Issue No. 98
January 17, 2019
In this issue....

  • Do We Still Negotiate Over Who Can Claim the Children on Income Taxes?
  • Frightening Art Disapears from 311th Courtroom
  • New Judges Seek Money from Attorneys
  • Former Judge Dupuy Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison

New Judges Issue New Court Procedures (So Much for Uniformity!)

Click here to download in PDF the new court procedures for all ten Harris County family courts. Unfortunately, most of these courts have adopted different (and sometimes downright odd) procedures. So much for uniformity. Here are some interesting new procedures and differences between the courts, including:
  • 245th - Judge Longino - phasing out docket call, moving to an electronic sign up for case settings, and requiring attorneys to email in if they are running late; mediation required before almost all temporary orders hearings. Click here for the 245th procedures.
  • 246th - Judge Graves-Harrington - moving to submission docket on many motions with a response due two days before the submission date, amicus attorneys limited to 40 hours on a case without prior court approval, mediation not required before temporary orders hearings. Click here for the 246th procedures.
  • 247th - Judge Berg - child must be identified by full name (not initials), property division spreadsheets must be provided in Excel or Google sheet format on a USB drive, mediation required before all temporary orders hearing. Click here for the 247th procedures.
  • 257th - Judge Peake - temporary order hearings limited to one hour per side and mediation is required if custody is at issue. Click here for the 257th procedures.
  • 308th - Judge Lopez - no gifts, a hearing on a motion to compel will not be scheduled unless the certificate of conference contains details of all efforts to hold an in-person conference on the dispute, mediation required before temporary orders hearings in conservatorship disputes or "complex" property cases but not for a hearing in a modification case set by the court based on an affidavit. Click here for the 308th procedures.
  • 309th - Judge Dunson - a party requesting supervised visitation must be prepared to pay for the visitation (say what?), mediation required before temporary orders hearings in conservatorship disputes or "complex" property cases. Click here for the 309th procedures.
  • 310th - Judge Heath - Identical to 309th (there is some blessed uniformity!). Click here for the 310th procedures.
  • 311th - Judge Tanner - Amicus limited to 40 hours on a case without prior approval, request for attorney's fees in private cases will be denied without a detailed invoice, mediation required before temporary orders hearings in conservatorship disputes or "complex" property case. Click here for the 311th procedures.
  • 312th - Judge Wells - mediation required before temporary orders hearings in conservatorship disputes or "complex" property case. Click here for the 312th procedures, which includes this unique rule on discovery motions:
Click here to download all of the ten family courts' written procedures as a single PDF.

Information All Family Law Attorneys and Paralegals Need

Click here to download a PDF of my updated court chart (version 3) that you can print and cut out for you and your staff. Click here to download short profiles on each of our new judges.

I will now have to print my third version of my handy pocket-sized court chart cards because three courts have changed their docket times from the times they had originally given me.
Our new judges are scheduling their own separate investiture ceremonies in the ceremonial courtroom on the 17th floor. Here is the schedule:

January 4 - Judge Angela Graves-Harrington
January 15 - Judge Sonya Heath
January 16 - Judge Clinton "Chip" Wells - 2:00 p.m.
January 17 - Judge Germaine Tanner - noon
January 23 - Judge Gloria Lopez - noon
January 28 - Judge Sandra Peake - 2:00 p.m.
February 4 - Judge Janice Berg - noon
February 8 - Judge Barbara Stalder - 2:00 p.m.
February 22 - Judge Linda Dunson - noon
I may not win every case (even if in my heart I expect to). I just want an efficient system in which my client gets a fair hearing before a judge who works hard, knows the law, and does not play favorites. I also expect judges to appoint qualified amicus attorneys who zealously look after children (and who actually personally visit their minor clients in their homes). Is that asking too much? Stay tuned.
Greg Enos
The Enos Law Firm
The Enos Law Firm
  17207 Feather Craft Lane, Webster, Texas 77598
 (281) 333-3030
   Please forward this e-mail newsletter to everyone who cares about our family courts! 
Do We Still Negotiate Over Who Can Claim the Children on Income Taxes?
Trump’s 2017 tax law, that mostly helped billionaires and large corporations, also impacts child custody and divorce cases in a variety of ways. Wealthier clients will want to know that the deduction was ended for alimony payments required under divorce or separation instruments that are executed after Dec. 31, 2018. Recipients of affected alimony payments will no longer have to include them in taxable income.  This treatment of alimony payments also applies to payments that are modified after December 31, 2018 if the modification specifically states that the new tax law treatment of alimony payments applies. There’s no change in the federal income tax treatment of divorce-related payments that are required by divorce orders or agreements that are executed before 2019.

Child Tax Credit

The increased child tax credit will be of interest to almost all divorcing parents, in part because the new tax law also eliminated the $4,050 exemption for each dependent, through 2025. Divorcing couples often negotiated over which one could claim the child tax exemption. Previously, a high income spouse might be willing to give something else of value in return for the child tax exemption. Now, under the new law, the lower earning spouse is not going to want to ever give up the child tax credit.

The child tax credit (which offsets taxes owed, dollar for dollar), was doubled from $1,000 to $2,000.  Married couples who make under the $400,000 per year (and individuals who earn less than $200,000 per year) will be able to take $2,000 per child as their Child Tax Credit.

The Child Tax Credit is financially important because it functions as a credit against what the taxpayer owes in taxes.  A mother who would otherwise owe $5,100 in taxes for 2019 would only owe $1,100 if she has two children under age 18 living primarily with her. Sometimes, the child tax credit can result in a tax refund.  Part of the unused part of the Child Tax Credit can be refundable as an additional Child Tax Credit because $1,400 of the $2,000 per-child credit is refundable. Thus, a parent can receive up to $1,400 (per child) of the child tax credit back even if he or she earned very little and barely had any taxes withheld from paychecks.

The child tax credit is available if:
  • The child is related to the tax filer either legally or biologically. This includes a son, daughter, stepchild, foster child, adopted child, brother, or sister, or an descendant of any of these relatives, such as a grandchild, nephew, or niece;
  • The child has with the tax filer for more than half the year;
  • The child was younger than age 17 on the last day of the year;
  • The child did not provide more than half his own financial support during the tax year;
  • The child is a citizen, national, or resident alien of the United States;
  • The child is younger than the tax file and
  • The must also have a valid Social Security Number issued before the due date of the tax return, including extensions.

It is assumed that the parent with primary custody can sign away the right to the child tax credit just like they previously could sign the IRS Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent. Source: “Claiming Child Tax Benefits for Noncustodial Parents,” by Kathy J. Rohloff, CPA, July 1, 2018 Journal of Accountancy.   However, IRS regulations on this subject still have not been finalized. Also, we do not have a new version of IRS Publication 504, which should explain this in detail. The partial federal government shutdown affects the IRS and will further delay official guidance on this issue.

Divorce lawyers previously told their clients that the high-wage earner benefited more from the child tax exemption, but that advice is not so true for the child tax credit. A low-income spouse can actually get money back from the IRS (up to $1,400 per child) even if he or she does not owe any income taxes. I will always refer my clients to a CPA, but I cannot imagine when I would ever counsel my client to give up the child tax credit, even if the IRS allows that.
Frightening Art Disappears from 311th Courtroom
Winston Churchill might have been anticipating Harris County judicial politics when he said that history is written by the victors.

Former Judge Franklin-York on her last workday in office held a private, invitation only party and hung her own portrait in the back corner of the 311th courtroom. Disgraced former judge Denise Pratt was informed in advance of this event by her still loyal cadre of flying monkeys. Pratt quickly photo-shopped an old picture onto the state seal, had it framed and sent her own art to Franklin-York, who was kind enough to hang that homage to venal wackiness as well.

These portraits were up for the first several days of the reign of Judge Germaine Tanner. But, now they are gone. I thought I saw George Clevenger walking out with them under his coat (I know how badly he misses them both). But, I was mistaken. It turns out that Judge Tanner had the portraits safely stored in a secure location until there is a more fitting time to honor the former jurists.

Traditionally, former judges are honored with a hanging of their official portrait in their former courtroom a few years after they leave office. In my decades as a lawyer, I have never known of a judge to hang her own portrait while she is still in office (until Charley Prine did it in 2018). On the other hand, history is history and even Richard Nixon's official portrait is on display in Washington, D.C.

Trump famously hung a print of himself in the White House, so perhaps hanging one's own portrait is just something those with oversized, yet insecure, egos do.
New Judges Seek Money From Attorneys
I hate that feeling one gets sitting at counsel table waiting for docket call when the two high dollar attorneys next to you are discussing how fun a private party was the night before for the judge we are about to go in front of. When you ask what they are talking about, one attorney gives you a condescending look of pity and says, "Oh you poor darling, you were no there were you? Such a shame, the caviar was simply delightful and it was so good to get the time to know this judge whom you are about to bore with your silly little motion." I again wish I represented more millionaires instead of the teachers and cops and plant workers who make up most of my clientele as I feel my confidence draining from me. But, then I wake up from this bad dream and remember we just elected Democrats to be judges and surely I do not need to worry about this scenario ever again. Right?

Our newly elected judges were lucky enough to win without spending or borrowing much money. They do not really need to "retire the campaign debt," but they do need a few thousand in their campaign accounts to pay for all of the events they will be expected to contribute to over the next three years until the law allows them to accept political contributions again. The judges want to tap their campaign accounts to buy donuts for jurors and pay for tables at all of the political events they will be expected to attend in the next few years. None of our new judges raised any campaign money, and they all spent next to nothing. Our judges are stuck in the ridiculous system Texas has for selecting judges, and we should not begrudge them the chance to accept donations, as long as it is done in a proper manner.

Here is a flyer for one event I am involved in for Judge Linda Dunson on January 24 that is at a downtown law office, is open to the public, does not require any sort of donation, and has sponsors who each contributed the modest sum of $400 (an amount most attorneys can afford).
In contrast, here is an ad for a fundraiser for Judge Janice Berg for an event at a lawyer's swanky house on January 22 that says the minimum donation expected is $1,000. The sponsor list includes one lawyer who raised tens of thousands for the defeated Republican judges, primarily lives off court appointments, and who ran for Judge as a Republican himself in 2018! As a Democratic Socialist, I will prepare and supply bologna sandwiches to the valet parking workers at this event . Regular attorneys who do not make much money can join me at the sidewalk to sing 1960's civil rights protest songs. This is not how I expected Democrats elected judge to operate as this is exactly what the folks they defeated did.
Judge Sandra Peake is having a fundraiser on January 29 at a public venue and apparently no minimum donation is expected. This is an event Bernie Sanders would attend!
Judge Lopez acted like a Democrat when she invited everyone to an event on January 15 sponsored by four good attorneys who are not the usual big dollar judge funders.
I really hoped that these new judges would usher in a new, very different era of justice in which appearances mattered. I thought the days of political cronyism and the appearance of "pay to play" was over. In my puritanical view, a Democratic judge should only hold fundraisers that are open to all and not expect a large, minimum donation most lawyers cannot afford. These new judges only need maybe $10,000 in their campaign accounts to hold them over for two and a half years until they can raise money again. Judge Roy Moore had over $200,000 in his campaign account, and it did him no good in 2018. In 2022, our judges will have no problem raising money from lawyers, but they will not need it because no amount a single judge can spend will affect a county-wide election in Harris County. Hell, they were all elected this year thanks to Beto and Trump without spending anything. Why compromise one's integrity for campaign money that is not even really needed?

Judge Longino is limiting donations to $500 per attorney. I remember when my spiritual advisor, Judge Jim Squier, limited donations to $150 per attorney, and he still raised all he needed. Most lawyers I know cannot afford to donate $1,000 each to nine different judges, and it is B.S. that any judge is suggesting that sort of contribution just to attend a fundraiser.

It is too soon for any judge to compromise his or her high moral standards just to raise a lot of money in one quick event from the same few highrollers who bankrolled the Republicans they defeated. I cannot wait to see how they behave in four years when they face re-election and really want to be returned to office very badly. Maybe Jared Woodfill will host a $2,000 per person private dinner at Tony's for them!
Former Judge Dupuy Sentenced to 12 Years
Electoral sweeps that replace all sitting judges with candidates from the other party do not always end well. In Galveston County, the 2012 sweep that brought in all Republican officeholders elected an apparently mentally ill and dangerous District Clerk (who had to resign and faced criminal charges) and Judge Christopher Dupuy. Click here and here to read about how a few brave attorneys and this newsletter stood up to Dupuy before he was removed from office, indicted, and found guilty of perjury for false testimony involving me and The Mongoose . Let's face it: the best attorneys do not usually run for judge and not every lawyer who files to run for judge, who faces no primary opponent and then who wins in an electoral sweep without really having to campaign is qualified. But, Dupuy's fall from the pinnacle of legal success was epic.

Click here to read the Galveston Daily News article about the Dupuy's guilty verdict and sentencing for posting nasty photographs of ex-girlfriends in fake escort ads on Back Page .
Thank you for your support! Together We Can Make Our Profession Better and Our Courts More Fair
Attorney Greg Enos has been through his own divorce and child custody battle (he won) and understands what his clients are going through. Enos graduated from the University of Texas Law School and was a successful personal injury attorney in Texas City before he decided his true calling was to help families in divorce and child custody cases. Greg Enos is active in politics and in Clear Lake area charities. He has served as President of the Bay Area Bar Association and President of the Board of Interfaith Caring Ministries. The Enos Law Firm serves clients in Galveston County, Brazoria County and Harris County, Texas.
Greg Enos
Board Certified in Family Law, Texas Board of Legal Specialization
The Enos Law Firm
www. divorce
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