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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The Good, Bad and Ugly Sides of Nesting During Divorce

By Christine Powers Leatherberry Divorce can be very stressful for children, especially early on as they adjust to the reality of their parents’ breakup. To ease the blow, some parents consider nesting, where the children remain in the marital residence after the divorce is filed, and the parents rotate in and out on a set schedule. The good side of nesting? It helps maintain normalcy for the children Nesting really helps smooth the transition to a post-divorce family by maintaining normalcy and the status quo for children. Their home environment doesn’t change, they get to sleep in the same bed and take a bath in the same bathtub. Plus, all of their toys are within reach. One such Connaster Family Law client, Frank Jones,* experienced the ups and downs of nesting firsthand. “The big pro to nesting in our case was my son was able to stay in his own room, and we could go play ball in the backyard like we always had. He didn’t have to pack a backpack and shuffle back and forth between two households. Essentially, he could continue on with his life in the same place he had always called home,” Frank says. Not sure how to tell your children you’re getting divorced? Get some excellent insight here: Break the News with Care: How to Tell Kids You’re Getting Divorced Also good: Nesting can simplify finances and help parents save money Along with easing the blow for children, nesting does offer other benefits. It gives the parties more time to decide who will live in the marital residence long-term, if either party wants to. In addition, if the parties live with parents or another family member when it isn’t their turn to live in the marital residence, they may be able to save money. Nesting can simplify finances, too, because the parties likely will continue to pay the same bills – mortgage, utilities, etc. – as they did in the past. So, nesting can work well for some families during the early stages of divorce, but it isn’t a workable solution for most people in the long-term. Frank and his ex-wife nested for nearly a year and a half, and by the end, they were both ready to move on. The bad and ugly side of nesting? Painful memories, house cleaning disputes, life in limbo and privacy concerns Most family law clients who have agreed to a nesting arrangement do so for the sake of their children, but they find it can be personally challenging and stressful over the long-term. Memories … From the outset, living in the marital residence was never comfortable for Frank, because his ex had an affair in the home. As he explains, “During my time in the house, I wanted to create normalcy for my son and do what I had to do to get custody. Unfortunately, many painful memories lingered there due to the affair. I wanted to distance myself, but every time I walked through the door I kept reliving those memories.” Life in limbo … Many parents also feel unsettled because their possessions move between two places and they never know in what state they will find the house when it’s their turn to move back in. According to Frank, “If you leave anything behind at the house, you may not have access to it until you return. I eventually moved all of my personal items to my parents’ home and packed a backpack with essentials when it was my time to stay at the house. With nesting, if almost feels like you’re in limbo and...

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From Hollywood to Highland Park – 12 Reasons Married Couples DON’T Get Divorced

By Aubrey Connatser It seems like Hollywood divorces make headlines everyday. On the flip side, some celebrity couples do make a go of it – many for decades. Just look at Tinseltown marriage veterans Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, and Sting and Trudie Styler. So why are these Hollywood marriages still going strong? Many of the couples took time to get to know each other before marrying, and they probably work hard to maintain healthy relationships both as couples and parents. The same holds true for couples that live happily ever after away from the spotlight. It doesn’t matter if you’re a celebrity couple living in Hollywood or a traditional couple raising a family in Highland Park. While there are always exceptions, couples typically have enduring marriages for several common reasons, whether they are famous or not. No. 1: They wait to get married until they are older. As divorce attorneys, we regularly see clients who were high school or college sweethearts who didn’t really date anyone else. After a couple of years they start to wonder if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, or their priorities have changed. Couples who date other people before settling on a mate are more likely to understand that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. No. 2: They don’t marry due to a pregnancy. If the main reason a couple decides to marry is because the woman is pregnant, divorce may be looming around the corner. Starting a marriage as new parents can be difficult, especially if the couple hasn’t spent time getting to know each other, or they don’t really love each other. No. 3: They don’t let in-laws interfere with their relationship. It’s important for couples to tell parents to stay out of their business, or suggest the parents go to in-law premarital counseling where they will learn to mind their own business. The sooner a couple’s in-laws know their place, the less likely their marriage will suffer. No. 4: They are upfront about their desired spousal roles. I always say, hold true to the deal you strike. For example, if a wife tells her spouse she wants to work outside the home versus stay home with the kids (or vice versa), then changes positions after getting married, that might be too big of a hurdle for the husband to overcome. Couples need to be honest up front. No. 5: They don’t abuse alcohol or drugs. Substance abuse tears families apart. If either spouse (or both) is battling substance abuse, they need to address addiction problems head on. Abusing alcohol or drugs is one of the most common reasons people divorce. No. 6: They seek help for mental health issues. As with No. 5, if either spouse is struggling with mental health issues, the couple’s marriage will face challenges. Seeking guidance from a mental health professional can help a spouse cope psychological issues before they spiral out of control. No. 7: They don’t cheat. It’s no secret, cheating is one of the biggest reasons people get divorced. Adultery is typically a sign of a much deeper problem. Couples that want to stay married, need to address the issues in the marriage before straying. No. 8: They don’t marry the mistress. Unfaithful spouses who plan to marry the person with whom they had an affair – need to be wary. Think about it. If the mistress slept with a married person in the past, why wouldn’t she do it again?...

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