Reversing the previous decision of a lower court, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that under the Texas Occupations Code, licensed family and marriage therapists can diagnose the mental, behavioral, and emotional problems of their clients, provided their assessment falls under their expertise. Among other things, the decision allows family and marriage therapists to provide diagnostic assessments to couples going through a divorce, or spouses with troubled marriages.

Justice Jeffrey S. Boyd delivered the High Court’s decision on February 24, reversing an earlier ruling by the Third District Appeals Court done in favor of the Texas Medical Association.

The decision originates from a 1994 rule passed by the Texas State Board of Examiners of Marriage and Family Therapists, which permitted marriage and family therapists (MFTs) to offer “diagnostic assessment which utilizes the knowledge organized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)…as part of their therapeutic role to help individuals identify their emotional, mental, and behavioral problems when necessary.”

Curated and published by the American Psychiatric Association, the DSM is the universal reference system for diagnosing mental health disorders in the U.S. and in many countries around the world. According to the Therapists Board, the ability to conduct diagnostic analyses through the DSM is at the heart of an MFT’s practice and services.

For example, diagnostic assessments play a crucial role in an MFT’s ability to:

Diagnose a client’s mental health problems
Develop a plan of treatment
Determine suitable treatment services
Provide recommendations to treatments with other health professionals

In 2008, the Medical Association disagreed with the rule and sued the Therapists Board and its directors. In its push for a court to invalidate the rule, the Association argued that allowing MFTs to conduct diagnostic assessments also allowed them to practice medicine without a medical license.

But the Board argued the rule specifically prohibits MFTs to provide medical diagnoses, or any other kind of diagnoses, outside their expertise. Rather, it permits MFTs to diagnose a number of nonmedical mental disorders related to psychological issues and experiences, such as, but not limited to:

Mood disorders
Behavioral disorders
Personality disorders

The Travis County District Court ruled in favor of the Medical Association, invalidating the diagnostic-assessment rule on the grounds of exceeding the scope of the Therapists Act.

The Texas Supreme Court, however, saw otherwise. Justice Boyd considered the arguments raised by the Therapists Board, particularly the claim that the appeals court decision “makes Texas the only state to prohibit Licensed MFTs from performing an integral part of their profession that is essential to their ability to properly treat their clients.”

Boyd also refuted the Medical Association’s claim that the rule allowed MFTs to diagnose all kinds of mental disorders with no limits.
“(T)he rule itself specifically states that MFTs may only make diagnostic assessments ‘as part of their therapeutic role to help individuals identify their emotional, mental, and behavioral problems when necessary.’ Another Therapists Board rule explicitly limits an MFT to services ‘within his or her professional competency,’” the ruling reads.
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As a business owner, you’re probably used to tracking a wide range of risk factors, whether it’s your competitors, technology, supply and inventory costs, marketing, and churn among others. However, have you stopped to consider the damage a divorce can do to your business?

If you’re managing a family-owned business together with your spouse, a separation can be put the fate of your company in jeopardy. And for couples that have their entire net worth tied to their business, a divorce can easily be the ruin of their financial health, leaving them with insufficient cash to buy each other out.

Depending on the circumstances of your divorce, you may have to keep the business up and running and split profits, which may not be an option for ex-spouses who have parted on bad terms. Another option is to shut down the business entirely and split the assets, or sell the business and split the selling the price.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, not when you have a number of options for protecting your business.

Get a Prenuptial if You Can

Although it has a pejorative aspect, a prenuptial agreement before your marriage can help save your business by specifying what happens to the company should your marriage end in a divorce. When done right, prenups can be airtight, protecting your company from property-division laws, even in community property states like Texas.

An ironclad prenup should have the following characteristics:

The agreement comes in a written document
It’s executed voluntarily before witnesses
It has full disclosure from both spouses (i.e. cannot be unconscionable)

Use a Trust to Protect Succeeding Generations

It takes foresight, but one of the best ways to protect your family’s wealth in the long term is by using a trust, which will protect the next generation of your family should any of them go through a divorce.

For example, if a father gives his son shares in the family business worth $2 million, this amount can be placed in a trust accessible to him and only him. Should he marry and remarry in the future, his spouse cannot touch this money, even during a property division battle.

Stay Together for the Business

One of the simplest solutions to managing a business during a divorce is to remain as co-owners, even after dissolving the marriage. This, however, is easier said than done, as many divorcing couples are locked in emotional battles and cannot stand the sight of each other, much less run a business together. Still, this option is worth considering if you and your ex-spouse parted on amicable terms and can agree to “stay together” for the company.

You’ll often hear many businesspeople say that business is business, even when family is involved. But when it comes to divorce, the lines between family and business can get blurry.
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Many people entering a divorce often don’t have a full understanding of just how expensive the process of separating from their spouse can be. Even if you’re divorcing under amicable circumstances, if you’re careless and don’t take care of your finances, your soon-to-be ex-spouse could make a serious impact on your long-term financial health.

If you’re going through a divorce, it’s understandable that you wouldn’t want to deal with complicated financial matters in the middle of an emotionally draining time of your life. However, you cannot afford to detach yourself from these issues and have someone else decide the future of your finances. If you want to retire with your savings and pension intact, follow these strategies.

Gather As Much Documentation As You Can

Being prepared with sufficient documentation is half the battle in property division. The side with the most paperwork and records at their disposal is often the one that walks away having protected their interests. At the very least, you should have three to four years’ worth of financial statements, whether from individual or joint accounts.

If your soon-to-be ex were to make a large purchase using your joint account before the divorce is final, any documentation you have will allow your lawyer to include the purchase in the property division process.

Know the Ins and Outs of a QDRO

A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is a document that splits and changes the ownership of qualified retirement plans like pensions and 401(k)s. The approval of a QDRO is notoriously complex, and if an administrator like Vanguard or Fidelity Investments handles your investment plan, tiny mistakes (such as using “and” instead of “but” and vice versa) in processing a QDRO can lead to exorbitant fees, not to mention having to start the process all over again.

Get an Experienced Divorce Lawyer

Even if you’re separating from your partner under the best of circumstances, it’s still a good idea to have a skilled divorce lawyer by your side to help you protect your finances. A lawyer can help prevent you from making the most common financial mistakes divorcing couples make, which will be a godsend in cases where the divorce is tumultuous, or where your ex is making unreasonable demands in terms of alimony or asset division.

Get a Financial Planner

While your divorce lawyer can certainly help protect your finances, financial planners live and breathe numbers. They understand taxes, interest rates, fees, and actuarial calculations in ways most divorce lawyers don’t. Having a financial planner working with your attorney can expedite the process of dividing assets and ensure you’re on top of your future tax and credit obligations. Lastly, a financial planner will protect your credit score during and after the divorce, preventing your former spouse’s financial decisions from affecting your ability to take on loans in the future..
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Many divorce lawyers refer to it as a ‘hidden’ fee that adds insult to injury. As 401(k) plan participants amass wealth in defined-contribution plans, more and more baby boomers filing for divorce are learning of a little-understood abbreviation that causes frustration in what is already an exasperating divorce process.

The QDRO fee is for processing a qualified domestic relations order, which transfers assets in a defined-contribution account. During a divorce or legal separation, a QDRO splits and changes a retirement plan’s ownership to give one spouse a share of the pension or asset plan.

Here are 3 things you should know about QDROs and the fees that come with them.

A QDRO Fee Can Be Expensive

If you’re lucky, your employer might have opted to make the QDRO fee part of the plan’s costs, which are divided among account members.

However, if a third-party administrator like Vanguard or Fidelity Investments handles the 401(k) plan’s records and administrative details, a plan participant can be charged a QDRO fee as high as $1,200 and beyond. And that doesn’t include the cost of paying the lawyer to prepare any paperwork for the process, not to mention the cost of filing for the divorce itself.

As consumer rights attorney Carl Engstrom of Nichols Kaster notes, record keepers typically “enhance profit margins, while remaining competitive on record-keeping charges” by charging “bloated transaction fees to participants.”

And it’s a problem that’s becoming increasingly common in recent 401(k) litigation cases.

The QDRO Process Requires the Guidance of a Skilled Attorney

While class-action lawyers can quickly spot a potential case involving exorbitant transaction fees, divorce lawyers often have a harder time going through the dense and rigid 401(k) language used by financial services companies like Fidelity. In short, many lawyers specializing in divorce are ill-equipped to understand the ins and outs of QDROs and tax-advantaged retirement benefits.

And when an administrator receives a QDRO with the wrong language, it’s sent right back to the lawyers, which means their clients have to pay for it once more. And when clients are hit with a thousand dollar fee out of nowhere that the divorce lawyer didn’t see coming, it naturally makes the lawyer look bad.

It’s a Lucrative Business for Third-Party Administrators

According to Bill Burns, a QDRO and pension valuation expert with Lexington Pension Consultants, it’s the large third-party administrators that charge excessive fees for QDROs.

Burns adds that while many other investment plan fees and expenses have declined significantly over the years after multiple consumer complaints and lawsuits, QDRO fees at at certain places haven’t changed for more than 15 years. In fact, they seem to be on an uptick.
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Divorce proceedings rarely go without a hitch. Besides the obvious toll it can take on your emotions, you also have to deal with the impact a separation can have on your assets and finances. The house, the car, the appliances, the couch—these are just some of the many things divorcing couples have to go over during property division.

But what about pets? While many Americans treat their dogs, cats, and other domestic animals as de facto members of the family, the law sees them as property. Any colorful “pet custody” battles you hear about on the media are simply part of property division proceedings.

However, that could all change, at least in Alaska, where divorce statutes now require the court to consider “the well-being of the animal,” explicitly empowering judges to assign joint custody of pets.

According to Kathy Hessler, director of the Animal Law Clinic at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, animals’ place in society and families have evolved, so much so that many courts around the country struggle with the idea of pets simply being property. More and more divorcing couples are also asking courts to decide on custody, visitation, and even pet support—statutes normally associated with child custody battles.

“The relationship with the animal is what is important in the family law context, so the property law analysis tends to be a poor fit for resolving disputes, and in fact, many of the property settlement agreements are continuously disputed, making more work for the courts,” Hessler said.

For some people, pets should stay with the kids, while others believe animals should belong with the person that purchased them or served as their primary caretaker, which can be complicated if both spouses shared the cost of buying the pet.

The amendment comes after receiving bipartisan support in Alaska, largely thanks to its co-sponsors, Republican Liz Vazquez, and the late Democrat Max Gruenberg. Vazquez, who failed to get reelected in November, insisted that pets are family members, with Alaskans loving them as much as they love their family and friends. The late Gruenberg, on the other hand, was motivated to act on the matter after handling a divorce involving an entire sled dog team in Juneau.

The Alaska amendment sets an interesting precedent that other states could refer to when trying to pass similar legislation. The bill allows courts to include pets in protective orders against domestic violence, and requires owners to cover the cost of shelter for pets seized after neglect or cruelty.

Hessler hopes that the amendment helps to ignite a trend that the rest of the country will follow. “It makes more sense to address these issues at the legislative level to allow for public input and create rules that can be applied evenly to all citizens,” she said.

In Texas, decisions about the fate of domestic animals after a divorce ultimately fall to protocols around property division. With emotions running high, an animal companion can be especially helpful for managing your feelings.
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Divorces are intrinsically very tricky situations. At a time where most, if not all people, rely heavily on electronic data and communications, this added dimension throws in some extra challenges for couples facing divorce, as well as the legal system that adjudicates it. When relationships are made and broken through texts, emails, and social media posts, it’s important to be informed on the many ways you can secure your electronic data.

Secure Your Social Media Activity

Social media only makes it too easy for your soon-to-be-ex-spouse to find information to take against you. Unsightly photos, outspoken status updates, and suspicious online relations – all of these can be found in your online profiles. It takes no effort to document these things before you even have the chance to delete them, but you could never run out of damage reduction and preventative measures.

For Facebook, you can run through your list of friends and weed out those who don’t have your full confidence. You have the option of changing the privacy settings of all your existing and future posts, as well.

For Twitter and Instagram, you may likewise screen your followers list, and set your profile to private. While these are all fantastic ways to keep your privacy online, it’s still best that you exercise prudence and self-control in all your future online activity.

Secure Your Online Accounts

Many couples trust each other enough to share passwords to their email addresses and social media accounts. Whether or not your once-marriage falls under this category, your passwords are nonetheless at risk as there are other means of acquiring them. You may want to change all your passwords, refrain from using the same password across multiple accounts, and reset your password retrieval questions.

Review Your Shared Applications

Man mobile applications like gallery apps, cloud storage accounts, online messengers, and calendars offer syncing services that automatically downloads content into other linked devices. This means that if you and your ex-spouse have any such shared apps, you might want to block their access.

Start Over

If you’ve tried the previous solutions, yet still don’t feel like you’ve got it all covered, you can always start with a clean slate. Do your best to deactivate and delete the accounts that you can (some services don’t allow account deletion though), and make sure you remember to inform your colleagues, clients, and superiors of these changes.

Moreover, you may also want to publicly denounce any future activity from your discontinued accounts. If you suspect that your ex-spouse has access to an email account hosted by your employer, you should contact your IT department for consultation.

Prior to permanently removing or deleting anything, make sure that you comply with all applicable Standing Orders for the particular country your case is pending in. Many counties have what is called a “Standing Order” that attaches when a new divorce case is filed. A standing order are enforceable rules that apply automatically in all cases involving Divorce, Child Custody or Child Support, without the need for hearing, as soon as the case is filed. They are in a sense, automatic injunctions that apply upon filing with the Court.

Get Legal Counsel

There are many illegal ways to acquire electronic information. If you suspect your ex-spouse of engaging in these activities or if you just want to be made aware of any such activities, approach your attorney in consultation. Not only will you be protecting yourself, but by keeping your attorney informed, you may also potentially render evidence against you inadmissible.
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It’s not exactly a secret that Texas Republicans have taken a hard line stance on issues such as bathroom laws, abortion, and Planned Parenthood among many others. Now, the Texas GOP seems to be turning its sights on another social issue —divorce.

Texas State Representative Matt Krause of Fort Worth has filed a state bill aimed at making the divorce process harder for Texas couples, while also helping keep families together. The bill, if passed into law, would eliminate the ‘no-fault’ divorce option, also known as the leading category under which ex-spouses file for divorce in the entire state of Texas.

The emotional and financial strain brought about by a divorce naturally means that it’s a decision couples should never take lightly. However, filing for divorce under the no-fault option allows spouses in Texas and several other states to separate from their partners without the drawn-out process often associated with divorce proceedings. This option allows couples to simply divide their assets and go about their separate ways

But according to Krause, who is married and has a family of six, the prevalence of no-fault divorces has contributed to the breakdown of the family as a unit of society.

“I think people have seen the negative effects of divorce and the breakdown of the family for a long time,” he said. “I think this could go some way in reversing that trend.”

“I think we’ve done a terrible job, sometimes in our own lives and own quarters, of making sure we do what we can to strengthen the family. I think this goes a long way in doing that. I think people have seen the negative effects of divorce and the breakdown of the family for a long time. I think this could go some way in reversing that trend,” Krause adds.

By ending no-fault divorces, Krause believes that couples would think twice about separating. It would also help to protect spouses who do not want to end the marriage.

The bill is up for the consideration of Texas lawmakers in January, often called by divorce lawyers as “divorce month” due to an uptick of divorce inquiries and filings after the holidays.

Krause has also filed another bill that would extend the waiting period for divorces from 60 to 180 days. But critics point out that this will only make the divorce process more expensive and discourage spouses in abusive relationships to split from their partners.
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It’s no secret that a divorce can be particularly damaging on either spouse’s finances. Unfortunately, many divorcing couples often go through the experience without so much as a safety or a basic understanding of the repercussions of a divorce on their finances.

While the U.S. divorce rate has been in steady decline over the last 20 years, it’s still estimated that more between 40% to 50% of all marriages in the country end in divorce. But among baby boomers, divorces have actually been on the rise, earning the nickname “gray divorces.” For these former couples, the cost of a divorce can be especially high as they no longer have time to recover from the financial damage they incur.

In any case, the consequences of a divorce can be significant for anyone going through it. To keep your finances in good health, be sure to consider the following factors.

Get Professional Help

A divorce can take a huge toll on your emotions. One moment you’re emotionally charged with fear or anger, the next you’re feeling sad and lonely. This rollercoaster of emotions is a perfect recipe for making bad decisions. The best way to minimize the likelihood of making costly mistakes is by getting professional advice from a divorce lawyer and financial advisor. This is especially important for women, who still tend to be more negatively impacted by divorce than men, suffering serious setbacks to their standard of living.

Get Insurance for Support Payments

For divorces that involve children, one partner is usually tasked to pay child support and/or spousal support for the other. The parent taking greater responsibility for raising the children is usually the recipient of such support.

But the challenge with making these payments over a long-term period will always be liquidity. Chances are high that the paying ex-spouse could soon find himself unable to pay for support, which in turn means that their former partner will have to shoulder the financial burden of paying the bills.

This is where financial advisors can come in by running estimates on marital assets and taking into account factors like liquidity, taxes, and risk to help a divorce lawyer reach a realistic settlement.

Consider Tax Implications

Taxes are an often overlooked factor in many divorce cases, with many ex-spouses focusing only on dividing assets. For instance, assets of $1 million in a 401 (k) are worth much less than the same amount of money in a taxable account. This is because a 401 (k) will ultimately be subject to marginal income-tax rates when used in retirement. In contrast, the latter will be taxed at a lower capital gains tax rate.
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Two U.S. Department of Defense appropriations bills filed before Congress and the Senate could very well change the rules and regulations that govern the division of the pensions of military personnel after a divorce.

If enacted into law, the bills would revoke the power that states traditionally have to partition military pensions. Moreover, it could reduce the share of the pension benefits that former spouses are entitled to receive after separation.

Division of Military Pensions Under Current Law

The situation could look like this: Assume that John, a sergeant major (E-9) in the army, retires after 30 years of service. He had divorced his wife, Jane, 10 years ago, after 20 years of marriage.

This means that they were married for the 20 years that John served in the military. At present, the law states that Jane would receive half, or 50 percent, of the two-thirds (20 out of 30 years) of John’s military pension.

It sounds simple enough, right?

Division of Military Pensions Under the Proposed Laws

But the proposed laws stipulate that, under the same circumstances, Jane would only receive half of John’s military pension as a sergeant first class (E-7)—his rank throughout the 20 years in which they were married.

It might not seem like much, but the loss to Jane, as well as the bonus to John, can be significant when calculated. And things could look even bleaker for Jane, as there is no cost of living adjustment that allows Jane’s share of the retirement fund to rise with time. All adjustments of this nature would only benefit John.

Moreover, the bills would restrict any exemptions that allow divorcing couples to settle their cases in another manner, despite the fact that more than 90 percent of divorce cases are resolved in a settlement. This kind of “fixed benefit” division has been criticized by both the American Bar Association and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers as a form of interference on the court system, as well as lawyers, military personnel, former spouses, and retirees.
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Through the trial and tribulations of a separation, many matters come into play when figuring out how to split assets. Some aspects however might fall through the cracks because of the complicated steps that are required to divide them. Sometimes it is because of future plans that are not thought of during the separation.

These matters such as retirement plans, stock options, restricted stock, and deferred compensation could be considered among those complicated matters. If any of the above were acquired during the term of marriage they could be considered marital property and therefore could be and should be divided or considered when reaching settlement. Before trying to figure out if these matters fall under marital property there are important things to ask.

What kind of split would makes sense? Although 50/50 might initially seem like the right way to go, you might want to consider which party had a stronger employment history throughout the marriage. The spouse with the strongest work history would essentially be able to rebuild his/her savings much faster. Therefore in some situations 50/50 does not make the most sense.

Another question to ask would be: What are the tax implications of those various scenarios? Before agreeing to a division of assets, you need to look over what will be the implications and how they will affect both current and future tax terms.

Also, Do you need a QDRO? A QDRO is a qualified domestic relations order which is a judicial order in the United States, entered as part of a property of division in a divorce or legal separation. This splits the retirement plan or pension and how the benefits should be paid out. This a complex document that should be drawn up by someone who is experienced. Timing is critical.

Other steps that one might consider taking during a separation to prepare for “sudden catastrophes” are to consider taking out a life insurance on your spouse. Should something happen to your spouse that would result in death, the QDRO is in jeopardy if it has not been imposed. Also consider what would happen if you were to die. You would need to prepare for the circumstances so that children involved would protected. Could your spouse be trusted? Who will you appoint? What will you leave for them?

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