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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Texas Family Law Updates Tackle Handguns and Family Violence, but Same-Sex Marriage Details Remain Unclear

In recent months, Texas legislators have tackled a number of issues pertaining to family law. Some issues – such as dental insurance coverage for minor dependents – have been cut and dried. While others – such as when or if the date of a same-sex marriage is retroactive – are still up for debate. So what recent changes to the Texas Family Code will affect Texas families the most? We asked Dallas Family Law Attorney Alissa Castro to weigh in. Some Texas Family Law Legislative Updates Are Straightforward Dental support added under child support guidelines. “In the past, child support provisions included the generic term ‘medical support.’ Effective September 1, 2018, dental support will specifically be included,” Alissa says. Protective order changes regarding handguns, conservatorship and family violence. The protective order section was amended regarding the license to carry a handgun. As Alissa explains, “Effective January 1, 2016, the law has been amended, so when a final protective order has been issued against a person, the court will suspend their license to carry a handgun. The law previously said ‘concealed’ handgun and was prompted by the open carry legislation in Texas.” Effective September 1, 2015, as it pertains to conservatorship, the Texas Family Code now requires that the courts take into account family violence and neglect when appointing conservators. “In addition, each parent is required to provide the other parent with information regarding anyone else residing in the home with the child or who has unsupervised access to the child who is the subject of the final protective order,” adds Alissa. How Texas Family Courts Will Interpret Some Same-Sex Marriage Issues Is Unclear Following the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) June 26, 2015 decision, Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage was ruled unconstitutional. But according to Alissa, “What isn’t 100 percent clear in the realm of Texas Family Law is how the courts will interpret their marching orders regarding some aspects of same-sex marriage.” While there are many grey areas regarding same-sex marriage, Texas is one of the states that does recognize the date of a legal same-sex marriage retroactively. So, if the marriage occurred in a state that legally recognized same-sex marriage at the time of the couple’s nuptials, Texas would recognize the actual date of marriage. However, the jury is still out whether the state will retroactively recognize the date of a same-sex marriage that originated in a state that did not legally recognize same-sex marriage prior to the SCOTUS ruling. “The marriage date is important, especially when it comes to Texas divorces and community property rights. Unless you signed a premarital agreement (or post-marital agreement) that defines your property otherwise, the courts will consider and divide community property, which includes only property acquired from the date of marriage until the date the divorce is finalized,” says Alissa. Texas Still Needs to Formally Decide How to Handle Same-Sex Common Law Marriages Unlike many states, Texas does recognize common law marriage – or informal marriage. To establish common law marriage in Texas, you have to live in the state of Texas, you have to hold yourself out to be married, and you have to agree to be married. However, Texas law still defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. And Alissa believes this could be set the stage for conflicting opinions. “There is nothing specifically on the books that covers informal or common law marriage for same-sex couples. So, the big question Texas Family Courts haven’t formally decided is whether the date of a same-sex informal marriage would be retroactive to when the couple...

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Guns, Domestic Violence and Divorce: What Can Be Done May Surprise You

In Texas and across the U.S., nearly everyone has an opinion about gun control and our rights under the second amendment. Presidential candidates have weighed in on the campaign trail and President Obama announced he would be taking a series of new executive actions to help curb gun violence. According to WhiteHouse.gov, “Congress has prohibited specific categories of people from buying guns—from convicted felons to users of illegal drugs to individuals convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence.” But what does this mean for couples going through a divorce when the threat of domestic violence looms large? Weapons Are Handled Differently in Criminal vs. Civil Courts Federal law prohibits some categories of individuals from purchasing guns, and Texas criminal courts can bar persons from possessing firearms under certain circumstances. However, removing weapons from a party’s possession during a civil proceeding isn’t usually straight forward. Dallas Family Law Attorney Alissa Castro explains why parties can’t be forced to surrender weapons in the Texas Family Court. “While law enforcement may seize weapons as evidence following the commission of a crime or in violation of a protective order, this isn’t the case in civil courts,” says Connatser Family Law Attorney Alissa Castro. In other words, a Family Court Judge won’t be able to order your future ex-spouse to hand over his gun to the bailiff. Divorcing Parties Must Mutually Agree to Secure Weapons As Alissa explains, “When it comes to civil matters, as is the case with proceedings in the Texas Family Court, the best practice is for two divorcing parties to mutually decide for any weapons to be surrendered as a matter of agreement. This would include the couple also agreeing where the weapons will be secured, whether they be surrendered to a third party (a local gun range for example) or stored in a gun safe on the family property (with a new passcode).” And don’t expect your divorce attorney to store guns for you either. “Due to a number of obvious concerns, most family law practices in Texas won’t store weapons for clients. They can, however, counsel you regarding your options and other safety precautions,” Alissa says. Alissa shares a few safety tips for people dealing with domestic violence issues during divorce. Protective Orders May Be Another Option in Texas When a potentially violent spouse won’t agree to secure weapons with a third party or in another safe place, your Texas family law attorney can guide you regarding other safety precautions to take. “If you fear that you and/or your children are in imminent danger and an incidence of domestic violence has occurred within the past 30 days, your divorce attorney can help you get an ex parte protective order – or emergency ex parte protective order. If the order is granted, your spouse would immediately be banned from possessing firearms and may also prohibited from entering the family home,” explains Alissa. In both scenarios, you’re still dealing with the challenge of getting the spouse to agree to surrender his or her weapons that are in their possession. Plus, if the party is a peace officer or member of the military, he or she could be exempt, and therefore, NOT prohibited from possessing a firearm. Your First Line of Defense Against a Violent Spouse: A Safety Plan “If you’re dealing with domestic violence in your marriage – or any relationship – your family law attorney can help you put a safety plan in place. Know where potential weapons are stashed in your home, call police if tensions escalate and have a plan to get out when you need to,” Alissa...

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21 Signs Your Spouse Is Having an Affair

As a Dallas Family Law Attorney, Christine Powers Leatherberry has heard her share of stories about infidelity and divorce. She also finds most cheaters exhibit common signs or red flags that point to infidelity, especially when they occur in conjunction with other signs. Have a hunch your spouse is cheating? Christine spells out the common signs your suspicions may be true. Signs No. 1 to 5 – Suspicious Phone Behavior According to Christine, “Many telltale signs of cheating have to do with unusual or suspicious behavior regarding the cheater’s phone. Most people can tell something is up when someone acts strange when it comes to their phone or other technology.” These signs may include: Regularly spends more time on the phone than in the past. This is especially true if the spouse is on the phone more frequently and you can tell it’s not about work. Acts secretively with their phone. “For example, if your spouse’s phone is on the coffee table, he or she hears a text come in, then quickly grabs the phone so you can’t see the message, that can be a red flag,” Christine says. Won’t share phone passcodes with you. As Christine explains, “If your spouse won’t share passcodes with you and/or changes passcodes often, he or she may be cheating. Keep in mind though, many companies require employees to update passcodes regularly, so don’t base your suspicions on this one sign alone.” Overly anxious to share phone call, text message and email accounts. In this scenario, the cheater is going to the other extreme. “Just because your spouse shows you his or her phone records, texts and emails, that doesn’t mean they are faithful. One of my clients recently found a burner phone in his wife’s car,” says Christine. Prefers to leave phone in their car overnight. Why give you easy access? Signs No. 6 to 9 – Odd Credit Card Activity “While you would think a cheater wouldn’t charge gifts, hotel stays or fancy dinners for his or her lover on a credit card you share, it happens all the time,” Christine says. Some obvious and not so obvious credit card activities include: Charges for flowers. Per Christine, “It’s surprising how often florist charges come up in our cases (especially during holidays such as Valentine’s Day). Two dozen red roses didn’t go to a client, no matter what he says. Trust your instincts.” Charges for dating sites. “I know, it’s hard to believe, but divorce lawyers see charges to sites such as Match.com, ChristianMingle.com and AshleyMadison.com during divorce cases all the time,” says Christine. Large charges for meals that aren’t work-related. He’s not wining and dining his buddies at fancy restaurants. Refuses to show you credit card statements. If your spouse won’t allow you to see credit card statements or you discover they have a credit card they didn’t tell you about, that’s a big red flag. Signs No. 10 to 12 – Tries to Shift Focus from Them to You According to Christine, “Some cheaters want to deflect the focus away from themselves and on to the non-cheating spouse.” They may say and do things such as: Accusing you of being jealous and/or crazy. Or they say you’re just imagining things, you’re being emotional, etc. Essentially, the cheater may try to belittle the non-cheating spouse to make them question their suspicions. Picking fights over nothing. They try to make you feel guilty for doing something wrong, even though you haven’t. Giving evasive answers to simple questions. “For example, this may take the form of defensiveness when the non-cheating spouse asks why...

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The One Crime Often Overlooked During Domestic Violence Awareness Month

One year ago, domestic violence was dominating the news following the Ray Rice scandal. Due to the former Baltimore Ravens player’s NFL star status and video documenting his assault in an elevator of then fiancé Janay, the media coverage ran non-stop and the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft trended heavily on Twitter. A year later, the public voices of support for victims of domestic violence may have waned, but the staggering number of victims dealing with abusers every day remains too high. More work needs to be done. As we observe Domestic Violence Awareness Month again this October, we hope to shine a light on another ugly and often misunderstood aspect of domestic violence – marital rape and partner rape. Large Percentage of Domestic Violence Victims Are Also Sexually Assaulted While it may be difficult to grasp the concept of rape between two people who initially chose to be a couple, consensual sex can turn to non-consensual sex  (rape) when domestic violence enters a relationship. And the incidence of sexual assault on a spouse or intimate partner in an abusive relationship is probably higher than you think. In a 2011 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 9 percent of women said they have been raped by an intimate partner. According to Genesis Women’s Shelter and Support CEO Jan Langbein, “Sexual assault in an intimate partner relationship is a leading indicator of lethality, and 70 percent of victims who are physically battered also say they have been sexually assaulted.” Rape by an intimate partner doesn’t discriminate either. “Partner rape is just like stranger to stranger rape in that it affects victims of all socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities and ages. It’s all about power, control, humiliation and degradation of the victim by the batterer,” explains Jan. Marital Rape Is Considered a Crime in Texas According to Dallas Divorce and Family Law Attorney Aubrey Connatser, “In Texas, any non-consensual sexual contact where one spouse compels the other spouse to engage in sexual penetration against his or her will is considered marital rape. This includes situations where the victim is mentally incapable of giving consent (unconscious from using drugs or alcohol or in a coma).” See Texas Penal Codes § 22.011 and 22.021. Many victims of marital rape or partner rape also have a difficult time viewing sexual assault by their partner as a rape. “If you ask a client, ‘Have you ever been raped by your spouse?’ the likely answer is going to be ‘No,’ because they often don’t see it that way. However, if you ask the same client, ‘Has your spouse forced themself on you sexually, you said no, and then he or she forced you to have sex anyway?’ – the answer might be different,” Aubrey says. In cases of marital rape or partner rape, it can be more insightful to gather data by asking more open-ended questions instead of asking about the conclusion. As Aubrey explains, “Many people aren’t aware that marital rape (or rape between intimate partners) is a crime. People who have been living in an abusive relationship often feel they did consent, because they had to have sex in order to keep themselves safe. That’s still a sexual assault, and a lot of people don’t realize that’s the case. For family law attorneys, it’s important to ask the right type of questions.” Sexual Assault Can Be More Difficult to Process Than Physical Abuse In many ways, partner or marital rape results in a cycle that is similar to the cycle typically found with physical domestic abuse, where...

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Dallas Divorce Attorney Offers 7 Sanity-Saving Tips for Working Moms

Abby Gregory isn’t just a divorce lawyer for Connatser Family Law, she’s a loving mom to her two-year-old daughter too. Whether by choice or circumstances, she knows working moms have to juggle a lot to make sure both kids and marriages thrive, while staying on top of work demands. “For many working moms, this juggling act isn’t just a challenge. It also leaves some moms feeling guilty and worried their kids will suffer because they work outside the home. However, as The New York Times (NYT) reports, a recent Pew Research Center study of 50,000 adults found there is an upside for children of working moms,” Abby says. The study revealed that daughters of working moms were likely to complete more years of schooling, find a job, work in supervisory positions and earn more money. In addition, sons of working mothers spent more time assisting other family members and doing housework, which according to the NYT, “research has found increases women’s labor force involvement and might lead to more stable marriages.” Working Moms Can Survive and Thrive, Here’s How Even if you can shake off feelings of guilt, face it, “doing it all” usually isn’t easy. Since she knows first-hand what working moms face, Abby offers seven sanity-saving tips below, along with advice regarding what you should and shouldn’t do when divorce and custody issues arise. 1. New moms, please know that it gets easier over time. Really. When her maternity leave came to an end, Abby was relieved her first day back was on a Friday. The following Monday was a different story. “When I got home from work that day, the nanny had already put my daughter to bed, and I broke down in tears. Those first days were tough, but every day it got a little easier,” Abby says. Abby offers reassuring advice to working moms. 2. Make sure you have a good support system in place. Whether you lean on your spouse, family members, friends or people you know in your community or place of worship, Abby says, “It’s OK to ask for help. You might be surprised at how much people are willing to give if you ask.” 3. Arrange for a childcare that fits your work hours, budget and lifestyle. According to Abby, “I work a full-time job and am still expected to be the default parent, like many women today. It’s usually up to me (not my husband) to make sure I’m home at a reasonable time, so the nanny can leave. At the same time having a nanny offers me more flexibility than traditional daycare. Other moms have to get to daycare on time to pick up the kids at a specific time, which can be tough. Look for childcare that offers the flexibility you need at a cost you can afford. Onsite company daycare and afterschool care programs can provide good options, and don’t forget that support system mentioned above.” 4. Make organization a priority and plan ahead. “With any job, as long as you’re organized and plan ahead, you can make life easier for all concerned. Block out any time you need away from the office far enough in advance, so people aren’t surprised when you’re unavailable. That way you can usually avoid having to reschedule or cancel meetings. It really can be doable,” Abby says. 5. Consider transitioning into a different job role. Among her contemporaries, Abby says, “Some of my fellow working moms started out being on the road two or three days a week, and that just wasn’t sustainable for them after they had children.” Many...

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