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 2014, 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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The Essential 9-Step Guide to Hiring a Divorce Attorney [Infographic]

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....

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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 Bloomberg.com 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,...

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12 Back-to-School Tips for Newly Divorced Parents

When the wounds are fresh, it can be difficult to get along with an ex-spouse following divorce. But setting differences aside and putting children first are essential for the long-term health and happiness of your kids. With the new school year upon us, we asked Dallas Divorce Attorney Christine Powers Leatherberry to share advice to help newly divorced parents kick off co-parenting and the school year on the right foot. No. 1: Commit to open communication and inclusion from day one. Communication is the key to successful co-parenting (and is an underlying theme throughout this post). If you receive information regarding your child and their needs and activities, be sure to share it with your ex-spouse. Agree to keep each other in the loop. No. 2: Set up a shared family calendar and update it diligently. This is the key to following through on tip No. 1. As Christine explains, “There are a number of shared family calendars available online and some families even use Google calendars to share information about activities. “Our firm typically recommends Our Family Wizard, because it offers a variety of helpful tools. Plus, many Texas Family Court judges require divorcing couples to communicate through Our Family Wizard and use the shared calendar.” Within your shared calendar, you can keep track of: Extracurricular practices and events. Doctor appointments. Homework and project deadlines. School photo days. Family vacations and more. No. 3: Have a conversation about back-to-school supplies. “In Texas, back-to-school supplies are supposed to be paid for with child support. However, the cost for supplies, school uniforms, sports gear, etc., can often exceed that amount. If you want to start out on the right foot with your ex-spouse, offer to help pay for certain items. This can help set the tone for a more amicable co-parenting relationship. “However, I do recommend paying for those designated items directly, such as taking your child school shopping at Target or paying the school directly for uniforms,” Christine says. No. 4: Drop off your children together on the first day of school. Though this may be a difficult for the newly divorced, it’s just one day that will be tough for you, but an important day that will speak volumes to your child. Says Christine, “This stand of unity shows the child that regardless of his or her parents’ differences, you’re all in it together.” No. 5: Get on the same page regarding homework, deadlines and obligations. Christine recommends that parents agree at the outset to share homework duties as equally as possible. “As a Dallas divorce attorney, I frequently run into scenarios where one parent takes on the bulk of the homework follow up while the other disregards it. This is especially problematic when large school projects are involved. “You don’t want to pick up your child on a Sunday night at 7 p.m. and find out they have a huge diorama or book report due in the morning. This is not a fair way to co-parent and it puts unnecessary pressure on the child. Agree to keep each other informed and share homework deadlines and progress reports regularly.” No. 6: Make sure the child’s backpack stays with the child. Speaking of homework, to help your child stay on track and complete homework assignments on time, his or her assignment folder and necessary books and materials need to accompany him or her from home to home. “You can even use the backpack as a talking point. Take a few moments during the exchange to communicate how far along the child is with completing his or her assignments. For...

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

How alimony is determined varies from state to state. If you and your spouse are calling it quits in Texas, alimony isn’t a given. You also shouldn’t expect a windfall, even if your spouse is a professional athlete, real estate mogul or oil baron. Dallas Divorce Attorney Abby Gregory answers 11 common questions about spousal support in Texas below. 1. What is the standard alimony allowance in Texas? According to Abby, “The maximum alimony – or spousal maintenance as it is referred to in Texas – the court will order is $5,000 per month or 20 percent of the spouse’s average monthly gross income, whichever is less. So even in divorce cases where one of the spouses earns a sizeable income, that is the most you can expect. In addition, you must be married a minimum of 10 years in order to qualify for spousal maintenance in Texas.” 2. Really? I have friends who receive more alimony than that. “Your friends likely negotiated contractual alimony into their divorce agreements. With a contractual alimony agreement, the sky is the limit and payment amounts can be much higher than the statutory maximum in Texas. Contractual alimony may also be of longer duration and can include a variety of other mechanisms based on the settlement agreed to between the soon to be ex-spouses. “For example, the amount may change after each year or be cut in half after three years. It depends on the terms negotiated. Also, you can’t modify contractual alimony, though you may be able to modify court-ordered spousal maintenance under certain circumstances (see question No. 8),” Abby says. 3. How long can I expect to receive spousal maintenance following a divorce in Texas? According to Abby, this decision is up to the court to decide. As she explains, “The court has complete discretion regarding the duration of spousal maintenance, but there are caps. According to the statute, the court may not order maintenance that remains in effect more than five years if the couple has been married 10 years, seven years if married for 20 years and 10 years if married for 30 years or more.” 4. How easy is it to qualify for spousal maintenance in Texas? It’s probably more difficult to qualify than you think. “Spousal maintenance in Texas was designed to support the woman in her 70s who hasn’t worked her whole life or a stay-at-home mom who aspires to do more and just needs her rent and car payment paid while she executes her plan to transition into the workforce. “If you’re seeking spousal maintenance in a Texas divorce, you have to prove to the court that you are unable to meet your minimum reasonable needs post divorce. The statute does NOT allow an award of maintenance sufficient to meet your current standard of living. Generally, those minimum reasonable needs include a roof over your head, a car, gas in your car and food on your table. It does not mean a private school for the kids, eating out at your favorite restaurants or taking annual summer vacations,” Abby says. It’s important to note that it really is an uphill battle to get spousal maintenance in Texas, and the state expects you to find a job eventually. According to Abby, “Where people often make a mistake is admitting during a deposition ‘I’m not trying to find a job’ or saying ‘I don’t know’ when the judge asks what plans they have following the divorce. Those are not good answers. The court will not take pity on you, because they won’t believe you can’t meet your...

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