Adoptions Attorney Leslie Barrows
PODCAST: Texas DPS and interaction with law enforcement with Attorney Leslie Barrows 
 

The Barrows Firm Law Review is a monthly Internet radio show podcast featuring information about Texas family, criminal, juvenile, probate and estate planning law and events. Attorney Leslie Barrows is our featured guest today as she shares insight and information about interacting with law enforcement and Texas Department of Public Safety.

Texas DPS and interaction with law enforcement with Attorney Leslie Barrows

  • What to do when you encounter Texas DPS and other law enforcement, attitude is everything
  • Texas DPS and their role in law enforcement and the suspension or revocation of licenses
  • New surcharge waiver program with DPS and options to clear drivers licenses
  • Legal issues in addition to DWI that can affect your Texas driver’s license
  • Restoration of your Texas driver’s license and how a lawyer can help you in the process

Leslie Barrows is the principal founder of The Barrows Firm in Fort Worth, Texas. In her firm’s main practice areas of family law, criminal defense and juvenile law, Leslie is consistently challenged with dynamic cases and clients. When winning is what matters, many in the Fort Worth area go to The Barrows Firm based on their reputation an winning track record over the past decade. Leslie Barrows earned her undergraduate degree from Sam Houston State University and she earned her law degree from the Oklahoma City University School of Law. She is a member of numerous organizations primarily focused in Tarrant County.

If you would like more information about The Barrows Firm, P.C., please contact the firm by calling (817) 481-1583. The Barrows Firm is located downtown Fort Worth at 500 East Belknap Street, near the Tarrant County Courthouse and the Tarrant County Family Law Center.

You can follow The Barrows Firm on social media and find important articles and resources about Texas law and how it may affect you or your family. The Barrows Firm is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. To read client endorsements and reviews of Attorney, Leslie Barrows, please visit her Avvo.com profile.

Police searches of people, vehicles and homes: Consent to search and positive attitude 
 

Criminal defense practice is an important constitutional safeguard, making sure people have their right to the due process of law and assuring the state proves their charges. In recent times our law enforcement officers have been the subject of attack on many fronts. Many of us are respectful and proud of the men and women who serve and protect us, and the role of a criminal defense attorney is to assure the system works correctly and our law enforcement officers do their job accurately. Police will often say that attitude is everything. When an officer stops a vehicle or arrives at a call to a residence, they may have little information as to what they are likely to encounter. While some people are cooperative and peaceful toward law enforcement, others are belligerent and threatening. As citizens we should be aware of our constitutional rights, but that does not mean we should assert our rights in an abusive manner, because that is not productive. Knowing how to conduct yourself and remain calm is important, because the officers you encounter are simply doing their job. This article offers a few tips about your rights and best ways to conduct yourself if you encounter law enforcement officers.

What may happen and what you can do in a vehicle stop.

Remain in your vehicle, turn the engine off, leave your seatbelt on and comply with the officer’s instructions. It is not a good idea to get out of your car and approach a traffic officer because that could appear as an act of aggression, putting the officer on the defense.

Nowadays many of us have cell phone mounts on dashboards which can be used as our own personal dash cameras, and when you record the interior of your vehicle you have a recorded record of your interaction with police. However, recording an officer in a way that disrupts their investigation of the vehicle stop is a bad idea and may be an offense itself.

Many people are nervous when stopped by an officer. If you were stopped for speeding or failure to signal, the stop should be routine and you may receive a citation. If you are calm and polite there may be no reason for alarm. If, however, you are overly talkative or otherwise are acting nervous, you may make the officer nervous or suspect you have something to hide.

The officer may ask for consent to search the vehicle and you have a right to say no.

If an officer suspects you may have something in your possession or vehicle, prohibited by law, you may be asked if the officer may search your vehicle. If the officer asks you to exit the vehicle and pat you down, they are doing so for safety and to make sure you don’t have anything that will hurt them. Consent to search your vehicle, however, is another story. You have a constitutional right to refuse any requests to search your vehicle, but please do so in a calm and polite way. If the officer has reasonable suspicion that the vehicle contains drugs, they can bring out a sniffing dog, but they must do so within the time it takes to investigate the original purpose of the vehicle stop and they cannot detain you longer.

What may happen and what you may expect if officers knock on your front door.

Law enforcement officers may be even more cautious approaching a residence where the occupants have an expectation of safety and privacy. Similar to a vehicle stop, you have the right to say no if an officer asks if they may enter your home. Be aware that if you do allow an officer in your home, they will be looking around the immediate area to see if there is anything that could cause them harm. As well they may be looking for evidence of any crimes or wrongdoing in their plain view. So if grandmother visited from Colorado and left her medical marijuana and pipe on a shelf or table, you or she may be taking a trip to the local jail because that is not legal in Texas.

Many law enforcement officers may be comfortable talking to you through the front screen door or on your porch or yard near the front of your home. There are less threats of harm to them when they have a better feeling of safety and control for their immediate space.

If the police believe a crime is being committed in your house, such as an incident of family violence, they may enter your residence despite your refusal of consent. At that point, it may be your word versus that of the officer and it may be a matter for a judge or jury to decide whether the officer legally entered your home. Again, you may be more comfortable with a camera recording the event, but unlike the dash camera situation, you may have to hold the camera and police might not appreciate that.

At the end of the day, remember that the police may have body cameras and how you conduct yourself can be helpful to a judge or jury regarding your character. Likewise, if you act like a jerk and scream that you know your rights, it may reflect poorly on you.

The Barrows Firm shares important information and resources about criminal and traffic matters and legal defense. If you have questions about an incident involving an arrest, citation or criminal charges, The Barrows Firm can answer all your questions and defend you and your rights.

If you would like more information about The Barrows Firm, P.C., please contact the firm by calling (817) 481-1583. The Barrows Firm is located downtown Fort Worth at 500 East Belknap Street, near the Tarrant County Courthouse and the Tarrant County Family Law Center.

You can follow The Barrows Firm on social media and find important articles and resources about Texas law and how it may affect you or your family. The Barrows Firm is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. To read client endorsements and reviews of Attorney, Leslie Barrows, please visit her Avvo.com profile.

 

Texas Supreme Court: Direct child support payments in enforcement causes 
 

In a divorce or family law action in Texas courts, involving the support of children, the trial court accepts the agreement of the parents or orders one parent to pay child support to the other parent, with whom the child usually resides. The trial court order specifies the amount of child support, the duration of payments and the required method of payment. In most cases the county in which the cause is determined, will collect child support payments through the county child support office. A standard withholding order may be entered, directing employers to withhold and send to that county child support office, the amount of child support due, which is then dispersed to the parent entitled to receive the child support. Changes in circumstances may involve direct payments of child support, outside the standard withholding arrangement through the county. In this instant cause, Preston v. Victoria, the Texas Supreme Court interpreted the law and determined that payments made outside the direct-payment order of the trial court, were sufficient to satisfy the father’s obligations, even though he did not follow the exact order of the trial court.

The Court was asked to rule on an issue of direct child support payments, and the credit of those funds toward any child support arrearage, in an enforcement action.

The issue in Preston Ochsner v. Victoria Ochsner is whether the trial court has discretion to consider direct payments either to the other parent or to a third party in deciding whether an arrearage exists, in a child support enforcement action.

When Mr. Preston Ochsner and Ms. Victoria Ochsner were divorced in 2001, Preston was ordered to pay Victoria $240 per month in two installments. Additionally, Preston was ordered to pay $563 per month, directly to the daughter’s preschool. The order indicated that after the daughter stopped attending the preschool, Preston was required to pay Victoria $400, twice a month, through a registry, the Harris County Child Support Office. The order contained language stating that failure to comply with the place and manner requirement, “may result in the party not receiving credit for making the payment.” Preston A. Ochsner v. Victoria V. Ochsner, No. 14-0638 (Tex. 2015) [i].

The reason child support payments are directed through a registry, in this case, the Harris County Child Support Office, is to prevent disputes over direct payments. In some cases, a parent might buy a child new shoes, take them on vacation or otherwise spend money on them, and then make the argument that the direct expenditures count towards the child support obligation. Where payments are made in a disorderly manner, the court may disallow the practice of making child support payments outside the county system.

Child support enforcement proceedings, the calculation of arrearages.

When a party entitled to receive child support payments does not receive what is ordered, an enforcement action can be filed, and the court will make determination to identify the amounts paid, amounts past due (in arrearage) and what the party ordered to pay must do to bring the child support obligation current.

What happened in the Ochsner cause: After the daughter stopped attending the preschool, instead of making the twice monthly $400 payment through the Harris County Child Support Office, Preston made direct payments to various private schools, for his daughter’s tuition. Meanwhile, Victoria sued Preston in a child support enforcement action, for money Preston did not pay through the registry, as ordered by the trial court. However, it was determined by the Court that Preston paid a total amount near $80,000 for the upbringing of his daughter, more than $20,000 more than would have been paid had he made payments to the registry in Harris County.

The objective of the trial court in the enforcement proceeding (note that the original child support order and an enforcement action are separate causes, the enforcement cause being new and independent of the original underlying cause) is to determine how much child support has been paid, what is past due, and what needs to happen to get the arrearage paid.   

What may the trial court consider when it comes to direct payments made outside the court order?

The Ochsner case made it to the Supreme Court of Texas because Victoria appealed the trial court’s decision that Preston did satisfy his child support requirements, even though the payments were not made through the registry as ordered. The Court of Appeals for the Fourteenth District of Texas disagreed with the trial court, holding that Preston did not satisfy his child support obligation. Reversing the appellate court, the Supreme Court of Texas held that in an enforcement action, state law allows for the calculation of direct payments in determining child support payments made and that which is outstanding.

The Supreme Court reviewed and interpreted Texas statutory law concerning child support orders and enforcement actions. The Texas Family Code directs a trial court to consider direct tuition payments made outside the registry, within its discretion. The opinion states in pertinent part: “Nothing in the statute suggests that the trial court can consider only payments made through the registry in determining the amount of child support that an obligor has paid, and thus the amount for which the obligor is in arrears.[ii]

What is the effect of this case on other child support enforcement causes in Texas courts?

Critics of the opinion fear the Ochsner decision will open the door to more cases in which child support obligors make direct payments for the benefit of a child, in making child support payments, outside the traditional manner of a withholding order and the local county child support office registry. While making tuition payments may be easily traceable and accounted in one cause, others may cause a court to make more difficult decisions in determining whether money spent is considered payment of child support. The concern is putting the discretion in the hands of child support obligors who may go to great lengths to ensure that not a dime of child support money passes through the other party’s hands.

In light of the decision in Ochsner, more Texas appellate courts and the Supreme Court of Texas may decide disputed child support enforcement causes of action to answer legal issues in cases interpreting Ochsner. In addition, the Texas legislature could adopt changes to the law to make the issue of child support enforcement more clear, when it comes to payments made outside the traditional registry and county systems.

The Barrows Firm shares important information and resources about parenting issues and concerns that affect families in the DFW Metroplex. If you have questions about child support, The Barrows Firm can answer all your questions.

If you would like more information about The Barrows Firm, P.C., please contact the firm by calling (817) 481-1583. The Barrows Firm is located downtown Fort Worth at 500 East Belknap Street, near the Tarrant County Courthouse and the Tarrant County Family Law Center.

You can follow The Barrows Firm on social media and find important articles and resources about Texas law and how it may affect you or your family. The Barrows Firm is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. To read client endorsements and reviews of Attorney, Leslie Barrows, please visit her Avvo.com profile.

 

[i] Preston A. Ochsner v. Victoria V. Ochsner, No. 14-0638 (Tex. 2015) at pages 2-3.

[ii] Ochsner at page 8.

Domestic Violence Podcast: Southlake and McKinney Shootings with Attorney Leslie Barrows 
 

The Barrows Firm Law Review is a monthly Internet radio show podcast featuring information about Texas family, criminal, juvenile, probate and estate planning law and events. Attorney Leslie Barrows is our featured guest today as she shares insight and information about domestic and family violence.

Domestic Violence: Southlake and McKinney Shootings with Attorney Leslie Barrows

  • Personal protection and safety when you realize there is a domestic violence risk
  • Safety and security during divorce and family law cases, avoiding threats of violence
  • Could a protective order help save the women in Southlake or McKinney?
  • Preventing domestic violence in the courtroom, what steps can be taken
  • Responding to domestic violence and what to do if things go horribly wrong

Leslie Barrows is the principal founder of The Barrows Firm in Fort Worth, Texas. In her firm’s main practice areas of family law, criminal defense and juvenile law, Leslie is consistently challenged with dynamic cases and clients. When winning is what matters, many in the Fort Worth area go to The Barrows Firm based on their reputation an winning track record over the past decade. Leslie Barrows earned her undergraduate degree from Sam Houston State University and she earned her law degree from the Oklahoma City University School of Law. She is a member of numerous organizations primarily focused in Tarrant County.

If you would like more information about The Barrows Firm, P.C., please contact the firm by calling (817) 481-1583. The Barrows Firm is located downtown Fort Worth at 500 East Belknap Street, near the Tarrant County Courthouse and the Tarrant County Family Law Center.

You can follow The Barrows Firm on social media and find important articles and resources about Texas law and how it may affect you or your family. The Barrows Firm is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. To read client endorsements and reviews of Attorney, Leslie Barrows, please visit her Avvo.com profile.

 

No child support payment, no vehicle registration renewal, no joke 
 

Too often, unfortunately, some parents willfully fail to make child support payments. Initially when a child support order is entered with the district court clerk a withholding order is completed and sent to the employer, so the child support money is directly debited from the paycheck of the parent paying child support. When the child support obligor loses that job, there may be a court proceeding to reduce or otherwise modify the child support order to reflect a change in income of the child support obligor. Some people decide to work for cash jobs and fail to report their income to the court when the other party insists that the other parent actually has income to pay. The effort that some go to in order to avoid paying child support can be a significant eye opener.

Motivating people to pay their child support is a challenge for Texas lawmakers.

Beginning this fall, parents who are behind on their child support payments may be surprised when in September, they learn that there may a block on their vehicle registration renewal beginning in December. The Child Support Division will send letters to the effected child support obligors. This new enforcement effort applies to individuals who are six months or more behind on child support payments. Texas law enforcement has eyes on windshields, on the lookout for expired registration stickers. The penalty for driving on expired registration may vary by county and the tickets can affect insurance premiums.

In Fort Worth, Texas, the ticket for driving on an expired registration is $100 per offense. You could receive multiple tickets, and if you don’t pay them, they go to warrant status, which adds another $50. Collection fees for tickets may also be added. If there is a warrant issued for your arrest, you could be taken to jail if you are stopped by law enforcement, or worse yet, collected and taken to jail in a regularly conducted warrant round-up.

The Texas Attorney General may already revoke the driver’s license or professional or recreational licenses of the individuals who fail to pay child support. Avoiding detection by law enforcement, however, is more difficult when your registration sticker and license plates give you away as a child support evader. Police frequently run license plate numbers and can tell in seconds if yours is expired.

Critics of the registration renewal block for unpaid child support say it makes it even harder for some to get caught up with their payments.

While too many of us focus on the “deadbeats” who simply refuse to pay, to spite their ex or worse yet, their child, there are parents working several jobs and struggling not only to keep up with their child support but also keeping the lights on at home and gas in the tank to get to work.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone who gets laid off from work due to forces beyond your control. You find out how you may have to work two or more lower paying jobs to keep up while you hunt for a new position of meeting your expectations. Despite your best efforts and scrimping and saving, you can only pay half the child support payment every month. Eventually you will be six months behind in scheduled payments and face registration non-renewal. Do you drive illegally to get to work anyways?

What can you do if you are behind on child support and worried about losing your vehicle registration?

Lawmakers respond to critics, “The goal, obviously, is not to keep people from working or getting to work, but it is to gain compliance with court orders and get support and money to children[i],” said Janice Rolfe, Child Support Division spokesperson. Rolfe also said a payment arrangement can be made and fulfilled, and there is a phone line parents can use to make payment arrangements.

If you lost your job or had a significant income change, you may have taken steps to temporarily reduce your child support obligation. If, however, you have been without sufficient income to make child support payments through your employer withholding or otherwise, there may be options available for you to reduce and reorganize your payments, by filing a motion to modify child support and appearing before the court for a modification hearing. Doing nothing and risking tickets and possible suspensions of your registration or driving privileges can make it harder to bring everything current.

The Barrows Firm shares important information and resources about parenting issues and concerns that affect families in the DFW Metroplex. If you have unpaid child support or you are not receiving child support, The Barrows Firm can answer all your questions and help get things back on track.

If you would like more information about The Barrows Firm, P.C., please contact the firm by calling (817) 481-1583. The Barrows Firm is located downtown Fort Worth at 500 East Belknap Street, near the Tarrant County Courthouse and the Tarrant County Family Law Center.

You can follow The Barrows Firm on social media and find important articles and resources about Texas law and how it may affect you or your family. The Barrows Firm is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. To read client endorsements and reviews of Attorney, Leslie Barrows, please visit her Avvo.com profile.

 

 

[i] The Texas Tribune, Texas to Tie Car Registration Renewal to Child Support, by Madlin Mekelburg, Jun. 14, 2016.

Kids at summer camp: Fostering positive growth and development 
 

From Abilene to Austin and from Tyler to Terlingua, there are summer camps for Texan children that fit the bill for just about every kid and parent’s interests and desires. There are faith-based as well as secular camps, sports-based and music camps. This list alone, published on www.MySummerCamps.com, includes 512 places where your son or daughter can make new friends, explore nature and history, and learn some independence from mom and dad while finding their role and place in their summer camp group. As wonderful as it may be to send kids off to summer camp, many parents experience anxiety. In today’s society there are more “helicopter parents” than in years past and we are often encouraged to keep aware and in control of every moment of our children’s days, from dawn to dusk. Sending them off to camp can be a healthy and positive experience for children and parents who learn to cope with periods of separation.

Focusing on the opportunities to learn and grow at camp, outside traditional environments

Children easily define their identities as functions of their surroundings. From what school they attend, to the vehicle that brings them there and back to the home in which they host sleepovers and guard their favorite toys, the “here and now” defines reality for most children.

When they go off to camp, kids get to be kids and less a function of their life at home with family and their neighborhood and school friends. Think of summer camp as the great equalizer, where all kids are the same and want to have fun and socialize with others, expressing their independence and finding their identity.

Summer camp can challenge children who realize they do not have their parents there to take up for them if there is a problem with another kid, or a moral dilemma or decision the child must handle on their own. Of course the counselors are never far away, but they have their hands full. While your son or daughter could experience some temporary emotional trauma over arguably trivial things that happen among children, most are resilient and bounce back quickly. For others, there may be an experiential learning curve, requiring a little back up and advice from their parents.

Keeping in touch with your kid at camp, without hovering, or maybe just a little hovering

Not more than 10 years ago there were very few children at summer camps with cell phones and mobile devices with which to keep in touch with parents. There may have been a camp telephone for emergencies, and many kids would have died with embarrassment if their parent was calling them. Writing letters to moms and dads about camp, is becoming a long lost tradition; it just is not the same printing a text message or email to put in a keepsake box.

The expectations of frequent communication among parents and children are facilitated by technology; where the street lights coming on used to be the signal to get home, a text from mom or dad is more than sufficient these days. As we drop kids off at camp and trust the staff and counselors there, we as parents might benefit from giving children the space they need to be on their own for a moment, without checking in with parents by text or email on the top of every hour. Many parents let their children know how and when they plan to check in, and stick with the plan, while being flexible and understanding that kids get busy at camp and might forget or not have time to text, call or email mom or dad.

When feeling sad about the separation from your child, it is tempting, when communicating with them, to be emotional to them; being away at camp can be as difficult for a child as it is for their parent. Some parents and those who coach parents and children find it selfish to focus on how much they miss their son or daughter while they are away, and otherwise chose to focus on questions about what activities the child is doing, and how it is going with the other kids at camp and new friends. Then, when they come home from camp, shower them with love and kisses.

Summer camp friends may be the first in many groups of new friends in a variety of environments

Making a new set of “camp friends” is good for children. Your son or daughter may keep in touch with friends from camp who come from all over to attend summer camp. When children appreciate the opportunity to maintain friend groups outside of the traditional set of kids in the neighborhood or at school, they can develop a greater world view. Going off to college, especially out-of-state, can be easier for children who are comfortable with a bit of separation and distance among their friend groups.

Encouraging children to keep up with their friends from camp may also open the door to diversity in thoughts and experiences. Imagine two kids meet at camp, one from the city and the other from the country. They may have little in common other than their mutual camp experiences, but they can learn from each other.

The Barrows Firm shares important information and resources about parenting issues and concerns that affect families in the DFW Metroplex. As kids go off to summer camp, parents have an opportunity to enjoy some couple time, and maybe work through some things, or just have fun with one another!

If you would like more information about The Barrows Firm, P.C., please contact the firm by calling (817) 481-1583. The Barrows Firm is located downtown Fort Worth at 500 East Belknap Street, near the Tarrant County Courthouse and the Tarrant County Family Law Center.

You can follow The Barrows Firm on social media and find important articles and resources about Texas law and how it may affect you or your family. The Barrows Firm is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. To read client endorsements and reviews of Attorney, Leslie Barrows, please visit her Avvo.com profile.

 

Texas trusts: Revocable and irrevocable treasure chests 
 

What is a living revocable trust and why do we create them? A trust is a legal contract in which money or assets are positioned for the benefit of another, the trustee. You can create a trust in which to hold title to your home, cars and accounts, specifically designating who has interests and rights to the property held in the trust. The primary reason most people create a trust is to eliminate and avoid probate court and estate taxes. Here in Texas, the probate process is more complicated than other states that use the Uniform Probate Code, so if you are new to Texas, your estate planning decisions may be different than they would be in another state. In addition to probate and estate taxes, there are reasons to create your living trust as an irrevocable trust, to protect your assets and property in the trust from the reach of predators and creditors.

What is the difference between a revocable and irrevocable trust?

Simply, a revocable trust can be changed or destroyed by the settlor (person who creates the trust), and an irrevocable trust cannot. When you create a revocable trust, you can freely change the beneficiaries and move property, assets and money in and out of the trust as you wish. On the other hand, when you create an irrevocable trust, you no longer have legal title of ownership to the property in the irrevocable trust, you simply have a legal interest in the ownership and the trustee, a third party you chose, has a fiduciary legal duty to protect the assets of the trust and follow the orders of the written trust agreement.

Think of a trust as a big treasure chest, in which you can place stacks of money, cars, houses and whatever else you want to protect. A living revocable trust is like a treasure chest with an open lid, and you can put things in and take things out as you wish. The irrevocable trust is the same treasure chest, except the lid is closed and you cannot reopen the chest to move things in or out at your discretion. Only the trustee has the key and can open the trust and pull out some money for you if they see fit and it is within their fiduciary duty as trustee.

Attempting to create trusts on your own, without a lawyer may be like doing your own dental work.

There are so many vendors selling do-it-yourself kits for legal matters. When it comes to estate planning, the laws are written to make sure things are done correctly so people are not otherwise denied their rights or wishes. Creating a revocable trust versus an irrevocable trust, that will be valid and enforceable is a matter of intent and specific language.

While express terms of art (magic legal words) are not required to create an irrevocable trust, the trust must show the settlor/grantor’s intent to make the trust irrevocable.[i] The irrevocable trust, however, must be shown by terms and language in the trust document, and cannot be implied or inferred.[ii]

Whether it is better to create a revocable or irrevocable trust depends on your situation.

Asking whether one form of a trust is better than the other is like asking whether it is better to fly or drive between Dallas and Austin. How close are you to the airport? Will you have to park and leave your vehicle? Is someone else paying for your travel? All these factors influence your decision making, and the same applies to the creation of a trust.

Too often people make the mistake of assuming that they are not wealthy enough to need a trust and that trusts are only for the sons and daughters of oil barons. This is not true. A trust can protect you and your family from all sorts of unexpected life events, especially an irrevocable trust. Consider the value of a life insurance policy and how the proceeds of that policy could change things for your surviving family members, and how a trust could protect them and the money.

There is never a bad time to consider trusts and estate planning, especially if you have assets and a family, however large or small. Get the information and make an informed decision about the future.

The Barrows Firm shares important information and resources about Texas estate planning issues that affect families in the DFW Metroplex. When getting it right the first time is not an option, people go to The Barrows Firm for the right information and resources they need to protect themselves and their families.

If you would like more information about The Barrows Firm, P.C., please contact the firm by calling (817) 481-1583. The Barrows Firm is located downtown Fort Worth at 500 East Belknap Street, near the Tarrant County Courthouse and the Tarrant County Family Law Center.

You can follow The Barrows Firm on social media and find important articles and resources about Texas law and how it may affect you or your family. The Barrows Firm is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. To read client endorsements and reviews of Attorney, Leslie Barrows, please visit her Avvo.com profile.

 

 

[i] Austin Lake Estates Recreation Club, Inc. v. Gilliam, 493 S.W.2d 343 (Tex. Civ. App. – Austin 1973).

[ii] Wils v. Robinson, 934 S.W.2d 717 (Tex. 1997).

Privacy Invasion: Liability for accessing a spouse’s phone without consent 
 

Under Texas law, reaffirmed in a recent case, your cell phone, when it is a smart phone, is considered a computer. Smart phones and devices that save information can help and hurt us when we access and use information, particularly information owned by other people, including spouses. Nowadays it starts in early dating, the temptation to “go through” someone’s phone to see who they are texting, who they receive calls from and what apps they frequently use. Just because it’s a quick peak while the other is in the shower does not mean it is less of an invasion of privacy. In the eyes of developing laws addressing technology and security, you might as well break into another’s office and sort through their computer, desk, mail and filing cabinets. A spouse, whether in a divorce case or in a private cause of action, can sue you and win if you violate their privacy by accessing their private information.

Going through another’s phone to grab screenshots can be a risky proposition.

In many privacy invasion cases, spouses or others possibly assisting another are looking for evidence of wrongdoing or bad activity. Emails, text messages, social media messages and recorded voicemails are sources of information that may help a spouse prove their case and allegations made against the other. The bad activity may be cheating, hiding money, drug use, porn or gambling issues. While finding the evidence you need may help you prove elements of your divorce case and net you a greater share of community property, for example, but the cost may be a criminal conviction for violating the laws designed to protect us from other people violating our privacy by accessing our smart phones (computers) without our permission.

A Dallas husband monitored his wife without her knowledge and it came back to bite him.

In the Dallas case, Bradley Miller v. Talley Dunn Gallery, LLC and Talley Dunn[i], the husband tracked his wife like a hawk, using a tracking device in her car, recorded her phone calls, snooped through her phone while she was asleep and grabbed screenshots along the way. The husband started posting some of the information and sharing it with other people, in an effort to prove his assertions about her and make her look bad to her friends and coworkers.

The wife did more than get mad, she got even and sued then ex-husband for intercepting her private information, invading her privacy and she successfully obtained a restraining order stopping the husband from making any further posts and sharing any more of the personal information he took from her phone. After the wife won on her privacy cases in the Dallas County 191st District Court, the Dallas Court of Appeals upheld the trial court after the ex-husband appealed.

“This ruling reaffirms our understanding of one point of law. It is well-established that any person, including a spouse, commits a crime if he or she knowingly or intentionally intercepts wire, oral or electronic communications to which he or she is not a party without the permission of one of the parties to the communication.[ii]– Texas Lawyer

The Interception of Communications Act

A person may sue another for violations of the Interceptions of Communications Act (ICA) when the person, “(1) intercepts, attempts to intercept, or employs or obtains another to intercept attempt to intercept the communication; or (2) uses or divulges information that he knows or reasonably should know was obtained by interception of the communication.[iii]” The law further states that intercepting a communication occurs when “the aural acquisition of the contents of a communication through the use of an electronic, mechanical or other device is made without the consent of the party to the communication.[iv]

The Harmful Access by Computer Act (HACA)

A person injured, or whose property is injured (and/or improperly used) may sue another for violations of the Harmful Access by Computer Act, “if the conduct constituting the violation was committed knowingly and intentionally,” and the suit is brought “before the earlier of the fifth anniversary of the date of the last act in the course of the conduct constituting a violation…or the second anniversary of the date the claimant first discovered or had reasonable opportunity to discover the violation.[v]

If you “access” your spouse/another person’s smart phone “computer” without their “effective consent” you may be liable for actual damages and attorney’s fees and costs to bring and win the cause. Note that the argument that the phone is community property fails when used to challenge whether one spouse has consent to access the other’s phone, under the HACA.

For more information please contact The Barrows Firm.

If you would like more information about The Barrows Firm, P.C., please contact the firm by calling (817) 481-1583. The Barrows Firm is located at 700 East Southlake Boulevard in Southlake near the Town Square.

You can follow The Barrows Firm on social media and find important articles and resources about Texas law and how it may affect you or your family. The Barrows Firm is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. To read client endorsements and reviews of Attorney, Leslie Barrows, please visit her Avvo.com profile.

 

[i] Bradley Miller v. Talley Dunn Gallery, LLC and Talley Dunn, No. 05-15-00444-CV (On Appeal from the 191st Judicial District Court in Dallas County, Texas, Trial Court Cause No. DC-15-01598)

[ii] Texas Lawyer, Electronic ‘Smoking Gun’ Evidence in Family Law Cases Has Potential to Backfire, By Jessica W. Thorne and B. Wyn Williams, May 17, 2015.

[iii] TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. § 123.002(a)(1)–(2)

[iv] See HNiii above at § 123.001(2)

[v] TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. § 143.001(a),(b)

Image Source: FlexiSpy, Many Spouses Cheat. They All Use Cell Phones http://bit.ly/1TJz9ku

CPS in crisis? Should the state pay to increase professionalism? 
 

Trusting in the system is not enough, when more could be done to improve the system and save lives. Texas Department of Family & Protective Services (DFPS) is often criticized for failing to meet the expectations of Texans, particularly in the Child Protective Services (CPS) department. The CPS system failed a 4 year old from Grand Prairie. “A chain of errors, incompetence and systemic problems at Child Protective Services prevented the agency from protecting Leiliana from savage abuse with which her mother and her boyfriend are charged, agency documents obtained by The Dallas Morning News reveal.[i]” Thought leaders suggest there are options agencies can take to improve CPS. Staffing, training and increased standards for professionalism can all be improved by methods and money. Those who advance and support increased funding for CPS suggest that Texas has the funds. Meanwhile, there are system supervisory models that may also be effective in increasing skills and professionalism, in effort to better protect and save the lives.

Perception of CPS in crisis

News reports of a child death are significant and compelling. Many ask why the system failed. Too often state departments and agencies are criticized for system failures and respond by making staff changes and policy directives to make improvements; the effectiveness of which may be subject to debate.

Child welfare agencies like CPS should have well-trained staff who within the system, maintain a balance between the interests of parents and the state. A professional staff with discretion and more localized work with families are best able to serve the children and people of the state. Staffing challenges include keeping a well-trained and experienced team of child welfare professionals.

High turnover in CPS is a problem. The average CPS caseworker starts at about $33,000 per year and many of those caseworkers, younger in their careers, only remain in their positions an average of six months. Will Francis, government relations director for the National Association of Social Workers Texas suggests, “We don’t necessarily value the workers themselves, but we ask them to do these really, really hard jobs[ii].”

Critical need for professionalism in child welfare

A recent case study of a supervisory model, considering increased professionalism in child welfare, calls for attention to the current systems and calls the situation a crisis, “The continuing need for a professional, well-trained, and stable workforce constitutes a crisis in child welfare. Central to this crisis is the under-representation of social work knowledge and skills in both direct practice and supervision.[iii]

Increase in professionalism costs money

To answer the charge of valuing the workers, paying them for their experience and increasing their education and training are steps critics of the current system believe the state should take. More educational programs in colleges and universities focusing on child welfare work could produce better-trained staff, and with the cost of increased education, staff should be valued and compensated accordingly. If the state increased salaries by an extra $15,000 per year, at a cost to $400 million per year, CPS could recruit more qualified caseworkers and keep them longer.[iv]

Finding the money in the Texas budget

The Texas Department of Public Safety approved an increase in safety personnel along the Texas border in 2015, which cost the state $800 million over two years, “or almost exactly what Francis thinks would be necessary to professionalize the front line of CPS.[v]

In addition to, or in the alternative to salary and qualification increases, CPS may also consider new social work education and training programs to, “professionalize child welfare and strengthen the ability of child welfare staff to utilize state of the art knowledge and skills in supervision and direct practice.[vi]

The Barrows Firm follows and shares child welfare news and resources to educate and increase awareness of the issues affecting children and families in North Texas.

As opportunities to learn more about child welfare issues and solutions are discussed, The Barrows Firm writes and shares the information we all need to be better aware of the challenges facing children and families who are involved and affected by child welfare issues and the systems. For more information about CPS, please contact The Barrows Firm.

If you would like more information about The Barrows Firm, P.C., please contact the firm by calling (817) 481-1583. The Barrows Firm is located downtown Fort Worth at 500 East Belknap Street, near the Tarrant County Courthouse and the Tarrant County Family Law Center.

You can follow The Barrows Firm on social media and find important articles and resources about Texas law and how it may affect you or your family. The Barrows Firm is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. To read client endorsements and reviews of Attorney, Leslie Barrows, please visit her Avvo.com profile.

[i] The Dallas Morning News, Trail Blazers Blog, When 4-year-old Leiliana Wright needed Dallas CPS most, it failed at every turn, By J. David McSwane, Apr. 9, 2016.

[ii] Dallasobserver.com, Austin Can Find the Money to Fix Child Protective Services, If It Wants To, By Eric Nicholson, May 9, 2016.

[iii] Researchgate.net, Professionalizing child welfare: An evaluation of a clinical consultation model for supervisors, By Virginia C. Strand, Lee Badger, Jan. 6, 2005, see page 15/16.

[iv] See HNii above.

[v] See HNii above.

[vi] See HNiii above.

Summer time possession schedules with Fort Worth Attorney Leslie Barrows 
 

The Barrows Firm Law Review is a monthly Internet radio show podcast featuring information about Texas family, criminal, juvenile, probate and estate planning law and events. Attorney Leslie Barrows is our featured guest today as she shares insight and information about summer time possession schedules.

Summer time possession schedules with Fort Worth Attorney Leslie Barrows

  • What is summer time possession schedule and how is it addressed in the Texas Family Code?
  • When is it a good time to work on getting a summer time possession schedule in place?
  • Can I use the summer time possession schedule from last year, or can we modify it?
  • How can I enforce the summer time possession schedule if the other parent ignores it?
  • What do I say to my child asking questions about the summer and I do not know what to say?

Leslie Barrows is the principal founder of The Barrows Firm in Fort Worth, Texas. In her firm’s main practice areas of family law, criminal defense and juvenile law, Leslie is consistently challenged with dynamic cases and clients. When winning is what matters, many in the Fort Worth area go to The Barrows Firm based on their reputation an winning track record over the past decade. Leslie Barrows earned her undergraduate degree from Sam Houston State University and she earned her law degree from the Oklahoma City University School of Law. She is a member of numerous organizations primarily focused in Tarrant County.

If you would like more information about The Barrows Firm, P.C., please contact the firm by calling (817) 481-1583. The Barrows Firm is located downtown Fort Worth at 500 East Belknap Street, near the Tarrant County Courthouse and the Tarrant County Family Law Center.

You can follow The Barrows Firm on social media and find important articles and resources about Texas law and how it may affect you or your family. The Barrows Firm is on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. To read client endorsements and reviews of Attorney, Leslie Barrows, please visit her Avvo.com profile.