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What to Look for in High-End Divorce Lawyers in Houston

high end divorce lawyer with couple

Getting a divorce upends nearly every part of a person’s life. They and their soon-to-be-ex-spouse must figure out how to divide their property, along with child custody and child support if applicable. Spousal maintenance might be an issue in situations where one spouse was the breadwinner in a long marriage. High-end divorce, meaning divorces that involve a large or complicated amount of community property, can present their own challenges, such as asset protection and valuation. Many of these issues require specialized knowledge, and the insight that comes with experience handling high-end divorces. We offer the following tips on what to look for in high-end divorce lawyers in Houston.

What Issues Will Your Divorce Present?

When looking at divorce lawyers in Houston, it is important to consider whether an attorney has experience in and knowledge of the particular issues your case will present. Since we are talking about high-end divorces, let us assume that your divorce will involve a complex division of community property. If you and your spouse have minor children, you will have to address issues of custody and support in the case as well. You want to look for a lawyer who can handle all of the issues that will come up.

You should also consider whether or not an attorney will provide the kind of service you want. Do you want your divorce to be as amicable as possible, or do you want someone who will aggressively advocate for your rights? Once a petition for divorce has been filed and served, no one can predict what will happen, but you and your lawyer can try to set a tone for how you would like the divorce to go. Consider each lawyer’s credentials and qualifications, but also keep an eye on your own comfort level.

Where Will You Be Filing for Divorce?

Texas has rather strict rules about where you can file for divorce. One of the spouses must have been a Texas resident for at least six months before the date of filing, and must have lived in the county where the case is filed for at least ninety days. If one spouse lives in Galveston County, and the other lives in Brazoria County, they cannot file for divorce in Harris County or any other county in the Houston area.

This is an important issue because every county has its own local rules and procedures for divorce cases. In Harris County, your case would be assigned to a court that exclusively handles divorces and other family law matters. In a different county, your case might be assigned to a court that hears all types of cases. You need a divorce lawyer with knowledge of the local rules where you will be filing.

How Long Does a Divorce Take in Texas?

As a general rule, divorces tend to take six months to one year from the date of filing. The Texas Family Code states that a court cannot grant a divorce until at least sixty days have passed after the petition for divorce was filed. Suppose you filed for divorce on January 1, and you and your spouse managed to reach an agreement on every outstanding issue presented by the case within a week or two. The court would still not be able to grant a divorce until March 1.

Texas law does not set a maximum amount of time for a divorce case, except that cases cannot languish unattended for too long. Courts can use a procedure known as “dismissal for want of prosecution” to dismiss a case if nothing has happened for some time.

How Does Property Division Work in Texas Divorces?

Property in a Texas divorce is divided into two categories: community property and separate property. Separate property includes anything owned by a spouse before the marriage and anything obtained during the marriage as a gift or through inheritance. Community property consists of the property acquired during the marriage.

Texas law presumes that all property owned by the spouses during a divorce is community property. The spouse claiming that something is separate property has the burden of proving that in court. Protecting separate assets is often just as important as dividing community assets.

Dividing Community Property

In a high-end divorce, you will need to prepare an inventory of all assets, including both community and separate property. This might include:

  • Ownership interests in privately-held companies or partnerships;
  • Stocks and other securities;
  • Stock options and other employment benefits;
  • Retirement accounts and pensions;
  • Real estate;
  • Mineral rights, such as royalties on oil and gas leases;
  • Trusts;
  • Life insurances policies and annuities;
  • Intellectual property, including patents and copyrights;
  • Financial accounts;
  • Automobiles;
  • Art; and
  • Jewelry and other valuables.

The “general rule” in Texas is that divorcing spouses should receive a “just and right” division of community property. Many factors can influence how a court distributes the community estate, but before the court can do that, it must know how much everything in the estate is worth. This often requires extensive appraisal of assets.

Protecting Separate Property

Separate property can become community property if it is commingled with community property. If one spouse inherits money, for example, that money could lose its character as separate property if the spouse deposits it in a joint bank account.

Asset protection is not about hiding separate or community assets from the other spouse before or during a divorce. Courts in Texas tend to frown upon that kind of conduct. It is rather a matter of documenting every item of separate property and demonstrating both to the other spouse and the court that it is indisputably separate.

The flip side of this, of course, is making certain that the other spouse is not hiding assets. This may require investigative skills to locate and recover property. Asset protection is therefore a matter of both identifying your own separate property and finding community property that the other side might have stashed away somewhere.

What Is Board Certification?

The term “board-certified” often appears in lawyer advertisements, but it is often misunderstood by the general public. Divorce lawyers in Houston do not need board certification to be able to practice law in Texas. Board certification authorizes a lawyer to present themselves to the public as “specialists” in a particular area of law.

Board certification in family law requires a lawyer to meet a rigorous set of requirements, including:

  • A minimum of five years practicing law full time, with a substantial part of that time devoted to family law;
  • Representation of clients in trials before both judges and juries, appellate proceedings, and mediations;
  • References from other family lawyers and judges; and
  • Successful completion of a six-hour examination, which is in addition to the three-day Texas Bar Exam that all lawyers in the state must pass.

Stacey Valdez is a board-certified family law attorney who practices as a divorce lawyer in Houston, Texas area. At Stacey Valdez & Associates, looking out for our clients and their families is, and always will be, our top priority. We help people navigate difficult ordeals like divorce and child custody with compassion, dignity, and tireless advocacy. Please contact us online, or call us at (281) 218-0900 today to schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you. Your first meeting with us is free in most cases.

Categories: Divorce