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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 your 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

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

Posted on Dec 26, 2017 in Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Texas Family Law, Uncategorized

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 making a decision.

Not sure how to find a lawyer who will best fit your needs? Check out our six essential tips for hiring a divorce attorney here.

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

Keep Calm and Parent On: 9 Essential Co-Parenting Tips During High Conflict Divorces

Posted on Nov 20, 2017 in Coparenting, Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Marriage, Parenting

Keep Calm and Parent On: 9 Essential Co-Parenting Tips During High Conflict Divorces

By Alissa Castro

During a high-conflict divorce, interacting with a future ex-spouse can be emotionally draining. However, when children are involved, minimizing contact – by phone, email or in person – typically isn’t an option. Parents need to communicate regularly about exchanges, soccer games, school projects, piano lessons, etc. – not to mention which parent will have possession of the children and when.

So how can couples successfully co-parent during the emotional rollercoaster of divorce – especially when one of the parents would rather escalate conflict than get along? At Connatser Family Law, we recommend the following nine tips.

Tip No. 1: Never forget – kids come first.

Divorce is stressful regardless of the circumstances, and it can be especially troubling for children. Before you say or do something, consider how those actions will affect the kids. Because children often have different perspectives than parents on topics during divorce, it can also be helpful to schedule time for children to meet with a family therapist or member of the clergy to discuss any concerns.

Find more helpful resources to help kids cope in this past post.

Tip No. 2: Don’t bad mouth the other parent.

One of the first pieces of advice we give parents: Don’t speak poorly of the other parent in front of the children and ask friends and family members to do the same. Be the bigger parent. Keep in mind that half of your child’s DNA comes from the other parent. If you disparage your spouse, the child may believe you think less of him or her, too.

Tip No. 3: Follow the Golden Rule.

Treat people the way you want to be treated and opt for the kill-them-with-kindness strategy. As Michelle Obama famously said, “When they go low, you go high.” We get it, taking the high road isn’t easy. However, you’re better off going into court with clean hands, without threats or nasty emails showing up in evidence, which is likely to position you unfavorably in the eyes of the judge.

Tip No. 4: Try to give the other parent the benefit of the doubt.

He or she will probably make mistakes, but so will you. For example, if the other parent is always five minutes late picking up the kids, ask yourself, is that a battle worth fighting? If the parent is consistently late on certain days and that tardiness is creating a problem for the child, maybe he or she has a good reason for being late.

Instead of attacking the other parent, bring the issue up directly with him or her. Explain how you are seeing a pattern on certain days or times and ask if adjusting your schedules could help. The goal here is to work together to co-parent like you’re still married. Collaborative problem solving and a willingness to work together – without attacking each other – is what your children need to see.

Tip No. 5: Resist escalating conflict.

In the midst of a high-conflict divorce, tensions are running high, and it can be tempting to send an angry text or email to the other party. By doing so, you’re just adding fuel to the fire, which isn’t healthy for anyone involved. Avoid responding immediately and take time to draft a thoughtful response before hitting send.

Any correspondence sent to your spouse can be submitted as evidence and you want to avoid damaging your case.

Tip No. 6: Utilize professionals to settle disagreements.

Whether your disagreements are few or the other parent refuses to co-parent with you in any way, a parent facilitator or coordinator can be a great resource. They can help parents work through communication issues and shift the focus to solutions that are in the best interest of the child.

Another strategy is to include tiebreakers in the custody agreement. With tiebreakers, “referees” are assigned to various scenarios, so parents can avoid going back to court. For example, the parents could agree to assign the child’s pediatrician to be a referee and make the call regarding whether or not their child has a procedure.

Tip No. 7: Face the facts – co-parenting is a long-term commitment.

Once the divorce is finalized, you’ll still need to co-parent for years to come. Even after the children graduate from high school and college, there will be holidays, birthdays, weddings, grandchildren and other milestones of which both parents will likely play a role. These occasions are much easier for the kids when parents remain cordial. Taking steps to solidify the co-parenting relationship during the divorce will pay off in the long run.

Check out six helpful tips for co-parenting during the holidays here.

Tip No. 8: Contact your divorce attorney about big issues or when you’re unsure of next steps.

While we encourage clients to try to work through minor issues with the other parent when possible, there are always cases where communication breaks down or where one party has grossly violated court orders. Reach out to your divorce attorney for advice.

For example, if the other parent has fallen far behind in paying child support, refuses to return the child or has threatened to hurt you or your child, that’s when your family law attorney can help you seek court intervention.

Tip No. 9: Call the police if you fear for your and/or your kids’ safety.

If your dispute with the other parent has escalated to a point where you are fearful of him or her, co-parenting peacefully and trying to resolve issues on your own could be dangerous. Should your spouse threaten to physically harm you or a member of your family, call 911. Then reach out to your attorney for help securing a restraining order or protective order, depending on the circumstances.

For additional tips on keeping yourself and your kids safe, check out these helpful posts:

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

Alissa Castro is an enthusiastic, young attorney with experience in a wide variety of legal venues. She 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.

8 Key Considerations for Wealthy Couples During a Gray Divorce

Posted on Oct 31, 2017 in Connatser Family Law, Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Divorce and Business, Marriage, Texas Family Law

8 Key Considerations for Wealthy Couples During a Gray Divorce

By Douglas A. Harrison

With four decades of experience practicing family law in Texas, Connatser Family Law attorney Doug Harrison has helped hundreds of affluent clients navigate the complexities of divorce involving sizeable estates, family business concerns, trusts, retirement accounts, insurance and more. We asked Doug to shed some light on the unique challenges older, wealthy couples face during a gray divorce.

According to data analyzed by Pew Research, since 1990, the divorce rate has roughly doubled for adults ages 50 and above and tripled for those ages 65 and older. Clearly, gray divorce is on the rise, but why is this happening?

Two big contributing factors are that the baby boomer population is getting older, and they are living longer. Boomers are retiring in droves and their kids have left the nest, which means boomer couples are suddenly spending a lot more time alone together. Consequently, some couples realize all of that togetherness isn’t as great as they hoped. The disdain for extended one-on-one time – by either party or both – is exacerbated when one of the partners transitions from eight to ten hours a day in the office to 24/7 at home.

Following retirement, some couples also realize they have very different interests. Perhaps the wife is a real go-getter who loves to socialize and participate in cultural and civic endeavors, while the husband prefers to stay home and tinker around the house or play golf.

In addition, many gray divorces we see today are second or third marriages, which have a significantly higher failure rate.

While gray divorce can be complicated regardless of how much wealth is involved – learn about gray divorce and social security benefits here – affluent couples often face unique challenges, especially when divorcing later in life.

No. 1: Tax issues.

Most successful people in business try to take maximum advantage of the tax code. Consequently, couples getting divorced, when significant money, business concerns, and a long-term marriage are involved, have probably dealt with some tax issues along the way.

It also isn’t unusual for a couple to think everything is fine from a tax perspective, and then receive a notification from the IRS that they are being audited for a return from a few years back. As a result, the parties may find out there are significant taxes owed that need to be dealt with during the divorce and beyond. Caution is encouraged with respect to these types of issues.

No. 2: Estate plan changes.

Many affluent couples establish elaborate estate plans, trust agreements, and family limited partnerships to ensure family members are provided for over the long term and taxes are minimized. When a couple contemplates a gray divorce, confusion and disagreements can arise pertaining to how these components will serve family members post-divorce.

For example, when the couple created their estate plan, their goals were likely based on providing for the parties as a couple – not as individuals. Concurrently, wealthy couples often set up and contribute assets to family limited partnerships, under which both spouses, and possibly their children, own a percentage interest in that partnership. This ownership structure can result in a lower valuation of an individual’s interest in the partnership for estate tax purposes because of lack of control of the entity. This same issue would likely arise in a valuation for divorce purposes as well.

Should the couple decide to divorce, the parties often have different interests and goals. Essentially, they are now paddling the boat in different directions, as self-preservation kicks in! How the family limited partnership is valued and dispersed requires careful consideration during divorce.

Evaluating and analyzing trusts established during a marriage can also be complicated and, in some cases, frustrating. For example, many couples create irrevocable trusts that can’t be changed once put in place. However, those trusts could trigger long-lasting tax issues. While husbands and wives can leave any assets to each other without paying the estate tax, assets left to children, grandchildren and other people can trigger taxes in the future.

These are just a few of the many estate planning issues that can arise during a gray divorce. If you have similar concerns, make sure to hire a divorce attorney experienced in handling cases comparable to yours, who can recognize issues of this type and can engage appropriate tax and probate attorneys to resolve issues and problems.

No. 3: The future and value of family-owned businesses.

If a couple owns a business as part of their community estate – which happens frequently – the parties often view that business much like another child in the relationship and “custody” can become an issue.

If the parties agree to keep the business and share profits, the former spouses may disagree on what role the parties will play, how the business will be run, how financial information is disclosed to the spouse who is not in charge, what compensation will be paid to each respective spouse, as well as what direction is best for the business in the long term.

Selling the business is another option, but there can be wide disparities between appraisals of the business’ value, over which the parties may disagree. In addition, while many husbands and wives own equal parts of a family business, rarely do they participate equally in the running of that business. How should the differing levels of contribution affect the outcome of the divorce settlement as it pertains to the family business? Is there any personal goodwill attributable to the spouse who has been active in the business? Is there a date for the ultimate sale or is it open-ended?

We’ll take a deeper dive into valuing and dividing family businesses in an upcoming article. (You can also learn more about business prenups in this past post.)

No. 4: Selling the family home.

Even with wealthy couples, the family home may be a significant asset of the community estate. Couples who have a significant gain on their residence may want to consider selling the home prior to getting divorced, because they can shelter more gain on the house, as opposed to awarding the home to only one of the parties who will then sell.

If the house sells while the parties are still married, they can take advantage of a one-time $500,000 exclusion for capital gains. Conversely, if one of the parties is awarded the house in the divorce, and he or she decides to sell it afterward, that party is limited to one $250,000 exclusion of capital gains as an individual.

No. 5: Retirement and pension benefits.

When you look at the myriad of retirement plans and benefit packages made available to executives over the last 30 to 40 years – from stock options to top hat plans to phantom stock plans to restricted stock awards – those all have to be dealt with and carefully sorted out so both parties receive value and the tax implications are equitably considered in the allocation of such assets.

The vesting of certain interests is another factor to consider. Even if the party’s plan benefits aren’t fully vested, that doesn’t mean that value or a portion of such benefits can’t be allocated to the non-working spouse.

Pension plans also come up frequently in gray divorces. Some pension plans may already be in pay status with benefits currently being paid to the designated beneficiaries, and elections may have already been made that may or may not be modifiable with a change of circumstance. During the settlement process, the parties will need to consider how benefits will be paid and if there are survivor benefits that can or cannot be modified, and if not, how to compensate the non-employee spouse.

No. 6: Life and health insurance coverage.

Life insurance policies are often included in estate plans, which can lead to awkward situations. In many cases, wealthy clients purchase a “second to die” life insurance policy that insures both parties but only pays on the death of the last party. The premiums on a policy of this type are normally lower than individual policies. Frequently, these policies are used to fund trusts. This raises the issue of who will pay the premiums following the divorce. If one party says he or she wants to keep life insurance on the other’s life, that could raise suspicions (crazy or not), while others may simply view it as improper or unacceptable.

On the other hand, depending on a person’s age and station in life, he or she may not be able to purchase insurance anymore. Consequently, the party may need to hang on to that policy or find out if there is a way to place the policy into a trust where there are mutual benefits for everybody.

With health costs skyrocketing, the loss of health insurance is also a key consideration during many gray divorces. Some people can take advantage of Cobra insurance up to 36 months, which can provide the protection they need as they adjust to other insurance benefits available to them, such as Medicare. If you’re concerned about health insurance coverage, you may want to ask for compensation for coverage in the divorce settlement. Also, be aware that there are “savvy” insurance consultants who can offer sage advice.

No. 7: Social security benefits.

The timing of the entry of the Decree of Divorce can make a difference in whether a spouse can or will receive a portion of the other spouse’s social security benefits. The parties must have been married for 10 years before divorce for the non-employee spouse to receive benefits from the employee spouse’s work. A strategic approach is to carefully select the date of divorce to maximize the social security benefits for the non-employee spouse.

No. 8: Alimony.

If one party is continuing to earn a large income, contractual alimony is an excellent tool to help support the other spouse, giving a tax deduction for the working spouse and taxable income for the non-working spouse. Sometimes, this approach can actually “finance” the settlement.

Consider a collaborative gray divorce

Since 2001, the state of Texas has allowed couples to settle their marital differences across the table from one another through collaborative divorce. During the collaborative process, the divorcing parties can avoid the spotlight and contentious environment often associated with litigated divorce.

Collaborative law, while not for everybody, can be a good choice for couples with significant estates, who love and care about their families and would like to end their marriage with a sense of dignity. Collaborative law is an excellent process choice for clients who recognize and realize that they will have future encounters, business transactions and social/family relations in the future.

On the other hand, some older wealthy couples choose to stay married but live separate lives, often in separate residences. In such instances, ask your family law attorney whether a postmarital agreement makes sense for your circumstances and future financial relationships.

Are you contemplating an affluent gray divorce? Seek out expert advice

The business, property and personal complexities involved in affluent gray divorces are many. To ensure you end up with a settlement that best fits your and your family’s needs, contact a divorce attorney who has extensive experience representing wealthy clients near you.

Douglas A. Harrison is a veteran family lawyer known throughout Texas for his expert handling of complex business and property settlements in divorce. To learn more about options for gray divorce 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.

DISCLOSURE: The preceding is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as tax, financial or legal advice. Contact tax, financial and legal professionals for advice pertaining to your individual circumstances.

 

Photo Source: Adobe Stock

Lend a Hand: 5 Big and Small Ways to Help Victims of Domestic Violence Now

Posted on Oct 3, 2017 in Coparenting, Dallas Divorce, Divorce, Divorce and Privacy, Domestic Violence, Marriage, Texas Family Law

Lend a Hand: 5 Big and Small Ways to Help Victims of Domestic Violence Now

During the time it takes you to read this story, 30 women will be assaulted during acts of domestic violence. On behalf of those moms, aunts, sisters, daughters, cousins, friends and neighbors – and their children – Connatser Family Law asked Jan Langbein, CEO at Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support in Dallas, what we all can do to make a difference.

When we spoke to Langbein, the shootings of a domestic violence victim and her eight friends (one who survived) in Plano, Texas were fresh in her mind.

“Our community is still reeling from the mass homicide in Plano during a football watching party. The woman did exactly what we tell victims of domestic violence to do – which is get out of an abusive relationship and surround yourself with friends. She had no idea how much danger she was in, and her friends certainly didn’t either,” Langbein says.

Ready to “get out?” Here’s information on how to leave an abusive relationship and protect your kids.

In order to make a difference, Langbein says, “We all have a responsibility to know the signs of domestic violence long before a tragedy like the one in Plano ever happens.”

Common signs, actions or traits of someone who is likely to be an abuser:

  • Hyper-vigilant, such as needing to know where his partner is every moment of the day.
  • Extremely jealous.
  • Transfers blame for problems he contributed to.
  • Aggressive with wait staff or other service professionals.
  • Does or says things that make your hair stand up on end.

Common signs, actions or traits of a victim of abuse:

  • Unexplained bruises.
  • Days missed from work that seem excessive or unexplainable.
  • Change in patterns or behavior, such as not going out as much.
  • Limiting or halting communications with family and friends.

People need to be more proactive about stepping up when something seems off or intuition tells them a woman or child may be in peril. Langbein recently experienced this situation at the DFW Airport.

As she explains, “I was waiting at the gate for my flight to board, and a man was really going off on his wife and yelling at her. My gut told me she was at serious risk for getting hurt. When she got up to go to the bathroom, I followed her in and gave her my business card – I didn’t do it in front of him.”

Langbein strongly believes it’s our responsibility as human beings to say something if we see something, even when it feels uncomfortable.

“We need to step up long before a woman starts thinking about leaving her abuser or entering a shelter. This requires a change in mindset, where we acknowledge that everyone needs to play a part in ending domestic violence. We also need to do so 365 days a year, not just the 31 days during Domestic Violence Awareness Month,” Langbein says.

Five ways you can help – before, during and after a victim of domestic violence seeks help

 

No. 1: Change your mindset and take responsibility.

According to Langbein, “Domestic violence happens everywhere. After the Plano shooting, I heard people say, ‘I can’t believe it happened in Plano.’ That’s where the problem resides. You can’t be surprised if it happens down the street because it happens everywhere. It’s not an economic thing, and it’s not an education thing. It’s about power and control.” When you see something, say something.

 

No. 2: Know what resources are available in your community.

Don’t feel like you have to “fix things” for that person. Even if you can’t provide financial support or a place to stay, you can point that person to resources and organizations that can help “fix things” for the victim. Here are a few to consider:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or TTY 1-800-787-3224 and website at thehotline.org.
  • Teens can contact the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline at 1-866-331-9474 or TTY 1-866-331-8453 or visit loveisrespect.org.
  • Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support website http://www.genesisshelter.org/ and phone (214) 946-HELP (4357) (for Dallas area residents).

No. 3: Let the victim know that shelters offer more than a safe haven.

“Many shelters are a one-stop shop. We’re here to walk alongside the victim during the process. In addition to shelter, we can connect women and their children with counseling and legal support and provide clothing, toiletries, emergency funds, medical assistance and just about anything these families need to start over,” Langbein explains.

Learn more about legal protections available to domestic violence victims in Texas here.

 

No. 4: Donate time, money and items women need.

The same items people donated to the victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma are all things shelters need 365 days a year: Bottled water, clothing, furniture, housewares, diapers, baby wipes, socks, underwear and feminine hygiene products.

According to Langbein, “It will take years to recover from the tragedy in Houston, it was a shock. Unfortunately, most people aren’t shocked when that other flood comes. Whether you call him Harvey, Steve, Bob or Roberto, it’s the same thing for victims of domestic violence. They lose everything when they walk away.”

Langbein also encourages people to volunteer their time to answer phones at a shelter or help support a fundraising event. “Those who are financially able can get a team together for our charity golf tournament or sponsor a table at one of our luncheons. If you don’t have financial means, clean out your closets or roll up your sleeves and volunteer,” she says.

 

No. 5: Encourage victims to create a safety plan right away.

Genesis provides helpful information on the safety planning page on its website. In the meantime, here are a few recommendations you can share with a friend or family member who is at risk:

  • Open a checking or savings account and a post office box in your own name.
  • Leave money, a set of keys, copies of important documents, extra clothes and medicines in a safe place or with someone you trust.
  • Identify a safe place where you and your children can go or someone who can lend you money.
  • Have a packed bag ready at a friend or relative’s house.
  • Identify one or more neighbors who will call the police if a disturbance is coming from your home.
  • Devise a code word or sign (such as turning on a particular light) to use with your children, family, friends, and neighbors when you need them to call 911 for help.

Family violence is a crisis we can all play a role in eradicating. Challenge yourself and your friends to do something – big or small – today. Something as simple as sharing this article on social media could save a life.

 

Click any of the social sharing buttons below to encourage others to help.

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