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...

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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: There is an agreement between the two parties that they are married; The couple lives together as husband and wife; and 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...

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Wealthy, Divorced and in Love? Live Happily Ever After with a Cohabitation Agreement

By Douglas A. Harrison Over the past 37 years, Connatser Family Law attorney Doug Harrison has helped hundreds of clients negotiate premarital, post-marital and cohabitation agreements. In the following post, Doug explains how cohabitation agreements help couples worry less by living life with financial transparency and financial certainty. Many couples move in together when they want to take their relationships to the next level – but that doesn’t always mean marriage is on their minds. This is often true for people with sizeable assets who have experienced a painful divorce or were widowed after a lengthy marriage. Cohabitating without a marriage license doesn’t diminish the love two people feel for one another. However, financial questions and concerns can put undue stress on a relationship – something that could be avoided by having a frank and honest conversation about financial expectations and the signing of a cohabitation agreement. Cohabitation agreements allow couples to spell out financial and other arrangements in black and white. That way the couple can focus on developing their relationship and enjoying life without uncertainty. Such was the case for a client I helped recently. Couples can protect a legacy and provide for a significant other with cohabitation agreements I negotiated a cohabitation agreement for a man who had lost his wife of more than 30 years. He was very lonely and eventually met a lovely woman. After dating for several months, the two discussed moving in together. He resisted. The client had a good deal of money, so entering into a new relationship worried him, primarily because he wanted to preserve most of his estate for his children and grandchildren. His new “partner” was nervous, too. She had gone through a terrible divorce and hoped to enter a relationship where she could feel secure without trap doors. After a series of negotiations, the goals of both parties were met. The agreement ensured his estate was preserved and that there would be reasonable transition provisions for her in the event the two parted ways or he died. Both parties were relieved when the agreement was signed, and they were excited to move on with their lives without financial worries, suspicion or disagreement. Cohabitation agreements also enable couples to avoid disputes related to common law marriage For many couples, one of the most important reasons to get a cohabitation agreement is to clearly set forth that the parties do not intend to form a common law or informal marriage under Texas law. In Texas, there are three requirements that need to be met in order for the court to rule that a common law or informal marriage exists. Proof must be presented in court that both parties agreed to be married, they did so while living in the state of Texas, and they both held out to the public they were husband and wife while living in the state of Texas. The evidence also has to show that the parties intended to have a present and permanent marital relationship, and neither party can be under the age of 18. Today, people wait longer to marry than they used to, which can result in an unintended problem. As time goes on, many couples end up with disputed facts. For example, one party may say, “I thought since we lived together for so long and shared finances, we were in a common law marriage.” Conversely, the other party might say, “That wasn’t my intent. Sure, we did have a joint bank account with both of our names on it, and I did introduce you to my friends as my spouse...

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Break the News with Care: How to Tell Kids You’re Getting Divorced

At Connatser Family Law, we always say, “Kids come first.” One of the biggest challenges parents face during a divorce is finding the best way to break the news to their children. So we asked psychotherapist Linda Solomon, LPC, LCDC, LMFT what advice she gives to parents regarding how to explain divorce to children. Connatser Family Law regularly recommends Linda to clients who need emotional guidance and actionable insight during divorce and child custody disputes. She also serves as a collaborative neutral during collaborative divorces and as a parenting coordinator in Dallas and Collin Counties. Along with working closely with a family counselor throughout the divorce process, Linda encourages parents to consider the following tips to help ease the blow of divorce when breaking the news to children. Tip No. 1: Plan in advance and schedule time for “the divorce discussion.” Telling children you are getting a divorce shouldn’t come out during a spur of the moment conversation. Linda strongly urges parents to plan the timing for the discussion. As she explains, “Plan the time so no one in the family will need to walk out the door in 30 minutes to an hour after the discussion. Whether that is to attend soccer practice, get a haircut or go to a birthday party. This is an extremely important family discussion and parents must create time for it to take place.” The time of year and day of the week are also important. “I strongly suggest parents schedule the divorce conversation on a weekend, unless it will occur during summer vacation. You don’t want children to have to get up and go to school the next morning. Most parents have the discussion early Friday evening or Saturday morning,” Linda says. Tip No. 2: Present a united front. Children need to hear the news from both mom and dad. As Linda explains, “This is a conversation that parents need to have together with the children, not mom or dad only. Despite difficulties between the two parents, this is the first chance for the children to continue seeing mom and dad as a parental team once they have learned about the divorce. “In other words, by having the discussion together, no matter what, you’re modeling for the children that you’re still a team as their parents. That united front is critical.” Tip No. 3: Plan what you will say ahead of time. Along with breaking the news together, Linda also recommends parents sit down prior to the divorce discussion to get a gist of what they are going to say to the children and how they are going to say it. “I don’t expect parents to script out the entire conversation, but wording can make a difference. One of the most important things parents should do is use the word divorce very early in the discussion. “Parents repeatedly tell me they regret it when they don’t mention divorce early on, because it gets harder over time to use that word. Some children even expect the parents are just going to live separately for a while and everything is going to be OK,” Linda says. Linda and Dallas divorce attorney Aubrey Connatser provide additional insight in this past post: 5 Valuable Resources to Help Kids Cope When Parents Split. Tip No. 4: Plan what you will NOT say ahead of time. It’s also really important for parents to reach an agreement regarding what the children will NOT be told. According to Linda, “This is what I refer to as private marital information or adult information. The divorce conversation will be difficult and filled...

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The Ultimate Divorce Toolkit: 18 Helpful Tools to Survive and Thrive After a Split

Since founding Connatser Family Law in 2013, prominent Dallas divorce attorney Aubrey Connatser and her associates, family law attorneys Abby Gregory, Christine Powers Leatherberry and Alissa Castro have shared insight and advice on the firm’s blog and in television, radio and newspaper interviews. After years of experience representing clients in the Texas family court, we understand that going through a divorce can be overwhelming. So we created a comprehensive Divorce Toolkit with 10 categories and 18 helpful tools to help ease stress and streamline the divorce process. Use this handy Divorce Toolkit to learn: How to hire a divorce attorney. If you are contemplating divorce or are ready to file for divorce, seek out an experienced divorce attorney who is a good fit for YOU and your circumstances. Check out this handy infographic Essential 9-Step Guide to Hiring a Divorce Attorney to learn more. How to get a handle on divorce basics. Wondering what common questions people ask about divorce? What questions they don’t ask but should? Our post, The Top 12 Things You Need to Know About Divorce in Texas, covers most of the bases. (If you don’t live in Texas, consult an attorney in the state where you reside.) How much alimony you can expect to receive or pay. Alimony isn’t a given in a Texas divorce. In fact, the courts typically expect both parties to eventually support themselves following divorce. We cover 11 things you need to know about alimony in Texas in this past post. (Again, contact an attorney in your state if you don’t reside in Texas.) Tips on how to avoid tax and financial woes during divorce. We asked our colleague Todd Amacher, J.D., MBA, CPA, CFP,® CDFA (TM), to share tax and financial insight in this helpful post, Divorce and Taxes: 5 Essential Tips for Avoiding Future Financial Woes. How to manage emotional duress during divorce. We know, going through a divorce can be trying. This is true for the divorcing parties and their children as well. We’ve covered mental health issues on several occasions and encourage you to check out these insightful posts: Emotions Run Sky High During Divorce: 5 Ways to Stay Grounded 7 Sanity Saving Tips for Working Moms (and Dads) 5 Valuable Resources to Help Kids Cope When Parents Split The best ways to co-parent in a peaceful and supportive fashion. At Connatser Family Law, we always say, “Kids come first.” We encourage parents to put their differences aside and focus on the best interests of their children. Co-parenting is another topic we cover regularly in our blog. A few helpful posts include: 10 Essential Tips for Successful Co-Parenting Following Divorce 12 Back-to-School Tips for Newly Divorced Parents Recently Divorced? 6 Tips to Make the Season Bright for Your Kids During the Holidays Steps to take to survive contentious custody battles. Unfortunately, divorcing couples don’t always play nice during divorce and custody battles. In the following two posts, we interviewed two clients who survived and thrived contentious custody disputes. Read their inspiring stories for insight: 5 Crucial Steps Dads Should Take to Get Custody in Texas You Don’t Need to Be Rosie O’Donnell to End Up in a Nasty Same-Sex Custody Fight How you can maintain privacy during high-profile divorce and child custody disputes. If you’re getting divorced in Texas, you’ll be happy to learn that Texas family courts value privacy, especially when children are involved. It’s often easier to seal divorce records here than in other states. Learn how a divorce attorney can help you keep divorce records private in this post we wrote about Blake Shelton...

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Moving in Together? Be Sure to Check This Essential Task Off Your To-Do List

Execute a cohabitation agreement. Whether you enter into a living arrangement with a romantic partner or a college roommate, a cohabitation agreement can help both parties avoid financial and emotional woes. As a family law attorney, Aubrey Connatser regularly recommends cohabitation agreements to couples who want to live together but are not ready to walk down the aisle (today or in the future). Unsure whether a cohab makes sense for you? According to Aubrey, “First and foremost, it’s important to understand the purpose of a cohabitation agreement and how they differ from premarital agreements. A cohab is a contractual agreement people sign for three main reasons: It can give you an affirmative finding and statement that says you and your partner are not common law married or legally married. It can establish how finances will be handled during the relationship. It can set the rules for disengagement should you decide to part ways.” 7 Key Provisions to Include in a Cohabitation Agreement Along with affirming your status as a non-married couple to help avoid common law marriage claims, Aubrey recommends couples consider including the following seven provisions when preparing a cohabitation agreement. 1.Who will pay for what and when? Think about it. You live in a house together, have utilities to pay, bought furniture together, paid for other property together and both names are on various bills. A cohabitation agreement can spell out who pays which bills (and when) both during the relationship and following a split. 2.How will assets be split if you break up? It’s a good idea to spell out what property belongs to whom before the relationship and before the agreement is signed. This provision can serve as a validation and confirmation of who owned what property before the relationship and clarify what each party takes with him or her should they part ways. You should also delineate how jointly purchased assets should be divided. For example, if you bought a house together, will you sell the house and split any profits equally or will one party have the option to buy out the other and for how much? You can also establish who will retain custody of any pets in your cohabitation agreement. 3.Who is responsible for debts incurred during the relationship? When it comes to debt, each party is typically responsible for all debts they personally incur. However, in relationships where one party doesn’t work, the other party might provide him or her with credit cards and a spending allowance. A cohab can clarify the size of the spending allowance and who is going to be liable for credit card and other debt and when. 4.Who pays insurance premiums and for how long? You can also include provisions regarding who will pay for home, auto and health insurance coverage during the relationship and once you disengage, as well as the amount of time after a break up those premiums will be paid and by whom. 5.How will joint financial accounts be handled? Many couples establish joint bank accounts to handle household bills during the relationship. A cohab can include a provision covering who contributes how much to financial accounts during the relationship and what will happen to those accounts after dissolution of the relationship. Will monies be split in half or will the party who funded the accounts keep the remaining balance? 6.Who is going to have to move out of the shared residence and when? You can save yourself a huge headache by including a provision regarding what sort of notice either party would be given to vacate the home upon dissolution...

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