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...

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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...

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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: 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. 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.) 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.) 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. 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: Emotions Run Sky High During Divorce: 5 Ways to Stay Grounded 7 Sanity Saving Tips for Working Moms (and Dads) 5 Valuable Resources to Help Kids Cope When Parents Split 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: 10 Essential Tips for Successful Co-Parenting Following Divorce 12 Back-to-School Tips for Newly Divorced Parents Recently Divorced? 6 Tips to Make the Season Bright for Your Kids During the Holidays 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: 5 Crucial Steps Dads Should Take to Get Custody in Texas You Don’t Need to Be Rosie O’Donnell to End Up in a Nasty Same-Sex Custody Fight 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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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