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.

The Ultimate Divorce Toolkit: 18 Helpful Tools to Survive and Thrive After a Split

Posted on Feb 9, 2017 in Child Custody, Cohabitation, Collaborative Law, Connatser Family Law, Coparenting, Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Domestic Violence, Parenting, Texas Family Law

The Ultimate Divorce Toolkit: 18 Helpful Tools to Survive and Thrive After a Split

Since founding Connatser Family Law in 2013, prominent Dallas divorce attorney Aubrey Connatser and her associates, family law attorneys Abby Gregory, Christine Powers Leatherberry and Alissa Castro have shared insight and advice on the firm’s blog and in television, radio and newspaper interviews.

After years of experience representing clients in the Texas family court, we understand that going through a divorce can be overwhelming. So we created a comprehensive Divorce Toolkit with 10 categories and 18 helpful tools to help ease stress and streamline the divorce process.

Use this handy Divorce Toolkit to learn:

  1. How to hire a divorce attorney.

If you are contemplating divorce or are ready to file for divorce, seek out an experienced divorce attorney who is a good fit for YOU and your circumstances. Check out this handy infographic Essential 9-Step Guide to Hiring a Divorce Attorney to learn more.

  1. How to get a handle on divorce basics.

Wondering what common questions people ask about divorce? What questions they don’t ask but should? Our post, The Top 12 Things You Need to Know About Divorce in Texas, covers most of the bases. (If you don’t live in Texas, consult an attorney in the state where you reside.)

  1. How much alimony you can expect to receive or pay.

Alimony isn’t a given in a Texas divorce. In fact, the courts typically expect both parties to eventually support themselves following divorce. We cover 11 things you need to know about alimony in Texas in this past post. (Again, contact an attorney in your state if you don’t reside in Texas.)

  1. Tips on how to avoid tax and financial woes during divorce.

We asked our colleague Todd Amacher, J.D., MBA, CPA, CFP,® CDFA (TM), to share tax and financial insight in this helpful post, Divorce and Taxes: 5 Essential Tips for Avoiding Future Financial Woes.

  1. How to manage emotional duress during divorce.

We know, going through a divorce can be trying. This is true for the divorcing parties and their children as well. We’ve covered mental health issues on several occasions and encourage you to check out these insightful posts:

  1. The best ways to co-parent in a peaceful and supportive fashion.

At Connatser Family Law, we always say, “Kids come first.” We encourage parents to put their differences aside and focus on the best interests of their children. Co-parenting is another topic we cover regularly in our blog. A few helpful posts include:

  1. Steps to take to survive contentious custody battles.

Unfortunately, divorcing couples don’t always play nice during divorce and custody battles. In the following two posts, we interviewed two clients who survived and thrived contentious custody disputes. Read their inspiring stories for insight:

  1. How you can maintain privacy during high-profile divorce and child custody disputes.

If you’re getting divorced in Texas, you’ll be happy to learn that Texas family courts value privacy, especially when children are involved. It’s often easier to seal divorce records here than in other states.

Learn how a divorce attorney can help you keep divorce records private in this post we wrote about Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert’s 2015 divorce.

  1. Insight on the pros and cons of collaborative divorce.

If you and your partner want to take a kinder and gentler approach to divorce, you may want to consider going the collaborative route. Collaborative divorces can also afford a higher degree of privacy, but they aren’t the best option for everybody. Check out the following two posts to learn more:

  1. The dos and don’ts of technology, the cloud and social media during divorce.

What you say and do on social media and the cloud can be held against you during a divorce. Naiveté about technology can also compromise your privacy and safety. Scrutinize these posts closely before you email, text, call or share:

Contact a reputable family law attorney for personalized advice

If you are considering divorce, take steps to hire an experienced divorce attorney – who is a good fit for YOU – as soon as possible. He or she can provide advice specific to your circumstances and develop a strategy to attain your goals.

Since founding Connatser Family Law in 2013, Aubrey Connatser and 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

The Essential 9-Step Guide to Hiring a Divorce Attorney [Infographic]

Posted on Jan 23, 2017 in Connatser Family Law, Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Texas Family Law

At Connatser Family Law, we always experience a significant spike in phone calls after big holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day. If a post-holiday divorce is your only option, it’s important to do your research before hiring a divorce lawyer.

An under-qualified divorce attorney could miss critical issues and handle aspects of your case incorrectly. In addition, he or she might be unable to give you the advice you need to maximize your bargaining power during the divorce process.

Before you hire a family law attorney, check out our handy nine-step guide in the infographic below. You can also read an extended version of the guide here.


CFL 9 Steps Infographic Draft2

Substance Abuse and Divorce: Kick the Habit or Lose Time with Your Kids

Posted on Dec 29, 2016 in Connatser Family Law, Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Substance Abuse

Substance Abuse and Divorce: Kick the Habit or Lose Time with Your Kids

Dallas family law attorney Alissa Castro discusses the role substance abuse plays in divorce and how using alcohol and drugs can jeopardize child custody, visitation and possession in Texas.

Abuse of alcohol and drugs – including prescription drugs – is one of the biggest reasons marriages fall apart. As recently reported,13.7 percent of women and 5.2 percent of men cited drinking or drug use as a reason for getting divorced in a Journal of Family Issues survey.

How substance abuse affects divorce settlements, when children are NOT involved

In general, for people who are married and don’t have children, substance abuse usually has a minimal impact on divorce settlements in Texas. However, it could lead to fault grounds for divorce such as cruelty, depending on what happened and how the substance abuse impacted the marriage.

When it comes to addictive traits, the court may award a disproportionate amount of the couple’s estate to the non-addict party based upon the conduct of the addict during the marriage. If the addict was secretly gambling away the couple’s money or spending money on drugs or alcohol, this behavior could also lead to a claim of fraud or waste in the divorce.

However, the family courts in Texas counties are typically sensitive to the fact that addiction is a disease and that people usually don’t set out to become addicts. Still, the courts consider all of these factors and determine awards of marital property on a case-by-case basis.

How substance abuse affects child custody, visitation and possession in Texas

When children are involved, the courts take substance abuse very seriously. The Texas Family Code Section 105.001 clearly states that the court has the ability to make orders to ensure the safety and welfare of children during a divorce. To help protect kids from a parent who abuses drugs or alcohol, a graduated possession schedule or other restrictions can be put in place to provide a safe, stable and nonviolent environment for a child.

These graduated schedules occur in multiple phases and may include:

Supervised possession. During this phase, all visits with the children are supervised by a court-appointed supervisor or person agreed-upon by the parties. The court may also order that the party abstain from drinking 8 hours prior to and during possession, attend 90 meetings (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc.) in 90 days and submit to alcohol and/or drug tests.

Expanded possession time. Once the 90-day requirement (or other specified milestone) is met, or the Court believes the party has been able to stay clean and sober for a set period of time, the parent may be awarded more supervised possession time. Proof of regular meeting attendance (usually at least weekly) and random sobriety tests are normally required during this phase.

Unsupervised possession. After abiding by certain requirements for a set period of time, parents may eventually graduate to unsupervised possession. However, if he or she relapses, it is likely that the parent will have supervised or other restrictions to their possession or access of the child.

Rules and requirements vary based on the individual and are determined on a case-by-case basis.

FYI, smoking pot is a big no-no when it comes to child custody and visitation in Texas

It’s important to note that even though many states have decriminalized the use of marijuana, Texas is NOT one of those states. When consumption of any illegal drugs has occurred in recent months, there will likely be orders against it – if the parent wants access to his or her kids.

Even if you personally believe it’s OK to use marijuana recreationally, Texas courts take marijuana use very seriously and will often limit visitation until a parent can prove he or she is no longer using the illegal drug (via baseline hair or fingernail tests).

Abuse of prescription medication is also a big concern. Depending on the situation, the court may order a baseline be established for any prescribed medication taken to monitor for potential abuse.

How to protect your kids when a partner abuses drugs or alcohol

Clearly, substance abuse isn’t uncommon, and for some couples, divorce is the only option. If you are a parent who wants to limit your children’s exposure to a partner who is abusing drugs or alcohol, consider the following steps.

1. Collect evidence of the substance abuse.

Following separation from a spouse or partner, courts require evidence of substance abuse be provided before putting orders in place to limit possession of the children. Without evidence, your children could end up in the possession of someone who is abusing substances and is unable to adequately protect them.

If the substance abuser drinks a bottle of vodka or smokes a joint, take a picture or video. Keep track of and make copies of liquor store receipts or credit card charges for alcohol. Monitor social media and print and save copies of photos or posts that indicate substance abuse.

2. Call Child Protective Services and file a report.

If your partner’s substance abuse and related behavior is putting your children in danger, you can call CPS and file a report. Once a report is filed, CPS will open an investigation and those allegations will be on the record.

CPS can also create a safety plan that could potentially trump a court order. All parties are required to sign and abide by the plan. In some cases, CPS may even take possession of a child if they find he or she is in imminent danger.

3. Call the police if you are fearful for your or your child’s safety.

While substance abuse doesn’t always escalate to family violence, there are many instances when a substance abuser can pose a threat to your family. Call the police if you are afraid your partner could harm you or your child.

4. Contact a family law attorney for advice.

He or she can explain what legal steps you can take to protect your kids from a substance abuser, remove the substance abuser from your home, and how to secure a child custody and visitation agreement that keeps your children safe.

Your attorney can also counsel you on steps to take to avoid having to go to court every time you need relief. For example, you could request orders be put in place where the substance abuser would be immediately denied possession of the children if the party falls off the wagon.

5. Request emergency or temporary orders that require the other parent be tested for drugs and/or alcohol.

Your divorce attorney can help you with this important step. Without these orders, the court may assume a standard possession order is appropriate, which could put your children in danger.

These orders can help ensure drug/alcohol testing and safety procedures are put in place immediately. The court can also require the substance abuser submit to random testing with in-home tools like SoberLink, which tests the breath for alcohol and can even send a report with the results to the other parent and the court.

A NOTE OF CAUTION: Most judges have zero tolerance for frivolous accusations and requests for drug and alcohol testing without evidence of abuse. In addition, your partner can turn around and request the same testing and requirements be ordered for you. We often hear the accused substance abuser say, “The only time I drank was when my spouse and I were drinking together.” Only pursue this avenue if you truly believe your children are at risk.

Rely on a family law attorney who specializes in child custody and visitation

If drug or alcohol abuse is taking a toll on your family, reach out to a reputable family law attorney for advice. He or she can help you navigate the legal system and take appropriate steps to keep your children out of harm’s way.

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.

6 Holiday Co-Parenting Tips for the Recently Divorced [Infographic]

Posted on Nov 17, 2016 in Coparenting

The holiday season should be a happy and joyous time for children, but that isn’t always the case for kids whose parents have recently divorced. To help children navigate this stressful time, Dallas Family Law Attorney Christine Powers Leatherberry encourages parents to be proactive, maintain traditions and closely monitor children’s mental health during the holidays.

In the following infographic, Christine offers six helpful, holiday co-parenting tips for divorced moms and dads. Consider Christine’s advice to put children at ease during Christmas, Hanukkah and other holiday celebrations as they transition from a single-family unit to life as a child of divorce.

Christine Powers Leatherberry is a compassionate Dallas 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. If you have questions about a Texas divorce or child custody and visitation, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and considerate member of the Connatser Family Law team.


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