Frequently Asked Legal Questions

Find answers to common questions in our searchable FAQ.

Do I have 3 days to return a purchase or cancel a contract in Texas?

52 views   |   4   |   Last updated on May 08, 2015    Consumer Protection

The Texas Attorney General's office addresses the 3-day right to cancel in Texas on their website, but they explain that the law is very specific and does not apply to most consumer purchases:

Many consumers are under the impression that they have a 3-day right to cancel any and all consumer purchases. However, this is not true. The right to cancel law applies only to very specific situations.

If the information from the Attorney General does not answer your question, take a look at our research guide on the cancellation of certain consumer contracts. On that page we highlight Texas laws that allow for a cancellation or "cooling off" period for specific transactions or purchases — e.g., timeshares, health spas, home equity loans, motor vehicle installment sales, certain telephone solicitation purchases, manufactured home purchases, "lease to own" house contracts. If you still have questions about a purchase or contract, it would be best to consult with an attorney for advice specific to your situation.


Debt collectors keep calling me. What can I do?

34 views   |   4   |   Last updated on Apr 29, 2015    Telephones Debt Collection Consumer Protection

The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act regulates communications in connection with debt collection. In particular, section 805(c) of the Act states the following about ceasing contact:

If a consumer notifies a debt collector in writing that the consumer refuses to pay a debt or that the consumer wishes the debt collector to cease further communication with the consumer, the debt collector shall not communicate further with the consumer with respect to such debt, except (1) to advise the consumer that the debt collector's further efforts are being terminated; (2) to notify the consumer that the debt collector or creditor may invoke specified remedies which are ordinarily invoked by such debt collector or creditor; or (3) where applicable, to notify the consumer that the debt collector or creditor intends to invoke a specified remedy. If such notice from the consumer is made by mail, notification shall be complete upon receipt.

There are many sample "cease contact" letters. For example, this publication from the National Consumer Law Center contains a sample letter [PDF].


I just bought a used car and decided I don't want it. Do I have a legal right to return it? Isn't there a 3-day right to cancel the purchase?

31 views   |   3   |   Last updated on Apr 29, 2015    Consumer Protection Motor Vehicles

Many folks believe they have a 3-day right to cancel any and all purchases, but the Texas Attorney General explains that this is not the case:

Many consumers are under the impression that they have a 3-day right to cancel any and all consumer purchases. However, this is not true. The right to cancel law applies only to very specific situations.

The 3-day right to cancel law applies to sales made at facilities other than the seller's place of business. Such locations may be the consumer's residence and places rented on a temporary or short-term basis, such as hotel rooms or convention centers.

Generally speaking, once you sign a contract, you are bound by the terms it contains. There may be exceptions (e.g., a contract was signed under duress, there was deception or fraudulent activity), but only an attorney can provide a legal opinion and inform you of your options. It is also possible that a contract contains a cancellation clause or a "cooling-off period," so you should review the terms of your purchase agreement to see if it describes a return policy. It may also be possible to negotiate with the seller and come to a mutual agreement.


I just bought a new car, but I have now changed my mind and no longer want it. How long do I have to return it? 3 days?

29 views   |   5   |   Last updated on Apr 29, 2015    Consumer Protection Motor Vehicles

Richard Alderman, a prominent Texas attorney who helped draft the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, addresses this issue on his website. View his response to this question. He states:

As a general rule, when you sign a contract to buy something you are bound by the terms of that contract. There is no time limit within which you may just "change your mind." In most cases, to get out of a contract, you must show that you were induced into the contract by fraud, duress, deceit or misrepresentation. There are a few exceptions to this rule.

It is possible that your contract or purchase agreement contains a cancellation clause or a return policy. You should review the terms of the agreement you signed to see if it contains any information about cancelling the purchase. Only an attorney can provide you with a legal opinion or advise you of your rights in a situation.


Can gift cards expire? Can merchants charge an annual fee on a gift card?

25 views   |   4   |   Last updated on Apr 28, 2015    Consumer Protection

Chapter 604 of the Texas Business & Commerce Code regulates the sale of "stored value cards," a term defined to include a "gift card or gift certificate." Review subchapter B for information on permissible fees and subchapter C for information about required disclosures, such as expiration dates and policies.

In addition to state law, the 2009 federal Credit CARD Act [PDF] also regulates gift cards and their expiration policies. To read the portion of the federal law that relates to gift cards, see section 1693l-1 of Title 15 of the U.S. Code or read this publication from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that explains the new federal laws: Gift Cards.


Can I file for divorce on my own, without an attorney?

21 views   |   3   |   Last updated on May 04, 2015    Family Law

Yes, it is possible to file for divorce on your own. TexasLawHelp.org offers information, guidance, checklists, and legal forms that you could use for uncontested divorces. TexasLawHelp.org offers various sets of divorce documents that depend on the situation — whether children are involved, whether real property is involved, and whether there is already an existing final court order regarding child custody and support.

Our research guide on divorce can also help you find accurate legal information about divorces in Texas.

If your divorce is contested (that is, you and your spouse are not in agreement about the divorce), then the situation can quickly become complicated, especially if your spouse is represented by an attorney but you wish to proceed without an attorney — pro se. In contested divorce cases, it is strongly recommended that you consult with an attorney for advice on how to proceed. If you decide to proceed pro se (without an attorney), there are many family law titles and practice guides that you could consult at a law library. If you register for a library account with us, you'd receive access to our digital collection, which includes an electronic version of the Family Law Practice and Procedure set that you could borrow.


Is it true you can shoot your wife's lover if you catch them "in the act?"

18 views   |   4   |   Last updated on Apr 29, 2015    Texas Trivia

This is commonly referred to as the "paramour law," which referred to article 1220 of the Texas Penal Code. Article 1220 was repealed in 1973 by Senate Bill 34 during the 63rd Regular Session of the Texas Legislature. Prior to its repeal, article 1220 of the Texas Penal Code read as follows:

Homicide is justifiable upon one taken in the act of adultery with the wife, provided that the killing takes place before the parties to the act have separated. Such circumstance cannot justify a homicide where it appears that there has been, on the part of the husband, any connivance or assent to the adulterous connection.


I purchased an item that I no longer want. Do I have a legal right to return it to the store? What does the law say about refunds and return policies?

17 views   |   4   |   Last updated on Apr 28, 2015    Consumer Protection

We receive this question often, but we are unaware of any state law requiring any and all merchants to accept returns nor have we found any state law that would require merchants to post their return policy. Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to questions related to refunds and returns because it will depend on the specifics of your situation. Richard Alderman, a Texas attorney who helped draft consumer protection legislation in Texas, discusses refunds on his website and states the following:

Your right to a refund must be based on your "contract" with the store. Most people don't think about it, but every time you buy something at a store you enter into a contract. [...] The terms of that agreement control your rights. Some of the terms of the contract are expressly stated, for example the price. Other terms arise by implication, for example, some warranty rights as well as the right to return or exchange the item.

If you have questions about a specific purchase, it would be best to speak to an attorney who could inform you of your legal options. While there are laws that allow for a 3-day right to cancel certain purchases, these laws are very specific and do not apply in a majority of consumer purchases. The Texas Attorney General provides this information on the 3-day right to cancel in Texas.


Does Texas recognize common law marriages? How do common law marriages work in Texas?

15 views   |   2   |   Last updated on Apr 28, 2015    Family Law

Yes, Texas law does recognize common law marriages, which are referred to as "marriages without formalities" or "informal marriages." See chapter 2, subchapter E of the Texas Family Code for the state laws on common law marriages. The Travis County website answers many frequently asked questions about common law marriages. In particular, the Travis County website states that three elements must be present to form a common law marriage:

First, you must have "agreed to be married."
Second, you must have "held yourselves out" as husband and wife. You must have represented to others that you were married to each other. As an example of this, you may have introduced you partner socially as "my husband," or you may have filed a joint income tax return.
Third, you must have lived together in this state as husband and wife.

Review our common law marriage research guide if you would like to locate more information about common law marriage.


What happens if someone dies without a will?

15 views   |   5   |   Last updated on Apr 29, 2015    Wills/Probate

The Texas Estates Code addresses intestate succession, which is the legal term used to describe how an estate is settled when there is no will. In particular, chapter 201 of the Estates Code describes the distribution of an estate when there is no will. Factors that are taken into account include whether there is a surviving spouse, whether there are any surviving siblings, children, or other descendants, whether the property to be distributed was considered "community property" in a marriage, etc.

Our research guide on later-life resources provides a link to Where There's No Will [PDF], a publication from the Texas A&M Real Estate Center, that explains intestate succession.


Is it true that if someone breaks in to your house, you can shoot and kill them?

14 views   |   3   |   Last updated on Apr 29, 2015    Criminal Law

These types of provisions are commonly referred to as "castle doctrines." Sections 9.31 and 9.32 of the Texas Penal Code describe when deadly force is justified and when it is not justified by state law.


Are auto-renewing contracts or "evergreen clauses" legal in Texas?

13 views   |   5   |   Last updated on Apr 28, 2015    Consumer Protection

We have been unable to locate any state laws that regulate auto-renewing contracts in general. House Bill 1702 from the 80th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature sought to restrict the automatic renewal of contracts, but this bill did not become law. If you have questions about a specific contract, please consult with an attorney for a legal opinion.


Is there a Lemon Law in Texas? Does it cover used cars?

13 views   |   3   |   Last updated on Apr 29, 2015    Consumer Protection Motor Vehicles

The Texas version of what is commonly referred to as a lemon law starts at section 2301.601 of the Texas Occupations Code. The Texas Department of Transportation provides information about the Texas lemon law. They also have this brochure about the lemon law [PDF]. And because the law is complex, the department also offers an assistance hotline at (888) 368-4689 or (512) 416-4800.


How do I find a lawyer?

13 views   |   5   |   Last updated on May 01, 2015    Lawyers

The easiest way to find an attorney in your area would be to use a lawyer referral service or a legal directory. We provide links to various lawyer referral services and legal directories on our website. The State Bar of Texas Lawyer Referral Service offers a 30-minute consultation with an attorney for $20. Nearly all of the local bar associations' lawyer referral services offer that same service. All licensed attorneys are also required to submit their information to the Bar, and you can use the State Bar of Texas Directory to find an attorney. Take a look at our Where to Go for Help page if you are looking for free or low-cost legal assistance.


What is the statute of limitations on debt?

12 views   |   4   |   Last updated on May 09, 2015    Debt Collection Consumer Protection

A "statute of limitations" refers to how long a party has to bring suit in court. Chapter 16 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code sets out limitation periods for various civil causes of actions, and section 16.004 of the Code sets out a 4-year limitations period for suits related to debt. According to the statute, a lawsuit must be brought "not later than four years after the day the cause of action accrues." The Texas Attorney General provides the following information about the limitations period [PDF]:

We also receive inquiries regarding the obligation to pay old debts. If you never paid off an old debt, that does not mean it is not valid; you are obligated to pay it even if it has been several years since you were contacted by a collection agency or the business you owe the debt to.

Many consumers are under the impression that after a certain number of years, they are no longer responsible for an unpaid debt.

Under Chapter 16.004 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code, Four-Year Limitations Period, the statute of limitations for filing suit to collect a debt is no later than four years after the cause of action accrues. An example of when the cause of action accrues is the date on which the debt is declared to be in default.

If you are unsure of when the 4-year period begins and ends, it would be best to consult with an attorney who could help calculate when your cause of action accrued. Keep in mind that certain actions may "reset the clock" or re-age the 4-year period — e.g., making a partial payment, agreeing to a payment plan, affirming the debt. For more information about debt collection, review this debt collection article from the Texas Attorney General. The library also has a research guide if you'd like more information about debt collection laws.


I bought a used car, but it does not run well. I think the seller lied to me. What can I do?

12 views   |   3   |   Last updated on Apr 29, 2015    Consumer Protection Motor Vehicles

The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA) is Texas's leading consumer protection legislation. It protects consumers by making it unlawful to misrepresent a product that is sold in the state. Richard Alderman, a prominent Texas attorney who helped draft the DTPA, discusses one's options when a seller has lied about major defects and he also discusses one's options when a seller claims he did not know about a defect. He states the following:

Under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, it is unlawful for a seller to fail to disclose known defects, in order to induce you to make a purchase. In other words, if a seller knows of a major defect he must disclose it. I should point out that this law applies to all sellers, including individuals not in business. Under this law, a seller who knowingly fails to disclose facts, or takes steps to conceal them, may be liable for up to three times your damages plus court costs and attorneys' fees. To use the Deceptive Trade Practices Act you must first give the seller written notice of your complaint and the amount of your damages.

For more information about the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, we recommend this video by Richard Alderman from a People's Law School session that explains the DTPA and how it can be used to assert your rights.


I am looking for a specific legal form. Can I get it from the library?

10 views   |   4   |   Last updated on Apr 29, 2015    Legal Forms Legal Assistance

The library has many legal practice guides and form books for specific areas of the law. Rather than "fill-in-the-blank" forms, these resources provide information on accomplishing a legal procedure. Many also offer assistance in drafting the documents that must be filed with the court. These drafting guides give how-to advice on the information that needs to be included in a legal document, and they recommend phrasing to comply with the law and procedure.

Because most "legal forms" are actually drafting guides, we cannot quickly provide you with a "fill-in-the-blank" form. And because we are not attorneys, we cannot recommend which drafting guide or form you should use. But if you know exactly what you are seeking, we can try to verify whether or not it is available in one of the books at the library. If it is available in our library but you are unable to visit the library in person to make a copy, you can purchase a copy through our document delivery service.


Do children have to be a certain age before they can be left alone at home?

10 views   |   5   |   Last updated on Apr 29, 2015    Family Law Criminal Law

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services publishes information about leaving a child home alone. They state the following:

Texas law doesn't say what age is old enough for a child to stay at home alone. However, adequate supervision is critical to keeping kids safe. An adult caregiver is accountable for the child's care and inadequate supervision can be a type of neglect (neglectful supervision).

The Texas Penal Code also makes it a criminal offense to leave a child alone in a vehicle under certain circumstances. Click here to review section 22.10 of the Texas Penal Code.


How old do you have to be in order to be considered an adult? What is the "age of consent" in Texas?

10 views   |   6   |   Last updated on Apr 29, 2015    Family Law Criminal Law

We have not located any state law that universally defines an age of adulthood in Texas. Age of adulthood differs depending on the situation. For example:

In Texas, what is commonly referred to as "emancipation" typically refers to a legal procedure where a minor can petition for the "removal of disabilities of minority." For information on the removal of disabilities of minority, see chapter 31 of the Texas Family Code.


For how long can negative information appear on my credit report?

10 views   |   4   |   Last updated on May 07, 2015    Telephones Debt Collection Consumer Protection

Section 20.05 of the Texas Business & Commerce Code lists the information that a credit reporting agency may not furnish on a consumer report. Certain negative information may not be reported after 7 years. Certain bankruptcy information may not be reported after 10 years. For federal laws regarding credit reporting agencies and the information they may or may not furnish on a credit report, see Title 15, Chapter 41, Subchapter III of the U.S. Code.

For more information, see our research guide on credit reports.


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