouse-to-be need a premarital agreement?

To help you out here are some things to keep in mind –

1. For some people the very thought of a premarital agreement is unacceptable because it’s too much like predicting their marriage will fail. If that’s you then read no further. A pre-marital agreement won’t work for you and yours because you’re going to have to be willing to talk about what will happen if your marriage fails.

2. However, If you and your betrothed are able to talk about it then leave yourself plenty of time, in advance of the wedding, to get your agreement in place. At a minimum, you should start the process of getting your premarital agreement prepared at least 90 days before the big day – and the earlier you start, the better.

3. There are do-it-yourself premarital agreements available on-line and in business supply houses and, while they are a less expensive alternative to a lawyer-drawn premarital agreement, we think you should avoid them. Why? For the same reason we think you should not perform your own gall bladder operation or fill your own cavity – it’s dangerous for someone who’s not trained to do it.

4. Most family lawyers (attorneys who handle things like divorce, child custody and support, property division, adoptions, etc.) can prepare a premarital agreement for you. Depending on your situation, you may want to consult with a Board Certified family law attorney (a specialist).

5. A premarital agreement can do three things – first, it can identify what property you owned before your marriage so, if the marriage ever ends, it’s easier to show what’s “yours.”

6. Second, a premarital agreement can keep income from your separate property (rent from a house or income from a CD, for example) as your separate property. Without a premarital agreement, income from your separate property becomes community property when you marry. The premarital agreement can even say that your income after marriage will be your separate property not community property.

7. Lastly, a premarital agreement can say there won’t be any spousal alimony in case there is a divorce.

So, premarital agreements can range from the very simple to the very complex and what you may need will depend on many factors – your age, whether this is a first marriage and, if not, whether you have children from a prior marriage or relationship, the size of your estate, the needs and desires of other family members (such as your parent or sibling, if you are in business with them), etc.

If you want to hire a lawyer to prepare a premarital agreement, start early! Get referrals from friends and business associates who have used family lawyers in your area before. Call and check them out and decide who you may want to hire then consult with that attorney. Go into your meeting with information about your estate and some idea of what you’d like the premarital agreement to do for you. Then, ask how much this will cost – the lawyer will be able to give you a pretty good estimate after meeting with you. Many will do it for a fixed fee.

One final word – your betrothed will need a lawyer also – one attorney cannot represent the both of you.

Good luck and, again, to those of you who are engaged and about to embark upon the sea of matrimony, congratulations and smooth sailing!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Tying Up Loose Ends After Divorce

You’ve gotten divorced and you’re ready to move on with your life but you have a nagging feeling that you’re leaving something undone. That’s especially true if you’ve done your divorce yourself.

Well, there ARE a lot of things to keep in mind as you begin life as a single person, and while one article can’t contain all of them here’s a handy checklist of some of the more important items -

• Review and update your estate plan – if you don’t have a will then get one drawn. Ask your estate planner about a power of attorney and a living will (physician’s directive) and whether they’re right for your situation.

• Review and make changes to your beneficiary designations for life insurance policies, homeowner’s policies, IRA’s, 401k’s, etc.

• Pull a credit report on yourself just to make sure there aren’t any “surprises” and do so annually thereafter (think of it as a chore sort of like going to the dentist every year – mildly unpleasant but necessary).

• Make sure that any joint bank accounts with your former spouse have been closed or otherwise taken care of properly.

• Keep at least the last six years of your joint tax returns with you. If your former spouse will have the originals then make sure you get copies for your files.

• Change your mail if your address changes.

• Keep a written record of the days and times that your former spouse has the children.

• Read your decree very carefully – in fact, study it until you know it backwards and forwards.

• In all communications with your former spouse, especially e-mails and texts, remember to always be Brief, Factual and Polite (BFP).

• Don’t gossip about your former spouse.

And, most importantly, savor the moment and enjoy life! Good luck!

Mark Lewis

Lewis & Passons, P.C.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

World Cup Soccer, Family Law and Stewardship

I am a big soccer fan. Soccer has a relatively small following in the United States compared to the rest of the world, where it is nearly a religion. I hope that the success enjoyed by the United States national team, and the excitement created by its dramatic moments in the World Cup, will spill over and create American interest in Major League Soccer and in soccer leagues around the world.

This year's World Cup tournament has also made headlines for some controversial calls and non-calls that have tremendously impacted the results of matches. My interest in these controversial calls and non-calls is not so much whether the calls were right or wrong. My interest is how the players and coaches publicly deal with the fallout from the referee's decisions. Do the players whine, complain, and deflect all blame onto the officials? Or do they take the "high road" and accept the decisions for what they are and try to do better next time? In today's uber-media marketplace, you can bet that the players' and coaches' reactions will be replayed and scrutinized ad nauseum.

Watching the way these difficult situations are handled reminds me of parents in divorce cases and child custody disputes. Often, one parent will, time and time again, make decisions and take courses of action that are impulsive, selfish, and designed to antagonize the other parent. The parent on the receiving end of this treatment then has a choice - either turn the other cheek or lash back at the antagonizer. The affected parent often feels as if they must choose between being bullied and pushed around or being no better than the antagonizer. All of these actions and reactions are then scrutinized, ad nauseum, by attorneys and judges alike. Lost in all of this, however, is the devastating effect of such conflict on the children.

At Lewis & Passons, P.C., we encourage our clients to be good stewards of their children. I don't mean stewardship in the strictly monetary sense, but rather the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care. Good stewardship in a divorce or custody dispute means, among other things, working together to co-parent the children, leaving the children out of the middle of conflicts and disagreements, and putting the children's needs above your own. According to Texas Family Code Section 153.002, "[t]he best interest of the child shall always be the primary consideration of the court in determining the issues of conservatorship and possession of and access to the child." A parent that is truly exercising good stewardship need not worry whether they are acting in their children's best interests.

A good first step? Sit next to your ex-spouse at your child's next soccer game. I promise your child will notice.

Andrew J. Passons
Lewis & Passons, P.C.
(940) 591-1191