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Lend a Hand: 5 Big and Small Ways to Help Victims of Domestic Violence Now

Posted on Oct 3, 2017 in Coparenting, Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Divorce and Privacy, Domestic Violence, Marriage, Texas Family Law

Lend a Hand: 5 Big and Small Ways to Help Victims of Domestic Violence Now

During the time it takes you to read this story, 30 women will be assaulted during acts of domestic violence. On behalf of those moms, aunts, sisters, daughters, cousins, friends and neighbors – and their children – Connatser Family Law asked Jan Langbein, CEO at Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support in Dallas, what we all can do to make a difference.

When we spoke to Langbein, the shootings of a domestic violence victim and her eight friends (one who survived) in Plano, Texas were fresh in her mind.

“Our community is still reeling from the mass homicide in Plano during a football watching party. The woman did exactly what we tell victims of domestic violence to do – which is get out of an abusive relationship and surround yourself with friends. She had no idea how much danger she was in, and her friends certainly didn’t either,” Langbein says.

Ready to “get out?” Here’s information on how to leave an abusive relationship and protect your kids.

In order to make a difference, Langbein says, “We all have a responsibility to know the signs of domestic violence long before a tragedy like the one in Plano ever happens.”

Common signs, actions or traits of someone who is likely to be an abuser:

  • Hyper-vigilant, such as needing to know where his partner is every moment of the day.
  • Extremely jealous.
  • Transfers blame for problems he contributed to.
  • Aggressive with wait staff or other service professionals.
  • Does or says things that make your hair stand up on end.

Common signs, actions or traits of a victim of abuse:

  • Unexplained bruises.
  • Days missed from work that seem excessive or unexplainable.
  • Change in patterns or behavior, such as not going out as much.
  • Limiting or halting communications with family and friends.

People need to be more proactive about stepping up when something seems off or intuition tells them a woman or child may be in peril. Langbein recently experienced this situation at the DFW Airport.

As she explains, “I was waiting at the gate for my flight to board, and a man was really going off on his wife and yelling at her. My gut told me she was at serious risk for getting hurt. When she got up to go to the bathroom, I followed her in and gave her my business card – I didn’t do it in front of him.”

Langbein strongly believes it’s our responsibility as human beings to say something if we see something, even when it feels uncomfortable.

“We need to step up long before a woman starts thinking about leaving her abuser or entering a shelter. This requires a change in mindset, where we acknowledge that everyone needs to play a part in ending domestic violence. We also need to do so 365 days a year, not just the 31 days during Domestic Violence Awareness Month,” Langbein says.

Five ways you can help – before, during and after a victim of domestic violence seeks help

 

No. 1: Change your mindset and take responsibility.

According to Langbein, “Domestic violence happens everywhere. After the Plano shooting, I heard people say, ‘I can’t believe it happened in Plano.’ That’s where the problem resides. You can’t be surprised if it happens down the street because it happens everywhere. It’s not an economic thing, and it’s not an education thing. It’s about power and control.” When you see something, say something.

 

No. 2: Know what resources are available in your community.

Don’t feel like you have to “fix things” for that person. Even if you can’t provide financial support or a place to stay, you can point that person to resources and organizations that can help “fix things” for the victim. Here are a few to consider:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or TTY 1-800-787-3224 and website at thehotline.org.
  • Teens can contact the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474 or TTY 1-866-331-8453 or visit loveisrespect.org.
  • Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support website http://www.genesisshelter.org/ and phone (214) 946-HELP (4357) (for Dallas area residents).

No. 3: Let the victim know that shelters offer more than a safe haven.

“Many shelters are a one-stop shop. We’re here to walk alongside the victim during the process. In addition to shelter, we can connect women and their children with counseling and legal support and provide clothing, toiletries, emergency funds, medical assistance and just about anything these families need to start over,” Langbein explains.

Learn more about legal protections available to domestic violence victims in Texas here.

 

No. 4: Donate time, money and items women need.

The same items people donated to the victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma are all things shelters need 365 days a year: Bottled water, clothing, furniture, housewares, diapers, baby wipes, socks, underwear and feminine hygiene products.

According to Langbein, “It will take years to recover from the tragedy in Houston, it was a shock. Unfortunately, most people aren’t shocked when that other flood comes. Whether you call him Harvey, Steve, Bob or Roberto, it’s the same thing for victims of domestic violence. They lose everything when they walk away.”

Langbein also encourages people to volunteer their time to answer phones at a shelter or help support a fundraising event. “Those who are financially able can get a team together for our charity golf tournament or sponsor a table at one of our luncheons. If you don’t have financial means, clean out your closets or roll up your sleeves and volunteer,” she says.

 

No. 5: Encourage victims to create a safety plan right away.

Genesis provides helpful information on the safety planning page on its website. In the meantime, here are a few recommendations you can share with a friend or family member who is at risk:

  • Open a checking or savings account and a post office box in your own name.
  • Leave money, a set of keys, copies of important documents, extra clothes and medicines in a safe place or with someone you trust.
  • Identify a safe place where you and your children can go or someone who can lend you money.
  • Have a packed bag ready at a friend or relative’s house.
  • Identify one or more neighbors who will call the police if a disturbance is coming from your home.
  • Devise a code word or sign (such as turning on a particular light) to use with your children, family, friends, and neighbors when you need them to call 911 for help.

Family violence is a crisis we can all play a role in eradicating. Challenge yourself and your friends to do something – big or small – today. Something as simple as sharing this article on social media could save a life.

 

Click any of the social sharing buttons below to encourage others to help.

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Want to Keep Costs in Check During a Divorce? Avoid These 8 Mistakes

Posted on Sep 19, 2017 in Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Divorce and Business, Marriage, Uncategorized

Want to Keep Costs in Check During a Divorce? Avoid These 8 Mistakes

By Aubrey Connatser

Getting divorced can be a costly undertaking, especially if your case ends up going to trial. Unfortunately, some people end up spending more in attorney’s fees than necessary. The good news? If you are planning to divorce, you can rein in costs simply by avoiding the following mistakes.

Mistake No. 1: Picking the wrong divorce lawyer

It’s extremely important to have a good rapport with the person who will be navigating the divorce process with you. Parties who don’t see eye to eye with their divorce attorneys, typically end up with less consistency in strategy and more time spent in meetings.

For example, say you are someone who hopes to settle your divorce as amicably as possible. If you hire an attorney who prefers to handle contentious divorces, you will spend a lot of time and money trying to reach a consensus regarding what to do and why.

Not sure how to find the right attorney for your circumstances? Aubrey provides six essential tips for hiring a divorce attorney here.

Remember, divorce lawyers bill by the hour. When you have confidence in your lawyer, you probably won’t question him or her as much (not that you shouldn’t question your attorney). In addition, you will probably be more inclined to trust his or her judgment and spend less time agreeing on a strategy.

Mistake No. 2: Using your divorce attorney as a therapist

Initially, it can be a good thing to explain to your lawyer what led up to your divorce emotionally, because that helps inform him or her as to where you are from a mental health perspective. However, extensively relying on an attorney for emotional support can get expensive. Therapists tend to charge much less than lawyers – depending on who you hire.

Mistake No. 3: Not understanding your divorce lawyer’s fee contract

Different lawyers charge different fees, so be sure to review how time is billed before signing a contract. Inquire about the lawyer’s hourly rate and how you will be billed for time other people in the firm spend working on your case, such as paralegals and law clerks.

You should also ask what sort of retainer is required. Technically, retainers are refundable, so find out what the law firm’s policy is regarding timing of refunds. In addition, find out how the firm bills incremental time entries – by the tenth of an hour, quarter of an hour, etc.

Being prepared can help smooth the divorce process. Check out the 18 helpful tools in our divorce toolkit here.

Mistake No. 4: Communicating inefficiently with your attorney

If you want to keep costs in check, communicate efficiently with your divorce attorney. For example, instead of sending 10 emails throughout the day, send one email with 10 questions at the end of the day. Every time you contact your lawyer, you will be billed for that time – so refrain from hitting “send” whenever possible.

You may even consider scheduling a weekly meeting with the attorney and set aside any questions that need to be addressed for that time. That doesn’t mean you can’t communicate more frequently when necessary, but in the long run, weekly meetings can increase efficiency and reduce billable hours significantly.

Mistake No. 5: Not reviewing paperwork for accuracy

Carefully review any pleadings to ensure everything is accurate from a fact standpoint before they are filed on your behalf. This step can help reduce hourly fees related to correcting mistakes and inaccuracies later.

Mistake No. 6: Keeping things from your attorney

You should never lie to your doctor, and you should never lie to your divorce lawyer either. Lawyers can’t help you if they don’t know the truth, and you’ll only end up hurting yourself – and increasing the cost of your divorce – if you are not forthcoming.

Filing for divorce in Dallas or Collin County? Here are 12 things you need to know about divorce in Texas.

Mistake No. 7: Not communicating with your spouse

To the extent that it is possible, if you and your spouse can keep an open line of communication and agree upon some issues together, less time and money will be spent relying on lawyers to handle things for you.

Even if you can’t agree on the big issues – which your lawyer should be tackling anyway – there may be little things the two of you can sort out without getting attorneys involved.

In addition, delaying settling with your spouse due to anger and resentment can get expensive, too. Try to put your feelings aside, so your divorce doesn’t drag on, otherwise your attorney’s fees will continue to escalate.

Mistake No. 8: Not filing first

While it doesn’t make much difference if you don’t go to trial, filing for divorce first is usually advantageous if you DO go to trial. Preparing for a case is a lot more time consuming for lawyers when they have to present second at trial. If you file first, then your attorney will present first when your case goes to court.

Since founding Connatser Family Law in 2013, Aubrey Connatser and her team have firmly established the next in a line of great Texas divorce and family law firms. To learn more about divorce and child custody in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and compassionate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

 

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

Top 5 Questions About Same-Sex Marriage, Divorce and Child Custody in Texas – Post SCOTUS Marriage Ban Repeal

Posted on Aug 31, 2017 in Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Marriage, Texas Family Law

Top 5 Questions About Same-Sex Marriage, Divorce and Child Custody in Texas – Post SCOTUS Marriage Ban Repeal

By Abby Gregory

More than two years have passed since the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) overruled the state of Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage. Dallas divorce attorney Abby Gregory weighs in on how the SCOTUS ruling has – and has not – changed family law concerns for same-sex couples in Texas.

As attorneys at a Dallas-based family law firm, people often ask us how the SCOTUS ruling has affected same-sex couples in the Texas family law courts. Five of the most common questions regarding same-sex marriage, divorce and child custody follow, along with insight from the Connatser Family Law team.

No. 1: How is same-sex divorce different from a divorce between a heterosexual couple?

Most aspects of a same-sex divorce are pretty straightforward and similar to a traditional divorce. However, since gay marriage has only been legal in Texas for two years, we have had to deal with more cases where a common law marriage was involved and the couple does not have a marriage license.

In order to prove a common law marriage in Texas couples have to meet three requirements:

  • They agree to be married.
  • They live together in the state of Texas.
  • They hold themselves out to be husband and wife, husband and husband, or wife and wife. Technically, the statute only addresses “husband and wife,” so there is some loose interpretation there that will need to be addressed by the courts.

Once a common law marriage has been established, the divorce comes down to the dividing of any assets, property, financial accounts, benefits and debts – just as you would in a heterosexual divorce.

No. 2: How has the legalization of same-sex marriage had an impact on your clients?

The most obvious answer is that we are now able to facilitate same-sex divorces for our Texas clients. When gay marriage was illegal in Texas, we were unable to help same-sex couples get divorced here, because the state didn’t consider those couples to be legally married.

No. 3: What issues do you foresee arising for same-sex couples who want to divorce now that they can legally do so?

In the short term, the biggest issue for many gay divorces in Texas will likely be coming to an agreement regarding the common law marriage date. For couples with sizeable assets, determining the date of marriage is critical, because that is when division of assets pertaining to community property starts.

If the couples were legally married in another state that previously recognized same-sex marriage, that would eliminate this concern.

As the years go by this issue will lessen, because same-sex couples that marry following the SCOTUS ruling can be issued a dated Texas marriage license – whereas prior to the ruling they could not.

No. 4: Does the SCOTUS ruling change how child custody issues in Texas are handled?

Just because you’re married doesn’t mean that you are the legal parent of a child in your household. That’s why it is so important for a party who is not the biological parent to go through legal proceedings to ensure he or she has parental rights by legally adopting the child.

Without a formal adoption, the non-biological party will have no legal grounds pertaining to parental rights, should the couple decide to divorce.

If the child is the non-biological child of both parties, they will want to make sure to go through a second adoption (after one party legally adopts the child) to ensure both parents have legal rights to the child.

Prior to Obergerfell, this was the only way to guarantee that both parents in a same-sex relationship had equal parental rights to a child, as only a married couple could adopt a child together (simultaneously in the same proceeding). It will be interesting to see how adoption proceedings change, now that same-sex couples are legally recognized as married.

To learn how the Connatser Family Law team helped a wonderful mom navigate her same-sex custody dispute, read Inez’ story here.

No. 5: On June 30, 2017, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the 2015 SCOTUS ruling doesn’t guarantee spousal benefits for gay couples. How do you see this interpretation of the ruling – and others – playing out?

Essentially, what the Texas Supreme Court said is that the reach and ramifications regarding the rights of married gay couples remain to be determined. Individual employers, the state of Texas, even different counties and cities could push back regarding rights related to marriage.

Many individual rulings that don’t extend the same rights to married gay couples as they do to married heterosexual couples will probably end up back in the hands of SCOTUS.

Abby Gregory is a compassionate Dallas divorce attorney with a substantial record in litigation, collaboration and Texas family law. A graduate of Fordham University College of Law, Abby committed herself to community service during her tenure at Fordham and received the Archibald R. Murray Public Service Award, summa cum laude, based on her extensive pro bono and community work for Lawyers for Children, the Innocence Project and others. To learn more about divorce and child custody in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a member of the Connatser Family Law team.

 

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

As Gray Divorces Increase, Social Security Benefits Become More Important

Posted on Aug 30, 2017 in Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Divorce and Business, Texas Family Law

As Gray Divorces Increase, Social Security Benefits Become More Important

Aubrey Connatser and Guy Rodgers, Texas Lawyer

Dramatic increases in the number of older people getting divorced these days have brought to light social security rules that provide additional benefits to divorced people who qualify.

These “gray” or Baby Boomer divorces are more common than ever before. A study from the National Center for Family and Marriage found that the U.S. divorce rate for couples age 50 and older doubled between 1990 and 2010, and was even higher for those over 65.

The main concern of most people who divorce late in life is whether they will have enough money to live comfortably the rest of their lives. Divorce can drain the coffers of people in their 60s and 70s who may not have a way to rebuild their finances afterward. These older people need a pathway to security, and social security can be an important part of finding that pathway.

Social security benefits are based on how long a person has worked, how much money is earned and when the person starts taking benefits. Social security retirement benefits can start at age 62. Full retirement age of people born between 1943 and 1954 is 66 years of age, while benefits max out at age 70.

People who may not have worked for wages (such as housewives), worked for low wages or in jobs where social security taxes were not taken out through payroll deduction, may not qualify to receive much of a benefit. Eligibility for certain benefits can also depend on marital status. For divorced, divorcing and married people alike, the key is knowing the most advanced strategies and aggressively pursuing benefits.

Claimants must file to determine their benefits, even if they question their eligibility. The Social Security Administration will not come after people waving money.

Those who might not otherwise qualify for benefits may be eligible for divorced spousal benefits. A divorced spouse can collect social security retirement benefits based on the work record of an ex- husband or wife under strict conditions. For purposes of this explanation, the spouse filing on the benefits of an ex will be called the filing spouse. The spouse who earned the benefits being filed on will be called the earning spouse.

The rules for collecting divorced spousal benefits are as follows:

Both the filing spouse and the earning spouse must be at least 62 years of age.

The couple must have been married for at least 10 years and divorced for two years.

The filing spouse must be unmarried at the time of filing. The marital status of the earning spouse is not a factor.

The filing spouse cannot be eligible for a higher benefit based on his or her own work record.

For the filing spouse to collect, the earning spouse must be entitled to receive benefits but doesn’t have to be receiving them at the time of filing.

No one has to ask an ex’s permission to file and there doesn’t have to be any contact between the exes during this process. Even if the earning spouse is remarried, this filing won’t affect the right to divorcee benefits, nor will it affect his or her retirement benefits or that of a current spouse. Only if the filing spouse remarries will he or she become ineligible for these benefits.

Syndicated columnist Tom Margenau recently told the story of a divorced couple, both age 66, who filed on each other’s benefits. For four years, each of them received 50 percent of their ex’s full social security benefit, and it was perfectly legal. This kept their own benefits intact until age 70, when they switched to their own full benefit plus the 32 percent bonus that goes with delaying retirement benefits until 70. This strategy is applicable only to people born before 1954.

Note that if a person qualifies for more than one set of benefits, in most cases he or she will collect on only the larger one.

A variation on the divorced spousal benefit is the divorced survivor benefit. If an earning spouse dies, after being married for at least 10 years and divorced for at least two years, the filing spouse can collect up to 100 percent of the amount the deceased was to receive. These benefits are available to divorced spouses as early as 60 years of age, or 50 if the survivor is disabled.

With the increase in divorce among older people, and with people living longer, these benefits have become more important for supplementing the money available to people coming out of a divorce.

Social Security is an important part of retirement income, but it isn’t intended to provide for everything. It should be just one piece of a person’s overall retirement strategy. Family law attorneys should explain these benefits to their divorcing clients or team up with a qualified planner with more experience interpreting the arcane rules of social security.

Aubrey Connatser is a Board Certified Dallas family lawyer who can be reached at aubrey@connatserfamilylaw.com. Guy Rodgers is a Mansfield financial adviser and Board Certified family lawyer at guy@grpws.com. For more information on social security benefits, visit www.ssa.gov.

Copyright 2017. ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Good, Bad and Ugly Sides of Nesting During Divorce

Posted on Aug 9, 2017 in Connatser Family Law, Coparenting, Dallas Divorce, Divorce

The Good, Bad and Ugly Sides of Nesting During Divorce

By Christine Powers Leatherberry

Divorce can be very stressful for children, especially early on as they adjust to the reality of their parents’ breakup. To ease the blow, some parents consider nesting, where the children remain in the marital residence after the divorce is filed, and the parents rotate in and out on a set schedule.

The good side of nesting? It helps maintain normalcy for the children

Nesting really helps smooth the transition to a post-divorce family by maintaining normalcy and the status quo for children. Their home environment doesn’t change, they get to sleep in the same bed and take a bath in the same bathtub. Plus, all of their toys are within reach.

One such Connaster Family Law client, Frank Jones,* experienced the ups and downs of nesting firsthand.

“The big pro to nesting in our case was my son was able to stay in his own room, and we could go play ball in the backyard like we always had. He didn’t have to pack a backpack and shuffle back and forth between two households. Essentially, he could continue on with his life in the same place he had always called home,” Frank says.

Not sure how to tell your children you’re getting divorced? Get some excellent insight here: Break the News with Care: How to Tell Kids You’re Getting Divorced

Also good: Nesting can simplify finances and help parents save money

Along with easing the blow for children, nesting does offer other benefits. It gives the parties more time to decide who will live in the marital residence long-term, if either party wants to.

In addition, if the parties live with parents or another family member when it isn’t their turn to live in the marital residence, they may be able to save money. Nesting can simplify finances, too, because the parties likely will continue to pay the same bills – mortgage, utilities, etc. – as they did in the past.

So, nesting can work well for some families during the early stages of divorce, but it isn’t a workable solution for most people in the long-term. Frank and his ex-wife nested for nearly a year and a half, and by the end, they were both ready to move on.

The bad and ugly side of nesting? Painful memories, house cleaning disputes, life in limbo and privacy concerns

Most family law clients who have agreed to a nesting arrangement do so for the sake of their children, but they find it can be personally challenging and stressful over the long-term.

Memories

… From the outset, living in the marital residence was never comfortable for Frank, because his ex had an affair in the home.

As he explains, “During my time in the house, I wanted to create normalcy for my son and do what I had to do to get custody. Unfortunately, many painful memories lingered there due to the affair. I wanted to distance myself, but every time I walked through the door I kept reliving those memories.”

Life in limbo

… Many parents also feel unsettled because their possessions move between two places and they never know in what state they will find the house when it’s their turn to move back in.

According to Frank, “If you leave anything behind at the house, you may not have access to it until you return. I eventually moved all of my personal items to my parents’ home and packed a backpack with essentials when it was my time to stay at the house. With nesting, if almost feels like you’re in limbo and traveling all the time, but you have to plan and reinvent yourself.”

Housekeeping nightmares

… Cleanliness is one of the biggest issues our clients argue about with the other parent. We often see emails about the house being filthy, high chairs not being cleaned, toys are not put away, dirty laundry that hasn’t been washed. Divorce is stressful, tensions are high and some people deliberately try to sabotage and annoy the other party.

Keeping the refrigerator stocked was another challenge for Frank. “I finally realized that it was best to pick up my son and head straight to the grocery store so we knew what we’d be having for dinner,” Frank says.

Private information compromised

… We always caution clients to take steps to ensure the other party won’t have access to any confidential or privileged information from attorneys or any consultants working on their case. The best thing to do is remove any shared computers from the home and set up separate email and cloud accounts.

For more insight on keeping private communications secure, check out this recent post: How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Technology During Divorce and Child Custody Disputes

Somebody’s watching you

… Moving in and out of a shared home can also put parties at risk for being spied upon. Recording devices and video cameras could be installed in the home. We’ve even had clients who found GPS tracking devices mounted on shared vehicles.

Is nesting right for you? Short and sweet is usually best

Clients often ask us what the optimum period of time is for a nesting arrangement. The answer? The shortest period of time possible. Nesting really can work well from the time the divorce is filed until the temporary orders hearing is held – if there is one – and even up to a month or two.

It’s when couples get to that three-month mark and beyond when nesting can become a nightmare for parents. The best option is for the parties to start living separate lives as soon as they are financially able to do so.

The sooner the parents start acting like they are divorced, the sooner the kids will become accustomed to the idea. (Check out this recent post for information on smoothing the transition for children: 5 Valuable Resources to Help Kids Cope When Parents Split.)

While Frank doesn’t regret the early days of nesting, he knew his son would need to face the reality of the divorce eventually.

As he explains, “At some point the child’s life will change, there is no soft landing. When the house was sold, my son ended up bouncing between my parents’ house and my ex’s house. It was a strange transition for him, and kids do take the brunt of it. But now there’s a new normal, and he’s adjusted well.”

Christine Powers Leatherberry is a compassionate family lawyer who is equally comfortable in the courtroom as she is counseling her clients one-on-one. She is a past chair of the Dallas Junior Board of the Big Brothers Big Sisters and was a Big Sister to the same Little for 11 years. To learn more about divorce and child custody in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and considerate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

* Client’s name and minor details have been changed.

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

From Hollywood to Highland Park – 12 Reasons Married Couples DON’T Get Divorced

Posted on Jul 27, 2017 in Connatser Family Law, Dallas Divorce, Texas Family Law

From Hollywood to Highland Park – 12 Reasons Married Couples DON’T Get Divorced

By Aubrey Connatser

It seems like Hollywood divorces make headlines everyday. On the flip side, some celebrity couples do make a go of it – many for decades. Just look at Tinseltown marriage veterans Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, and Sting and Trudie Styler.

So why are these Hollywood marriages still going strong? Many of the couples took time to get to know each other before marrying, and they probably work hard to maintain healthy relationships both as couples and parents.

The same holds true for couples that live happily ever after away from the spotlight. It doesn’t matter if you’re a celebrity couple living in Hollywood or a traditional couple raising a family in Highland Park. While there are always exceptions, couples typically have enduring marriages for several common reasons, whether they are famous or not.

No. 1: They wait to get married until they are older.

As divorce attorneys, we regularly see clients who were high school or college sweethearts who didn’t really date anyone else. After a couple of years they start to wonder if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, or their priorities have changed. Couples who date other people before settling on a mate are more likely to understand that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

No. 2: They don’t marry due to a pregnancy.

If the main reason a couple decides to marry is because the woman is pregnant, divorce may be looming around the corner. Starting a marriage as new parents can be difficult, especially if the couple hasn’t spent time getting to know each other, or they don’t really love each other.

No. 3: They don’t let in-laws interfere with their relationship.

It’s important for couples to tell parents to stay out of their business, or suggest the parents go to in-law premarital counseling where they will learn to mind their own business. The sooner a couple’s in-laws know their place, the less likely their marriage will suffer.

No. 4: They are upfront about their desired spousal roles.

I always say, hold true to the deal you strike. For example, if a wife tells her spouse she wants to work outside the home versus stay home with the kids (or vice versa), then changes positions after getting married, that might be too big of a hurdle for the husband to overcome. Couples need to be honest up front.

No. 5: They don’t abuse alcohol or drugs.

Substance abuse tears families apart. If either spouse (or both) is battling substance abuse, they need to address addiction problems head on. Abusing alcohol or drugs is one of the most common reasons people divorce.

No. 6: They seek help for mental health issues.

As with No. 5, if either spouse is struggling with mental health issues, the couple’s marriage will face challenges. Seeking guidance from a mental health professional can help a spouse cope psychological issues before they spiral out of control.

No. 7: They don’t cheat.

It’s no secret, cheating is one of the biggest reasons people get divorced. Adultery is typically a sign of a much deeper problem. Couples that want to stay married, need to address the issues in the marriage before straying.

No. 8: They don’t marry the mistress.

Unfaithful spouses who plan to marry the person with whom they had an affair – need to be wary. Think about it. If the mistress slept with a married person in the past, why wouldn’t she do it again?

No. 9: They talk about financial issues openly.

When a couple’s finances aren’t transparent, their relationship usually isn’t either. Financial surprises can erode trust and breed resentment. Future spouses should take time to understand each person’s financial goals and expectations while negotiating a premarital agreement.

No. 10: They schedule regular date nights.

It’s important to keep romance alive in a marriage, especially after children enter the picture. Couples should try to commit to date night at least once a week to focus on one another and also agree to avoid topics pertaining to the kids.” Which leads us to …

No. 11: They don’t get lost in the kids.

Couples who exclusively trade their identity as “husband and wife” for “mom and dad” often struggle once they become empty nesters. Instead, couples should focus on the fact that it will be just the two of them after children leave the nest. Plus, setting a good example both as a couple AND as parents can help establish a solid bedrock for children.

No. 12: They work hard to maintain intimacy.

Does your living situation feel more like a roommate arrangement than a marriage? Couples that skip too many date nights, start sleeping in different rooms and allow intimacy to fade away, put their marriages jeopardy. While most relationships are cyclical in the intimacy department, we often see people file for divorce when one of the partners craves more intimacy than the other.

Honesty, open communication and ‘working at it’ are key

Whether you’re a celebrity or not, being married isn’t easy – it takes work. If you want to avoid a divorce, start your marriage on the right foot; communicate openly about your goals and faults; and seek professional help at the first sign of trouble. And if issues in your marriage are too big to overcome, reach out to an experienced divorce attorney for advice.

Since founding Connatser Family Law in 2013, Aubrey Connatser and her team have firmly established the next in a line of great Texas divorce and family law firms. To learn more about divorce and child custody in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and compassionate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

 

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Wealthy, Divorced and in Love? Live Happily Ever After with a Cohabitation Agreement

Posted on Jul 25, 2017 in Cohabitation, Dallas Divorce, Divorce

Wealthy, Divorced and in Love? Live Happily Ever After with a Cohabitation Agreement

By Douglas A. Harrison

Over the past 37 years, Connatser Family Law attorney Doug Harrison has helped hundreds of clients negotiate premarital, post-marital and cohabitation agreements. In the following post, Doug explains how cohabitation agreements help couples worry less by living life with financial transparency and financial certainty.

Many couples move in together when they want to take their relationships to the next level – but that doesn’t always mean marriage is on their minds. This is often true for people with sizeable assets who have experienced a painful divorce or were widowed after a lengthy marriage.

Cohabitating without a marriage license doesn’t diminish the love two people feel for one another. However, financial questions and concerns can put undue stress on a relationship – something that could be avoided by having a frank and honest conversation about financial expectations and the signing of a cohabitation agreement.

Cohabitation agreements allow couples to spell out financial and other arrangements in black and white. That way the couple can focus on developing their relationship and enjoying life without uncertainty. Such was the case for a client I helped recently.

Couples can protect a legacy and provide for a significant other with cohabitation agreements

I negotiated a cohabitation agreement for a man who had lost his wife of more than 30 years. He was very lonely and eventually met a lovely woman. After dating for several months, the two discussed moving in together. He resisted.

The client had a good deal of money, so entering into a new relationship worried him, primarily because he wanted to preserve most of his estate for his children and grandchildren. His new “partner” was nervous, too. She had gone through a terrible divorce and hoped to enter a relationship where she could feel secure without trap doors.

After a series of negotiations, the goals of both parties were met. The agreement ensured his estate was preserved and that there would be reasonable transition provisions for her in the event the two parted ways or he died. Both parties were relieved when the agreement was signed, and they were excited to move on with their lives without financial worries, suspicion or disagreement.

Cohabitation agreements also enable couples to avoid disputes related to common law marriage

For many couples, one of the most important reasons to get a cohabitation agreement is to clearly set forth that the parties do not intend to form a common law or informal marriage under Texas law.

In Texas, there are three requirements that need to be met in order for the court to rule that a common law or informal marriage exists. Proof must be presented in court that both parties agreed to be married, they did so while living in the state of Texas, and they both held out to the public they were husband and wife while living in the state of Texas. The evidence also has to show that the parties intended to have a present and permanent marital relationship, and neither party can be under the age of 18.

Today, people wait longer to marry than they used to, which can result in an unintended problem. As time goes on, many couples end up with disputed facts.

For example, one party may say, “I thought since we lived together for so long and shared finances, we were in a common law marriage.” Conversely, the other party might say, “That wasn’t my intent. Sure, we did have a joint bank account with both of our names on it, and I did introduce you to my friends as my spouse on occasion, but I never intended for us to be married.”

There is no “common law divorce” in Texas, although there can be a presumption against a common law marriage if no action to prove the marriage has been filed within two years of the separation of the partners.

Without a cohabitation agreement, couples risk creating an informal or common law marriage. In Texas, this essentially means the couple could be legally married and community property becomes involved. If the couple decides to end the relationship, they would need to get a divorce and divide community property.

Cohabitation agreements allow couples to state in writing: “We are not getting married, and if we ever intend to get married, we will do so in a formal ceremony with a marriage license. Until that happens, we are not married, we are not creating community property, and neither one of us is relying on promises that ‘I’ll take care of you,’ or ‘I will be provided for,’ should we decide to part ways.”

Put it in writing to eliminate uncertainty and enjoy life

If you want to protect a legacy, provide for a significant other’s future and avoid the hassle of untangling yourself from a common law marriage, contact a reputable family law attorney near you. He or she can explain the advantages and limitations of cohabitation agreements and help you negotiate an agreement that will bring you and your partner peace of mind.

Douglas A. Harrison is a veteran family lawyer known throughout Texas for his expert handling of complex business and property claims in divorce. To learn more about premarital, post-marital and cohabitation agreements in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and compassionate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

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They Help Others Navigate Divorce, So Why Are These Divorce Attorneys So Happily Married?

Posted on Jun 30, 2017 in Connatser Family Law, Marriage, Parenting

They Help Others Navigate Divorce, So Why Are These Divorce Attorneys So Happily Married?

Dallas divorce attorney Alissa Castro has plenty to celebrate. June marks her third anniversary working with Connatser Family Law, and she recently became engaged to her fiancé Jimmy. So why is this young divorce attorney so excited to get married?

For one thing, Alissa looks forward to people no longer asking: “After seeing so many people get divorced, are you ever going to get married?” She also has a positive outlook about marriage, because her happily married parents and colleagues have served as terrific role models.

According to Alissa, “I am lucky enough to have parents who remain happily married after being together for over 40 years. Plus, it’s hard to be jaded about marriage when you work with five happily married divorce attorneys.”

You get out of marriage what you put into it

While she is consistently surrounded by the reality of divorce, Alissa is also inspired and encouraged by the successful marriages and behaviors modeled by her colleagues.

“The attorneys that I work with lead by example – both in the workplace and within their relationships. They regularly show me they didn’t achieve the levels of success at work or in their marriages by luck – it all takes hard work,” Alissa says.

She also appreciates the honesty, guidance and support her workplace family provides on a daily basis – much like they do with their clients.

As Alissa explains, “The attorneys here have helped me set realistic expectations regarding difficulties related to balancing a legal career, marriage and (someday for me) children. They remind me each day that there will be bumps in the road, but you have to lean on your spouse (and your workplace family) during tough times.”

Advice from the trenches: Five tips for a happy marriage

We asked Alissa’s happily married colleagues to share insight on how they manage to keep their marriages going strong, while juggling busy careers and family life. The attorneys at Connatser Family Law shared the following tips:

Tip No. 1: Don’t bring work home.

Connatser Family Law founder Aubrey Connatser’s husband is also an attorney, and the couple agrees that it’s important to avoid talking about work after hours. As she explains, “Our cases can be really emotional and intense. So it’s best to leave that at the office.”

Tip No. 2: Schedule lunch dates.

Connatser Family Law attorney and mom of two Abby Gregory is fortunate to work in the same office building as her husband. “Since our offices are in close proximity, we enjoy one-on-one time at lunch and taking walks together nearby,” Abby says.

Aubrey and her husband also schedule regular lunches together, because, “With young kids running around at night, it’s too hard to talk.”

Connatser Family Law divorce attorney Christine Powers Leatherberry agrees. “It’s a lot to juggle with a baby, a toddler and both my husband and me being attorneys. In order to avoid feeling like ships passing in the night, we’ve started doing monthly lunches to regroup, enjoy each other’s company and not have to hire a babysitter.”

Tip No. 3: Plan date nights and weekend staycations.

According to Aubrey, “It’s nice to have the house alone to your spouse and yourself once in awhile. My husband and I send the kids to my mother MIMI’s house when we need a break.”

Christine agrees and says, “We also try to do date night a couple times a month, which we hope to bump up to every week once we are past ‘the baby stage.’ The key is taking time to connect and not getting so consumed by children (or work) that you lose your connection or forget why you fell in love in the first place.”

Tip No. 4: Keep the lines of communication open.

“It’s important to communicate with each other, use shared calendaring and cover for each other when you have to go into work early or stay late. Communication is the key … and grace,” says Christine.

Tip No. 5: Find a spouse with a great sense of humor.

Christine found this quality in her husband Jon Leatherberry. When asked what it was like to be married to a divorce lawyer, Jon replied: “I love being married to a divorce attorney. Some of the things she has to deal with on a daily basis makes her appreciate that my flaws are pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things.”

Marriage and family come first

For Alissa, learning from successful family law attorneys who have “been there” and learned through trial and error has been invaluable.

As she explains, “My colleagues are humble enough to admit they are not perfect, do not have all the answers and are able ask for help when they need it. Each of the attorneys at the firm are at different stages of life, career and marriage, but it is clear to me that they value their marriages and make their family a priority.”

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

Alissa Castro is an enthusiastic, young attorney with experience in a wide variety of legal venues. She has donated her services to several charitable causes including the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, Mississippi Volunteer Lawyer Project and Catholic Charities. To learn more about divorce and child custody options in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and considerate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

Beyond Emotions: The Upside of Premarital Agreements

Posted on Jun 12, 2017 in Premarital Agreements

Beyond Emotions: The Upside of Premarital Agreements

By Douglas A. Harrison

Over the past 37 years, Connatser Family Law attorney Doug Harrison has helped hundreds of clients negotiate premarital agreements. We asked Doug to share some insight on the upside of premarital agreements, which can rattle emotions for some couples.

Very seldom do couples come into a marriage with an equal set of assets, income earning abilities, job skills or potential inheritances – sometimes, but not often.

That imbalance can create roadblocks for couples trying to negotiate and sign a premarital agreement or prenup.

In addition, many young couples marrying for the first time find it difficult to wrap their arms around the concept of a premarital agreement. This is especially true for couples entering a relationship with minimal assets on the date of their marriage but with a promise for much financial growth in the future.

The process can be extremely emotional for some couples, too. One party may fear that his or her future partner lacks love or trust or believes the party is marrying him or her for financial gain. While these concerns may be valid in some cases, many clients – and their partners – find that premarital agreements bring peace of mind for both sides. Why? Premarital agreements can help some couples “get on the same page” regarding their finances and avoid future disagreements about money by clarifying financial goals and terms.

In fact, most family counselors I know say couples that talk about and enter into financial agreements before marriage typically end up having more successful marriages than those that do not.

The collaborative approach can help marriages gain a strong foothold early on

I often encourage clients to take the collaborative approach when negotiating premarital agreements. This approach enables the couple to sit down together, along with their respective collaborative attorneys, and talk about each party’s interests, goals and expectations for their marriage – both financially and otherwise.

During the negotiating process, the respective sides can work through how to meet each party’s needs satisfactorily. Another benefit of the collaborative approach is couples can quickly find out if they are on financial parity with one another or not and whether they can communicate about core features of married life.

Five benefits of premarital agreements in Texas

In 1980, Texas voters approved an amendment to the Texas Constitution that for the first time in Texas history allowed parties to “partition and exchange” prospective income from separate property, as well as salary and wages, and other forms of income to be acquired in the future. This constitutional amendment allowed persons who were contemplating marriage to enter into prenups that were more comprehensive than ever before, because the parties could provide for the characterization, as separate or community, of property to be acquired in the future.

Texas couples commonly use premarital agreements to:

1). Protect family wealth.

Even if a couple enters a marriage with few assets, one of the parties may have parents with considerable wealth, and that wealth will eventually go downstream. It’s not uncommon for wealthy parents to insist their son or daughter enter into a prenup or risk having their future inheritances restricted by trust or other protective provisions.

2). Protect assets from trusts and family limited partnerships.

In Texas, asset distributions from trusts and family limited partnerships may be considered community property (property divided between the two parties upon divorce). This can lead to a comingled mess when couples divorce. With a premarital agreement, parties can agree to treat those distributions as separate property instead and eliminate the risk of such distributions being considered community property.

Learn more about protecting family businesses in this helpful post on business prenups.

3). Avoid paperwork and tracing hassles related to separate property.

In Texas, separate property – the property each individual brings into the marriage or receives as an inheritance or gift during marriage – remains the individual’s separate property following divorce. A premarital agreement can help ensure any income derived from that separate property is not considered community property.

Without taking this step, couples will need to trace the income from that property, so the proceeds can be accounted for during a divorce. This process can be tedious, expensive, difficult and time-consuming, especially for couples that have been married for several years.

4). Spell out what happens to the family home upon divorce.

Most people want to own an interest in the home in which they live. However, if one of the parties owned the family home prior to the marriage, he or she may not want to divide the value of the home 50-50 should the couple divorce.

With a premarital agreement, the couple can clarify what interest in the home each spouse would receive and who would occupy the home upon divorce.

5). Completely remove themselves from the community property system.

In Texas, couples can agree that any salaries, wages and retirement benefits, as well as the earnings and income from separate property, remain or become separate property. However, the decision to go this route can have far-reaching ramifications, especially for a couple married for many years, where one party is left with little to no money for retirement.

Also, in 1997, Texas adopted the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, which has further broadened the scope of premarital agreements, so long as the agreement is not in violation of public policy or a statute imposing a criminal penalty.

These are but a few of the many concerns that can be covered in a prenup in Texas. To find out how you and your spouse can reduce financial stress and find peace of mind with a premarital agreement, contact a reputable family law attorney near you.

Douglas A. Harrison is a veteran family lawyer known throughout Texas for his expert handling of complex business and property claims in divorce. To learn more about premarital, postmarital and cohabitation agreements in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and compassionate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

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Kids, Hobbies and Tinder? 8 Tips for Dating After Divorce

Posted on May 23, 2017 in Coparenting, Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Parenting

Kids, Hobbies and Tinder? 8 Tips for Dating After Divorce

During the day, Heather Buen, MBA, works as an analyst for a Texas energy company, but to her thousands of social media followers, she’s better known as the Dallas Single Mom. In 2010, the divorced mom of three and freelance journalist launched a blog to share insight about what she knows best – being a single mom.

Since then, the Dallas Single Mom has evolved into a lifestyle blog. According to Heather, “Today, the blog offers a lot of advice for women over 35 about how to re-invent themselves following a transition (such as divorce), deal with empty nest syndrome and get back into the dating scene.”

In her other roles as a public speaker and online consultant, Heather regularly talks with women in transition about her Four Pillars of JOY: Career, Learning and Education, Creativity and Family.

As she explains, “As a caveat, when a woman navigates life after divorce, it really is about creating a starting point around these four priorities in her new found identity/chapter, where she is no longer in a relationship. The goal is to create a fulfilling life for herself – whether she ends up in another relationship or not – where these pillars encompass her life.”

Before ending up with her current partner, Heather’s dating experiences ran the gamut of good and bad, and she learned a lot along the way. She graciously agreed to share her tips for dating after divorce with Connatser Family Law.

Tip No. 1: Find your emotional center.

Heather encourages women to figure out who they are as individuals before dating or entering into another relationship. She also recommends women speak with a licensed therapist for advice.

“It’s important to find your emotional center and get strong emotionally, so you can figure out who you are and what your goals are when it comes to dating. Therapy can really help women overcome fears and gain confidence,” Heather says.

For tips on how to keep emotions in check during divorce, check out this past post: Emotions Run Sky High During Divorce: Here Are 5 Ways to Stay Grounded

Tip No. 2: Place a priority on physical health.

Sure, most women want to look their best when they start dating again, but taking time to refocus on getting back in shape is also good for their overall health. As Heather explains, “Women need to dedicate time for physical health. Working out and eating right is essential, because going through a divorce is very stressful, which can be taxing, both physically and emotionally.”

Tip No. 3: Get your finances in order.

Heather encourages divorced women to plan for the future and get strong financially. “Do you want to start dating to find someone who can support you financially? Did that work out well the first time? I encourage women to work on becoming financially independent, so they can make their own decisions, go out on their own and pursue activities they enjoy,” Heather says.

Tip No. 4: Make time for new hobbies and interests.

Life after divorce is about more than dating and finding a new relationship. According to Heather, “It’s great to have interests of your own, and it’s enjoyable to share common interests and experiences outside of dating with friends and potential dates. Find a new hobby, revisit an old one, and think about places and things you want to discover, then add those interests to your online dating profile.” (See Tip No. 7)

Tip No. 5: Seek professional advice before telling kids you are dating.

Heather often turns to her therapist for tips on communicating with her children. “If you are a parent, a therapist can help you navigate the dating topic with your kids. Young ones don’t understand dating, so the conversation can get awkward. I also encourage women to avoid introducing their kids to every person they date. Wait until you decide that person is likely to be in your life for the long-term.

“In addition, when you first start dating, don’t share all of the details with your kids. Do establish that it is normal and OK for mom to be dating and have a life outside of the family. Explain to children that mom is moving forward, and it’s OK for them to move forward, too,” Heather says.

A family therapist can also help couples figure out the best way to explain divorce to their kids. Learn more in the recent post: Break the News with Care: How to Tell Kids You’re Getting Divorced

Tip No. 6: Speak positively about your ex, his dating life and relationships.

It’s equally important to establish for kids that it’s OK and normal for their dad to be dating. As Heather explains, “Don’t talk badly about your ex because he is dating. Do your best to make it sound perfectly normal. My oldest daughter really loved my ex-husband’s former girlfriend, and I thought that was great.

“She was a nice person and someone new for my daughter to get to know. They really enjoyed doing things together, so I supported that. It was sad for my daughter when they stopped dating, but I was able to be there for her.”

Tip No. 7: Do try dating sites and matchmaking services.

When it comes to online dating, Heather says, “Just try it. Online dating can feel weird and seedy, and it does come with some negativity, but try to keep an open mind. If you don’t like it – take a break for awhile and consider trying again later.”

For women over 35, Heather recommends another approach. As she explains, “Consider matchmaking services. Unlike some dating apps like Tinder – that are more about quantity – matchmaking services are more about quality. Matchmakers can really help you get to know yourself better and typically do a better job at matching you up with someone who fits your personality type.”

Whether you meet someone on a dating website (or app) or through a matchmaker, Heather encourages women to follow standard dating tips and put safety first. Meet in a public place, let people know where you are going and who you are meeting, and check in with a friend at a predetermined time to confirm you are OK.

You’re probably going to have some great dates and some really awful dates along the way, just enjoy the experience. “Dating is a journey, and it’s a good way to discover more about yourself – as an individual and in a relationship. It can also be a great way to have fun and not take yourself too seriously,” Heather says.

About Heather Buen, MBA: Heather Buen talks about her life experiences and offers up ways to help Dallas’ single moms ‘Re-Invent’ their own lives through life transitions. She manages a corporate job, is a freelance journalist, columnist, public speaker, continuing education professor and online consultant. Her Dallas-Fort Worth area lifestyle blog focuses on family travel, single parenting, dating, divorce, inspiration and life ‘re-invention’ mentoring.

About Connatser Family Law: Since founding Connatser Family Law in 2013, Aubrey Connatser and her team have firmly established the next in a line of great Texas divorce and family law firms. To learn more about divorce and child custody in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and compassionate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

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