It’s No Secret – January Is Divorce Month – Here’s Why

By Christine Powers Leatherberry Every year divorce attorneys brace for it. Come January, we know our phones will be ringing off the hook. At Connatser Family Law, our paralegals typically field the most calls on January 2nd and throughout the first week in January. Some law firms say their phones are busiest the first day kids go back to school or the first weekday following winter break. The label “Divorce Month” is a bit of a misnomer. For most divorce lawyers, the influx of calls continues into February and March, with actual divorce filings peaking in March, according to researchers from the University of Washington. So why do so many people reach out to divorce lawyers in January? Or February … or March? It depends. In fact, there are several reasons people “make the call” shortly after a new year commences. They want to wait out the craziness of the holidays. Filing for divorce during the holidays can be problematic because holidays are inherently hectic and loaded with competing demands. For many people considering divorce, it’s just easier – and less stressful – to wait. They feel filing for divorce during the holidays, as on other special dates, would be insensitive. Some people don’t want to put a damper on the holidays for their spouse or other loved ones, preferring to make the break after the dust of the holidays settles. This is the same reason people avoid filing on anniversaries, birthdays and other special occasions – they don’t want to tie a sad memory to a special date. They want to wait until after the holidays for the sake of the children. Some parents want to give their children one last, magical, happy Christmas or Hanukkah as an intact family. Holidays are made of memories and many parents don’t want their children to associate what should be a joyous time with their parents’ divorce. Learn how to sensitively break the news to kids that you’re getting divorced in this past post. They find that the holidays magnify existing marital problems. To some, the holiday season can amplify feelings that a spouse isn’t supportive or doesn’t treat them special or help with the kids enough. These heightened sentiments combined with a case of the post-holiday blues can be a tipping point for some spouses. They suspect their spouse has been unfaithful. It isn’t unusual during the holidays for individuals who are having an affair to buy gifts or flowers for a paramour. Discovering credit card charges that the unfaithful party can’t explain can raise suspicions and, ultimately, expose infidelity. Learn how cheating affects Texas divorces in this past post. Divorce is a life-changing decision; proceed with caution While the post-holiday months may be the most popular time to contact an attorney about divorce, that doesn’t mean it’s the best time for every couple – or you. There really is no good or perfect time to get divorced. It’s also important to recognize that divorce is a very personal, emotional and life-changing undertaking. If you’re unhappy in your marriage, consider speaking with a marriage counselor or member of the clergy first. All marriages go through ups and downs, and counseling may help you and your spouse work through challenges and keep your marriage and family intact. Should you find that your marriage is broken beyond repair, take time to find an experienced family law attorney who is equipped to represent you in a manner that aligns with your goals. No two lawyers or law firms are identical, so it’s a good idea to meet with at least two attorneys before...

read more

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...

read more

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...

read more

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...

read more

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...

read more

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...

read more