Author Archives: mosslaw

What Happens When You File for Bankruptcy?

I get this question often, and it’s a good one. First, there are several ways a person can file for bankruptcy. Chapter 7 bankruptcy  is called liquidation bankruptcy because the bankruptcy trustee may take and sell (“liquidate”) some of your property to pay back some of your debt. However, you can keep property that is protected (or “exempt”) under state  or federal law. In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you keep all of your property  but must make monthly payments over three to five years to repay all or some of your debt. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy is also known as a consumer reorganization.

Under either chapter, a consumer who files for bankruptcy protection obtains the benefit of the automatic stay as soon as the bankruptcy petition is filed. The automatic stay prohibits most creditors from continuing with collection activities, which can provide welcome relief to debtors as well the opportunity to regroup during bankruptcy. This means no more calls from creditors, and any efforts to foreclose on your home or repossess any of your property must cease until the creditor receives permission from the bankruptcy court to do so. Most individuals facing financial crisis need some time to take stock of their financial condition and map out a path to solvency. The automatic stay is an important feature in stopping intrusive creditor calls and collection attempts while the consumers figure out their next steps.

Filing for bankruptcy is a serious undertaking that can have a lasting impact on your financial future. Hiring a knowledgeable bankruptcy attorney will give you peace of mind and information about how to move forward into financial freedom. For more information about the bankruptcy process, give us a call at 713-574-8626. We can discuss your finances and help you get control of your life.

 

 

Culture Wars: The Quasi Legal Status of Marijuana

About a year ago I attended an annual conference of Texas prosecutors in South Padre Island, Texas. At this conference, a legal expert from Colorado discussed the issues his state was facing in effectively enforcing the law that made cannabis legal and rained down tourism money from legal sales. Netflix recently released a CNN series called High Profits which highlighted a couple named Brian Rogers and Caitlin McGuire who owned a dispensary in Colorado on the eve of retail sale legalization. Not only is it a fascinating show, but it clearly illustrates how even after a majority of the populace votes one way (to legalize the sale of retail cannabis in Breckenridge, CO), there was immediate backlash for the people on the brink of making their illegal business legal. For more information on how this saga played out in Colorado, check out this article.

In Texas, however, the change has been a bit more incremental. June 2015 was historic because Governor Gregg Abbott signed the Compassionate Use Program into law, making it legal for doctors to prescribe a specific type of hemp oil to ailing patients suffering from chronic pain. Advocacy groups want the Lone Star State to catch up to public sentiment. A 2015 poll conducted by The University of Texas  and Texas Tribune in 2015 showed 68% of Texans support reduced penalties for low-level marijuana possession.

Some local municipalities have reduced penalties for personal possession of marijuana to make it a Class C misdemeanor (essentially a ticket). So what does this mean? Is marijuana legal in Texas? Absolutely not. It can still land you in jail and cost money to defend against criminal allegations. However, the tide is slowly turning in the direction of legalization, and it is simply a matter of time before Texas joins the dozens of other states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana use. The law reflects the mores and standards of the people, and a growing majority of people in this state (and nationwide) simply believe it is not good use of tax dollars to prosecute marijuana users who are not in the drug business.

I’ll be keeping my eye on this issue because it has caused many people a great deal of grief because of the disproportionate amount of prosecutions of people of color for drug use and possession. Things are changing, but the law in Texas has not yet caught up to the times, so if you’ve had a marijuana possession case dismissed or no-billed, and you need to clear up your criminal record, feel free to give us a call. I’d be happy to discuss your options so you can move on with your life.

A Moment of Gratitude

Do you spend more time with your coworkers than you do with your family?  If you do, have OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAyou ever stopped to consider why that may be the case?  The West is a culture preoccupied with work. While I love the fast-paced nature of the legal field, it’s crucial that I take the time to reflect on why I do what I do every day at the office. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, here are just a few things I am thankful for:

1. I’m thankful for my clients.

I’ve said it before, and I will reiterate it here: I’ve got the best clients in Texas. I learn so much from them, and they honor me by trusting me with their lives every day. Whether I am helping them survive a bitter divorce or organizing their business for the start of a new venture, each client challenges me to provide better service and value than I did the day before. That’s a tremendous blessing that I do not take for granted.

2. I’m thankful for my staff.

This year I hired a legal assistant named Tim, and my productivity soared. He keeps me on task, helps me with administrative tasks so that I can focus on legal work, and most importantly he keeps me in communication with clients when I’m in court or otherwise unavailable to talk to them directly. Tim has allowed me to be more efficient and responsive to my clients, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

3. I’m thankful for my family and friends.

If it weren’t for my friends and family, my life would be totally out of balance. Being in a service-based industry is difficult because other people’s life problems become my problems. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by all of the very serious concerns that clients bring to my office. It’s also easy to take on more work than I can handle because it’s much harder to say no to a potential case when my cup is overflowing with obligations.  Today I vow to prioritize my family over my potential profit. If I can’t offer the best service at the time due to having a full case load or simply not being able to handle the problem before me, it is my ethical obligation to refer that potential client to another professional who can.  I’ll no longer value my professional life over my personal life because integrity goes a long way, and I took an oath to behave ethically and professionally at all times.

I hope and pray that you are taking time off from work to spend time with the people who really matter in your life. I know I will, and I can’t wait to kick back with my friends and family to recharge before coming back to work to serve more clients and help more people along the way.

 

 

Do I Have a Case? 3 Ways to Find Out

Although my practice focuses primarily on family law, I receive many questions about the law in 0318_sb_readerquestions_630x420general. One of the most popular questions I’m asked is, “Do I have a case?” More often than not, the answer to this question depends on many factors that may not be readily apparent to the person asking the question or to me. But there are times when a person obviously does or does not have a viable claim. Here are three quick examples.

1. If you have no damages (or injury), you probably don’t have a case.

The three prongs to any successful legal claim are liability (the defendant is responsible for the harm that befell you); causation (the defendant caused the harm); and damages (you suffered in some way because of the defendant’s actions or inaction). If any of these three prongs are missing, you do not have a winning case. Specifically, if you can’t point to a tangible harm that you suffered, whether it be medical bills, lost wages, or a loss in revenue, you’re going to have a difficult time persuading a judge or jury that your claim is meritorious. This rule applies to all types of cases from car accidents to defamation. You have to be able to quantify how you were specifically harmed in court.

2. Contracts: usually only the written ones are enforceable.

Similarly, people sometimes sue one another over verbal agreements. This is almost always a fool’s errand. If a court is to determine your rights under a contract, it must be memorialized in writing in some way. I’ve witnessed plaintiffs rely on text messages and emails to weave together a contractual obligation against a party. Although it’s not the best way to memorialize an agreement, at least they have written proof that some type of meeting of the minds took place that may have given rise to an obligation for either party. Any issue of substance that accompanies money exchanging hands for goods or services should be clearly elucidated in a written contract. If something goes wrong or someone fails to perform as agreed, you then have proof to take to court about your expectations going into the deal.  Just remember: a verbal contract’s not wroth the paper it’s written on. Never rely on a handshake alone.

3. Personal vendettas make for lousy lawsuits.

When an individual decides to sue another person because of a personal grudge or misunderstanding, that person is welcoming an expensive lesson. The costs and toil associated with litigating a claim are great enough that I always encourage potential plaintiffs to consider every option before filing a lawsuit against anyone for emotional reasons. Hurt feelings are not enough to prove a claim for defamation, and neither is malicious gossip, especially if it is true. The emotional component associated with a decision to sue another person or company is a real consideration that must be addressed head on. I counsel my clients to resist unnecessary legal expenses if pride or bruised ego are the primary motivation for the lawsuit. No grudge is worth squandering your nest egg, especially if it could be settled out of court more economically.

For more information about what your legal rights are in different scenarios, feel free to check out the blog archives and for a consultation about your specific circumstances, give us a call at (713) 574-8626. We’ll be glad to hear from you!

Top 3 Things People Don’t Know about Community Property

file0001248906240I got a question from a colleague who works as a financial planner: he wanted to know if a 403(b) retirement account was subject to division in divorce. The short answer to this question is probably yes. Many people don’t realize that in the absence of a premarital agreement, all assets obtained during divorce (with very few exceptions) are considered community property in a Texas divorce. Most people realize that a court may determine the division of their house, vehicles, and tangible assets, but there are some subtle nuances to the presumption of community property that could dramatically affect their odds for a positive outcome in divorce. It is always preferable for spouses to agree on the division of their property, but sometimes agreement is simply impossible, so I wanted to shed some light on the three most surprising aspects of community property division in divorce.

1. Inheritance is off the table.

If a relative passes away and leaves you a large sum of money, that inheritance is not subject to division as community property in your divorce. The money you receive in an inheritance is your separate property. However, if you mingle that money with your community funds (perhaps by using it to purchase other assets with your spouse), it could become a part of the community estate. This phenomenon is known as co-mingling. If you’re married and are on the verge of receiving an inheritance, it is a good idea to meet with a family law attorney to ensure your inheritance is definitively separate property.

2. Retirement accounts are subject to division.

As previously mentioned, retirement accounts (including IRAs, pensions, defined benefit plans, defined contribution plans, 401ks, and 403(b)s) are part of your community estate once you marry your spouse. If you’ve worked for decades at the same company,  you’ve likely acquired a substantial nest egg in your retirement plan. Most people believe if they work hard and obtain retirement benefits, they’re entitled to enjoy the fruits of their labor when they retire. However, once you marry, your contributions to your retirement plans become community property, and as the value of the plan increases over time, the balance of the plan from the date of your marriage becomes subject to division in divorce.

No one wants to lose their inheritance or their retirement. So what are couples to do if they want to avoid these outcomes? Thankfully, the presumption of community property can be overcome.

3. Couples can agree to define their assets as separate or community at any time.

Premarital agreements allow future spouses to decide what assets they want to keep as their separate property and which assets will be their jointly owned community property. Ideally, each party will have his or her own attorney to review the documents and advise as to the consequences of the agreement. This is a great opportunity for them to discuss their finances at their very onset of their marriage and establish clear boundaries about how their assets will be treated if they divorce. If you do not have a premarital agreement, do not despair. You and your spouse can create what’s known as a postnuptial agreement after you marry.

Unfortunately, finances are one of the primary motivating factors for divorce, so the sooner you and your partner get on the same page about the money in your relationship, the better off you will be as a couple. For more information about community property or to discuss your financial circumstances, feel free to give me a call at (713) 574-8626 to schedule a consultation.

Back to School: Beyond Meet the Teacher

SDRandCo (2)This week many Houston children are heading back to school, so many of my friends and relatives are posting adorable photos of their kids in their first day of school gear headed back into the classroom. Understandably this is an exciting time, and everyone has high hopes for the new school year. With this optimism in mind,  I was taken back by a headline that reported that the number of inappropriate student-teacher relationships is at an all-time high in the state of Texas. A summary of the findings of the Texas Education Agency can be found here.

I had no idea this was such a widespread problem and thought it would be a good idea to shed a little light on this phenomenon and give the parents in my life a little food for thought. I was previously under the false impression that once a teacher was found to have behaved inappropriately with a student, that was the end of his teaching career, but this is not necessarily the case.

In Texas, most schools have what’s known as a “second chance” system. The first time an educator is found to have committed some type of misconduct, he or she is typically asked to resign and then quietly leaves. No report is made to the TEA in these instances, and he or she is free to find employment elsewhere. The second time that educator is found to have crossed the line with a student, his or her license may be suspended or revoked, and he or she is typically unable to find new employment as a teacher. This process is very troubling and has resulted in 207 cases of teacher-student involvement reported within the past year, and the number of scenarios that are not reported would likely make that result even higher.

Understandably parents are concerned. What can you do to protect your child from this kind of violation? I have a few simple suggestions. First, monitor your child’s social media presence. Is he Facebook friends with his teachers? That by itself is not evidence of wrong doing, but be sure to talk to your child. Are any teachers messaging him about personal matters? Does he text his teacher after hours or spend time after class alone with the teacher on a consistent basis? You have a right to know the nature of your child’s relationships with school personnel.

Second, if you suspect anything untoward is happening between your child and an educator, don’t be afraid to speak up. Schedule a parent-teacher conference to clear the air about what, if anything, is going on between your child and this other influential adult. If you don’t believe a parent-teacher conference would be effective, take your concerns to the school administrators. They would be very interested to know of any allegations against a teacher suggesting misconduct with a student. Your role as a parent is to keep your child safe, and unfortunately, most schools do not take the affirmative steps to investigate this type of behavior until the parents get involved. If you believe your child is being taken advantage of, it is your responsibility to intervene and advocate for the safety of not only your child, but the other children who may be subject to unwanted attention from an authority figure.

3 Tips for Parents Going Through Divorce

032cc38c6b791fc5612c6823ab93fb44In my practice, I see many people at their absolute worst. Their marriage is over, and they’re coming to me for advice and counsel during the divorce process. Some of those people have children which further complicates matters. How does one navigate the divorce process without taking their children on an emotional roller coaster? Frankly, this is a difficult question without a simple solution or answer because every family is different, but these three guidelines are critical if you want to exit your marriage with as little damage to your kids as possible.

1. Never Bad Mouth the Other Parent

This one may seem obvious, but if you’ve been served with a divorce citation, you probably have some choice words to say about your soon to be ex. You should share those choice words with your divorce lawyer, your therapist, your best friend, or your pastor. Who you should not vent to under any circumstances is your child. It doesn’t matter if he or she is an absolute scoundrel. Your child loves her other parent just as much as she loves you. It’s not fair to place a child in the middle of an adult situation by deriding your spouse. It will drive a wedge between you and your child and place you in a terrible light when she gets old enough to process what you said about her other parent. Find healthy ways to express your frustration but keep it away from the little ones.

2.  Avoid Using Your Child as a Bargaining Chip

Similarly, parents going through divorce have to navigate several issues such as who will stay in the family home, who will pay child support, and what the possession and access arrangement will be for the children. Although it may be tempting to punish your ex for his or her wrongdoing by withholding access to the children, please do not do this. Your children will not understand, and it’s simply not in their best interest. The family unit as they know it is changing dramatically; do not make that change even more severe by making the children feel guilty for wanting to see both parents on a consistent basis. Doing so is emotionally abusive and could severely impact your child’s well-being.

3. Maintain Their Routine

Your children may not tell you this, but the day to day happenings in their life are what makes them feel safe. Eating breakfast, getting ready for school, catching the bus to school, sitting through classes, going to extracurricular activities, and doing homework are all a part of their daily routine. If you and your spouse are going through a divorce, it is likely that their routine has been interrupted by one of their parents moving out of the home, or by them moving away from one of their parents. Some interruptions are unavoidable, but if you can minimize the disruptions from your child’s daily life, your child can continue to develop and grow as an individual. The more you provide stability for your children, the less likely they are to resent either of their parents for divorcing. You and your ex have a responsibility to let your children know that you both love them unconditionally even though your marriage is ending. You can show that love by maintaining their routine as much as possible.

We all love our families. Sometimes it’s hard to know if we’re doing the right things for them. If you’re contemplating divorce and need practical advice and guidance, feel free to give me a call at 713-574-8626.

Easy Target for Identity Theft Update

Less than a week after writing a blog about staying safe online and protecting your confidential DSC08847-Binformation from thieves, I made a rookie mistake. It’s embarrassing to admit that even though I know better, every now and then I throw caution to the wind and make a payment online using an unsecured wireless network on a site without proper encryption technology. This is the equivalent of inputting passwords on a public computer (Very bad). What happened to me is a cautionary tale that won’t happen to you if you’re reading this and take heed.

The office building where I work has an unsecured wireless network that essentially everyone in the building has access to. Guests and visitors can’t access it without the password, but the hundreds of other people on this floor are all sharing the same WiFi. For the four years of my business residence, this has been a non-issue. Then, suddenly I found the perfect guitar accessory online: a gold capo. For the non-musicians out there, a capo is a clamp that you use to change a guitar’s pitch for certain songs. The best part about this capo? It costed a mere $2.14. I was sold.

When I processed my payment, I used my credit card, pressed order and went on about my day. I received the capo about a week later, and life was good. Until a few days passed, and I noticed an email receipt for $5.00 at Coca Cola. Strange. I don’t recall buying anything for that amount. A few minutes later, I got an email receipt for $12.54 at a costume store in Las Vegas, Nevada. I knew foul play was afoot. Immediately, I called the bank and started the dispute process and hung my head in shame. How could I advise people on protecting their information when I’m online buying guitar accessories with reckless abandon?

I’m not sure if one of my coworkers stole my card information right before vacation or if a random teenage internet hacker caught me by surprise to teach me a valuable lesson. In any case, the hyper vigilance campaign is on. Learn from my mistakes and be smarter online and in life. Change your passwords often. Make your online purchases from reputable websites with payment encryption in place for their transactions. And never ever, under any circumstances, trust your fellow travelers on an unsecured network. You don’t know who you’re surfing with at that coffee bar or restaurant, so why take the risk?

For legal advice when it counts, contact me at (713) 574-8626

Are You an Easy Target for Identity Theft?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the course of my practice, I have met some lovely people facing unfortunate circumstances. No one is thrilled about filing for consumer bankruptcy, but that feeling is multiplied ten fold when it is due to someone else ruining your finances. Within the past few years, I’ve met an increasing number of identity theft victims. Not all of them had to seek  bankruptcy protection, but every single one of them felt vulnerable and violated. It is the attorney’s role to protect the private information of her clients, so we take the necessary precautions at the office to do so. It is also my job to share this knowledge with others in the interest of a more equitable and just society. Here are four key ways to safeguard your personal information.

1. Store your personal documents in a safe place. Your social security card, medical records, credit card offers, and tax returns should be kept in a locked cabinet or a safe deposit box in a bank. The number of people whose identities are stolen as a result of a stolen purse or wallet containing their social security card is astonishing. Don’t carry it with you. Similarly, your mail contains information that a thief can use to impersonate you in stores or online to open credit accounts. Be sure to check it promptly, and consider opting out of promotional offers.

2. Keep an eye on your accounts. Most banks and credit card issuers have a process for investigating suspicious transactions, but you can’t alert them promptly if you don’t check your account history on a regular basis. Sign up for online banking and be on the look out for transactions you don’t recognize. It’s also not a bad idea to subscribe to a monthly credit monitoring service to confirm that your debts are reported accurately and reflect only your account activity. If you don’t want to pay for credit monitoring, you can always request a free copy of your credit report every calendar year at www.annualcreditreport.com.

3. Be cautious about sharing on social media. Many people (myself included) are active on social media in one way or another. That’s fine. No judgment here. However, if you’re traveling to Tahiti for your yearly vacation with the family, it might be wise not to announce it on Facebook. You never know who your friends are connected to, and depending on your security settings, you could be announcing your departure to a large number of people you don’t know at all. No one likes to think about the fact that when you are abroad, your home is fair game for thieves for the entire duration of your trip. Tell your close friends and family your whereabouts. Your status updates and photos can come after you’ve enjoyed all that Tahiti has to offer.

4. Mind the shoulder snoopers. When you’re in the grocery store checkout, and the time comes for you to swipe or insert your card, sometimes you’re not alone. Sometimes there is a person  possibly unfamiliar with Western standards for personal space. That person may be hovering over your shoulder. What do you do? If you’re able to swipe your card, and you’re using a debit card, run it as a credit card. This way you can bypass the need to insert your pin. If you’re using an EMV chip card, it may be a good idea to cover the key pad or ask the cashier to enter your transaction as a credit purchase. A person who is physically close to you can look over your shoulder and clearly see your PIN number, and if he or she has a credit card cloning device, could make many more transactions from your card without you ever knowing. EMV chip technology has cut down on some of the risk of card cloning, but not every card issuer has embraced chip technology. It may seem rude to be suspicious of your neighbors, but better safe than sorry.

There are wallets that claim to protect your cards from cloning. They have mixed reviews at best, but with some simple common sense, you can avoid being victimized by thieves. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Be safe out there.

For more information on this topic, feel free to contact me at (713) 574-8626. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Free Wills Month: Your Mortality? It’s Not Morbid.

tigerThis month for the entire month of May, this law office is participating in a campaign known as Free Wills Month. Anyone over the age of 55 years old (or married to someone 55 and up) can get a FREE consultation with us to prepare a simple will.

For those of you who follow the blog, you may remember that we did this promotion two years ago. You can check out the inaugural blog here.

Anyway, this is one of those things that should be an easy sell. Everyone likes things that a free, but when it comes to pondering one’s eventual demise, people are incredibly reluctant to do so. Specifically, older people. This makes total sense and is natural, but in some way it’s counter intuitive. We plan for our weddings. We plan for vacations. We plan for every other event in our lives except  death.

This is not to disparage or demean the Baby Boomers in my life, but you guys…please, come on.  Your children and extended family will very much appreciate knowing your desires about what should happen to your belongings when you meet the fate that will greet us all. Dad, if you’re reading this, this blog is dedicated to you. I sincerely hope that after years of patient badgering, I have worn you down and finally convinced you to follow my advice.

Love always,

Your tireless youngest daughter

P.S. This campaign directly benefits Texas Children’s Hospital and will run from May 1 to May 31, 2016. For more information, check out the website.