How to Leave an Abusive Relationship and Protect Your Kids

Posted on Oct 17, 2016 in Domestic Violence

How to Leave an Abusive Relationship and Protect Your Kids

As a follow up to her recent post, Little Victims Face Big Horrors Due to Family Violence, Connatser Family Law attorney Abby Gregory shares helpful advice for women who want to remove themselves and their children from family violence.

In her role as chair of the Dallas County Intimate Partner Fatality Review Committee, Jan Langbein (CEO of Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support) discovered a startling statistic. In a span of three years, only three women whose deaths the Committee reviewed had ever reached out for help.

Two had expired protective orders, and one had applied for a protective order before she was murdered. The rest of the victims didn’t reach out for help from the police, the court system, a shelter hotline or other Dallas family violence services organizations.

Jan was shocked. As she explains, “I realized many women don’t realize there are resources available to them, which is why raising awareness about domestic violence is so important. Where there is intersection, the woman doesn’t die. Those are the women we can help.”

As a Dallas family law attorney, there are several steps I recommend when I speak with women who are dealing with family violence. No. 1 won’t surprise you.

1. Reach out for help!

Women are most at risk when they don’t reach out for help. Call the police if you feel threatened or have been harmed. In addition, several organizations and shelters are available 24/7 to listen and provide guidance, such as:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH). Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or TTY 1-800-787-3224 or visit the NDVH website at
  • National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline. Call 1-866-331-9474 or TTY 1-866-331-8453 or visit
  • Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support in Dallas. Call 214-946-4357 or visit
  • The Family Place shelter in Dallas. Call 214-941-1991 or visit

As noted earlier, removing yourself and your children from a violent environment and into a shelter is an important and potentially life-saving first step.

2. Put a safety plan in place.

If you want to exit an abusive household, creating a safety plan for yourself and your kids can help ease the process. A safety plan may include stashing away some money, clothes, a phone, extra car keys, passports, I.D.s and other important paperwork in a safe place outside the home.

You can learn more about safety planning on the Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support website.

3. Collect evidence of family violence.

Keeping a record of family violence toward yourself and your children is key if you want to take legal action. You need to prove to the judge that family violence occurred in order to get an order of protection (See No. 5). I recommend:

  • Calling the police whenever you are fearful of the abuser or have been harmed.
  • Take photos of injuries and property damage related to assaults.
  • If it’s safe to do so, videotape any episodes of anger or violence toward yourself and/or the kids. Evidence of physical and verbal threats can be very powerful to a judge.
  • Save all text messages, voicemails and emails from the abuser. Print out any possible evidence and store it in a safe place.
  • Keep a journal and carefully note any incidents of aggression or violence.

4. Speak with a family law attorney experienced with family violence cases.

At Connatser Family Law, we are familiar with the nuances that intersect between domestic violence and Texas family law. We know what abusers do to skirt the law and tactics they use to keep battered women under their control.

Genesis Women’s Shelter also has an excellent attorney on staff, Sara Barnett, to help women navigate legal issues pertaining to family violence.

5. Get a protective order.

In Texas, you can request a protective order against an abuser if an act of by a family member or member of the household was intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury or sexual assault, or there is a threat that reasonably places you (or your children) in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or sexual assault.

Initial emergency protective orders are only valid for 20 days then expire in operation of law. Before those 20 days expire, there will be a hearing where a judge listens to evidence, and the accused abuser has the right to challenge you and provide evidence to the court denying or controverting the allegations.

If the judge finds that family violence has occurred and that family violence is likely to occur in the future, he or she can issue a protective order which prohibits the abuser from having any contact whatsoever with the victim and any other member of her household for two years.

However, it is important to advocate to have your children listed as protected persons in the protective order if there was any family violence committed toward them; otherwise, the abuser may have joint legal rights and unsupervised possession of your children.

Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out for Help

As noted above, battered women who don’t reach out to the police, the court system or a family violence support organization are at an increased risk for violence and even death. To protect yourself and your children, reach out for help today.

Abby Gregory is a compassionate Dallas 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.

Little Victims Face Big Horrors Due to Family Violence

Posted on Oct 17, 2016 in Domestic Violence

Little Victims Face Big Horrors Due to Family Violence

To support National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Connatser Family Law attorney Abby Gregory and Jan Langbein, CEO of Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support, shine a spotlight on the littlest victims of family violence and discuss how we all can play a role in ending the cycle of abuse.

According to estimates reported in a United Nations Secretary-General’s study, as many as 2.7 million children are exposed to domestic violence in the U.S. every year. As a family law attorney in Dallas, this sadly comes as no surprise to me. In our practice, we regularly see the horrific impact family violence has on children.

Children are the silent victims of family violence

Jan Langbein has been on the front lines in the fight against domestic violence for 30 years. In her role as CEO at Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support, she witnesses the heartbreaking impact that family violence has on children every day.

According to Jan, “When we look at domestic violence, we typically think of a perpetrator and a victim, but in my professional opinion, the true victims of violence in the home are kids who watch and listen when dad is ‘terrifying’ and mom is ‘terrified.’

“The trauma children experience is as real as a returning war vet, yet they are often the silent victims in my book. People think the kids were asleep or out of earshot in the other room when the fighting was going on, but I absolutely disagree with that. I’ve also read that 75 percent of men who beat their wives also beat their children. Kids get caught in the crossfire, whether it’s a fist or a bullet.”

From a legal perspective, there are steps battered women can take to protect themselves and their children from an abuser (I cover these in this complementary post, How to Leave an Abusive Relationship and Protect Your Kids). However, the most difficult step for many women is making the decision to leave the abusive relationship in the first place.

Leaving an abusive relationship is more difficult than you may realize

Abusers are typically controlling by nature, which means they almost always control the family finances (cash, checking accounts, savings accounts, etc.). Consequently, many battered women have limited financial resources, which makes it difficult to pack up their kids and leave.

In my experience as a family law attorney in Dallas, I find abusers generally are very charming likable, affable guys. The reason the victim didn’t leave in the first place is because of the abuser’s ability to win her over by saying “I’ll never do it again, please forgive me.”

When kids are involved, it can be really hard to close that person off, and get the abuser out of your life. In addition, children are often used as pawns, either to give the abuser a reason to communicate with the battered woman, or worse, to terrorize the woman by threatening to harm her children.

Safe havens and resources are available for battered women and their kids

Another huge roadblock for battered women is the fear of the unknown. Many women wonder, “Where can I go to escape, keep my children safe and get back on my feet again?”

Surprisingly, many people are unaware of the great resources available from women’s shelters in Dallas. Organizations such as The Family Place and Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support provide not only a safe place to stay, they help women and children begin the healing process and pave the way for a safe, stable and independent future.

End the cycle of abuse, remove children from abusive environments a.s.a.p.

People often talk about the cycle of abuse, but many don’t understand the short- and long-term ramifications that result when children witness or are victims of family violence. In fact, men exposed to physical abuse, sexual abuse and/or domestic violence as children are almost four times more likely to perpetrate domestic violence as adults.

At Genesis, Jan sees first hand how family violence affects her youngest clients. As she explains, “I distinctly remember one little guy who at 4 years old wanted to kill himself. His father is accused of both physical and sexual assault. He wouldn’t go into our play therapy room. When someone says let’s go shut the door, and we’ll talk in private, that’s not a good thing to him, because someone hurt him in an unthinkable way.

“This little guy was scared to be trapped in a room, so he ran and grabbed all the toy weapons to arm the therapist with plastic knives and guns, he put on a helmet and a breastplate and ran up and down the hall and yelled, ‘Run for your life we’re going to die. There are monsters out there and I have to save you!’”

Helping children heal to end the cycle of abuse

While Jan sees children at their lowest points, she also gets to see those same children come out the other side. However, kids typically can only heal if they receive the right kind of therapy and support.

“People say kids are resilient, but I don’t exactly think so. I think kids stuff it, stuff it and stuff it, and without help, many will become perpetrators themselves. Through art and play, Genesis helps them begin to tell about those unthinkable things they don’t even have words to describe.

“Once they have the opportunity to tell their words, they begin to heal as well. So will that trauma always be a part of these kids’ lives? Of course. But with therapy, organizations like Genesis can help them feel safe again, teach them that family violence is unacceptable and in many cases put an end to the cycle of abuse for those families,” Jan says.

Together we can do this!

The longer a woman remains in an abusive relationship, the greater the emotional and physical distress her children will endure. While it may seem like there is nowhere to turn, help is available – and we all need to spread the word. A family law attorney experienced with family violence cases and shelters like Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support and The Family Place provide battered women with the tools they and their children need to survive and thrive.

Jan believes, “It’s going to take a societal paradigm shift for us to help these kiddos and protect our next generation, a shift where we all roll up our sleeves and say, I have zero tolerance for that rapist and abuser. Men have to be involved in this, not just those guys who aren’t abusers. We need to raise these young boys to be gentle men and raise young girls to protect themselves physically, financially and emotionally.”

As a complement to this post, I assembled a guide to help women leave abusive relationships. To learn more, you can read How to Leave an Abusive Relationship and Protect Your Kids here.

Abby Gregory is a compassionate Dallas 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.

Photo Source: Pexels

As a Presidential Candidate, Should Donald Trump’s Divorce Records Be Unsealed?

Posted on Sep 22, 2016 in Divorce and Privacy

As a Presidential Candidate, Should Donald Trump’s Divorce Records Be Unsealed?

In August, Gannett Co. and The New York Times asked the New York Supreme Court to unseal the 1990 divorce records of Donald and Ivana Trump. About the same time, a Hennepin County District Court judge in Minneapolis approved a request by the Minneapolis Star Tribune to unseal the 2006 divorce records of the late, rock star Prince and his ex-wife Manuela Testolini.

On September 22, 2016, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Frank Nervo refused to unseal the files – saying he has no power or business doing so. Since each state views privacy rights differently, we asked Dallas Divorce Attorney Christine Powers Leatherberry to weigh in on how the unsealing of the Trump and Prince divorce records might play out in Texas.

According to Christine, “In Texas, it is presumed that all court records are to be open to the public. What is different here from other states is Texas excludes documents filed in actions arising under the Family Code from the definition of court records. So it is difficult to unseal divorce records in Texas.”

The only exception – to the exception – for unsealing divorce records in Texas is when a public official is involved.

Divorce Records of Public Officials Could Be Unsealed in Texas

In the case of a mayor, governor or someone who is running for public office (like Donald Trump), the court may consider unsealing his or her divorce records if the judge believes information in the sealed documents should be made available to the general public.

As Christine explains, “For example, if a public official’s ex-spouse filed a protective order against him or her, a Texas judge may agree to unseal those divorce records if he or she believes the public has a right to know about those details.”

According to the USA TODAY, The Trumps’ divorce was granted on the grounds of “cruel and inhumane treatment,” though the couple eventually agreed to a settlement.

“Bottom line, it’s pretty hard to unseal divorce records in Texas, unless it’s a public official. Since Donald Trump is running for President, the press in Texas would have a decent chance of unsealing his divorce records if the Trumps’ divorce had been finalized here,” Christine says.

It’s Easier for Celebrities to Keep Divorce Records Sealed in Texas

With celebrities like Prince, the Texas family court is less likely to find that the public has a right to know what information is sealed in their divorce documents. However, it is important to ask your family law attorney to take the appropriate steps to keep your divorce records private.

“The other thing that is unique in Texas is that an order sealing or unsealing records cannot be reconsidered if an interested third party had notice. So if you ask a judge to revise his or her position, and if the newspaper had notice of the hearing to begin with (2006 in the Prince-Testolini records), the newspaper’s request would likely be denied anyway,” says Christine.

As a high-profile, Dallas divorce attorney, Christine regularly petitions the family court to seal her clients’ divorce records.  Typical language for a request to seal may be: The sealing of the records in this action will not have an adverse effect on the public health or safety, and the records do not involve matters that should be available to the general public.

Texas Protects the Privacy of Parties to a Divorce – Especially Children

“The state of Texas stands firm when it comes to protecting the privacy of people going through divorce and custody and child support modifications. If it’s in the best interest of the children involved to keep divorce records sealed, they generally will remain sealed.

“So if the parents had a messy divorce, or there were any abuse allegations involving the children, it’s going to be really difficult to unseal records from that divorce. To the State of Texas, children’s privacy really does matter in the long-term. Since the Trumps had three children together, that might work in his favor here in Texas,” says Christine.

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 your right to privacy during divorce, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and considerate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

5 Ways to Stay Safe During a High-Conflict Divorce

Posted on Sep 7, 2016 in Domestic Violence

5 Ways to Stay Safe During a High-Conflict Divorce

When celebrities like Frances Bean Cobain or Amber Heard collect their belongings from homes they shared with an estranged spouse, the LAPD goes with them. According to Dallas family law attorney Alissa Castro, “If you feel threatened by your partner in any way, seeking the protection of law enforcement is one of several steps you can take to stay safe during a divorce or break up.”

Prior to coming to Connatser Family Law, Alissa worked at the Family Justice Division – Family Violence Section of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, so she is no stranger to divorce cases involving family violence.

We asked Alissa what advice she offers to clients when domestic violence or threats of violence have occurred. She recommends the following five steps:

No. 1: Call the police if you feel threatened or have been harmed.

According to Alissa, “It’s important to call law enforcement to help prevent domestic violence from escalating and so the police can record any acts of family violence. The family courts require evidence of family violence before issuing an emergency ex parte or protective order.” (Read more about collecting evidence below.)

Alissa recommends seeking a protective order whenever a history or pattern of family violence exists. However, if you don’t have adequate evidence to secure a protective order, a restraining order is your next best option.

As she explains, “When there isn’t a history of family violence, but there is a fear that a partner’s behavior may rise to the level of family violence, you can seek a restraining order. However, restraining orders don’t offer the same level of protection as protective orders (removing abuser from the residence, limiting access to firearms, etc.).”

Get more helpful tips in the past post: Why They Stayed, How You Can Leave

No. 2: Collect evidence of family violence.

In order to improve your odds of getting an ex parte or protective order, you need to collect evidence of family violence to support your case.

“We ask clients to document any type of abuse, write notes in a journal, take photos of and seek medical attention for physical injuries. You could even make a recording on your phone. Just be careful to do so discreetly and save any evidence in a secure location,” Alissa says.

No. 3: Have a safety plan in place and prepare for the future now.

As Alissa explains, “If you want to exit an abusive relationship or marriage, start putting a long-term safety plan together right away. That way you’ll have the tools you need to survive once you’re ready to leave. You need to find a safe place to go – one place we recommend is Genesis Women’s Shelter – and money to help you get by.”

Since many abusers control the family finances, it can be difficult for some women to save money.

“In many cases, money is siphoned through the abuser. I encourage clients to be resourceful. For example, you could ask for cash back when paying for groceries. We also encourage clients to meet with a financial planner to get a handle on their finances and set goals for the future,” Alissa says.

The Genesis Women’s Shelter – available 24/7 at 214-946-HELP (4357) – offers some very helpful safety planning tips on its website. Learn how to stay safe during an explosive incident, when leaving a relationship, at home, on the job and in public places. You’ll even find a safety checklist to get you started. Visit the shelter’s safety planning page here.

No. 4: Only meet your ex in a public place and don’t go alone.

Meeting with an abusive ex is sometimes unavoidable, especially when shared custody of children is involved. Meeting in a highly visible location and with other parties present (there is strength in numbers) can help keep you safe.

According to Alissa, “We recommend clients do exchanges at public places, and if possible, agree to do the exchange in front of a police or fire station where public servants are present. You could even meet at a busy Starbucks, just bring a friend or family member along. You should also have a safety plan to rely on for any future interactions with your ex. Make sure to have your phone with you in case you need to dial 911 or to make a video of any threatening behavior.”

Again, you could ask for a police officer or sheriff’ to accompany you for added protection. “Protection provided by law enforcement is something that can be included in an ex parte or protection order,” says Alissa.

No. 5: Turn to your family law attorney for guidance and resources.

Family law attorneys regularly counsel clients who are trying to exit abusive relationships, so they can provide legal advice, support and resources, including:

  • Recommending experts such as family therapists and financial planners.
  • Suggesting resources for job training and finding employment.
  • Helping you find a safe place to stay. They regularly refer clients to local women’s shelters.
  • Filing legal documents to help keep you and your children safe (protective orders, restraining orders, complaints to Child Protective Services, etc.).
  • Helping you prepare for your divorce.

“Remember, you’re not alone. As family law attorneys, we also play a counseling role, so it’s OK to lean on us. We also know that the days leading up to and right after filing for divorce can be extremely dangerous for women in abusive relationships. Put your and your children’s safety first, then rely on your family law attorney to guide you the rest of the way,” Alissa says.

Reach Out for Help Today

If you need to escape an abusive and dangerous relationship, help is a phone call away. Either contact a domestic violence shelter near your, or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or TTY 1-800-787-3224. You can also visit the NDVH website at

In addition, teens can contact the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474 or TTY 1-866-331-8453 or visit

Alissa Castro is an enthusiastic, young attorney with experience in a wide variety of legal venues. She has also 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.

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

12 Back-to-School Tips for Newly Divorced Parents

Posted on Aug 15, 2016 in Connatser Family Law, Coparenting, Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Texas Family Law

12 Back-to-School Tips for Newly Divorced Parents

When the wounds are fresh, it can be difficult to get along with an ex-spouse following divorce. But setting differences aside and putting children first are essential for the long-term health and happiness of your kids. With the new school year upon us, we asked Dallas Divorce Attorney Christine Powers Leatherberry to share advice to help newly divorced parents kick off co-parenting and the school year on the right foot.

No. 1: Commit to open communication and inclusion from day one.

Communication is the key to successful co-parenting (and is an underlying theme throughout this post). If you receive information regarding your child and their needs and activities, be sure to share it with your ex-spouse. Agree to keep each other in the loop.

No. 2: Set up a shared family calendar and update it diligently.

This is the key to following through on tip No. 1. As Christine explains, “There are a number of shared family calendars available online and some families even use Google calendars to share information about activities.

“Our firm typically recommends Our Family Wizard, because it offers a variety of helpful tools. Plus, many Texas Family Court judges require divorcing couples to communicate through Our Family Wizard and use the shared calendar.”

Within your shared calendar, you can keep track of:

  • Extracurricular practices and events.
  • Doctor appointments.
  • Homework and project deadlines.
  • School photo days.
  • Family vacations and more.

No. 3: Have a conversation about back-to-school supplies.

“In Texas, back-to-school supplies are supposed to be paid for with child support. However, the cost for supplies, school uniforms, sports gear, etc., can often exceed that amount. If you want to start out on the right foot with your ex-spouse, offer to help pay for certain items. This can help set the tone for a more amicable co-parenting relationship.

“However, I do recommend paying for those designated items directly, such as taking your child school shopping at Target or paying the school directly for uniforms,” Christine says.

No. 4: Drop off your children together on the first day of school.

Though this may be a difficult for the newly divorced, it’s just one day that will be tough for you, but an important day that will speak volumes to your child. Says Christine, “This stand of unity shows the child that regardless of his or her parents’ differences, you’re all in it together.”

No. 5: Get on the same page regarding homework, deadlines and obligations.

Christine recommends that parents agree at the outset to share homework duties as equally as possible. “As a Dallas divorce attorney, I frequently run into scenarios where one parent takes on the bulk of the homework follow up while the other disregards it. This is especially problematic when large school projects are involved.

“You don’t want to pick up your child on a Sunday night at 7 p.m. and find out they have a huge diorama or book report due in the morning. This is not a fair way to co-parent and it puts unnecessary pressure on the child. Agree to keep each other informed and share homework deadlines and progress reports regularly.”

No. 6: Make sure the child’s backpack stays with the child.

Speaking of homework, to help your child stay on track and complete homework assignments on time, his or her assignment folder and necessary books and materials need to accompany him or her from home to home.

“You can even use the backpack as a talking point. Take a few moments during the exchange to communicate how far along the child is with completing his or her assignments. For example, ‘He finished three chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird and needs to knock out another three by Monday,’” explains Christine.

No. 7: Attend parent-teacher conferences together if possible.

While some parents do request separate parent teacher conferences, Christine encourages parents to attend together when possible.

As she explains, “Attending together makes it easier on the teachers, and also shows the teacher everyone is on the same team when it comes to supporting your child. If you can’t be there for some reason – due to a business trip, late meeting or if you reside out of state – you can always arrange to call in.”

No. 8: Exchange pictures with the other parent.

“Another positive way to show your commitment to co-parenting is to text or email photos to each other when one parent isn’t able to be present at important events and milestones,” Christine says.

No. 9: Keep former in-laws and your ex’s family history in the mix.

According to Christine, “Children often have school assignments that require family information and photos. For example, they may be asked to research their family tree or create a photo collage. If you omit or discount the other half of your child’s family, you’re also discounting half of your child. So do your best to represent both sides equally.”

Including your ex-spouse’s family members at birthday parties, baseball games, ballet recitals and other events is another great way to demonstrate a united front post-divorce.

No. 10: Share “breaking” health information a.s.a.p.

If you hear pink eye is running rampant at your child’s school, inform the other parent immediately. “While the school nurse may eventually notify parents of health concerns by email, it’s helpful for both parents to have that information right away, so they can be on the look out for symptoms.

“Also, if your child wakes up with a fever and stays home for the day, that is another scenario where it’s important to alert the other parent as soon as possible. This is especially true if an exchange is planned for that evening,” Christine says.

No. 11: Plan for inclement weather (ice days) and teacher in-service days.

While decrees and child custody orders typically spell out who is responsible for taking the children when bad weather arises and on teacher in-service days, the unpredictability of those scenarios can lead to confusion.

Christine encourages parents to agree to be flexible in these situations. As she explains, “It isn’t unusual for one parent to have a more flexible job than the other. So for those occasions when it’s difficult to follow the strict letter of the law in your custody order, planning how to deal with those days in advance is key.”

No. 12: Work with a parent facilitator to iron out roadblocks.

If you and your ex-spouse disagree on issues pertaining to your children, a parent facilitator can help sort things out.

According to Christine, “A parent facilitator is an excellent, objective resource who can help settle disputes such as whether a private school or public school is best for the child, how related costs will be paid and by whom, who pays for uniforms, etc. Or if one parent feels the child is over-scheduled with ballet, karate, violin and more, that’s something a parent facilitator can help resolve too.”

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 your divorce and child custody options, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and considerate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

Have Questions About Alimony in Texas? 11 Things You Need to Know

Posted on Aug 9, 2016 in Alimony, Divorce

Have Questions About Alimony in Texas? 11 Things You Need to Know

How alimony is determined varies from state to state. If you and your spouse are calling it quits in Texas, alimony isn’t a given. You also shouldn’t expect a windfall, even if your spouse is a professional athlete, real estate mogul or oil baron. Dallas Divorce Attorney Abby Gregory answers 11 common questions about spousal support in Texas below.

1. What is the standard alimony allowance in Texas?

According to Abby, “The maximum alimony – or spousal maintenance as it is referred to in Texas – the court will order is $5,000 per month or 20 percent of the spouse’s average monthly gross income, whichever is less. So even in divorce cases where one of the spouses earns a sizeable income, that is the most you can expect. In addition, you must be married a minimum of 10 years in order to qualify for spousal maintenance in Texas.”

2. Really? I have friends who receive more alimony than that.

“Your friends likely negotiated contractual alimony into their divorce agreements. With a contractual alimony agreement, the sky is the limit and payment amounts can be much higher than the statutory maximum in Texas. Contractual alimony may also be of longer duration and can include a variety of other mechanisms based on the settlement agreed to between the soon to be ex-spouses.

“For example, the amount may change after each year or be cut in half after three years. It depends on the terms negotiated. Also, you can’t modify contractual alimony, though you may be able to modify court-ordered spousal maintenance under certain circumstances (see question No. 8),” Abby says.

3. How long can I expect to receive spousal maintenance following a divorce in Texas?

According to Abby, this decision is up to the court to decide. As she explains, “The court has complete discretion regarding the duration of spousal maintenance, but there are caps. According to the statute, the court may not order maintenance that remains in effect more than five years if the couple has been married 10 years, seven years if married for 20 years and 10 years if married for 30 years or more.”

4. How easy is it to qualify for spousal maintenance in Texas?

It’s probably more difficult to qualify than you think. “Spousal maintenance in Texas was designed to support the woman in her 70s who hasn’t worked her whole life or a stay-at-home mom who aspires to do more and just needs her rent and car payment paid while she executes her plan to transition into the workforce.

“If you’re seeking spousal maintenance in a Texas divorce, you have to prove to the court that you are unable to meet your minimum reasonable needs post divorce. The statute does NOT allow an award of maintenance sufficient to meet your current standard of living. Generally, those minimum reasonable needs include a roof over your head, a car, gas in your car and food on your table. It does not mean a private school for the kids, eating out at your favorite restaurants or taking annual summer vacations,” Abby says.

It’s important to note that it really is an uphill battle to get spousal maintenance in Texas, and the state expects you to find a job eventually.

According to Abby, “Where people often make a mistake is admitting during a deposition ‘I’m not trying to find a job’ or saying ‘I don’t know’ when the judge asks what plans they have following the divorce. Those are not good answers. The court will not take pity on you, because they won’t believe you can’t meet your minimum reasonable needs.

“In fact, the statute requires that you make attempts to get a job to meet your minimum reasonable needs, and you can’t PROVE you have attempted to find employment if you haven’t actually done so.”

5. I haven’t had a job outside the home for many years. Does the state of Texas really expect me to go back to work?

If you are capable of finding work to provide for your minimum reasonable needs, yes, you need to get a job or make preparations to reenter the workforce.

As Abby explains, “Just because you have been out of the workforce for 20 years, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a job as a receptionist or office manager or the like, especially if you have a college degree.

“However, you may be able to present a compelling argument to the court that you’re starting your own business, taking night classes, enrolled in nursing school, finishing your law degree, etc., and need support for a set period of time to complete coursework and then find a job. You need to have a detailed plan and timeline.”

6. Under what circumstances is alimony or spousal maintenance terminated in Texas?

“Aside from the aforementioned caps on duration, spousal support generally terminates upon the death of the recipient. It does not terminate on the payor’s death. That would become an obligation of his or her estate.

“Generally, the standard language in divorce agreements does include cohabitation and remarriage clauses that say if you remarry or cohabitate, contractual alimony payments would be terminated,” says Abby.

7. Do I have to pay taxes on alimony or spousal maintenance in Texas?

The paying party gets to deduct spousal support from their income taxes and the receiving party must pay taxes on those monies.

“So generally, if the spouse making the higher income gets to deduct alimony at 39 percent, and the person receiving only has to pay taxes on 20 percent, we basically say Uncle Sam makes up the difference,” explains Abby.

8. What if I’m the one paying spousal support, but my financial circumstances have significantly reversed. Can spousal maintenance be modified in Texas?

According to Abby, a Dallas divorce lawyer who represents affluent, high-net-worth individuals in Texas, “In order to secure a modification of spousal maintenance, you need to present a proper showing of a material and substantial change to your income.

“Say you were earning $1 million a year and now earn less than $100 thousand, or you’re on disability insurance and can no longer work, or your spouse is now working and earns more money, these may be some scenarios where the court might agree to modify your spousal maintenance agreement. As noted earlier, contractual alimony CANNOT be modified.”

9. I need to declare bankruptcy. Can I stop paying alimony or spousal maintenance?

No. It’s not dischargeable. “If you declare bankruptcy you still have to pay alimony or spousal maintenance, it’s not something that’s going to go away,” says Abby.

10. I’m afraid my spouse won’t follow through with my spousal maintenance or contractual alimony payments. How can I make sure he or she does?

Abby strongly encourages clients to take steps to obtain security for spousal maintenance in the divorce agreement from the paying spouse.

As she explains, “You should always secure the alimony or spousal maintenance with specific assets of your spouse. Then, if your ex defaults a specified number of times over a set number of days, your spousal support gets accelerated and you can collect it from enforcing the security agreement.

“Following default, you would get an interest in that asset – whether it’s a 401k, a brokerage account (that can’t go below a certain dollar amount), a house, a piece of property or something else. Remember, if your spouse goes broke, the courts can’t print money, so be prepared.

11. I’d rather receive a lump sum at the close of my divorce. How does that work?

According to Abby, “One of the big downsides of alimony is it keeps you in a financial relationship with your ex-spouse. So if you really want to cut ties, opting for a lump sum payment may be a good option. Many people like to have a lump sum of money to invest and manage as they see fit. Ask your family law attorney to help you weigh your options.”

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

10 Essential Tips for Successful Co-Parenting Following Divorce

Posted on Jul 18, 2016 in Child Custody, Connatser Family Law, Coparenting, Dallas Divorce

10 Essential Tips for Successful Co-Parenting Following Divorce

While Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin mastered the art of “consciously uncoupling” in 2014, their dedication to peacefully co-parenting following their split has been making headlines ever since. As Paltrow recently told BBC News,  “You can remain a family even though you are not a couple and make it a less traumatic experience for the children.”

If only it was always that easy.

According to Dallas Family Law Attorney Christine Powers Leatherberry, “It can be challenging to share parenting duties with an ex, especially following a high-conflict divorce. Emotions can run sky high during divorce, but you need to set those feelings aside when kids are in the picture.”

So what can YOU do to successfully co-parent following divorce? According to Christine, parents should:

1. Put the kids first.

“This is rule No. 1. Your child’s world has been turned upside down, and as the adults, you need to attend to their needs before yours whenever possible,” says Christine.

2. Be civil.

Don’t add more fuel to the fire by trying to push your ex’s buttons. Focus on the matters at hand and what is best for your children.

3. Work with a parent facilitator if necessary.

Parent facilitation is a process where parents going through a high conflict divorce – or following one – work out parenting issues together with a third party parent facilitator (almost like a referee or coach). The parent facilitator helps them reach amicable resolutions and agreements together without going through the court process.

As Christine explains, “The parents and parent facilitator meet regularly or as problems arise in the same room. No divorce lawyers are present. Most of the time (not always) this approach can be very successful and cut down on future litigation.  During these sessions parents can decide issues like who pays for ballet, whether a party can take a child to China, if the parties can switch possession periods, etc.”

4. Opt for a collaborative divorce.

If you or your spouse recently filed for divorce, consider going the collaborative route. The collaborative divorce process in Texas allows parents the opportunity to hash out divorce and child related details with the help of their respective family law attorneys, along with neutral experts (mental health and financial professionals).

“For some couples, the collaborative process can provide a more conducive environment to sit down together and work things out for the sake of the children, such as child custody and visitation. This approach is often better for children in the long-term because parents can learn how to get along and resolve issues during the early stages of divorce,” says Christine.

5. Set up a shared calendar.

According to Christine, “You can find a number of helpful scheduling tools and apps online, and in some cases, the court may order you to use one. In fact, Dallas County Family Courts often require parents to use a tool called Our Family Wizard. Along with offering a calendaring tool, parents can email each other through the software. These communications are unmodifiable and copies of all messages are stored in the system. It also records when communications are opened by each parent.”

Many family courts also use Our Family Wizard so impartial, amicus attorneys appointed to advocate for children can monitor communication between the parents, and judges can have a reliable source for documenting communication between the parties.

6. Keep the lines of communication open.

Kids’ lives and schedules change constantly, so parents need to keep each other in the loop. While it may be uncomfortable to communicate with your ex-spouse, you could agree to only communicate through tools like Our Family Wizard, via text or email, if speaking on the phone is uncomfortable.

7. Be flexible when possible.

If you’re flexible with your ex, chances are they will be more likely to be flexible with you. “So if your ex asks you to switch Spring Break for Thanksgiving or let your children stay an extra day on vacation, try to make it work, especially if the children are OK with the switch,” Christine says.

8. Pay special attention to maintaining traditions.

During the time you and your ex raised your children together, you probably created some family traditions together, too. Maintaining favorite holiday traditions, like Santa arriving Christmas Eve, can help reinforce some normalcy for kids and make them feel more secure.

9. Not expect their ex to change.

As Christine explains, “If your ex-spouse was always late, never a good communicator, etc., the odds are good that those traits aren’t going to change. Be realistic and prepare for the inevitable.”

If tardiness or forgetfulness is a problem, have a back-up plan in case he or she doesn’t show. Always have a Plan B. Or if communication is an issue, be clear about what steps you will take if you don’t hear back by a certain (realistic) time.

10. Stay positive.

“You love your kids and want what’s best for them right? Keep your eye on the prize. By focusing on the positive and your children’s welfare, co-parenting should get easier as time goes by,” Christine says.

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

Megan Fox’s Divorce Flip-Flop Begs the Question: Can You Divorce If You’re Pregnant?

Posted on Jul 6, 2016 in Child Custody

Megan Fox’s Divorce Flip-Flop Begs the Question: Can You Divorce If You’re Pregnant?

While Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green’s reported Hawaii “babymoon” seems to indicate their divorce plans are OFF, Fox’s pregnancy following her August 2015 divorce filing raised an interesting question. What happens if you get pregnant after filing for divorce? According to Dallas Divorce Attorney Alissa Castro, pregnancy can complicate and delay the finalization of a divorce in Texas.

As Alissa explains, “In Texas, the Family Court puts the best interests of the child first. There are several questions that typically can’t be answered until the child is born, and the judge needs this information prior to ruling on issues pertaining to the child’s future.”

In order to make decisions pertaining to child support, possession, access and conservatorship of the unborn child, the judge will need to clarify several issues first:

  • Parentage. Is the husband the biological father? Though genetic testing can be performed in utero, a Texas court may not order genetic testing until the child is born.
  • Rights and duties. Whom the child resides with and when typically can’t be finalized until the child is born and released from the hospital.
  • Medical issues. Does the child have any health care needs (physical, developmental, psychological, etc.) that need to be taken into account? There is essentially no way to estimate the costs and logistics associated with medical considerations until the child is born.

“The Texas Family Code doesn’t explicitly state you can’t finalize a divorce when a couple is expecting a child. However, if you look at Texas case law, the courts in Texas typically agree that they will not render a final judgment, because they can’t name parents as conservators of an unborn child,” Alissa says.

That’s not to say you can’t put the wheels in motion for your divorce when you’re expecting.

Hash Out Financial and Property Issues in the Mean Time

If you’re convinced you want to end your marriage, there is no harm in filing for divorce – especially since there is a minimum 60-day waiting period from the date of filing for divorce before a divorce can be granted in Texas.

According to Alissa, “Before the baby is born, you can proceed with finalizing much of the financial and property-related aspects of the divorce settlement. This portion of the divorce settlement is similar to some post-marital agreements – or postnups – where a couple clarifies separate property and/or contractually agrees to partition property, so there is no additional community property to divide after a set date.”

Had Fox and Green been unable to reconcile, Green may have ended up better off financially by waiting to finalize the financial and property aspects of his and Fox’s divorce.

“Megan Fox appears to be the primary breadwinner in the relationship, especially with the June 2016 release of her new blockbuster film, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequel, and her recent role in the Fox Network comedy ‘New Girl.’ In Texas, Green would have a claim for a portion of her earnings from those projects,’’ explains Alissa.

So, CAN you get a divorce if you’re pregnant in Texas?

According to Alissa, “In Texas, the likelihood that a judge in a Texas Family Court will grant a divorce prior to the baby’s birth is extremely low. In most cases when a party to a divorce is pregnant, the best way to expedite a divorce in Texas is to hire an experienced divorce lawyer, file for divorce as soon as possible and finalize any financial or property related concerns before the child’s birth.”

Side Note Regarding Family Violence: While not the case with Fox and Green, if you or your spouse are pregnant and domestic violence or incarceration of your spouse is a factor, there may be steps you can take to protect yourself and the unborn child as well as expedite your divorce. Alissa recommends speaking with a reputable family law attorney in Dallas (or the city where you reside) to discuss your options and secure a protective order when appropriate.

Alissa also recommends this past post – “Why They Stayed and How You Can Leave” – for additional resources pertaining to domestic violence.

Photo Source: Josh Jensen – originally posted to Flickr as Megan Fox, CC BY-SA 2.0


Amber Heard vs. Johnny Depp: How Claims of Domestic Violence May Impact Their Divorce … and Yours

Posted on Jun 28, 2016 in Domestic Violence

Amber Heard vs. Johnny Depp: How Claims of Domestic Violence May Impact Their Divorce … and Yours

After 15 months of marriage, actress Amber Heard filed for divorce from Johnny Depp in California on May 23, 2016. Shortly after filing, Heard also filed for a restraining order against Depp, claiming she was a victim of repeated domestic violence. The judge granted a temporary restraining order that requires Depp to stay at least 100 feet away from Heard and their L.A. home where Heard is living.

As is the case with many contentious, celebrity divorces, Heard and Depp’s camps have engaged in a “he said, she said” war of words. Her camp backs her claims, while his camp denies he ever harmed the actress. Depp’s divorce lawyer also alleges Heard is merely attempting to secure financial gain by making the domestic violence claims.

So what impact, may domestic violence claims and restraining orders have on the outcome of a divorce?

According to Dallas Divorce Lawyer Abby Gregory, in cases where family violence has occurred in Texas, protective orders actually are more appropriate than restraining orders. “Protective orders go a step beyond restraining orders in Texas, because they are based on a finding of family violence and have criminal consequences,” Abby says.

What constitutes family violence in Texas?

According to Texas Family Code §71.004 the state of Texas defines family violence as an act by a member of a family or a household, against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault or sexual assault, or is a threat that reasonably places a family member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault or sexual assault. It does not include defensive measures to protect oneself.

In Texas, if Heard filed for divorce, alleged she was a victim of domestic violence and claimed she was in imminent danger, it’s likely her divorce attorney would seek both a restraining order and protective order against Depp.

Protective orders are preferable when family violence is a concern

“To get a temporary protective order in Texas, there has to be a clear and present danger of family violence, and an incident of family violence needs to have occurred within the last 30 days. Then no later than the 14th day, a hearing is held to determine if the protective order will become a final order. This is when the court determines whether or not family violence occurred and if it is likely to occur in the future,” Abby says.

According to TMZ, Heard appeared in court with a bruised face to ask for the restraining order, claiming Depp had hit her in the face with his iPhone. This would meet the 30-day requirement (if the abuse allegations are proven to be true).

Once is enough, you don’t need to establish a history of family violence

As Abby explains, “It’s important to note that nothing in the Texas statute prevents one incident of family violence from being sufficient enough to warrant a finding by the court that it’s likely to happen in the future.

“In addition, when a party violates a protective order you can call the police to arrest that person. The police won’t typically arrest people for violating restraining orders – those disputes are typically resolved in court.”

Restraining orders are typically used in emergencies and to prohibit certain actions

According to Abby, “In Texas, temporary restraining orders are typically used in emergency situations, where you don’t have time to set a hearing and give the other party notice. You need to file an affidavit with the court, and if the judge grants the temporary restraining order, a hearing is scheduled within 14 days to decide if the order becomes an injunction.”

Restraining orders in Texas are typically used to enjoin – or order – someone from carrying out certain actions, like preventing Depp from coming within 100 feet of Heard.

As Abby elaborates, “Restraining orders could prohibit a party from contacting the other party in any way (in person, phone, text, email, etc.), taking money from joint financial accounts, selling community property, bringing a new girlfriend around the children, etc.”

You can also take emergency steps to remove an abusive family member from the family residence by requesting an ex parte protective order.

According to Abby, “The court can enter an ex parte protective order if family violence has occurred in the past 30 days against someone in the household and if there is a clear and present danger that the person is likely to commit family violence against someone in the household again.”

So how might Heard’s claims of domestic violence impact her divorce case?

Heard recently removed her initial request for spousal support, following her domestic violence allegations. This may work in her favor in the court of public opinion, since Depp’s side is alleging she is motivated by financial gain. However, that doesn’t mean Heard won’t ask for spousal maintenance during the divorce negotiations.

“While we don’t know what the circumstances or motivations are in the Heard vs. Depp case, many people do use protective orders as leverage when negotiating a divorce settlement. As a Dallas Divorce Lawyer, unfortunately, I’ve found it isn’t uncommon for an alleged victim to offer to drop a protective order in return for financial considerations,” Abby says.

In Texas, a criminal conviction for family violence can also affect spousal maintenance, where it is considered an exception to the minimum marriage of 10-years requirement.

According to Abby, if you have been married less than 10 years, you may become eligible for spousal support if the following qualifications are met:

  • An act of family violence against you has occurred in the past two years before the date on which a divorce was filed or while a divorce case is pending.
  • The person from whom you are seeking spousal support has either been convicted or received deferred adjudication for a criminal offense that constitutes an act of family violence.

When things get heated, keep your cool

Abby strongly encourages people to be very careful about controlling their behavior, especially in those last days before either party files for divorce. As she explains, “Emotions run high, people scream and make threats. It’s important to know that even a threat of violence can be considered family violence.”

She has also seen many cases where what seems like a minor act, like throwing a cell phone or jumping up and down on it, has been considered family violence. “Especially with temporary protective orders, it can be very powerful to show the smashed cell phone, show the smashed plate or show the hole in the wall to the judge,” says Abby.

Being accused of family violence or being the subject of a restraining order or protective order can be costly, especially when children are involved.

According to Abby, “Not only can family violence allegations put you in a weaker bargaining position regarding finances, if you have a protective order granted against you, the court is prohibited from naming you a joint managing conservator of your children.”

Acts of family violence are NEVER OK, neither are false accusations

To be clear, we don’t know whether Heard’s allegations are true or not. That is for the California courts to decide.

What we do know is that there should be zero tolerance for family violence, and if you are afraid for your safety and have experienced domestic violence, help is available!

You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), and we offer plenty of additional resources here: Why They Stayed, How You Can Leave 

On the flip side, Abby says, “Some people use false claims as a tactic to better themselves in their divorce proceedings. Even incidents that are not acts of family violence could be manipulated into looking like they are. Those incidents could be presented to the judge under the guise of family violence in an attempt for one party to call the shots. So it’s important to mind your Ps and Qs and keep your cool in order to secure the divorce and child custody agreement you desire.”

Photo Source: gdcgraphics [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

5 Handy Tips and Resources for Dads Before, During and After Divorce and Child Custody Disputes

Posted on Jun 13, 2016 in Child Custody, Divorce

5 Handy Tips and Resources for Dads Before, During and After Divorce and Child Custody Disputes

Whether you’re a dad who just filed for divorce or you’re trying to make the most of a shared custody arrangement, your family is bound to face plenty of challenges along the way. Below, Dallas Divorce Attorney Aubrey Connatser shares her top five tips and resources for fathers navigating the bumpy road that often accompanies the divorce process when children are involved.

Tip No. 1: Remember: The kids come first.

According to Aubrey, “During a contentious divorce, it’s natural to feel anger and resentment toward your spouse, but your children’s welfare should be your top priority. Don’t allow anger toward your soon-to-be-ex to overshadow the needs of your kids, entice you to put the children in the middle or let you think it’s OK to use your kids as leverage during a divorce.”

Resource: Check out this past post with video, 5 Big Mistakes Divorcing Parents Make That Harm Teenage Kids, for more details.

Tip No. 2: Stay positive and take appropriate steps to achieve your custody goals.

“One of the first questions I ask clients is, ‘What are your goals?’ If you’re a dad and your goal is to secure an equally shared custody arrangement or primary custody of your children, your odds are better today than in years past. An experienced family law attorney can walk you through the steps necessary to help you achieve the outcomes you desire,” Aubrey says.

Resource: Learn how one father overcame the odds and five steps to take in this past story: 5 Crucial Steps Dads Should Take to Get Custody in Texas.

Tip No. 3: Seek out resources to help kids cope during and after divorce.

As Aubrey explains, “Going through a divorce is a tumultuous time for all parties involved, but kids can take it especially hard. Don’t underestimate the fragility of your child’s mental health during divorce. There are plenty of tools and resources available, including counseling, to help them cope.”

Resource: Read this recent post, where Aubrey shares 5 Valuable Resources to Help Kids Cope When Parents Split.

Tip No. 4: Prepare yourself for child custody modifications in the future.

As a Dallas Divorce Attorney, Aubrey regularly handles child custody modifications. Modifications typically occur when adjustments need to be made to a custody order following a change in circumstances of one parent or the child that occur subsequent to a divorce.

“Parents typically have to wait at least one year following the finalization of the prior custody order to request a custody modification and three years to request a change in child support. These time frames can change in the event of an emergency.

In Texas, there must be a material and substantial change in circumstances regarding the children or parent conservator that requires a modification of conservatorship or possession and access, as well as child support,” Aubrey says.

Resource: You can find the Top 10 Things Parents Need to Know about Child Custody Modifications in Texas here.

Tip No. 5: Get your ducks in a row regarding the divorce in general.

Ask anyone who has been through a divorce and most will say it’s one of the most stressful experiences they’ve ever been through. Seeking out guidance sooner rather than later can help prevent missteps that could jeopardize child custody goals and other aspects of your divorce case.

According to Aubrey, “If you’re thinking about getting divorced, it’s imperative to discuss next steps with an experienced Texas divorce attorney as soon as possible. He or she can guide you through the legal aspects of the process and help connect you with financial, mental health and other specialists to assist you during your divorce.”

Resource: Check out our 10-step guide, Guys Guide to Divorce in Texas, for plenty of additional insight.

Photo Source: Adobe Stock