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Five Common Mistakes Parents Make In Custody Cases

There's no way to say this gently. Custody battles are ugly. In the midst of all the stress and anguish over a break-up, you're also fighting for your kids. It's hard to be at your best when things are at their worst, and-for a loving parent-it's hard to find a worse situation than a protracted custody battle.

Given the pain of a custody dispute, here are five common mistakes parents make while fighting for their kids:

1. Putting Kids In The Middle

Your ex may seem like the worst thing for humanity since acne. But judges absolutely hate it when they hear that a parent is trashing an ex in front of the kids, or using the kids to send nasty messages back and forth. You don't have to lie to the kids. Acknowledge that things are stressful and you and their daddy disagree about a lot, but he's still their father. The kids must understand that they aren't the cause or in the center of the dispute.

2. Waiting Too Late To Get Legal Counsel

If you're thinking of asking for a divorce, it's better to get legal advice, than it is to try to work things out on your own. And importantly, decisions relating to children's wellbeing (such as physical custody, child support, parental supervision and more), are often thought of as topics to be addressed during or after a divorce is final, but they are legally relevant even at a separation stage. Therefore, start discussing these issues with an attorney as early as possible.

3. Keeping Poor Records

Careful recordkeeping is essential. Communicate in writing, if possible, and retain those emails, texts and notes. Keep a journal. Because from this moment on, every conversation you have with the ex about the kids, or conversations you have with the kids about the ex, is potentially meaningful in your case. It can establish your fitness as a parent, and offer evidence as to any concerns you may have about your ex's.

4. Refusing Court Orders

If you have concerns about your ex's ability to parent, you may be tempted to refuse to comply with a visitation schedule. You may want to ignore the ex's ability to make parental decisions. But this is a classic case of "two wrongs don't make a right." To violate court orders is puts you in contempt of court, and that's a very dangerous business. Don't disobey a court order or a court-approved agreement. Instead, get on the phone with your lawyer, express your objections, and let your attorney come up with ways to go back to court and change the judge's mind.

5. Losing Your Cool

You may well be furious at your ex, and she may well deserve it. But if you make threats, vent on social media and more-those can become weapons your ex can use against you. An ex who gets you to lose your temper wins, in every sense of the term. You're not going to be thinking clearly if you are angry, and you're not modeling good behavior for your kids. So take deep breaths. Don't lose sight of the fact that you're fighting for the kids, not against her, and remember: This, too, shall pass.

Keywords: custody disputes, divorce

Title: Mistakes Parents Make In Custody Cases

Meta Description: A legal blog warns parents about mistakes they might make during a custody battle.

Meta Tags: custody, children rights, parenting, litigation, divorce

Deep In The (Broken) Heart of Texas:

Five Podcasts To Get You Through Your Divorce

"Divorce court is so awful," someone once said, "I wouldn't even wish it on my ex-wife." There's no way to put a happy face on divorce. It's stressful, painful and often tempts us to show our ugliest faces.

If you're lucky, you won't have to go through it alone. You'll have families and friends, or your clubs and social life. But that doesn't help in weary hours spent alone. With that in mind, I've put together a list of podcasts for a source of support available 24-hours a day.

1. Surviving Divorce Podcast:

The name says it all. This podcast offers supportive tips, stories and strategies for dealing with the grief that divorce causes.

2. Over Divorce:

This one is for the men, a too-often overlooked population just as in need of support. With two hosts interviewing lawyers, psychologists and all manner of experts, this podcast offers concrete insight into how men can work their way through divorce.

3. Waking Up:

This isn't actually about divorce, but why should we let divorce consume all our waking hours? Host Sam Harris is a neuroscientist and best-selling author. He runs the gamut-from the economy of food to the science of mindfulness to White House politics. He's committed to wide-ranging, thought-provoking discussion. (Bonus: He offers both a short and long-form guided meditation without the mysticism.)

4. Divorce Source Radio:

This one can be a tough, but worthwhile, listen as it tackles the usual and customary (e.g., legal strategies), but it also deals with specific relationship pains, such as infidelity.

5. Stuff Mom Never Told You (Divorced Women):

A real, refreshing attempt to peel back some of the nasty stereotypes about divorced women.

Keywords: divorce, podcast

Title: Five Podcasts To Help Ease Divorce

Meta Description: A legal blog recommends podcasts to cope with the pain of divorce

Meta Tags: divorce, podcast, coping

Adopting in West Virginia:

A Quickstart Guide

There are few things nobler than being willing to adopt a child. If you're considering adoption, consider these questions to help you on your way.

Who Can Adopt?

Under West Virginia law, anyone 21 years or older can adopt as long as they can show that they can afford to raise a child, are in good mental and physical health, and can offer a safe and supportive environment for the child.

Do I need special training?

Yes. West Virginia requires all adoptive parents to go through a special orientation and certification process.

How long will it take?

According to estimates, it typically takes between four to nine months before the adoption is official. West Virginia also goes through what's called "a trial adoption," the first six months that the child moves in with you. The idea is to make sure everything is going well.

Do I have to go through the state?

No, you can arrange a private adoption with a baby's birth mother. However, the court still will have to approve the adoption, and there will be a related inquiry by a state social worker or other official.

Can I adopt a baby from overseas?

Yes, generally the courts will recognize a legal adoption from a foreign land. But the state will still want to do a background check to make sure the adoption was proper and the child will be safe and supported.

Are there other options?

The federal government runs a program called AdoptUSKids, as another route to bringing a child into your loving home.

Keywords: adoption, West Virginia

Title: Quickstart Guide To Adoption In West Virginia

Meta Description: A legal blog offers an overview of how adoption works in West Virginia

Meta Tags: adoption, parenting, lawyer

Fun Things to Do in June With Kids During Visitation

The best thing about summer vacation is that it can allow some treasured time with your kids. But you don't have to bankrupt yourself to have a valuable time. There are plenty of opportunities for good, clean family fun right in your own backyard-things that are little off-the-beaten track, but reasonably priced and in the McKinney vicinity.

Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary: Named for "Miss Bessie" Heard, this place offers nature walks, a terrific museum and-best of all, IMHO-dinosaurs! And if your kids are budding scientists, they have nature camps to keep them even more occupied.

Towne Lake Recreation Center: A 22-acre lake just perfect for fishing, paddle-boating or lazing away a glorious day.

Hydrous Wake Park: In Allen, you and your kids can get wet and wild-and get in some great exercise, too!

Collin County History Museum: Run by the local historical society, it's one of those places that hides in plain sight. But those in the know, they love it.

The Frisco Rough Riders: The minor league baseball team plays just a short drive away, tickets are cheap, and seats are great. So what could be better than watching your kids cheer on the Rangers' future stars?

Play Street Museum: For young ones, it's hard to beat a couple of hours at Play Street. They call it "interactive"-you should understand that to mean engaging and fun.

Heritage Farmstead: In nearby Plano, the farmstead offers programs for everyone. It's a great place to get (re) acquainted with Texas history or to unplug for a few hours.

Cosmic Jump: Another activity in Allen worth the drive. It's an indoor trampoline park. Not sure how I could sell it any better that.

For more ideas, check out sites like Trip Advisor or Yelp. It's also not a bad idea to look at Groupon, for suggestions and good deals to boot.

Keywords: family fun, Texas, McKinney

Title: Summer Fun For Families In McKinney, Texas

Meta Description: Suggestions for fun and cheap vacations in north Texas

Meta Tags: parenting, fun, families, visitation activities

Forget The Gold Mine-

Who Gets the Shaft?

Divorce is hard enough when you're fighting over assets, but increasingly, I'm seeing the most vicious fights erupt over losses. Maybe that's because personal debt has skyrocketed in Texas-nearly seven percent from 2015-16 (and almost six percent the year before that). Folks in this region owe a staggering $842.5 billion in personal debt.

Unlike personal property, debt doesn't have to be split in Texas. Generally, the law requires the judge to assign the debt to the person who's most responsible for it. But that's where things can get messy.

A judge may have to determine whether you're directly or indirectly responsible for any marital debts. "Directly" is a bit more, well, direct: If you signed a loan agreement, it's your debt.

However, an ex can dump some of debt onto you, by proving that you were indirectly responsible for it. That, in turn, is another two-pronged test. If an ex can prove that she was acting on your behalf at the time she signed the loan agreement, you may well be on the hook. (For example, you needed to remodel the kitchen, but your credit rating wouldn't support a loan, so she signed on instead, and you both benefited from the remodel.)

You can also be stuck with marital debt if your ex can prove the debt was for "necessaries." Like so much of Texas law, the language of "necessaries" is both concrete and broad.

As a general rule, you may expect to be stuck with a bill if the debt your ex incurred was for food, clothing, housing or medical expenses. That's especially true when kids are the recipients of the necessary.

In fact, according to an analysis done at Baylor, attorney fees may be considered a necessary that the other spouse must pay-even if the fees relate to the divorce!

So forget the gold mine. The issue in some divorce proceedings is going to be, "Who gets the shaft?"

Keywords: divorce, debt, Texas

Title: Who Gets Stuck With Debt In A Texas Divorce?

Meta Description: A lawyer analyzes Texas law over debts and divorce

Meta Tags: divorce, debt, lawyer, division of property

Caught Driving Under the Influence of Prescription Drugs in West Virginia?

What You Need to Know

Sadly, it's no exaggeration to say that West Virginians are all too often, patient zero in the opioid epidemic. Our state leads the nation in lethal drug overdoses, and many of us have painful stories of addiction about our friends, families-maybe ourselves. The courts may eventually decide who is responsible for the mess, but that's a long way off-and will offer cold comfort to the crisis' victims.

One of the side effects of the crisis is a law enforcement crackdown on driving under the influence. If you've been charged with driving under the influence of prescription drugs, here are some key facts to know.

1. The law is pretty broad. West Virginia law prohibits anyone who is "is a habitual user of narcotic drugs or amphetamine or any derivative thereof" to drive, so you may be in trouble, even if your prescriptions were perfectly legal.

2. The penalties are fierce. If someone was hurt, or-God forbid-killed in an accident while you were driving under the influence, prosecutors could charge you with a felony. You could be looking at up to 15 years in prison. Even if no one was injured, you could still be convicted of a misdemeanor and have to serve up to six months in jail.

3. You could be in trouble even if you weren't driving. The law says you're guilty of a misdemeanor if you let someone drive your car when you knew, or should have known, that he was under the influence. There again, you face up to six months in jail and fines up to $500.

4. The standards are different than drunk driving. Unlike drunk driving's blood alcohol level, there's no concrete threshold of pharmaceutical use necessary to determine whether or not your driving was impaired.

5. Endangering children brings heavier penalties. If there were children in the car, you could be convicted of yet another misdemeanor-and could be facing up to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

6. Prosecutors have a ton of discretion. Given how elastic the standard for impairment is, it'll be really important to find an attorney who is aggressive enough to fight for you, but has a good working with relationship with local prosecutors.

Keywords: DUI, West Virginia, opioid, prescription, abuse

Title: Arrested For DUI-Prescription Drugs? What You Need To Know

Meta Description: A lawyer analyzes the risks of a West Virginia arrest for driving under the influence of prescription drugs

Meta Tags: drugs, opioid, driving, West Virginia, driving under the influence

Federal Sentencing Guidelines:

The Good, The Bad and The OMG

If you're convicted of a crime in federal court, it may not be a jury of your peers, but a committee of strangers who really decide your fate-through sentencing. Indeed, even if you're charged in a state court, that same committee of strangers may have a lot to say about how you're sentenced.

Intended to reduce disparity in prison terms, the U.S. Sentencing Commission began its work in 1987. Each year, this blue-ribbon panel issues new guidelines for judges to think about as they hand down sentences. The recommendations aren't binding, but they sure do have an influence-so much so that there are websites to figure out the sentence you face based on a conviction.

In parallel with the commission's work, certain crimes result in "mandatory minimums"-meaning that if you're convicted of one of these crimes, then by law, the judge must sentence you to at least a specified amount of prison time. The only discretion a judge has in this case is to increase the sentence; there is no way to adjust downward for leniency or extenuating circumstances.

Recent reform efforts have tried to address this. In the Obama Administration, prosecutors were allowed more flexibility in charging someone for a crime: They could avoid prosecuting someone for a crime that had a mandatory minimum sentence. However, in May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ended this practice and announced stringent new guidelines for prosecutors, insisting they seek the most severe charges (and penalties) available to them.

While the Obama / Trump policies may suggest that this is a partisan issue, that is not the case. U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky) has hammered Sessions' approach, saying it would "ruin lives."

While prosecutors figure out what how to implement the new policy, it'll be really important that you and your lawyer understand the risks of going to trial. Many states follow federal guidelines, or have sentencing commissions of their own.

If you or a loved are facing charges, make sure your lawyer is not just familiar, but fluent, in the sentencing guidelines. A lot is riding on that strange little calculator.

Keywords: sentencing guidelines, prison, law-and-order

Title: A Primer On Sentencing Guidelines

Meta Description: A lawyer analyzes the history and current state of federal and local sentencing guidelines.

Meta Tags: conviction, sentencing, federal sentences, mandatory minimums

Jailhouse Blues:

How To Fight Depression After An Arrest

"Hey, Mister Jailer, will you please, sir, bring me the key?" Lightnin' Hopkins so memorably asks. "I just want you to open the door, cause this ain't no place for me."

In addition to the other damage an arrest causes-jail time, fines, lost jobs-it also takes a horrible toll on mental health. There's an emerging scholarly literature on the effects of arrest and jailing on people. The short version is: It's not good.

Frankly, it's one of the toughest part of my job-seeing people so humiliated or shell-shocked by their arrest, that they can barely function. Sometimes, it even gets in the way of their case. One of the effects of depression, for example, is extreme fatigue. It makes it hard to help a lawyer fight in court if a client can't stay awake and focused during the trial.

If you or someone you love is struggling with those jailhouse blues, consider the following steps to take:

1. Find a mental health expert. A trained therapist offers not just a sympathetic (and confidential) ear, but often has years of experience in treating depression, anxiety and other goblins.

2. Remember, you're not alone (part one). First, rely on the support of friends, family, neighbors, churches, that mental health expert and so on. It can make a huge difference.

3. Remember, you're not alone (part two). Arrest is all too common, but use that as a reminder. You aren't the only one to suffer through this, and you'll be able to get through.

4. Exercise. Popular fads wax and wane, but one constant in scientific literature is that getting up and moving helps keep the demons at bay.

5. Meditate. There is an increasing amount of data that finds that meditation can help us refocus, and reduce stress. There are all sorts of websites and podcasts out there that offer guided meditation, so feel free to shop around.

6. Give yourself a break. Yes, you may well have made a mistake. But, as the old wisdom has it, "To err is human; to forgive, divine."

Keywords: arrest, depression

Title: Dealing With Depression After An Arrest

Meta Description: A lawyer offers suggestions for dealing with depression, post-arrest

Meta Tags: arrest, jail, depression, mental health

Should You Disclose An Arrest To Your Employer?

Being placed under arrest can be traumatic. And it can also be costly. Texas law gives employers the right to run criminal background checks on potential hires to determine whether they're a good fit for the company. Legislators passed a law a few years ago that should, theoretically, make it easier for employees with criminal backgrounds get jobs, despite having their records, but there's no guarantee.

So should you tell your boss about your arrest? While opinions vary, realize that there are some jobs (involving public safety or children) where you can be required to disclose your police record.

Beyond that, an arrest isn't the same thing as a conviction. In an arrest, you are innocent until proven guilty. But withholding that information from an employer can be risky: Texas is an "at will" state. That means it's pretty easy to get fired, with or without cause.

Also, if you're still under investigation, concealing the arrest from your boss may put you in a position of lying to your boss about time off for pending court dates, meetings with your lawyer, etc. Bosses, in my experience, don't like being lied to.

If charges have been dropped, you can have that arrest expunged from your record. In some cases, you might be able to have convictions expunged or sealed, although that's a little trickier.

But if you think that an expunging the record means you no longer have to face the issue, remember how small is the world we all live in, thanks to the Internet. There's always a chance that word get back to your boss. The question is, do you want to explain it to your boss first, or a second? A good rule of thumb when deciding how to talk to your boss is: Tell it first, tell fast, and tell it all.

Keywords: arrest, employment

Title: Should You Tell Your Boss About An Arrest?

Meta Description: A lawyer analyzes whether to disclose an arrest to an employer

Meta Tags: arrest, employment law, background checks, expunge

Texas-Sized Facts About Crime In Texas

If everything is bigger here in Texas, why should our criminal justice system be any different? Turns out, it isn't. Although, that's for good and for bad....

1. Good News, Bad News: Overall, the crime rate fell in 2015, but the violent crime rate had risen. Homicides were up by more than nine percent, rapes by more than four percent. That bucked national trends, where violent crime has fallen nearly everywhere else.

2. Fewer Arrests: Arrests have been going down, too. Juvenile arrests fell by nearly nine percent, and arrests of adults fell by more than five percent.

3. Country, Not Town: From 2014 and 2015, crime dropped dramatically in Texas' five largest cities, but homicides spiked 23 percent in Houston, eight percent in Dallas, and seven percent in Fort Worth. Overall violent crime was actually down in Houston, by two percent. San Antonio saw the largest spike in violent crime, at 12 percent.

1. A Capital City: Austin saw the most dramatic fall in crime. Homicides fell by 33 percent, violent crime fell by nine percent, and the overall crime rate fell by 10 percent. Meanwhile...

2. Oh, Odessa: According to a 2016 analysis of crime, police presence and other socioeconomic predictors, Odessa was the state's most dangerous city.

3. Guns... Don't mess with Texas gun laws. There were nearly 44,000 convictions for firearms offenses in 2015.

4. Cops On the Beat: In Plano, the rate of officers to population is just 11.9 to 10,000. By contrast, in Dallas, there are 28.1 police officers per 10,000 people. And both of those figures are far fewer than in other U.S. cities. In Washington, D.C., New Orleans and St. Louis, the rates are 65.6, 40.8 and 38.4 officers per 10,000, respectively.

5. An Injured Thin Blue Line: While the winter's tragic events are still fresh in our minds, the less well known reality is that, in 2015, 4,310 Texas Law Enforcement Officers were assaulted while in the line of duty.

6. Car Accidents.... Even where folks weren't getting cuffed, the civil courts were busy. The number of Texan new lawsuits involving injury or damage from car accidents increased 12 percent, setting another new record.

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