Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ending the Violence: How to Obtain a Texas Protective Order

This article comes from the State Bar of Texas:

"The Texas Department of Public Safety reports that in 2006, there were 186,868 incidents of documented family violence statewide. However, the Texas Health and Human Services
Commission estimates that as many as 982,916 Texas women were actually battered that year. In Texas, more than 800 women were killed by their domestic partners from 1998 to 2005. These statistics indicate that although family violence is an inexcusable crime, it is prevalent in today’s society. If you or someone you know is a victim of family violence, you are not alone. Although the legal system is unfamiliar territory for most people, it can offer some protection from family violence through the use of a legal document known as a protective order.

What is a protective order?
A protective order is a civil court order that is designed to stop an abuser from continuing acts of violence, threatening, harassing, or stalking. A judge can create various conditions of a
protective order. For example, a judge may order a respondent — the person restricted by the order — to vacate a residence, pay child support, attend counseling, and/or not possess a
firearm. Abusers who violate a protective order can be fined, arrested, or both.

Who is eligible for a protective order?
Victims of family violence are eligible for a protective order. In Texas, “family violence” means an act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury,
assault, or sexual assault, but does not include defensive measures to protect oneself.
An application for a protective order may be filed by an adult member of the dating relationship or any adult may apply for a protective order to protect a child from family violence. In addition,
a prosecuting attorney or the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services may file an application for the protection of any person alleged to be a victim of family violence. Please contact your local law enforcement or domestic violence prevention agency immediately if you or
someone you care about is a victim of family violence. Even if you are not eligible for a protective order, other options may be available.

How do you obtain a protective order?
The first step is to complete an application. The application may be obtained through the office of the county or district attorney, a private attorney, or a legal aid program. In some communities,
domestic violence advocacy groups also provide assistance in obtaining protective orders. The application for a protective order must be filed in either the county where the victim lives
or the county where the offender lives and the applicant’s address can be kept confidential. There are no minimum time limits to establish residency, so even if you have not lived in the same county for very long, you may still file an application for a protective order in
that county. Protective orders are available in every county in Texas.

How much does a protective order cost?
Applying for a protective order is free. An applicant for a protective order may not be charged a fee by the county or district attorney’s office or by a sheriff or constable in connection with the
filing, serving, modifying, or withdrawing of a protective order. There is also no cost for certifying copies, court reporter fees, or any other service related to a protective order. However, if the applicant chooses to use a private attorney for assistance, the applicant may
still have to pay for the attorney’s time in assisting with the protective order. In this case, the court can order a respondent who has committed family violence to pay the private attorney’s fees.

How long does a protective order last?
If the court reviewing the application determines that there is a real threat of immediate family violence, the court may issue a temporary ex parte order that is valid for up to 20 days. The court will then set a hearing date for a final protective order, usually no more than 14 days after the application is submitted. At this hearing, the court will decide whether to grant a final protective order. If granted, the final protective order may be effective for up to two
years. If a person subject to the protective order is imprisoned on the date the protective order would expire, the period for which the order is effective can be extended and the order will expire one year after the person is released from confinement. A new protective order can also be requested after an earlier protective order has expired or while one is still in effect, so long as the earlier protective order is set to expire within 30 days of the date the new application for a protective order is filed.

What does a protective order actually do?
No piece of paper can protect you from all incidents of violence; however, a protective order provides a good deterrent in most situations. A protective order can require the abuser to stay
away from the victim’s home, workplace, and children’s schools (if the children are protected persons in the order). It can order the abuser to stop communicating in a harassing manner
with or threatening the victim. Protective orders can require the abuser to attend counseling, to pay child support, and to pay spousal support. All of the provisions in the order can be
enforced in court. Some violations, but not all, can result in the police taking the abuser to jail if he or she violates the order."

For the full article, click here.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

In the News: Chris Peterson

Chris Peterson, a partner with Swearingen, Peterson & Benn, LLC, was recently appointed to the Advisory Council for the Research Valley Innvovation Center, a business incubator formed by the Research Valley Partnership. The RVP oversees the economic development efforts for Brazos County and the cities of Bryan and College Station, Texas.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Handy tips for choosing a tax preparer

The IRS has a handy tip sheet for choosing a tax preparer. Click here for the link. Some of the more helpful tips include:

-A paid preparer must sign the return as required by law.
-Avoid preparers who claim they can obtain larger refunds than other preparers. If your returns are prepared correctly, every preparer should derive substantially similar numbers.
-Beware of a preparer who guarantees results or who bases fees on a percentage of the amount of the refund. A practitioner may not charge a contingent fee (percentage of your refund) for preparing an original tax return.
-Understand that the most reputable preparers will request to see your receipts and will ask you multiple questions to determine your qualifications for expenses, deductions and other items. By doing so they have your best interest in mind and are trying to help you avoid penalties, interest or additional taxes that could result from an IRS examination.
-Choose a preparer you will be able to contact and one who will be responsive to your needs. Ask who will actually prepare the return before engaging services. Avoid firms where your work may be delegated down to someone with less training or some unknown worker. You should know exactly who works with your tax matters at all times and how to contact him or her; after all, you are paying for it. Determine if the preparer is exporting your return to a foreign country for preparation. Foreign countries do not have the same security and privacy laws as the United States nor is there any recourse should your information be compromised as a result of lax or nonexistent privacy procedures.
-Investigate whether the preparer has any questionable history with the Better Business Bureau, the state’s board of accountancy for CPAs, the state’s bar association for attorneys or the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) for enrolled agents or the oversight agency in states that license or register tax preparers.
-Determine if the preparer’s credentials meet your needs or if your state mandates licensing or registration requirements for paid preparers. Is he or she an Enrolled Agent, Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or Tax Attorney? Only attorneys, CPAs and enrolled agents can represent taxpayers before the IRS in all matters including audits, collection actions and appeals. Other return preparers may represent taxpayers only in audits regarding a return that they signed as a preparer.
-Find out if the preparer is affiliated with a professional organization that provides or requires its members to pursue continuing education and holds them accountable to a code of ethics.
-Check for information regarding abusive shelters and other tax schemes and scams.

Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, chances are it is.

IRS Small Business Guide is available online now

The Small Business Resource Guide 2008, a one stop source for all the information a small business owner needs to comply with federal tax laws, is now available on
You can also order a CD version online, or call (800) 829-3676 and ask for Publication 3207, revision March 2008.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

EPA issues new regulation on lead-based paint

The Environmental Protection Agency has come out with a new lead-based paint rule that will affect the building and remodeling industry. The poress release follows:

"To further protect children from exposure to lead-based paint, EPA is issuing new rules for contractors who renovate or repair housing, child-care facilities or schools built before 1978. Under the new rules, workers must follow lead-safe work practice standards to reduce potential exposure to dangerous levels of lead during renovation and repair activities.

"The "Lead: Renovation, Repair and Painting Program" rule, which will take effect in April 2010, prohibits work practices creating lead hazards. Requirements under the rule include implementing lead-safe work practices and certification and training for paid contractors and maintenance professionals working in pre-1978 housing, child-care facilities and schools. To foster adoption of the new measures, EPA will also conduct an extensive education and outreach campaign to promote awareness of these new requirements.

"The rule covers all rental housing and non-rental homes where children under six and pregnant mothers reside. The new requirements apply to renovation, repair or painting activities where more than six square feet of lead-based paint is disturbed in a room or where 20 square feet of lead-based paint is disturbed on the exterior. The affected contractors include builders, painters, plumbers and electricians. Trained contractors must post warning signs, restrict occupants from work areas, contain work areas to prevent dust and debris from spreading, conduct a thorough cleanup, and verify that cleanup was effective. "

More information: EPA's lead program (