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The Seven Grounds for Divorce in Texas and Why They Matter

Posted on Jul 15, 2018 in Alimony, Child Custody, Cohabitation, Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Marriage, Premarital Agreements, Texas Family Law

The Seven Grounds for Divorce in Texas and Why They Matter

By Alissa Castro

At some point or another, you’ve probably heard the phrase – “That’s grounds for divorce!” Whether it was on T.V. or during a couple’s argument you accidentally overheard, “grounds for divorce” has long been a part of the fabric of America. But what are the grounds for divorce, and why do they matter? It all depends on where you file for divorce.

What are the grounds for divorce in Texas?

In Texas, there are seven grounds for divorce spelled out in the family code. These include both fault grounds and no-fault grounds. That’s right – you don’t have to prove fault grounds in order to get a divorce in Texas. However, the grounds on which you base your request for divorce may affect the outcome of your divorce settlement.

Sound confusing? Let’s break it down, starting with the three no-fault grounds, where neither party is at fault for the marriage breaking down, but circumstances exist where the marriage is no longer viable for one or both parties. Texas no-fault grounds include:

Insupportability.

These grounds are commonly referred to as irreconcilable differences. To prove insupportability, you have to show that the marriage is insupportable because of a discord or conflict of personalities that destroys the legitimate ends of the marital relationship and prevents any reasonable expectation of reconciliation.

Insupportability is one of the most common grounds people use to file for divorce in Texas. In layman’s terms, the person has filed because they no longer see eye-to-eye with their spouse or living with the spouse has become intolerable for some reason.

Living apart.

If two spouses have lived apart without cohabitating for three years or more – at the time of the trial – that could support living apart grounds for divorce. In these types of cases, the court typically views the arrangement as something both parties agreed to, based on the fact that they have lived apart for so long.

Living apart grounds can play a role in the just and right division of the estate. For example, say one party claims she hasn’t seen her spouse in over five years, and she doesn’t know where to find him. The court might award her everything in her possession, provided she meets certain conditions, such as taking steps to serve him papers, even if that means serving a notice in the newspaper.

Confinement to a mental hospital.

People become mentally incompetent for a variety of reasons, whether due to mental illness, as the result of an accident or another cause. What’s key here is that the party must have been confined for at least three years and the severity of their mental disorder is to the degree that it’s unlikely to improve and, if it does, relapse of the disorder is very likely.

While confinement may be grounds for divorce, the statute was also put in place to help protect the confined person’s interests and the just and right division of property. The court will likely appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the person who is confined. If you say, “Oh well, they’re confined, so I should get everything in the estate,” you probably won’t be granted the divorce!

The role of fault-grounds in Texas divorce

The difference between no-fault grounds and fault grounds is pretty straightforward. With fault grounds, someone is actually found at fault for the divorce.

Again, you don’t have to prove fault grounds to get a divorce in Texas. However, if you claim certain fault grounds – like adultery – and the judge doesn’t buy your argument, he or she could still grant your divorce based on other no-fault grounds, like insupportability. Conversely, the judge could grant the divorce based on fault grounds that surface during the case – say cruelty – even if you filed on no-fault grounds of insupportability.

There are four different fault grounds in Texas. Let’s break them down, starting with:

Cruelty.

In Texas, the grounds for cruelty are simply defined as cruel treatment of the spouse that was of such a nature that it renders further living together insupportable. The vagueness of this definition certainly leaves that section of the code wide open for interpretation, which it has been. Cruelty is a relative term that is determined based on case-specific facts, so it’s not going to be the same for everybody. For example, a devout Christian may find some form of behavior cruel that another person may not.

Cruelty typically needs to be willful, persistent infliction of suffering and can be mental or physical. However, there are some cases where one incident is so egregious – say a severe beating – or there is an accumulation of smaller, cruel acts over time that could support cruelty grounds. An unsuccessful attempt to reconcile doesn’t bar a spouse from asserting cruelty either.

Adultery.

Simply put, if you can prove your spouse cheated on you, then you typically have grounds for divorce in Texas. You don’t have to show a videotape of your spouse cheating, but you do need to provide positive proof. Adultery can be proven in a lot of circumstantial ways.

It’s also important to keep in mind that acts of adultery that occur after you file your petition and are no longer cohabitating can support a fault-based judgment against the adulterer. That’s why it is typically best to stay celibate and not get into a relationship during a divorce. Otherwise, questions could be raised about how community funds are being used – i.e., gifts, jewelry, loans and trips for a lover – which could be subject to a reimbursement claim for fraud. This all goes to the just and right division of the marital estate, where one party may get a larger portion of the estate, a home or other assets to compensate for the other party’s misuse of community monies.

Felony conviction.

A felony conviction can serve as fault grounds for divorce if the spouse is convicted of a felony during the marriage and in prison for at least one year in a department of criminal justice or a state or federal penitentiary and they haven’t been pardoned.

However, if the state’s entire case against the convicted felon was based on his or her spouse’s testimony, a divorce cannot be granted on felony conviction grounds. The court may still grant the divorce based on insupportability or cruelty but not due to the conviction. Domestic violence is another factor, and in some cases, it may be possible to get spousal maintenance due to abuse that has occurred.

Abandonment.

To prove abandonment, two things need to have occurred. The spouse must have left voluntarily, and they must have had the intent to abandon the spouse who filed. Intent to abandon typically means a spouse has an intention to not to return to live with his or her spouse.

The abandonment must also be continuous for a one-year period. So, say your spouse abandons you and comes back home for a few nights, that could disqualify the one-year period. However, if the returning spouse has no intent to continue living together with you after the brief stay, that could be enough to support abandonment.

A couple of additional thoughts about divorce grounds in Texas

With so many options for grounds for divorce, you may be wondering how often fault grounds come into play in Texas. The truth is, the majority of cases in Texas are no-fault-divorces. While the reasons for this vary, one reason may be that people don’t want their dirty laundry aired in public, especially in their legal paperwork.

For people who don’t want to get divorced, it’s important to know that no-fault grounds are an option for Texans, and there’s not much you can do to stop a divorce if your spouse is determined to get one. Instead of digging in your heels, it’s usually better to participate in the process to help ensure the divorce and property settlement works out more favorably for you.

 

Alissa Castro is a family law attorney with experience in a wide variety of legal venues and is committed to obtaining the best results for her clients. She is an active member of the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers and has donated her services to several charitable causes including the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, Mississippi Volunteer Lawyer Project and Catholic Charities. To learn more about divorce and child custody options in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and considerate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

 

Photo Source: pixabay.com

Is Being a Single Dad Hazardous for Your Health? 6 Longevity-Boosting Tips

Posted on May 29, 2018 in Connatser Family Law, Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Parenting, Texas Family Law

Is Being a Single Dad Hazardous for Your Health? 6 Longevity-Boosting Tips

A recent study published in The Lancet Public Health revealed that single fathers face a significantly higher risk of early death than single mothers or parents in a relationship. In fact, single dads were twice as likely to die during the research period than other parents involved in the 11-year Canadian study.

While the researchers couldn’t pinpoint exactly why these dads were at higher risk, they did find that single fathers in the study tended to lead less healthy lifestyles than the other parents.

Hoping to gain custody of your kids after divorce? Check out our past post on the five crucial steps dads should take to get custody in Texas.

Could your single dad lifestyle use a little house cleaning?

There is no question that single parenting is hard work. However, that doesn’t mean health should take a back seat to the other responsibilities you’re juggling. More important, your kids need you around for love and support – whether that means walking your daughter down the aisle or giving your son advice when he faces challenges of his own.

If you want to be there for your kids for years to come, take a proactive approach to good health. Here are a few tips to get the ball rolling.

Tip No. 1: Put your binge drinking days behind you.

The Lancet study revealed that single dads were more likely to binge drink than other parents. Guess what? Binge drinking poses serious health risks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), binge drinking (typically five or more drinks in a two-hour span for men, four or more for women) increases the risk for unintentional injuries (car accidents, falls, burns, etc.), high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, liver disease, poor brain health, cancer and more. It can also lead to alcohol dependency.

Speak with your doctor if you need help getting sober. If you don’t, it could negatively impact your ability to get custody or time with your kids.

Tip No. 2: Man up and start getting annual physicals.

Whether they see it as a sign of weakness, are afraid to find out something serious is wrong with them or feel uncomfortable undergoing certain tests (like prostate exams), many men avoid going to the doctor like the plague. Unfortunately, avoiding the doctor is another way men put their health more at risk than women, who are more likely to see a doctor annually or when they don’t feel well.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men, however many of the risk factors for heart disease, like high blood pressure and cholesterol issues, don’t present symptoms people can feel. Fortunately, heart disease can often be prevented when risk factors are diagnosed and treated early on. So, pick up the phone and schedule a physical. If you have sons, this is also a great opportunity to set a good example and help them get comfortable with having annual physicals.

Tip No. 3: Opt for a cleaner, heart-healthy diet.

Another possible risk factor for single dads’ shorter life spans may be unhealthy eating habits. As the Lancet researchers pointed out, single fathers in the study ate fewer fruits and vegetables than their counterparts.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends following a healthy diet plan that includes nutrient-rich foods with a balance of fruits and vegetables, minerals, lean protein, whole grains, nuts, legumes and non-tropical vegetable oils. In addition, the AHA suggests limiting sodium, saturated fats, trans fats, and sugar. Eating more fresh, unprocessed foods is a great first step to getting the nutrients you need and avoiding the unhealthy ingredients you don’t. As an added bonus, this is a terrific way to teach your kids how to eat healthy, too.

Tip No. 4: Get more active in activities with your kids (and on your own).

The next time you’re planning an outing with the kids, find an activity that gets you all moving – whether that’s hiking, biking, swimming or taking the dog for long walks. You’ll burn calories, strengthen muscles and won’t be tempted by that jumbo bucket of buttered popcorn and sugary soft drinks at the movie theater.

The AHA recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of strenuous activity – or a combination of both – every week. Adding more physical activities to your agenda – with your kids, friends or solo – can help you reach that goal.

Tip No. 5: Seek out support from other single dads.

Nobody knows what you’re going through better than someone who has walked in your shoes. There are plenty of single dad support groups and forums out there – both in person and online – so you don’t have to go it alone. Many of these groups offer great resources and tips for dads on healthy single parenting, and they typically do so in a very supportive environment.

Tip No. 6: If you can’t get over your failed marriage or relationship, seek professional help.

Many people who go through divorce compare the loss to the death of a loved one. While it takes time to get over a divorce or break-up, there comes a point when it’s time to focus on living your life. If you’re having trouble moving on or are stressed out from dealing with your ex, co-parenting or both, consider seeking advice from a mental health professional who specializes in helping divorced families.

Stress can really do a number on your health – from headaches to heart attacks and even sudden death – so it’s important to take mental health seriously. Family therapists can be a great resource for single dads and their kids, so don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Your life and your children’s futures depend on it.

RELATED: Contemplating divorce? Learn how to set the stage for an amicable divorce in this recent post.

Since founding Connatser Family Law in 2013, Aubrey Connatser and her team have firmly established the next in a line of great Texas divorce and family law firms. To learn more about divorce and child custody in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and compassionate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

Five Lessons on Love, Marriage and Divorce That We Can Learn from ‘The Crown’

Posted on May 18, 2018 in Divorce, Marriage

Five Lessons on Love, Marriage and Divorce That We Can Learn from ‘The Crown’

By Christine Powers Leatherberry

If you’re one of many fans who binge-watched seasons one and two of “The Crown,” you probably can’t wait for 2019 to roll around. That’s when season three of the popular Netflix series is projected to premiere. The Royal Family was – and still is – no stranger to divorce.

As we wait patiently for the new season to arrive, let’s take a look at the lessons we’ve learned from “The Crown” – and today’s royals – about love, marriage and divorce.

No. 1: It’s good to be King – if you want to get divorced.

Well, at least it was for Henry VIII. When Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was unable to produce a male heir, the King asked the Pope to annul the marriage. The Pope refused, so Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church. Subsequently, the Archbishop of Canterbury declared the marriage null and void. This cleared the way for the King to marry Anne Boleyn and take control of the Church of England.

Strangely enough, when Anne was unable to produce a male heir, Henry VIII chose to have Anne investigated for treason and other crimes, instead of seeking a divorce or annulment. Anne was found guilty and beheaded in the Tower of London.

No. 2: For some, love matters more than power.

Even though Henry VIII facilitated his own annulment, the Church of England continued to frown upon annulments and divorce for centuries to come. To get divorced or become involved with someone who was divorced could be scandalous, especially for members of high society or the Royal Family.

Such was the case in 1936, when King Edward VIII was forced to abdicate the throne to his brother George (father of the current Queen Elizabeth II) in order to marry the twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson. Edward’s love for Wallis was stronger than his desire to remain King, and the couple – the Duke and Duchess of Windsor – remained together and devoted to each other until Edward’s death in 1972.

No. 3: Sacrificing love for duty may be bad for your health.

“The Crown” covered this topic in depth. When Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth II, fell in love with Peter Townsend, a divorced father of two, the Church of England – and ultimately her sister the Queen – refused to allow the marriage to proceed. Instead of leaving the monarchy – which she would have been forced to do had she married Townshend – Margaret eventually broke off the relationship.

As depicted in this clip from season two of “The Crown,” Margaret was consequently heartbroken and began drinking more. When the Queen says to Margaret, “You’re drinking far more than you used to,” Margaret responds, “Why do you think that is? Because I’m unhappier than I used to be. And why is that? Because I’m still unmarried. And why is that? Oh, because you denied me my perfect match.”

Margaret eventually married photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones in 1960. The couple divorced in 1978, resulting in negative press for the Princess and the Royal Family, because society and the public still frowned upon divorce in the 70s.

No. 4: The times and the perception of divorce are changing.

Even the Church agrees that there is a place for divorce in society today. In 2002, the Church of England announced that, “The Church teaches that marriage is for life, it also recognizes that some marriages sadly fail, if this should happen, it seeks to be available for all involved. The Church accepts that, in exceptional circumstances, a divorced person may marry again in church during the lifetime of a former spouse.”

There are many circumstances where divorce may be a better option than staying married. Divorce can be a better option than staying married due to domestic violence; getting married too young; not agreeing on whether or not to have children; and not being happy together. In today’s world, most people support divorces under these circumstances. Life is too short to be miserable, and if you have children, it’s important to set a good example regarding what a happy, healthy relationship looks like.

In terms of the Royal Family, the biggest changes in the perception and acceptance of divorce have probably come in the past two decades. Three of Queen Elizabeth II’s four children divorced their first spouses (Princess Anne in 1992 and both Prince Charles and Prince Andrew in 1996). While the Queen may not have been happy that her children were divorcing, by the 90s, the tides had turned enough where divorce was more commonplace and accepted than when she became Queen.

No. 5: Marrying a divorcée isn’t as taboo as it once was.

As noted above, the Church of England will allow people who have been divorced to marry in the church under certain circumstances, but not others. It’s up to the discretion of the clergy to decide whom they will or will not marry. When Prince Charles – the future King of England – wanted to marry Camilla Parker-Bowles, the Church wouldn’t allow the two divorcées to marry in the Church – though the couple was allowed to have their marriage blessed in the Church after a civil ceremony.

On the other hand, the Church did give Prince Harry permission to marry American divorcée Meghan Markle in the Church. When Sky News asked the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby whether Markle’s divorce would be an issue, he said, “It’s not a problem. We went through that as anyone would who will officiate at a wedding where someone has been separated and a partner is still living.”

Christine Powers Leatherberry is a compassionate family lawyer who is equally comfortable in the courtroom as she is counseling her clients one-on-one. To learn more about divorce and child custody in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and considerate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

 

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

Simple, Yet Unclear: What to Expect Following the Alimony Deduction Repeal

Posted on May 9, 2018 in Divorce, Divorce and Business

Simple, Yet Unclear: What to Expect Following the Alimony Deduction Repeal

By Alissa Castro

If you have been contemplating or are in the process of getting a divorce, you may be wondering how changes to the tax code under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (“TCJA”) will affect you. The key tax code change in question is the repeal of the alimony deduction that has been in place since 1942.

The simple facts

There are a few things that we know for sure, based on what is written in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act:

If you get divorced after December 31, 2018, and you pay alimony – or spousal maintenance as it’s known in Texas – that alimony will no longer be tax deductible for the payor. In addition, the recipient won’t have to pay taxes on alimony, as it is no longer considered income.

Beyond those basic facts, there has been much speculation regarding how the repeal will affect people who file for divorce and try to negotiate divorce settlements. Experts in divorce, tax law, and financial planning have also raised concerns about the financial impact the change will have on both the payor and payee.

Based on our experience as divorce attorneys and what other experts are speculating, the following is what we expect may occur due to the elimination of the alimony deduction.

More couples are likely seeing the courtroom

Many experts speculate that the elimination of the alimony deduction will result in fewer couples negotiating divorce settlements outside of court. The alimony deduction has been very attractive for some monied spouses, because it reduced the amount of income they had to pay taxes on, often resulting in significant savings for the payor.

With the deduction repealed, monied spouses will have less incentive to agree to provide support to help a spouse get back on her (or his) feet after divorce.

The fact that the law is effective after December 31, 2018, could help settlement negotiations this year. Thereafter, it will become more difficult to settle in certain cases, which means divorce lawyers will likely be going to court with clients more often.

The alimony repeal could also affect divorce modifications

Many couples decide or are forced to modify their initial agreements after the divorce has been finalized. The courts traditionally consider these divorce modifications new agreements, which could be an issue for couples that included alimony in a past agreement that is subject to modification, especially those who don’t want to lose the deduction or the alimony. This could force some couples to decide against a modification, leaving them stuck with other arrangements that no longer suit their or their family’s needs.

Because this change applies to modifications after December 31, 2018, if the modification specifically states that the TCJA treatment of alimony payments applies, it is very important to meet with an attorney to ensure that the correct language is included in any subsequent modification.

Couples that get divorced before the end of 2018 should consider including language in their divorce agreements to ensure alimony is grandfathered in, should a future divorce modification be necessary.

Learn more about child custody modifications in Texas here.

Women and local governments could be hit hardest

Not receiving a supplemental financial settlement could be especially devastating for women in states like Texas (98 percent of alimony recipients are women), where the monied spouse is required to pay minimal or no spousal support in most cases.

In Texas, $5,000/month (or 20 percent of the spouse’s average monthly gross income, whichever is less) is the maximum amount of spousal maintenance a spouse could be ordered to pay. In addition, people must meet difficult requirements to qualify for spousal maintenance in Texas, such as being married a minimum of 10 years and unable to provide for their minimum reasonable needs. Even if spousal maintenance is ordered, the judge in most cases can only order maintenance to be paid for a limited period of time.

Neither spousal maintenance nor child support is intended to equalize the living circumstances the spouse and/or children experienced prior to a divorce in Texas. Women who haven’t worked outside the home for a long time – if ever – and who have minimal education or job skills may struggle to find a job that pays enough money to meet their and their children’s needs.

This could also place an additional burden on state and local governments that may end up paying out more in social services to women and mothers who could have received a better financial settlement prior to the alimony deduction repeal.

Both parties could face negative financial implications related to dividing non-liquid assets

During a divorce, assets, and debts need to be split between the two parties. Couples with minimal liquid assets to divide could face additional challenges under the new tax code. In the past, people often chose to hold on to non-liquid assets longer and pay out a certain amount of equity from that asset over time – which could also allow both parties to continue getting income from that asset. A potential win-win.

Once the repeal goes into effect, couples may be forced to sell non-liquid assets at an unfavorable time or a non-monied spouse could end up being awarded an asset he or she can’t afford to maintain. Prior to the TCJA, supplemental alimony could be used to help pay for any number of expenses needed to keep an asset and, in some cases, alimony could also be utilized to keep an asset profitable and/or prevent it from losing value due to disrepair.

If fewer parties negotiate settlements outside of court, more couples will probably face negative implications related to such non-liquid assets.

Best time to divorce with the alimony repeal on the horizon? It depends

If the alimony deduction or receiving alimony appeals to you, then you should file for divorce sooner rather than later. Keep in mind that some states have a set waiting period before you can divorce. For example, here in Texas, there is a 60-day waiting period before a couple can be granted a divorce, so don’t wait until November to call a divorce attorney.

If you don’t want to pay alimony, biding your time and waiting to file until 2019 could make the most sense for you. Do understand that there are other financial considerations – like the tax deduction – that could benefit you if you finalize your divorce in 2018. Reach out to tax, financial and family law experts to weigh your options.

If you’re not in a rush to get divorced, for financial or other reasons, you – and your spouse – could consider waiting it out. The legislature could change the tax code again, especially if a different party wins the presidential election in 2020. Again, contact tax, financial and legal experts for advice if you are considering a divorce.

To learn how the alimony deduction repeal may affect you, contact a divorce lawyer for advice

He or she can explain what you can expect if you divorce before or after the repeal and recommend tax and legal experts if you need additional information.

Alissa Castro is a family law attorney with experience in a wide variety of legal venues and is committed to obtaining the best results for her clients. She is an active member of the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers and has donated her services to several charitable causes including the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, Mississippi Volunteer Lawyer Project and Catholic Charities. To learn more about divorce and child custody options in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and considerate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

Ready to Say ‘I Do’ to a Blended Family? Speak With a Family Law Attorney First

Posted on Apr 24, 2018 in Cohabitation, Connatser Family Law, Marriage, Parenting, Postnuptial Agreements, Premarital Agreements

Ready to Say ‘I Do’ to a Blended Family? Speak With a Family Law Attorney First

By Abby Gregory

Blended families have been the focus of two of the most popular sitcoms of all time. From 1969-74, “The Brady Bunch” shared the ups and downs of Mike and Carol Brady and their six kids. Since 2009, “Modern Family” has offered an updated take on the topic through the lens of patriarch Jay Pritchett’s family.

While stepfamilies were more unusual in the Brady Bunch era, more people can relate to the circumstances of the Pritchett’s today. The Pritchett family includes Jay’s two adult children from a first marriage and young son from a later marriage. In addition, his gay son Mitchell and Mitchell’s husband Cameron have an adopted daughter.

Are you ready to embark on a modern family journey of your own?

Unlike the happy outcomes that typically come at the end of a 30-minute sitcom, real-life blended families can face a number of issues when parents aren’t on the same page about stepchildren or should disagreements snowball to the point that the marriage ends in divorce.

Taking time to set expectations, learn about legal obligations and plan for the future can help reduce unnecessary stress and financial disputes down the road. Consider the following steps before you walk down the aisle:

Have a frank conversation with your future spouse about expectations for any children involved.

It isn’t unusual for spouses to enter a marriage with differing views on how they will financially support their children and for how long. This can be especially complicated if one of the parties wants to support their children to a degree beyond what the typical American family does. Some scenarios to discuss include:

  • How long will you financially support children post-minority (after age 18)?
  • Will you pay for private schooling, tutors, coaches, college, grad school, etc.?
  • What extracurricular activities do you (or don’t you) want children to take part in?
  • Will you pay for adult children’s weddings, first homes, cars, vacations, etc.?

It’s important to have this discussion up front, because, if community property is used to pay for some of these things, they could be subject to a reimbursement claim in the event of a divorce.

Understand your legal rights and obligations regarding children and stepchildren.

Parties who decide to get divorced and have been financially supporting stepchildren during the marriage are typically under no obligation to continue supporting those stepchildren following divorce.

That isn’t to say that the party who receives spousal support and/or child support for shared children can’t use that money to support children from a previous relationship. Texas family courts are very limited in terms of what they can do regarding stepchildren.

Another issue that can arise with blended families is when one of the stepchildren is “bad news.” For example, the child may do drugs or bring drug paraphernalia into the home, use bad language, be disrespectful, suffer from mental illness or be a bad influence on other children in the home. Parties can ask the court to prohibit the parent from allowing that stepchild to be in the presence of other children in the family.

Consider spelling out your wishes for stepchildren in a premarital (or post-marital) agreement.

Parties who want to ensure stepchildren are provided for beyond age 18 or in the event of a divorce or death can do so by agreeing to and signing a premarital or post-marital agreement. These agreements may require a spouse to pay for certain expenses, such as private school, college, extracurricular activities, health insurance, medical bills or even a financial settlement for the stepchild upon the stepparent’s death.

Premarital and post-marital agreements can also include language that stipulates that any money the party or parties earn and spend on stepchildren or children outside of the marriage would not be reimbursable and the party or parties waive any claim to reimburse them in the event of a divorce.

Contact a reputable family law attorney for advice

Since laws vary from state to state, it’s important to speak with a family law attorney who is familiar with the laws pertaining to stepchildren in the jurisdiction where you live. He or she can guide you on how to ensure your children or stepchildren are provided for during marriage and in the event of a divorce or your or your spouse’s death.

Abby Gregory is a compassionate Dallas divorce attorney with a substantial record in litigation, collaboration and Texas family law. A graduate of Fordham University College of Law, Abby committed herself to community service during her tenure at Fordham and received the Archibald R. Murray Public Service Award, summa cum laude, based on her extensive pro bono and community work for Lawyers for Children, the Innocence Project and others. To learn more about divorce and child custody in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a member of the Connatser Family Law team.

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

 

5 Things You May Find Surprising About Cohabitation Agreements

Posted on Mar 13, 2018 in Cohabitation, Connatser Family Law, Texas Family Law

5 Things You May Find Surprising About Cohabitation Agreements

Millennials are waiting longer than their parents did to get married and baby boomers are taking a second (or third or fourth) chance at love. Whether you’re putting marriage off or you simply don’t want to get married, getting a cohabitation agreement can be a smart financial move.

Along with establishing how finances will be handled during the relationship, cohabitation agreements are especially beneficial when one or both of the parties enters the relationship with sizable assets. In Texas, these contractual agreements can be used to:

No. 1: Disprove common law marriage.

In Texas, a couple that cohabitates faces the risk that their relationship will constitute common law marriage, unless they mutually sign a written agreement stating that they are not married. According to Texas law, the following three requirements must be met in order to constitute common law marriage:

  1. There is an agreement between the two parties that they are married;
  2. The couple lives together as husband and wife; and
  3. The couple has presented themselves to other people as husband and wife.

Since Texas is a community property state, any property, earnings and debt acquired during the relationship may be subject to division by a court of competent jurisdiction if the court decides a common law marriage exists. By mutually signing a cohabitation agreement, you can avoid the entanglements of common law marriage.

No. 2: Clarify financial obligations during the relationship.

While this is one of the key reasons to get a cohabitation agreement, there are many financial concerns people don’t think about before moving in together.

First, it’s important to spell out who will cover what expenses and for how long, such as:

  • Household expenses (rent/mortgage, association dues, utilities, repairs, etc.)
  • Car payments and repairs
  • Insurance (home, auto and health)
  • Pet food, care and vet bills
  • Club memberships and dues

In relationships where a monied party will cover the majority of the expenses, the cohabitation agreement can also include provisions for the non-monied spouse, including:

  • A “signing bonus” at the outset of the agreement
  • Monthly spending budget for miscellaneous expenses
  • Shopping budget
  • Guaranteed date nights
  • Requirements pertaining to wills, trusts, life insurance, etc.

No. 3: Define who gets custody of the pets.

Though you may consider your fur baby to be a member of your family, the state of Texas views pets as property. However, judges will consider legal agreements that explicitly spell out who will take custody of – or own – the pet should the relationship dissolve. If you want to ensure you maintain custody of your pets, be sure to include those wishes in your cohabitation agreement.

No. 4: Set the rules for disengagement should the relationship end.

Cohabitation agreements can help eliminate confusion and minimize stress related to a messy breakup, because both parties will know where they stand financially and otherwise. The rules for disengagement may include:

  • How assets or property acquired during the relationship will be split.
  • Who will be responsible for debts, such as credit cards and other monies owed.
  • How joint financial accounts will be handled, closed, money distributed, etc.
  • Who will have to move out of any shared residence and when.
  • What financial support (if any) the monied party will provide to the non-monied party, as well as under what circumstances the support would be paid (i.e., if the monied party instigates the breakup).

No. 5: Provide peace of mind.

There are a number of ways a cohabitation agreement can provide peace of mind to the parties involved. For example, if you are the non-monied party, your cohab could establish what money and/or assets you will receive in the event of a split or even death. For the monied party, disavowing a common law marriage can help ensure you and your family members’ assets and heirlooms stay in the family. Finally, if you have a cohabitation agreement, it’s much easier to make a clean break because many considerations have been figured out in advance.

Contact a reputable family law attorney for guidance

Cohabitation agreements can cover a wide range of financial concerns and protections, depending on where you live. For details pertaining to your individual circumstances, contact a family law attorney in the jurisdiction where you reside.

Since founding Connatser Family Law in 2013, Aubrey Connatser and her team have firmly established the next in a line of great Texas divorce and family law firms. To learn more about divorce and child custody in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and compassionate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

Royal Wedding: Should Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Get a Prenup?

Posted on Feb 12, 2018 in Alimony, Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Marriage, Texas Family Law

Royal Wedding: Should Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Get a Prenup?

By Christine Powers Leatherberry

Britain’s Prince Harry and actress-philanthropist Meghan Markle are scheduled to wed May 19, 2018. Prince Harry’s net worth is estimated at $40 million, while Markle’s net worth is speculated to be around $5 million. MarketWatch also reports that she will not return to her role in the popular TV series “Suits,” and she shut down her lifestyle website “The Tig” last spring.

By all accounts, Markle is all in when it comes to joining the Royal Family. She even deleted all of her social media accounts recently. However, the question remains, will the couple sign a premarital agreement before they walk down the aisle? Neither his father, Prince Charles, nor his brother, Prince William, signed prenups prior to getting married.

Quitting your job for marriage or have considerable wealth in your family? Consider a prenup

Premarital agreements can provide a number of benefits for both monied and non-monied parties. They can allow wealthy individuals to protect their assets, provide peace of mind for the lesser-monied party and potentially help couples avoid a litigious divorce.

Since Markle has given up her career and income received through acting and endorsements, a prenup could provide financial resources to ease her back into life as a commoner should the couple split.

For Prince Harry, a premarital agreement could protect his assets and those he is likely to inherit from his family – grandparents, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, and father, Prince Charles.

Five things Prince Harry and Meghan Markle should consider including in their premarital agreement

While laws pertaining to marriage, divorce and premarital agreements differ in the United Kingdom, many of the laws overseas are similar to those in the United States. Following are five things typically recommended for wealthy couples wanting a premarital agreement based on laws in Texas:

No. 1: Keep individual property separate.

Frequently referred to as a “roommate” prenup, this type of premarital agreement follows a “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is yours” philosophy. Many wealthy individuals want to ensure NO community property is created during the marriage. Instead, Prince Harry could agree to cover monthly living expenses and give Markle an allowance and other concessions, while requiring that she give up any community property rights.

No. 2: Include a signing bonus.

Some people view premarital agreements as a sign of distrust and may be reluctant to sign. To encourage the lesser-monied party to agree to a prenup, the wealthy party may offer a set dollar amount – or “signing bonus” – to be paid to the other party upon the signing of the agreement.

No. 3: Address other financial considerations.

Spelling out how much money the non-monied spouse will have at his or her disposal following the wedding is a good way to set expectations. Agreeing on specific budgets and clarifying potential payouts to be offered in the event of a divorce may also help couples avoid friction over money later on. Typical line items include:

During the marriage:

  • Monthly spending budget for miscellaneous expenses
  • Shopping/clothing allowance
  • Car/travel/entertainment allowance

Upon divorce or death:

  • Alimony or “exit bonus” based on duration of marriage should the couple divorce (may include cash, residence, jewels and other assets)
  • Provisions for treatment of any retirement plans or employee benefits (in Prince Harry’s case, this may include benefits pertaining to his military service)
  • Homestead rights – who will live in the couple’s home (or homes) after death, if the residence was separate property

No. 4: Establish guidelines for disbursement of wills and trusts.

Since Prince Harry is a member of a long-established family dynasty – the Royal Family – provisions are most likely in place regarding what assets he will inherit and when. What – if any – of those assets Markle would receive upon divorce could also be spelled out in a premarital agreement.

Concerned about protecting a family business? Learn more about business prenups here.

No. 5: Include confidentiality provisions.

The Royal Family has long kept its private affairs close to the vest. Markle has no doubt been counseled already regarding what she can and cannot say in public, which is probably why she shuttered her social media accounts.

Premarital agreements allow couples to put their privacy expectations in writing, which can help prevent conflict in the future. For high profile and affluent individuals, it can also be beneficial to include terms of confidentiality and penalties associated with violations of those terms.

Famous individuals like Prince Harry may also want to include a book deal clause (a penalty clause). This would prevent Markle from profiting from a tell-all book about her relationship with the Prince and the Royal Family. To help ensure compliance, the book deal clause could require that any proceeds derived from such a book would revert back to Prince Harry (or his estate in the event of his death).

Want to protect your assets or ensure financial security?

Contact a local family law attorney experienced in handling complex premarital agreements and divorces. He or she can guide you on how to protect your assets, business concerns and financial future with a premarital agreement that abides by the laws governing your state and country.

Christine Powers Leatherberry is a compassionate family lawyer who is equally comfortable in the courtroom as she is counseling her clients one-on-one. To learn more about divorce and child custody in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and considerate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

Photo Source: By Mark Jones [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Like, Share, Delete? How to Safely Navigate Social Media During Divorce

Posted on Jan 30, 2018 in Child Custody, Connatser Family Law, Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Divorce and Privacy, Texas Family Law

Like, Share, Delete? How to Safely Navigate Social Media During Divorce

For better or worse, social media evidence plays a role in the majority of the cases our divorce lawyers handle every day. If you’re planning to divorce, it’s essential to understand how social media could affect the outcome of your divorce and follow best practices for managing social accounts.

Deleting social media accounts and posts is a big no-no

One of the first pieces of advice we give clients is DO NOT delete any of their social media accounts, posts, messages, conversations or comments.

It’s true, anything you say and do on social media could be held against you. However, deleting accounts or posts that don’t represent you in a positive light is not a good idea, because a judge could find that you destroyed evidence, which is illegal.

Just because you delete something, doesn’t mean the opposing party or his or her counsel didn’t find that evidence earlier and preserve a screen grab. Claiming that such evidence doesn’t exist, then having it revealed by your spouse’s attorney could harm your case. Judges don’t look favorably upon people who lie.

Live your life like you’re being watched

… Because the world IS watching. During a divorce, it’s best to assume that everything you post, message, share and like on social media will be scrutinized by your spouse’s attorney and your judge.

While it’s typically best to avoid engaging with social media during a divorce, if you must post, post with care. Only share photos, videos or comments that are positive, such as a family outing or your child performing in a school play.

At the same time, don’t think that you can just fake “nice” on social media either. Remember, smartphones are everywhere and someone could capture your bad behavior at anytime – even as you walk away from your child’s baseball game, five minutes after you posted that you were there.

Learn how to prevent the cloud from scuttling your divorce in this helpful post.

Don’t underestimate the power of social media as evidence

Judges in the family courts take social media evidence very seriously and some are even intrigued by it. Video evidence can be especially compelling, because, depending on the content, it is typically more difficult to dispute than a photograph. Social media evidence can make or break your case; so don’t take it lightly.

Talk with children about their social media habits

While you may not want to stop your kids from using Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook completely, do have a conversation with them regarding what they should and shouldn’t post, like, message and share. It’s also helpful to explain to children that what they post may have consequences.

Learn more about the pitfalls of technology during divorce and child custody disputes in this past post.

For safety purposes, disable GPS or location access in social media apps

Many social media apps allow you to tag your location or even assign a location to your post automatically. If you’re afraid your spouse could harm you or your children, it’s vital to take precautions to keep your location private.

Check the settings for all social media apps on all of your digital devices – phones, tablets, laptops – and turn off each app’s access to your location. If you don’t know how, visit the store or service provider where you purchased the device and ask for help.

Turn to your divorce attorney for additional guidance

Social media apps and capabilities change practically every day, which means how social media factors into divorce cases continues to evolve. Since reputable divorce lawyers monitor social media’s influence on divorce cases on a regular basis, they can keep you up to speed on how to best manage your social media presence, before, during and after your divorce.

Since founding Connatser Family Law in 2013, Aubrey Connatser and her team have firmly established the next in a line of great Texas divorce and family law firms. To learn more about divorce and child custody in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and compassionate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

Parting Ways? Get in Gear with Our 10-Step Divorce Checklist

Posted on Jan 17, 2018 in Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Divorce and Business, Divorce and Privacy, Texas Family Law

Parting Ways? Get in Gear with Our 10-Step Divorce Checklist

If you have decided to file for divorce or your spouse has already filed, taking time to organize your thoughts and plan next steps is essential. As with any big challenge, a checklist can set the wheels in motion and keep you on track. To help prepare, the Connatser Family Law team has created a handy divorce checklist to guide you.

10-Step Divorce Checklist

Step 1: Organize financial records and pull credit reports.

It’s important to analyze what assets and debts are at stake during a divorce. Key financial records to track down include:

  • Bank accounts.
  • 401ks, IRAs (individual retirement accounts), pensions and other retirement accounts.
  • Investment accounts.
  • Trust accounts.
  • Stock portfolios.
  • Wills
  • Safe deposit boxes.
  • Insurance policies (auto, home, health, life, etc.).
  • W2s and other tax documents.
  • Logins and passwords for financial accounts.

It can also be helpful for both spouses to pull their credit reports to make sure all outstanding debts (credit cards, medical bills, auto loans, etc.) are taken into account.

Step 2: Hire a divorce attorney.

This step may sound obvious, but it’s one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Your divorce lawyer is the key person who will help formulate a divorce strategy to align with your goals. Interviewing multiple attorneys prior to hiring one can help ensure attorney and client are on the same page.

Check out Aubrey’s recent post, Wealthy and Getting Divorced? 6 Essential Tips for Hiring a Divorce Attorney, for additional insight.

Step 3: Set the tone early on.

If your goal is to have an amicable divorce, then you should communicate that intention from the get-go. When possible, it’s typically best to personally ask your spouse for a divorce as opposed to serving him or her with papers first. During the conversation, explain that you want to settle the divorce amicably, avoid high legal fees and treat each other fairly. Hearing these sentiments can help put your spouse’s mind at ease and get the process off to an amicable start.

If you fear for your and/or your children’s safety, take precautions. Abby provides advice in this recent post:

How to Leave an Abusive Relationship and Protect Your Kids.

Step 4: Decide how and when to tell the children.

Do so with the other parent if possible. Divorce can be especially hard on children. In fact, some kids even believe they are at fault for their parents’ divorce. Psychotherapist Linda Solomon, LPC, LCDC, LMFT shares invaluable advice here: Break the News with Care: How to Tell Kids You’re Getting Divorced.

Step 5: Sort out living arrangements and budgetary details.

Obviously, you need to figure out where each spouse (and children if you have them) will live. Who stays in the family home and for how long? Will you take turns or will someone move to an apartment or live with their parents? It typically proves beneficial to establish a budget, including living expenses and any other financial obligations, during the early stages of a divorce.

Christine explains how living arrangements and other issues related to divorce are handled in her post: Calling It Quits? The Top 12 Things You Need to Know About Divorce in Texas.

Step 6: Change passwords and create a new email account.

While you can’t delete email, text, phone or social media accounts – such spoliation of evidence is illegal – you can change passwords on accounts that belong exclusively to you. This step is critical because it can deter your spouse from accessing those accounts and your private information – especially correspondence related to the divorce with your lawyer or other trusted professionals.

Step 7: Untangle yourself from the family’s cloud-based accounts.

If you, your spouse and/or your children share a cloud account (phones, tablets, computers, etc.), get a new phone and set up an account of your own. If you don’t, your spouse may be able to access your private information through the cloud or through the children’s digital devices. Aubrey provides essential information in these previous posts:

Beware of Hidden Dangers Lurking in the Cloud

Don’t Let the Cloud Scuttle Your Divorce: 9 Vital Tips

Step 8: Create a new, shared calendar if you have kids.

Your existing shared calendar may be tied to the family’s cloud account. If you’re getting divorced, it’s best to start fresh. A variety of shared calendars are available online, like Our Family Wizard. Some Texas Family Court judges actually require divorcing couples to communicate through the shared calendar available with Our Family Wizard. With shared calendars divorcing couples can keep track of their children’s:

  • Extracurricular practices and events.
  • Doctor appointments.
  • Homework and project deadlines.
  • School photo days.
  • Family vacations and more.

Step 9: Consider getting a P.O. box.

If your spouse can access your personal mail at the family residence, and you don’t want him or her to do so, a P.O. box may be the ideal solution. You can limit access to yourself, so your divorce attorney and others can send written correspondence to you discreetly.

Step 10: Establish a solid support system.

Remember, your divorce attorney isn’t a therapist. He or she is your resource for legal guidance. If you need emotional support or advice on how to cope with fears, anxiety, and heartache, reach out to a family therapist or member of the clergy for insight. Close family members, friends and divorce support groups can also provide encouragement.

Don’t Stop There

While this divorce checklist is a great place to start, every divorce is unique. A reputable family law attorney can provide the comprehensive legal guidance and resources needed to address your individual circumstances.

Since founding Connatser Family Law in 2013, Aubrey Connatser and her team have firmly established the next in a line of great Texas divorce and family law firms. To learn more about divorce and child custody in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and compassionate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

Don’t Worry, Be Happy: How to Set the Stage for an Amicable Divorce

Posted on Jan 11, 2018 in Connatser Family Law, Dallas Divorce, Divorce

Don’t Worry, Be Happy: How to Set the Stage for an Amicable Divorce

By Christine Powers Leatherberry

Getting a divorce is never easy, but opting to settle marital and child custody disputes amicably typically helps couples save time, money and unnecessary emotional duress. If pursuing an amicable divorce is preferable to you, consider talking through the following strategies with your divorce attorney.

No. 1: Set a positive tone early on.

When setting the stage for an amicable divorce, it’s typically best to personally tell your spouse you want a divorce, so they aren’t surprised. During that conversation, it can also be helpful to explain that you want to settle the divorce amicably, keep legal fees low and treat him or her fairly. Hearing these sentiments can help put the opposing party’s mind at ease.

No. 2: Follow through on promises to be amicable and fair.

Actions speak louder than words. For example, making sure your spouse has enough money in the bank to hire a divorce attorney and pay for expenses speaks volumes. Draining financial accounts and closing out credit cards, so the other party has no money for legal costs and basic needs, will almost guarantee a contentious divorce.

No. 3: Be transparent about your plans.

If you are considered the monied spouse in the marriage, being transparent regarding how you plan to provide for the non-monied spouse following divorce can go a long way toward easing the blow of divorce. For example, someone who has been a homemaker for 30 years and has a minimal grasp of finances may be understandably frightened when their spouse files for divorce.

In this scenario, the right thing to do may be to pay spousal maintenance or alimony for a period of time, even if the spouse wouldn’t necessarily qualify for that support under the law. Doing so can help set the stage for an amicable divorce and an amicable relationship going forward.

No. 4: Try to resolve differences directly with your spouse.

In most cases, couples who get along and make agreements are more likely to avoid going to court. That doesn’t mean you don’t need a divorce attorney to ensure the legal aspects of your case are handled properly, but hashing out issues one-on-one, without lawyers involved, can help keep legal fees and emotions in check. It can also keep the divorce process moving along in an expeditious manner.

No. 5: Proactively communicate about children’s needs and be willing to trade time with each other.

Child custody and possession schedules can become a bone of contention when parents don’t strive to co-parent amicably during (and after) a divorce. Shared calendars like Our Family Wizard or even a basic Google calendar can help keep everyone on the same page. Diligently sharing information about doctor visits and school activities, as well as making sure the child’s homework folder goes back and forth between homes, can help reduce the likelihood of conflict.

We also encourage clients to be sensitive to the other parent’s desire to spend time with children during special events and holidays. For example, you could invite the other parent to go trick-or-treating with you as a family for Halloween or offer to share a couple of hours on Christmas morning. Extending the olive branch can buy considerable goodwill going forward.

No. 6: Utilize outside experts to resolve conflicts.

No matter how well you and your spouse get along, divorce can still be emotionally trying for both the adults and children. It’s also unlikely that the two of you will agree on how to resolve every issue.

Instead of going to court, a family counselor or clergy member can be a great resource to help adults and kids deal with emotional struggles and provide children with the tools they need to cope.

Many couples rely on parent coordinators, parent facilitators, and even education consultants to help sort through or negotiate concerns regarding children’s medical, extracurricular, vacation, tutoring, schooling and other needs. These professionals can help couples overcome roadblocks and avoid going to court.

No. 7: Evaluate “friendly” divorce options with your attorney.

In Texas, most judges require couples to go through mediation before going to court to litigate a divorce. If you’re hoping to settle your divorce amicably, mediation is a great place to attempt to resolve your case. Instead of relying on a judge to make decisions regarding your case, with mediation, couples work with a mediator (often a former family court judge) to help facilitate their divorce agreement.

Collaborative divorce is another option available to couples in the state of Texas. Unlike mediation – where couples typically sit in separate rooms and an impartial intermediary bounces back and forth attempting to negotiate an agreement – during the collaborative process, couples sit down together with their respective attorneys to hash out the details of their divorce.

Learn more about the pros and cons of collaborative divorce in this helpful post.

Seek out a family law attorney who supports your goals

If your goal is to end your marriage as gently and fairly as possible, be wary of divorce lawyers who discourage you from trying to work things out. Instead, seek out an attorney who is experienced in negotiating both amicable and contentious divorces and knowledgeable regarding strategies involved in mediation and collaborative law.

Christine Powers Leatherberry is a compassionate family lawyer who is equally comfortable in the courtroom as she is counseling her clients one-on-one. To learn more about divorce and child custody in Dallas and Collin Counties, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and considerate member of the Connatser Family Law team.

Photo Source: Adobe Stock