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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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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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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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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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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