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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.

 

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

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.

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

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.

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

 

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.

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

International Custody 101: Helpful Tips for Parents

Posted on Apr 25, 2017 in Child Custody

International Custody 101: Helpful Tips for Parents

By Christine Powers Leatherberry

In the wake of actress Scarlett Johansson’s split from French journalist Romain Dauriac and pending custody concerns regarding the couple’s young daughter, Dallas family law attorney Christine Powers Leatherberry shares advice for parents facing international custody disputes.

Custody disputes between high-profile couples can become very heated, even when they play out in one country. However, what happens when one parent files for custody in the United States, while the other parent hopes to maintain custody of the child in another country?

In the case of Scarlett Johansson and Romain Dauriac, the Daily Mail reports that she has requested daughter Rose reside with her in New York, while he allegedly will be petitioning the court to take the child to live with him in his native France.

While we don’t know all the details pertaining to Johansson and Dauriac’s dispute, what we DO know is every international custody dispute plays out differently. In addition, they are almost always more complicated than traditional domestic child custody issues.

Two of the biggest challenges that arise during international custody concerns include:

No. 1: Jurisdiction and the Hague Convention.

Where your child’s custody case will be heard and which country’s laws apply are the first issues that need to be addressed during an international child custody dispute.

If your case ends up in a different country, you literally have to deal with a foreign legal system, and that definitely complicates things. Issues can be compounded further, should one parent illegally move a child to another country without the other parent’s consent.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (also known simply as the Convention) is a multilateral treaty developed by the Hague Conference on Private International Law that helps ensure a child abducted by a parent from one member country to another be expeditiously returned.

However, the primary role of the Convention is to determine in which country the custody issues will be heard, and that determination is based on the “status quo” in regard to where the child had been regularly living prior to being kidnapped and moved to another country.

For example, if a parent takes off to Peru with his or her children, which basically amounts to a parental kidnapping, then Peru and the United States (which are both parties to the Convention) would work together to get the children back to United States, because that was the status quo before the alleged wrong happened.

Even when international kidnapping isn’t an issue, jurisdiction still needs to be established. Where the child has regularly resided prior to the parent filing for custody – again, the status quo – is typically the primary question for the court.

No. 2. Failure by other countries to recognize orders issued in the U.S.

Another common issue our international custody clients face is noncompliance with court orders by the other parent. Unfortunately, many other countries won’t force parents to abide by custody orders issued in the United States.

For example, an American court could order a father to pay $2,000 per month in child support or afford the mother the right to establish residence. However, the court in the other country could assert that it has jurisdiction over the case and refuse to enforce the U.S. court’s order.

That’s why we typically recommend hiring attorneys in both countries, at least for a period of time. The attorney in the other country can help you navigate the custody laws of the foreign legal system. He or she can also advise you regarding how to get the Convention treaty applied in your situation and explain the logistics for getting your children back.

Seven additional tips for parents facing international custody issues

  1. Act quickly. Speak with a family law attorney before moving your children overseas or if you are concerned that your spouse is preparing to kidnap your child and take them to a different country.
  1. File first. When possible, we typically advise clients to be the first to file for custody and to do so in the country where they want to reside with their children. Oftentimes it is easier and cleaner to acquire jurisdiction that way, and you have more control over timing and the process.

If the other parent has taken the children to another country that isn’t a party to the Convention, you may need to file suit in that country.

  1. Keep children in the country where you want them to reside. If international custody issues are a concern, relocating your children to a different country, even for a short vacation, could put your preferred jurisdiction at risk.
  1. Find out if the other country is a party to the Convention. You can review the list of Convention members here as well as which aspects of the Convention each member state has agreed to follow.
  1. Compare custody laws in both countries to see which laws are more favorable for your circumstances. If you and your children maintain dual citizenship, you may find the laws in one country are preferable to another. Rely on attorneys in both countries to help you weigh your options.
  1. Reach out to a U.S. embassy or consulate for help. If you need to find an attorney overseas, the embassy or consulate serving that region may be able to provide a referral.
  1. Once the dust settles, plan for visitation and travel. For parents who get along well and agree on sharing custody overseas, we typically advise them to be flexible about allowing the other parent extra makeup time. Children won’t be able to attend school in both countries and have regular weekly or even monthly visits most of the time, so makeup time can be accomplished with longer periods of possession time during the summer, holidays, spring break and fall break.

In addition, if they have the resources, we generally recommend that the parent who chose to move away pay for travel expenses and be responsible for traveling back and forth with younger children who can (or should not) travel unaccompanied.

Contact a reputable family law attorney for advice

Clearly, international divorce and child custody disputes can become complicated quickly. As soon as custody issues become imminent in your divorce, contact a divorce attorney with experience handling such matters to be your guide.

Christine Powers Leatherberry is a compassionate family lawyer who represents clients with divorce and child custody concerns in the state of Texas in the United States.  If you have an international custody issue and your children live in the DFW area, you should contact Christine. She 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. For insight on how to approach an international custody dispute, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and considerate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

Break the News with Care: How to Tell Kids You’re Getting Divorced

Posted on Mar 27, 2017 in Cohabitation, Collaborative Law, Connatser Family Law, Coparenting, Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Parenting

Break the News with Care: How to Tell Kids You’re Getting Divorced

At Connatser Family Law, we always say, “Kids come first.” One of the biggest challenges parents face during a divorce is finding the best way to break the news to their children. So we asked psychotherapist Linda Solomon, LPC, LCDC, LMFT what advice she gives to parents regarding how to explain divorce to children.

Connatser Family Law regularly recommends Linda to clients who need emotional guidance and actionable insight during divorce and child custody disputes. She also serves as a collaborative neutral during collaborative divorces and as a parenting coordinator in Dallas and Collin Counties.

Along with working closely with a family counselor throughout the divorce process, Linda encourages parents to consider the following tips to help ease the blow of divorce when breaking the news to children.

Tip No. 1: Plan in advance and schedule time for “the divorce discussion.”

Telling children you are getting a divorce shouldn’t come out during a spur of the moment conversation. Linda strongly urges parents to plan the timing for the discussion.

As she explains, “Plan the time so no one in the family will need to walk out the door in 30 minutes to an hour after the discussion. Whether that is to attend soccer practice, get a haircut or go to a birthday party. This is an extremely important family discussion and parents must create time for it to take place.”

The time of year and day of the week are also important. “I strongly suggest parents schedule the divorce conversation on a weekend, unless it will occur during summer vacation. You don’t want children to have to get up and go to school the next morning. Most parents have the discussion early Friday evening or Saturday morning,” Linda says.

Tip No. 2: Present a united front.

Children need to hear the news from both mom and dad. As Linda explains, “This is a conversation that parents need to have together with the children, not mom or dad only. Despite difficulties between the two parents, this is the first chance for the children to continue seeing mom and dad as a parental team once they have learned about the divorce.

“In other words, by having the discussion together, no matter what, you’re modeling for the children that you’re still a team as their parents. That united front is critical.”

Tip No. 3: Plan what you will say ahead of time.

Along with breaking the news together, Linda also recommends parents sit down prior to the divorce discussion to get a gist of what they are going to say to the children and how they are going to say it.

“I don’t expect parents to script out the entire conversation, but wording can make a difference. One of the most important things parents should do is use the word divorce very early in the discussion.

“Parents repeatedly tell me they regret it when they don’t mention divorce early on, because it gets harder over time to use that word. Some children even expect the parents are just going to live separately for a while and everything is going to be OK,” Linda says.

Linda and Dallas divorce attorney Aubrey Connatser provide additional insight in this past post: 5 Valuable Resources to Help Kids Cope When Parents Split.

Tip No. 4: Plan what you will NOT say ahead of time.

It’s also really important for parents to reach an agreement regarding what the children will NOT be told.

According to Linda, “This is what I refer to as private marital information or adult information. The divorce conversation will be difficult and filled with emotion, and in the midst of emotion, people blurt out things they later regret.

“The goal is to avoid revealing inappropriate marital information or details the children do not need to know. So it’s critical for parents to think things through and come to an agreement that no matter the reasoning for this divorce, here’s what we will tell the kids and here’s what we will not.”

Your family counselor or therapist can provide insight regarding what to include on both lists.

Tip No. 5: Unplug and be crystal clear during “the discussion.”

Along with using the word divorce early on, Linda recommends bringing the family together and broaching the conversation similar to the following:

  • We all need to sit down.
  • Everyone needs to unplug – turn off the T.V., computers and tablets.
  • We all need to put our phones on mute.

Once the family has gathered, the conversation should continue similar to the following:

  • We need to have a family discussion and talk about a big change that is going to happen in our family.
  • We want you to know dad and I (or mom and I) have decided to get a divorce.

Follow up with statements that most parents know to be true, but children really need to hear out loud, such as:

  • This isn’t about you.
  • We love you very much.
  • Being your parents isn’t going to change, but our marriage is going to change.

If the children are young, they might not understand the word divorce. In those situations, Linda encourages the parents to spell out details more clearly, such as:

  • We are not going to be married anymore.
  • We are not going to be husband and wife.
  • We are not going to be living together anymore, and that means you will have two homes at some point.
  • You will spend time at both mom’s house and at dad’s house.

Tip No. 6: Preempt the blame game.

Linda cautions parents to be prepared, because some children begin to place blame or fault as soon as they learn about the divorce. Some kids come straight out and ask, “Is it my fault?” Or the child may blame mommy because she was mean to daddy or blame daddy because he works late.

Regardless of whether the child verbalizes thoughts on blame or not, Linda believes it’s crucial for parents to address blame during the divorce discussion. Parents need to explain to children:

  • What happens in our marriage is just between the two of us (mom and dad).
  • There is nothing you could ever do that will cause us to get a divorce or not get a divorce.
  • This is between mom and dad. It’s an adult relationship.
  • It’s about what’s changed between us, not about you.

Tip No. 7: Manage expectations.

When a big life change like divorce comes to light, adults and children can be flooded with emotions about the divorce and even go into shock depending on the individual’s personality. Linda always talks with parents about the different reactions they might see and how to react.

As she explains, “Some children, and adults for that matter, want to know the details right away. ‘Where am I going to live? Where will my dog or cat live? Can my friends come over? What will we do for Christmas this year? Who’s going to drive me to school?’

“During the initial family discussion, most parents won’t have all of the answers, but I always encourage parents to be open and say, ‘We don’t know the answer to that yet, but as soon as we do, we’ll let you know.’”

Linda also advises parents to remind children what WILL stay the same. As she explains, “Parents should give the child something to hang on to emotionally. They should also tell children what mom and dad know for sure.”

Depending on the child’s age, parents may explain to children, what we know for sure is:

  • Tucker the dog is going to stay where mom lives, so you’ll always have Tucker.
  • Susie the cat is staying with dad, so you’ll always have Susie.
  • Your friends will stay the same.
  • Your teacher and school will stay the same, and you will continue to play soccer and take piano lessons.
  • None of those things are going to change.
  • We’re going to remain a family. We’re just going to be a family that looks different, because we live in two homes.
  • We will continue to be your parents. That will never change.

Reach out to a mental health professional for additional advice

Helping children navigate the divorce process takes time. Insight and counseling from a family therapist, counselor or clergy experienced in divorce and custody matters can help ensure a healthier outcome for both children and parents.

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

Wealthy and Getting Divorced? 6 Essential Tips for Hiring a Divorce Attorney

Posted on Mar 9, 2017 in Connatser Family Law, Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Divorce and Privacy

Wealthy and Getting Divorced? 6 Essential Tips for Hiring a Divorce Attorney

Divorce attorneys vary greatly when it comes to personality, level of experience, areas of expertise and more. In the following post, Dallas divorce attorney Aubrey Connatser offers advice for wealthy individuals on how to hire a divorce attorney when sizeable assets and custody of children are at stake.

Divorce is rarely easy, regardless of income level. However, how an affluent person approaches divorce and the divorce attorney he or she chooses can have a significant impact on the outcome of their divorce case.

If you are wealthy and plan to divorce, consider the following tips to find a divorce attorney whose values align with yours, and who has the capabilities to meet your financial and child custody goals.

No. 1: Ask trusted advisors to recommend a good divorce attorney.

One of the best ways to begin your search for a divorce attorney is to ask a trusted attorney you already work with to make a recommendation. For example, a lawyer who is known and trusted by your family or who handles legal concerns for your family business is typically a good resource.

People in the legal community tend to be the ones who know who the good divorce lawyers are in the cities and counties where they practice. Also, if you know someone who has (1) gone through a divorce, (2) been similarly situated, (3) had a good experience with their lawyer, they can be another great resource.

What a lot of clients tell me when we meet for the first time is, “I got your name from so-and-so, and then when I asked someone else who they would recommend, your name came up again. So that made me think you must be someone I want to talk to or hire.” If you keep hearing the same attorney’s name popping up, that’s a good way to narrow down your search.

Looking for more helpful tips? Check out these 18 helpful tools in our Ultimate Divorce Toolkit.

No. 2: Interview more than one divorce lawyer.

I always recommend people interview more than one divorce attorney, because you want to hire a lawyer whose experience and approach to divorce aligns with your goals. It’s also important to meet face-to-face, because if you like how the attorney represents himself or herself in person, chances are good that the judge will like them too.

The in-person meeting allows you to get a good feel for the attorney, determine whether the two of you are compatible and find out if you share the same ethics, morals and values.

No. 3: Seek out an attorney who will be diligent about maintaining your privacy.

Affluent parties who want to stay out of the spotlight shouldn’t hire an attorney they see on the news with their divorce clients. This is especially true if any fame or notoriety is associated with either spouse. Instead, hire someone who is known to use discretion, maintain confidences and will be dedicated to maintaining privacy.

No. 4: Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the attorney.

It’s important to find a lawyer who has business acumen and experience, because the wealthy tend to have more complicated assets. Some attorneys have more experience with complex property cases, while others are stronger on custody cases. Some lawyers are strong in both areas. Look for an attorney who has extensive experience in the issues present in your case.

Get Aubrey’s insight on a landmark $1 billion divorce settlement in this past story on Big & Rich Texas Divorces.

No. 5: Avoid hiring a solo practitioner.

Solo practitioners typically don’t have the bandwidth to adequately address all of the needs of affluent clients. Instead, you want to hire an attorney, not necessarily in a large firm, whose practice is equipped with lawyers with various levels of skill and experience.

It’s crucial to hire someone who has the manpower and capacity at their law firm to manage a case of your size, especially if the case is document intensive.

No. 6: Seek out an attorney with significant experience in the courtroom.

Whether you plan to pursue a litigated divorce or a collaborative divorce, it’s important to hire someone with courtroom experience. Look for an attorney who understands how things will likely play out at the courthouse and who is familiar with the court system in the county where you reside.

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

How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Technology During Divorce and Child Custody Disputes

Posted on Feb 20, 2017 in Child Custody, Connatser Family Law, Coparenting, Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Parenting

How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Technology During Divorce and Child Custody Disputes

By Abby Gregory

While technology can simplify our lives, it does come with a potential downside, especially during divorce and child custody disputes. Dallas family law attorney Abby Gregory sheds light on common technology-related miscues that can negatively affect divorce, child custody and visitation outcomes.

In today’s high-tech world, married couples often share phone plans, home computers, email accounts, cloud accounts and passwords. This may make sense during marriage, but what if you plan to file for divorce and if the custody of your children is at stake?

Unfortunately, most people don’t realize how deeply their personal devices (phones, tablets, computers) and digital accounts (email, text messaging, cloud, Dropbox, social media, apps, etc.) are intertwined with their future ex-spouse’s.


Abby discusses the misunderstood intricacies of sharing data and why it’s important to know what information can be accessed via the cloud.

A fine balance – preserving evidence AND privacy

Destroying evidence during a divorce is illegal, and this includes any past phone call, text, email, financial and other records you shared with your spouse. However, during a divorce, you do have a right to keep personal communications private on non-shared accounts.

That’s why it’s so important to open a new phone plan in your name only, which is in no way tied to your family’s cloud account. In many cases, I also recommend creating a new email account with unique passwords that only you can access.

You should also take steps to ensure that neither your spouse nor your children have access to any device where your personal email or text messages could be retrieved. This may sound simple, but in our practice we regularly see instances where parties private communications have been intercepted.


Abby explains how incriminating text messages were discovered and used against a parent in a custody case.

7 steps to outsmart technology AND protect confidential information during divorce and child custody disputes

Step 1: Don’t call, text or email any information about your plans to divorce on any devices your family shares. For example, if you have a laptop that you, your spouse and your kids all use, it probably won’t be password protected. This can be problematic, because:

  • Any email accounts or social media profiles you regularly access from that device probably open automatically, without logging in, simply by turning on the device.
  • Any communications you send and receive on shared devices and within shared accounts (email, text messages, etc.) can be accessed from any device tied to your shared cloud account.

For more insight on technology, check out this past post: Is Technology Secretly Sabotaging Your Divorce?

Step 2: Log out of social profiles and private email accounts on shared devices. You should also change all associated passwords and do so on a device only you have access to. If you don’t want to raise red flags by logging out of your email account, move on to Step 3.

Step 3: Create a new, private email account – with a unique password – on a personal device only you have access to. Use this account to correspond with your divorce attorney and family or friends who know about your situation.

Step 4: Keep a careful eye on your personal devices (phones, tablets, laptops, etc.) and change your device passwords. Many parents share tablets or smartphones with their kids. However, this can be a bad idea if your private digital accounts can be accessed there, especially if your child brings the device to your future ex-husband or ex-wife’s home for the weekend.

Step 5: Turn off location services for apps on devices tied to the cloud. This step is especially critical if your future ex poses a potential danger to you or your children. For example, the Find My iPhone and Find Friends apps are built into Apple products. Other apps allow you to check in at locations or receive information based on your location.

These apps typically come with location services features. Visit your local phone services provider for a tutorial on how to keep your location private. Turn off locations services on your children’s devices if a threat of family violence exists.

Step 6: Get a new phone and separate phone plan. This is important, because if you remain on the shared phone plan, your spouse can find out who you are texting and calling and even how long those conversations last.

Step 7: Take precautions when handing down devices to your kids. While you may want to keep an eye on what your kids are doing, you don’t want them – or your ex – to be able to access your private email account, text messages or social media accounts during a divorce.

For example, the child could inadvertently mention something about your legal strategy to your future ex. He or she may also discover heated text exchanges between you and your spouse, which could be traumatizing.

Ask your phone services provider to restore the phone to factory settings, then set up a separate account in your child’s name, that you – and if appropriate, your spouse – have access to. Set up a unique login and password for the child’s phone.

Contact a reputable family law attorney for advice

While these steps can be a good starting point, an experienced family law attorney is your best resource for advice that pertains to your unique circumstances. Contact a reputable divorce lawyer in your jurisdiction to learn more about your divorce, child custody and visitation options.

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.