Keep Calm and Parent On: 9 Essential Co-Parenting Tips During High Conflict Divorces

By Alissa Castro During a high-conflict divorce, interacting with a future ex-spouse can be emotionally draining. However, when children are involved, minimizing contact – by phone, email or in person – typically isn’t an option. Parents need to communicate regularly about exchanges, soccer games, school projects, piano lessons, etc. – not to mention which parent will have possession of the children and when. So how can couples successfully co-parent during the emotional rollercoaster of divorce – especially when one of the parents would rather escalate conflict than get along? At Connatser Family Law, we recommend the following nine tips. Tip No. 1: Never forget – kids come first. Divorce is stressful regardless of the circumstances, and it can be especially troubling for children. Before you say or do something, consider how those actions will affect the kids. Because children often have different perspectives than parents on topics during divorce, it can also be helpful to schedule time for children to meet with a family therapist or member of the clergy to discuss any concerns. Find more helpful resources to help kids cope in this past post. Tip No. 2: Don’t bad mouth the other parent. One of the first pieces of advice we give parents: Don’t speak poorly of the other parent in front of the children and ask friends and family members to do the same. Be the bigger parent. Keep in mind that half of your child’s DNA comes from the other parent. If you disparage your spouse, the child may believe you think less of him or her, too. Tip No. 3: Follow the Golden Rule. Treat people the way you want to be treated and opt for the kill-them-with-kindness strategy. As Michelle Obama famously said, “When they go low, you go high.” We get it, taking the high road isn’t easy. However, you’re better off going into court with clean hands, without threats or nasty emails showing up in evidence, which is likely to position you unfavorably in the eyes of the judge. Tip No. 4: Try to give the other parent the benefit of the doubt. He or she will probably make mistakes, but so will you. For example, if the other parent is always five minutes late picking up the kids, ask yourself, is that a battle worth fighting? If the parent is consistently late on certain days and that tardiness is creating a problem for the child, maybe he or she has a good reason for being late. Instead of attacking the other parent, bring the issue up directly with him or her. Explain how you are seeing a pattern on certain days or times and ask if adjusting your schedules could help. The goal here is to work together to co-parent like you’re still married. Collaborative problem solving and a willingness to work together – without attacking each other – is what your children need to see. Tip No. 5: Resist escalating conflict. In the midst of a high-conflict divorce, tensions are running high, and it can be tempting to send an angry text or email to the other party. By doing so, you’re just adding fuel to the fire, which isn’t healthy for anyone involved. Avoid responding immediately and take time to draft a thoughtful response before hitting send. Any correspondence sent to your spouse can be submitted as evidence and you want to avoid damaging your case. Tip No. 6: Utilize professionals to settle disagreements. Whether your disagreements are few or the other parent refuses to co-parent with you in any way, a parent facilitator or coordinator can be...

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8 Key Considerations for Wealthy Couples During a Gray Divorce

By Douglas A. Harrison With four decades of experience practicing family law in Texas, Connatser Family Law attorney Doug Harrison has helped hundreds of affluent clients navigate the complexities of divorce involving sizeable estates, family business concerns, trusts, retirement accounts, insurance and more. We asked Doug to shed some light on the unique challenges older, wealthy couples face during a gray divorce. According to data analyzed by Pew Research, since 1990, the divorce rate has roughly doubled for adults ages 50 and above and tripled for those ages 65 and older. Clearly, gray divorce is on the rise, but why is this happening? Two big contributing factors are that the baby boomer population is getting older, and they are living longer. Boomers are retiring in droves and their kids have left the nest, which means boomer couples are suddenly spending a lot more time alone together. Consequently, some couples realize all of that togetherness isn’t as great as they hoped. The disdain for extended one-on-one time – by either party or both – is exacerbated when one of the partners transitions from eight to ten hours a day in the office to 24/7 at home. Following retirement, some couples also realize they have very different interests. Perhaps the wife is a real go-getter who loves to socialize and participate in cultural and civic endeavors, while the husband prefers to stay home and tinker around the house or play golf. In addition, many gray divorces we see today are second or third marriages, which have a significantly higher failure rate. While gray divorce can be complicated regardless of how much wealth is involved – learn about gray divorce and social security benefits here – affluent couples often face unique challenges, especially when divorcing later in life. No. 1: Tax issues. Most successful people in business try to take maximum advantage of the tax code. Consequently, couples getting divorced, when significant money, business concerns, and a long-term marriage are involved, have probably dealt with some tax issues along the way. It also isn’t unusual for a couple to think everything is fine from a tax perspective, and then receive a notification from the IRS that they are being audited for a return from a few years back. As a result, the parties may find out there are significant taxes owed that need to be dealt with during the divorce and beyond. Caution is encouraged with respect to these types of issues. No. 2: Estate plan changes. Many affluent couples establish elaborate estate plans, trust agreements, and family limited partnerships to ensure family members are provided for over the long term and taxes are minimized. When a couple contemplates a gray divorce, confusion and disagreements can arise pertaining to how these components will serve family members post-divorce. For example, when the couple created their estate plan, their goals were likely based on providing for the parties as a couple – not as individuals. Concurrently, wealthy couples often set up and contribute assets to family limited partnerships, under which both spouses, and possibly their children, own a percentage interest in that partnership. This ownership structure can result in a lower valuation of an individual’s interest in the partnership for estate tax purposes because of lack of control of the entity. This same issue would likely arise in a valuation for divorce purposes as well. Should the couple decide to divorce, the parties often have different interests and goals. Essentially, they are now paddling the boat in different directions, as self-preservation kicks in! How the family limited partnership is valued and dispersed requires careful...

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

During the time it takes you to read this story, 30 women will be assaulted during acts of domestic violence. On behalf of those moms, aunts, sisters, daughters, cousins, friends and neighbors – and their children – Connatser Family Law asked Jan Langbein, CEO at Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support in Dallas, what we all can do to make a difference. When we spoke to Langbein, the shootings of a domestic violence victim and her eight friends (one who survived) in Plano, Texas were fresh in her mind. “Our community is still reeling from the mass homicide in Plano during a football watching party. The woman did exactly what we tell victims of domestic violence to do – which is get out of an abusive relationship and surround yourself with friends. She had no idea how much danger she was in, and her friends certainly didn’t either,” Langbein says. Ready to “get out?” Here’s information on how to leave an abusive relationship and protect your kids. In order to make a difference, Langbein says, “We all have a responsibility to know the signs of domestic violence long before a tragedy like the one in Plano ever happens.” Common signs, actions or traits of someone who is likely to be an abuser: Hyper-vigilant, such as needing to know where his partner is every moment of the day. Extremely jealous. Transfers blame for problems he contributed to. Aggressive with wait staff or other service professionals. Does or says things that make your hair stand up on end. Common signs, actions or traits of a victim of abuse: Unexplained bruises. Days missed from work that seem excessive or unexplainable. Change in patterns or behavior, such as not going out as much. Limiting or halting communications with family and friends. People need to be more proactive about stepping up when something seems off or intuition tells them a woman or child may be in peril. Langbein recently experienced this situation at the DFW Airport. As she explains, “I was waiting at the gate for my flight to board, and a man was really going off on his wife and yelling at her. My gut told me she was at serious risk for getting hurt. When she got up to go to the bathroom, I followed her in and gave her my business card – I didn’t do it in front of him.” Langbein strongly believes it’s our responsibility as human beings to say something if we see something, even when it feels uncomfortable. “We need to step up long before a woman starts thinking about leaving her abuser or entering a shelter. This requires a change in mindset, where we acknowledge that everyone needs to play a part in ending domestic violence. We also need to do so 365 days a year, not just the 31 days during Domestic Violence Awareness Month,” Langbein says. Five ways you can help – before, during and after a victim of domestic violence seeks help   No. 1: Change your mindset and take responsibility. According to Langbein, “Domestic violence happens everywhere. After the Plano shooting, I heard people say, ‘I can’t believe it happened in Plano.’ That’s where the problem resides. You can’t be surprised if it happens down the street because it happens everywhere. It’s not an economic thing, and it’s not an education thing. It’s about power and control.” When you see something, say something.   No. 2: Know what resources are available in your community. Don’t feel like you have to “fix things” for that person. Even if you can’t provide financial support or...

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

By Aubrey Connatser Getting divorced can be a costly undertaking, especially if your case ends up going to trial. Unfortunately, some people end up spending more in attorney’s fees than necessary. The good news? If you are planning to divorce, you can rein in costs simply by avoiding the following mistakes. Mistake No. 1: Picking the wrong divorce lawyer It’s extremely important to have a good rapport with the person who will be navigating the divorce process with you. Parties who don’t see eye to eye with their divorce attorneys, typically end up with less consistency in strategy and more time spent in meetings. For example, say you are someone who hopes to settle your divorce as amicably as possible. If you hire an attorney who prefers to handle contentious divorces, you will spend a lot of time and money trying to reach a consensus regarding what to do and why. Not sure how to find the right attorney for your circumstances? Aubrey provides six essential tips for hiring a divorce attorney here. Remember, divorce lawyers bill by the hour. When you have confidence in your lawyer, you probably won’t question him or her as much (not that you shouldn’t question your attorney). In addition, you will probably be more inclined to trust his or her judgment and spend less time agreeing on a strategy. Mistake No. 2: Using your divorce attorney as a therapist Initially, it can be a good thing to explain to your lawyer what led up to your divorce emotionally, because that helps inform him or her as to where you are from a mental health perspective. However, extensively relying on an attorney for emotional support can get expensive. Therapists tend to charge much less than lawyers – depending on who you hire. Mistake No. 3: Not understanding your divorce lawyer’s fee contract Different lawyers charge different fees, so be sure to review how time is billed before signing a contract. Inquire about the lawyer’s hourly rate and how you will be billed for time other people in the firm spend working on your case, such as paralegals and law clerks. You should also ask what sort of retainer is required. Technically, retainers are refundable, so find out what the law firm’s policy is regarding timing of refunds. In addition, find out how the firm bills incremental time entries – by the tenth of an hour, quarter of an hour, etc. Being prepared can help smooth the divorce process. Check out the 18 helpful tools in our divorce toolkit here. Mistake No. 4: Communicating inefficiently with your attorney If you want to keep costs in check, communicate efficiently with your divorce attorney. For example, instead of sending 10 emails throughout the day, send one email with 10 questions at the end of the day. Every time you contact your lawyer, you will be billed for that time – so refrain from hitting “send” whenever possible. You may even consider scheduling a weekly meeting with the attorney and set aside any questions that need to be addressed for that time. That doesn’t mean you can’t communicate more frequently when necessary, but in the long run, weekly meetings can increase efficiency and reduce billable hours significantly. Mistake No. 5: Not reviewing paperwork for accuracy Carefully review any pleadings to ensure everything is accurate from a fact standpoint before they are filed on your behalf. This step can help reduce hourly fees related to correcting mistakes and inaccuracies later. Mistake No. 6: Keeping things from your attorney You should never lie to your doctor, and you should never...

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

By Abby Gregory More than two years have passed since the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) overruled the state of Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage. Dallas divorce attorney Abby Gregory weighs in on how the SCOTUS ruling has – and has not – changed family law concerns for same-sex couples in Texas. As attorneys at a Dallas-based family law firm, people often ask us how the SCOTUS ruling has affected same-sex couples in the Texas family law courts. Five of the most common questions regarding same-sex marriage, divorce and child custody follow, along with insight from the Connatser Family Law team. No. 1: How is same-sex divorce different from a divorce between a heterosexual couple? Most aspects of a same-sex divorce are pretty straightforward and similar to a traditional divorce. However, since gay marriage has only been legal in Texas for two years, we have had to deal with more cases where a common law marriage was involved and the couple does not have a marriage license. In order to prove a common law marriage in Texas couples have to meet three requirements: They agree to be married. They live together in the state of Texas. They hold themselves out to be husband and wife, husband and husband, or wife and wife. Technically, the statute only addresses “husband and wife,” so there is some loose interpretation there that will need to be addressed by the courts. Once a common law marriage has been established, the divorce comes down to the dividing of any assets, property, financial accounts, benefits and debts – just as you would in a heterosexual divorce. No. 2: How has the legalization of same-sex marriage had an impact on your clients? The most obvious answer is that we are now able to facilitate same-sex divorces for our Texas clients. When gay marriage was illegal in Texas, we were unable to help same-sex couples get divorced here, because the state didn’t consider those couples to be legally married. No. 3: What issues do you foresee arising for same-sex couples who want to divorce now that they can legally do so? In the short term, the biggest issue for many gay divorces in Texas will likely be coming to an agreement regarding the common law marriage date. For couples with sizeable assets, determining the date of marriage is critical, because that is when division of assets pertaining to community property starts. If the couples were legally married in another state that previously recognized same-sex marriage, that would eliminate this concern. As the years go by this issue will lessen, because same-sex couples that marry following the SCOTUS ruling can be issued a dated Texas marriage license – whereas prior to the ruling they could not. No. 4: Does the SCOTUS ruling change how child custody issues in Texas are handled? Just because you’re married doesn’t mean that you are the legal parent of a child in your household. That’s why it is so important for a party who is not the biological parent to go through legal proceedings to ensure he or she has parental rights by legally adopting the child. Without a formal adoption, the non-biological party will have no legal grounds pertaining to parental rights, should the couple decide to divorce. If the child is the non-biological child of both parties, they will want to make sure to go through a second adoption (after one party legally adopts the child) to ensure both parents have legal rights to the child. Prior to Obergerfell, this was the only way to guarantee that both parents in...

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As Gray Divorces Increase, Social Security Benefits Become More Important

Aubrey Connatser and Guy Rodgers, Texas Lawyer Dramatic increases in the number of older people getting divorced these days have brought to light social security rules that provide additional benefits to divorced people who qualify. These “gray” or Baby Boomer divorces are more common than ever before. A study from the National Center for Family and Marriage found that the U.S. divorce rate for couples age 50 and older doubled between 1990 and 2010, and was even higher for those over 65. The main concern of most people who divorce late in life is whether they will have enough money to live comfortably the rest of their lives. Divorce can drain the coffers of people in their 60s and 70s who may not have a way to rebuild their finances afterward. These older people need a pathway to security, and social security can be an important part of finding that pathway. Social security benefits are based on how long a person has worked, how much money is earned and when the person starts taking benefits. Social security retirement benefits can start at age 62. Full retirement age of people born between 1943 and 1954 is 66 years of age, while benefits max out at age 70. People who may not have worked for wages (such as housewives), worked for low wages or in jobs where social security taxes were not taken out through payroll deduction, may not qualify to receive much of a benefit. Eligibility for certain benefits can also depend on marital status. For divorced, divorcing and married people alike, the key is knowing the most advanced strategies and aggressively pursuing benefits. Claimants must file to determine their benefits, even if they question their eligibility. The Social Security Administration will not come after people waving money. Those who might not otherwise qualify for benefits may be eligible for divorced spousal benefits. A divorced spouse can collect social security retirement benefits based on the work record of an ex- husband or wife under strict conditions. For purposes of this explanation, the spouse filing on the benefits of an ex will be called the filing spouse. The spouse who earned the benefits being filed on will be called the earning spouse. The rules for collecting divorced spousal benefits are as follows: Both the filing spouse and the earning spouse must be at least 62 years of age. The couple must have been married for at least 10 years and divorced for two years. The filing spouse must be unmarried at the time of filing. The marital status of the earning spouse is not a factor. The filing spouse cannot be eligible for a higher benefit based on his or her own work record. For the filing spouse to collect, the earning spouse must be entitled to receive benefits but doesn’t have to be receiving them at the time of filing. No one has to ask an ex’s permission to file and there doesn’t have to be any contact between the exes during this process. Even if the earning spouse is remarried, this filing won’t affect the right to divorcee benefits, nor will it affect his or her retirement benefits or that of a current spouse. Only if the filing spouse remarries will he or she become ineligible for these benefits. Syndicated columnist Tom Margenau recently told the story of a divorced couple, both age 66, who filed on each other’s benefits. For four years, each of them received 50 percent of their ex’s full social security benefit, and it was perfectly legal. This kept their own benefits intact until age...

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