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Frequently Asked Legal Questions

Find answers to common questions in our searchable FAQ.

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

44852 views   |   122   |   Last updated on May 03, 2016    Criminal Law Family 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.


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

3799 views   |   51   |   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.


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?

3656 views   |   54   |   Last updated on Oct 02, 2018    Motor Vehicles Consumer Protection

Many people believe they have a 3-day right to cancel the purchase of a motor vehicle, but that is not the norm. The library has not located a state law that explicitly grants a 3-day right to cancel any used vehicle purchase. The Texas Attorney General website addresses a very specific 3-day “right of rescission” for door-to-door sales, and they state the following:

Certain types of sales will not be covered by these laws, including auto sales.

One exception is for motor vehicle retail installment sales. A retail installment contract is a “transaction between you and the dealer to purchase a vehicle where you agree to pay the dealer over time, paying both the value of the vehicle plus interest,” according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That is, a retail installment contract does not apply to transactions that involve a loan. Section 348.111 of the Finance Code states that a buyer may rescind the contract under certain conditions, quoted below:

Sec. 348.110. DELIVERY OF COPY OF CONTRACT. A retail seller shall:
(1) deliver to the retail buyer a copy of the retail installment contract as accepted by the retail seller; or
(2) mail to the retail buyer at the address shown on the retail installment contract a copy of the retail installment contract as accepted by the retail seller.

Sec. 348.111. BUYER'S RIGHT TO RESCIND CONTRACT. Until the retail seller complies with Section 348.110, a retail buyer who has not received delivery of the motor vehicle is entitled to:
(1) rescind the contract;
(2) receive a refund of all payments made under or in contemplation of the contract; and
(3) receive the return of all goods traded in to the retail seller under or in contemplation of the contract or, if those goods cannot be returned, to receive the value of those goods.

You may also want to review the terms of the contract or agreement that you signed as it may contain cancellation provisions, a return policy, or a “cooling-off period.” 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 may also be possible to negotiate with the seller and come to a mutual agreement.


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

3176 views   |   50   |   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.


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?

2708 views   |   50   |   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.


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?

2247 views   |   49   |   Last updated on Oct 02, 2018    Motor Vehicles Consumer Protection

Many people believe they have a 3-day right to cancel the purchase of a new motor vehicle, but that is not the norm. Richard Alderman, a Texas attorney who helped draft the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, addresses this issue on his website. In response to whether a person can return a new motorcycle, 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.

One exception is for motor vehicle retail installment sales. A retail installment contract is a “transaction between you and the dealer to purchase a vehicle where you agree to pay the dealer over time, paying both the value of the vehicle plus interest,” according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That is, a retail installment contract does not apply to transactions that involve a loan. Section 348.111 of the Finance Code states that a buyer may rescind the contract under certain conditions, quoted below:

Sec. 348.110. DELIVERY OF COPY OF CONTRACT. A retail seller shall:
(1) deliver to the retail buyer a copy of the retail installment contract as accepted by the retail seller; or
(2) mail to the retail buyer at the address shown on the retail installment contract a copy of the retail installment contract as accepted by the retail seller.

Sec. 348.111. BUYER'S RIGHT TO RESCIND CONTRACT. Until the retail seller complies with Section 348.110, a retail buyer who has not received delivery of the motor vehicle is entitled to:
(1) rescind the contract;
(2) receive a refund of all payments made under or in contemplation of the contract; and
(3) receive the return of all goods traded in to the retail seller under or in contemplation of the contract or, if those goods cannot be returned, to receive the value of those goods.

You may also want to review the terms of the contract or agreement that you signed as it may contain cancellation provisions, a return policy, or a “cooling-off period.” 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 may also be possible to negotiate with the seller and come to a mutual agreement.


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

2118 views   |   53   |   Last updated on Oct 02, 2018    Motor Vehicles Consumer Protection

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 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.


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

2102 views   |   55   |   Last updated on Apr 29, 2015    Criminal Law Family 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.


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

2091 views   |   58   |   Last updated on Oct 02, 2018    Consumer Protection

The library receives this question often, but we have not been able to locate a law that provides a 3-day right to cancel any and all contracts or return any and all purchases. There are some statutes that provide a “cooling off” period for certain purchases or transactions, but these laws are very specific in nature and don't apply to all transactions.

Our cancellation of consumer contracts research guide points you to laws that deal with specific purchases or contracts — e.g., timeshares, health spas, home equity loans, motor vehicle installment sales, certain telephone solicitation purchases, manufactured home purchases, “lease to own” house contracts.

In his Know Your Rights! publication, Richard Alderman, a Texas attorney, says the following:

The existence of a three-day cooling-off period is one of the most widely held misconceptions about the law. There are only very limited instances in which you have three days to change your mind. For example, you have this right if you sign a contract that puts a lien on your home, a contract for time-share property, a health spa contract, or most contracts negotiated door-to-door. In other cases, though, once you sign you are bound.

The Texas Attorney General's website addresses the 3-day right to cancel law regarding door-to-door sales, but as they explain, that law is very specific.

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.


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

1914 views   |   51   |   Last updated on Oct 02, 2018    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.

A common misconception is that partners may accidentally enter into a common law marriage simply by living together for a certain amount of time. But chapter 2, subchapter E of the Texas Family Code sets out the requirements that must be met in order to prove a common law marriage.

TexasLawHelp.org hosts an article on common law marriages authored by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. To prove a common law marriage, they state all of the following must be shown:

You must show that you and your partner:

  • are not already married, informally or formally, to anyone else at the time the marriage was created, and
  • both you and your partner were at least 18 years of age when the marriage was created; and
  • you agreed to be married, and
  • afterward, lived in Texas as a married couple, and
  • represented to others that you are married (“holding out” to others).

It is also possible to register a common law marriage by signing a declaration of informal marriage. This form is provided by the county clerk.

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


What is the statute of limitations on debt?

1866 views   |   42   |   Last updated on Sep 27, 2018    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 limitation 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 several articles relating to debt collection and relief that may answer some of your questions.

In addition to Texas law, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is federal law enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC website provides answers to frequently asked questions about debt collection. The FTC website addresses some aspects of collecting on an old debt with the following information:

What if my debt is old?

Debt collectors have a certain number of years they can sue you and win to collect a debt. It’s called the statute of limitations, and usually begins when you fail to make a payment on a debt. Once it’s over, your unpaid debt is considered “time-barred,” but in some states, you have to raise the age of the debt as a defense to win.

How long the statute of limitations on a debt lasts depends on what kind of debt it is, and the law in your state or the state specified in your credit contract.

Also, under the laws of some states, if you make a payment or provide written acknowledgment of your debt, the clock may start ticking again.

Can a debt collector contact me about a time-barred debt?

Yes. Even if a debt collector can’t successfully sue you over a time-barred debt, you may still owe it.

What if I’m not sure whether my debt is time-barred?

Ask the collector when its records show you made your last payment. You also can send the collector a letter within 30 days of receiving a written notice of the debt. Explain why you’re disputing the debt and that you want to verify it. A collector must stop trying to collect until it gives you verification.

If you are unsure of when the 4-year limitations 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, as the FTC website indicates, 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, the library has put together a research guide with links to more information about debt collection laws.


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

1840 views   |   49   |   Last updated on Feb 06, 2018    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.


What happens if someone dies without a will?

1748 views   |   49   |   Last updated on Oct 12, 2018    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?

1745 views   |   42   |   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.


Is it illegal to pick bluebonnets in Texas?

1736 views   |   48   |   Last updated on Feb 09, 2017    Texas Trivia

The Texas Dept. of Public Safety published a press release regarding bluebonnets in 2014. While it states that "there is no law against picking the state flower," it urges you to consider other laws and other issues that might come into play — criminal trespassing, impeding traffic, damaging rights-of-way, etc. Also keep in mind that apart from state law, local governments (e.g., counties, municipalities) can enact ordinances that might apply within your jurisdiction.


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

1691 views   |   48   |   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.


Can a 17-year-old move out and leave home?

1654 views   |   46   |   Last updated on Oct 02, 2018    Family Law

There does not seem to be a clear, straightforward answer to this question in the Texas statutes. We highlight the complexities of this question on our research guide titled Can a Seventeen-Year-Old Leave Home? On that page you'll find links to opinions issued by the Texas Attorney General related to 17-year-olds.

We recommend contacting the Texas Youth & Runaway Hotline at 1-800-989-6884 for assistance with this question. They also offer an online youth chat and a text messaging service.


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

1615 views   |   50   |   Last updated on Mar 09, 2018    Motor Vehicles Consumer Protection

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 publish a downloadable brochure about the lemon law. The law is complex and has specific deadline requirements. To assist consumers, the department offers an assistance hotline at (888) 368-4689 or (512) 416-4800.


How can I modify my child support order?

1606 views   |   37   |   Last updated on May 01, 2015    Family Law

TexasLawHelp.org offers a modification kit that explains modification suits and guides you through procedures. You can also borrow the Texas Family Law Practice and Procedure practice guide as an e-book through OverDrive if you register for a library account with us. For additional resources, see our research guide on child custody and support.


Debt collectors keep calling me. What can I do?

1533 views   |   51   |   Last updated on Jul 15, 2015    Debt Collection Telephones 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 use with third-party debt collectors. For example, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) provides sample letters you can download. Also see this publication from the National Consumer Law Center that contains a sample letter [PDF]. Also see our research guide on debt collection.


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