This contractor can’t put a lien on your property

Q. A contractor came to see me and gave me a verbal quote for work I wanted done. His total price was $2,000. I received the invoice in the mail and promptly paid it. I then received another invoice for $3,200. He said it was for extra work he had to do. I told him I would only pay the amount he quoted me. Now he has sent me a letter stating he is going to put a lien on my house if I do not pay the additional $3,200. Help! I don’t know what my legal options are.

A. Without a written contract signed by you and your spouse, a contractor cannot put a lien on your homestead. In fact, in my opinion he is violating our state debt collection law by threatening to do so. I suggest you let him know you don’t believe you owe that money, and you will see an attorney if he takes any steps to put a lien on your home. Of course, he can always sue you in small claims court if he wants to prove you owe the money.

Q. My husband and I have been married for over 30 years. I am currently unemployed. Our marriage is going downhill and I am afraid he will file for divorce. Is there a law requiring he pay me alimony?

A. At the time of your divorce, the court will divide the community property you have acquired during the marriage. Texas does not authorize alimony, but it does allow a court to order spousal support if you cannot support yourself on the property you have after the divorce. Because you have been married for more than 10 years, you are eligible for spousal support. Generally, it is awarded for a period of three or fewer years. I suggest you promptly speak with a family law attorney as soon as you believe your husband might file.

Q. If I owe creditors and they file a lawsuit against me, can they garnish or do anything with my 401k?

A. In Texas, certain property is “exempt” and cannot be taken by creditors, even if they sue. Included within the list of exempt property are retirement funds, such as a 401k.

Q. Can I be sued or put in jail for a payday loan I defaulted on in 2007? A debt collector is threatening to sue and put me in jail.

A. First, you cannot be put in jail for not paying your debts. We ended debtor’s prison a long time ago. You can be sued, but depending on how the loan was structured, the statute of limitations is generally four years. This means that if the lender sued, you may have a defense to the lawsuit based on what is called the “statute of limitations.”There also is a very strong federal debt collection statute that prohibits wrongful threats and misleading statements. Look at my Web site,, for much more information about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Based on what you say, the debt collector has violated this law. The law lets you recover any actual damages you have, plus a penalty of up to $1,000. My guess is that letting the collector know you know about this law will end the threats, and allow you to work out a payment plan you can live with.

Q. I’ve been told that you cannot disinherit an adopted child. Is this true? Can you state in your will that you do not want to leave an adopted child anything?

A. Under Texas law, adopted and biological children are treated the same. You do not, however, have to leave any of your property to a particular person. If you want, you may split your property evenly between your children, or leave it all to one, or none, of your children. It is your property, and the law lets you decide where it goes after your death.

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