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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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 thehotline.org. National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline. Call 1-866-331-9474 or TTY 1-866-331-8453 or visit loveisrespect.org. Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support in Dallas. Call 214-946-4357 or visit genesisshelter.org. The Family Place shelter in Dallas. Call 214-941-1991 or visit familyplace.org. 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...

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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...

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5 Ways to Stay Safe During a High-Conflict Divorce

When celebrities like Frances Bean Cobain or Amber Heard collect their belongings from homes they shared with an estranged spouse, the LAPD goes with them. According to Dallas family law attorney Alissa Castro, “If you feel threatened by your partner in any way, seeking the protection of law enforcement is one of several steps you can take to stay safe during a divorce or break up.” Prior to coming to Connatser Family Law, Alissa worked at the Family Justice Division – Family Violence Section of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, so she is no stranger to divorce cases involving family violence. We asked Alissa what advice she offers to clients when domestic violence or threats of violence have occurred. She recommends the following five steps: No. 1: Call the police if you feel threatened or have been harmed. According to Alissa, “It’s important to call law enforcement to help prevent domestic violence from escalating and so the police can record any acts of family violence. The family courts require evidence of family violence before issuing an emergency ex parte or protective order.” (Read more about collecting evidence below.) Alissa recommends seeking a protective order whenever a history or pattern of family violence exists. However, if you don’t have adequate evidence to secure a protective order, a restraining order is your next best option. As she explains, “When there isn’t a history of family violence, but there is a fear that a partner’s behavior may rise to the level of family violence, you can seek a restraining order. However, restraining orders don’t offer the same level of protection as protective orders (removing abuser from the residence, limiting access to firearms, etc.).” Get more helpful tips in the past post: Why They Stayed, How You Can Leave.  No. 2: Collect evidence of family violence. In order to improve your odds of getting an ex parte or protective order, you need to collect evidence of family violence to support your case. “We ask clients to document any type of abuse, write notes in a journal, take photos of and seek medical attention for physical injuries. You could even make a recording on your phone. Just be careful to do so discreetly and save any evidence in a secure location,” Alissa says. No. 3: Have a safety plan in place and prepare for the future now. As Alissa explains, “If you want to exit an abusive relationship or marriage, start putting a long-term safety plan together right away. That way you’ll have the tools you need to survive once you’re ready to leave. You need to find a safe place to go – one place we recommend is Genesis Women’s Shelter – and money to help you get by.” Since many abusers control the family finances, it can be difficult for some women to save money. “In many cases, money is siphoned through the abuser. I encourage clients to be resourceful. For example, you could ask for cash back when paying for groceries. We also encourage clients to meet with a financial planner to get a handle on their finances and set goals for the future,” Alissa says. The Genesis Women’s Shelter – available 24/7 at 214-946-HELP (4357) – offers some very helpful safety planning tips on its website. Learn how to stay safe during an explosive incident, when leaving a relationship, at home, on the job and in public places. You’ll even find a safety checklist to get you started. Visit the shelter’s safety planning page here. No. 4: Only meet your ex in a public place and don’t go alone....

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Amber Heard vs. Johnny Depp: How Claims of Domestic Violence May Impact Their Divorce … and Yours

After 15 months of marriage, actress Amber Heard filed for divorce from Johnny Depp in California on May 23, 2016. Shortly after filing, Heard also filed for a restraining order against Depp, claiming she was a victim of repeated domestic violence. The judge granted a temporary restraining order that requires Depp to stay at least 100 feet away from Heard and their L.A. home where Heard is living. As is the case with many contentious, celebrity divorces, Heard and Depp’s camps have engaged in a “he said, she said” war of words. Her camp backs her claims, while his camp denies he ever harmed the actress. Depp’s divorce lawyer also alleges Heard is merely attempting to secure financial gain by making the domestic violence claims. So what impact, may domestic violence claims and restraining orders have on the outcome of a divorce? According to Dallas Divorce Lawyer Abby Gregory, in cases where family violence has occurred in Texas, protective orders actually are more appropriate than restraining orders. “Protective orders go a step beyond restraining orders in Texas, because they are based on a finding of family violence and have criminal consequences,” Abby says. What constitutes family violence in Texas? According to Texas Family Code §71.004 the state of Texas defines family violence as an act by a member of a family or a household, against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault or sexual assault, or is a threat that reasonably places a family member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault or sexual assault. It does not include defensive measures to protect oneself. In Texas, if Heard filed for divorce, alleged she was a victim of domestic violence and claimed she was in imminent danger, it’s likely her divorce attorney would seek both a restraining order and protective order against Depp. Protective orders are preferable when family violence is a concern “To get a temporary protective order in Texas, there has to be a clear and present danger of family violence, and an incident of family violence needs to have occurred within the last 30 days. Then no later than the 14th day, a hearing is held to determine if the protective order will become a final order. This is when the court determines whether or not family violence occurred and if it is likely to occur in the future,” Abby says. According to TMZ, Heard appeared in court with a bruised face to ask for the restraining order, claiming Depp had hit her in the face with his iPhone. This would meet the 30-day requirement (if the abuse allegations are proven to be true). Once is enough, you don’t need to establish a history of family violence As Abby explains, “It’s important to note that nothing in the Texas statute prevents one incident of family violence from being sufficient enough to warrant a finding by the court that it’s likely to happen in the future. “In addition, when a party violates a protective order you can call the police to arrest that person. The police won’t typically arrest people for violating restraining orders – those disputes are typically resolved in court.” Restraining orders are typically used in emergencies and to prohibit certain actions According to Abby, “In Texas, temporary restraining orders are typically used in emergency situations, where you don’t have time to set a hearing and give the other party notice. You need to file an affidavit with the court, and if the judge grants the temporary restraining order, a hearing is scheduled...

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