You thought you had escaped that lingering debt and you were minding your own business when wham—you were served with a lawsuit. Being sued for an outstanding debt is a scary issue and one that should not be taken lightly. First and foremost, DO NOT ignore the petition. I cannot tell you how many times clients have come to me when their answer deadline has already passed because they thought they could stick their head in the sand, ignore it, and it would go away. I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but this issue is not going to go away. So, if you leave here with anything, the best advice that I can give is to contact an attorney as soon as possible after you are served. The sooner you can review your options with an attorney, the better. That is, there is a specific timeline for your answer period—meaning, you have a deadline by which you have to respond to this lawsuit. That deadline will depend upon which type of court you are sued in. Typically, creditors file their lawsuits in JP Court or County Court at Law. The Texas Rules of Civil Procedure differ between these two courts and the rules applying to debt collection cases have changed drastically over the past couple of years. One thing remains certain, though. If you fail to answer the lawsuit and ignore it the creditor will get a default judgment on you. This means that the debt is now a judgment and the creditor can then file that judgment and start garnishing certain things under the law or seize certain property. It probably goes without saying that you want to avoid this.
The second best piece of advice that I can give is to definitely not go through this process alone. In addition to answering the lawsuit, there might also be discovery to answer and other legal avenues that would need to be navigated throughout the case. Attorneys who practice in debt collection are specifically qualified to represent you during this difficult time to ensure that your rights are protected. In some situations, the debt could be avoided all together. Those cases are becoming few and far between as the laws change. However, you might be able to reach a very reasonable settlement agreement with the creditor and avoid court. One thing that is pretty much a guarantee—you will not avoid court if you go this alone. Creditors are notorious for not dealing with the actual debtor directly. That is not to say an attorney can make any promises. Rather, based upon previous experience almost all of my clients have said that they tried to speak directly with the representative for the creditor and that they were treated poorly and not taken seriously.
Let’s recap—if you have been sued by a creditor, what do you do? You call an attorney and schedule a consultation. Decide which attorney to hire and do it quickly so that all pending deadlines can be met in a timely manner. Do not wait until after your answer period. It will most likely be too late to save you. Do not wait until the day before your scheduled court date. It should also probably go without saying that this also is too late. The last piece of advice that I have is to stop, pause, and take a deep breath. You will get through this valley. Contact Courtney Repka Wortham, PLLC today to schedule your consultation. We are ready to help.
Many people often ask me if family law is difficult to practice and my answer is always, “Unfortunately, yes.” The main reason for the difficulty? Custody battles—two people fighting over a child that the judge cannot ultimately cut in two and hand a half to each party. If you are separating from your significant other and wondering how the separation is going to affect the child, understand that the separation will inevitably be a hardship on the child. The reality is, it will be hard on the child even if you choose to co-parent. So, think about how your child would be affected if you chose not to try and co-parent with the other party and just “fight it out in court.” While I advocate tenaciously for my clients in every situation presented, I always try to advise them to work with the other party as much as they can when it comes to dealing with issues regarding the child. Your child will thank you when they are old enough to understand the huge sacrifice you made by being agreeable instead of contentious with the other parent. Also, many courts commend parties on their ability to work things out without a hearing. When a judge takes the time to recognize the parties’ hard work in the case, it is always nice to hear.
Parenting Plan—Aka Agreed Visitation Schedule
You may now be asking, “If I am going to be agreeable, where do I even start?” First of all, I want to congratulate you on even attempting this feat. I know that it is hard to do this considering you have decided to no longer be in a relationship with this person. But, remember that your child did not get a choice in this and so you are doing great. In choosing this, the first step is developing a parenting plan that is best for all parties involved (including the child). This sometimes means that you will have to get creative; but, that is okay. Why? Because you are getting the chance that not many parents get in these types of cases—you get to formulate a visitation schedule that fits your needs as well as your child’s. If you cannot do this, you will have a judge (who is a complete stranger, mind you) pick a textbook one for you. Yes, you read that correctly. The Texas Family Code typically only allows for two visitation schedules for separating parents. In extenuating circumstances, the courts can stray from these schedules; absent something like that, either the standard possession schedule or expanded standard possession schedule are the typical scenarios. This means that if you and the other parent cannot agree upon your possession schedule, then this will happen: one parent is named as the parent who has the exclusive right to designate the primary residence of the child (this is who the child lives with primarily of the time) and the other parent gets either (a) the first, third, and fifth weekends of every month beginning at 6:00 p.m. on Fridays and ending at 6:00 p.m. on Sundays; every Thursday during the school year from 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.; or (b) the first, third, and fifth weekends of every month beginning when school is dismissed on Fridays and ending when school resumes after the weekend; every Thursday during the school year beginning when school is dismissed and ending when school resumes Friday. Also, there will be summer visitation, spring break visitation and alternating holiday schedules. Most parents feel that this just is not enough time with their child. It is gut-wrenching to watch a parent let the reality sink in that they can only see their child on certain days. What can do you about this?
Possible Alternative Options to Standard Possession
If your child is in school and you know their schedule, including extracurricular activities, you can split up the time among the parents. Some possible schedules that family law practitioners utilize for agreeable parents are week on/week off, 2-2-3 or something of that nature. Week on/week off is just as its term indicates, the parents alternate weeks throughout most of the year and have a holiday schedule in place. This allows pretty much equal time between the parents and parents typically exchange the child on Sundays. The 2-2-3 schedule is similar in that it also allows pretty equal time among the parents; the difference is that it’s a more frequent exchange of the child in that one parent has Mondays/Tuesdays, the other Wednesdays/Thursdays and then the parents alternate Fridays-Sundays. This schedule is more ideal for smaller children who need that more frequent contact between parents. Some parents like this schedule because the child does not go too long in seeing each parent.
Get Legal Assistance
Despite this advice, I do understand that there are just some cases where none of this is possible. I have handled many challenging cases throughout my career and agreements could not be considered. But, those cases involved severe issues with respect to the child. If your case does not present facts where agreements are out of the question, then your child deserves for you to sit down with the other parent and try to work this portion of your case out. Contact my office today to schedule a consultation to explore your options. I would love to be able to facilitate an agreement between you and the other parent that would carry you into a positive outcome for everyone involved. Courtney Repka Wortham, PLLC is ready and able to assist you in all of your family law needs.