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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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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Want to Keep Costs in Check During a Divorce? Avoid These 8 Mistakes

By Aubrey Connatser Getting divorced can be a costly undertaking, especially if your case ends up going to trial. Unfortunately, some people end up spending more in attorney’s fees than necessary. The good news? If you are planning to divorce, you can rein in costs simply by avoiding the following mistakes. Mistake No. 1: Picking the wrong divorce lawyer It’s extremely important to have a good rapport with the person who will be navigating the divorce process with you. Parties who don’t see eye to eye with their divorce attorneys, typically end up with less consistency in strategy and more time spent in meetings. For example, say you are someone who hopes to settle your divorce as amicably as possible. If you hire an attorney who prefers to handle contentious divorces, you will spend a lot of time and money trying to reach a consensus regarding what to do and why. Not sure how to find the right attorney for your circumstances? Aubrey provides six essential tips for hiring a divorce attorney here. Remember, divorce lawyers bill by the hour. When you have confidence in your lawyer, you probably won’t question him or her as much (not that you shouldn’t question your attorney). In addition, you will probably be more inclined to trust his or her judgment and spend less time agreeing on a strategy. Mistake No. 2: Using your divorce attorney as a therapist Initially, it can be a good thing to explain to your lawyer what led up to your divorce emotionally, because that helps inform him or her as to where you are from a mental health perspective. However, extensively relying on an attorney for emotional support can get expensive. Therapists tend to charge much less than lawyers – depending on who you hire. Mistake No. 3: Not understanding your divorce lawyer’s fee contract Different lawyers charge different fees, so be sure to review how time is billed before signing a contract. Inquire about the lawyer’s hourly rate and how you will be billed for time other people in the firm spend working on your case, such as paralegals and law clerks. You should also ask what sort of retainer is required. Technically, retainers are refundable, so find out what the law firm’s policy is regarding timing of refunds. In addition, find out how the firm bills incremental time entries – by the tenth of an hour, quarter of an hour, etc. Being prepared can help smooth the divorce process. Check out the 18 helpful tools in our divorce toolkit here. Mistake No. 4: Communicating inefficiently with your attorney If you want to keep costs in check, communicate efficiently with your divorce attorney. For example, instead of sending 10 emails throughout the day, send one email with 10 questions at the end of the day. Every time you contact your lawyer, you will be billed for that time – so refrain from hitting “send” whenever possible. You may even consider scheduling a weekly meeting with the attorney and set aside any questions that need to be addressed for that time. That doesn’t mean you can’t communicate more frequently when necessary, but in the long run, weekly meetings can increase efficiency and reduce billable hours significantly. Mistake No. 5: Not reviewing paperwork for accuracy Carefully review any pleadings to ensure everything is accurate from a fact standpoint before they are filed on your behalf. This step can help reduce hourly fees related to correcting mistakes and inaccuracies later. Mistake No. 6: Keeping things from your attorney You should never lie to your doctor, and you should never...

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