The Seven Grounds for Divorce in Texas and Why They Matter

By Alissa Castro At some point or another, you’ve probably heard the phrase – “That’s grounds for divorce!” Whether it was on T.V. or during a couple’s argument you accidentally overheard, “grounds for divorce” has long been a part of the fabric of America. But what are the grounds for divorce, and why do they matter? It all depends on where you file for divorce. What are the grounds for divorce in Texas? In Texas, there are seven grounds for divorce spelled out in the family code. These include both fault grounds and no-fault grounds. That’s right – you don’t have to prove fault grounds in order to get a divorce in Texas. However, the grounds on which you base your request for divorce may affect the outcome of your divorce settlement. Sound confusing? Let’s break it down, starting with the three no-fault grounds, where neither party is at fault for the marriage breaking down, but circumstances exist where the marriage is no longer viable for one or both parties. Texas no-fault grounds include: Insupportability. These grounds are commonly referred to as irreconcilable differences. To prove insupportability, you have to show that the marriage is insupportable because of a discord or conflict of personalities that destroys the legitimate ends of the marital relationship and prevents any reasonable expectation of reconciliation. Insupportability is one of the most common grounds people use to file for divorce in Texas. In layman’s terms, the person has filed because they no longer see eye-to-eye with their spouse or living with the spouse has become intolerable for some reason. Living apart. If two spouses have lived apart without cohabitating for three years or more – at the time of the trial – that could support living apart grounds for divorce. In these types of cases, the court typically views the arrangement as something both parties agreed to, based on the fact that they have lived apart for so long. Living apart grounds can play a role in the just and right division of the estate. For example, say one party claims she hasn’t seen her spouse in over five years, and she doesn’t know where to find him. The court might award her everything in her possession, provided she meets certain conditions, such as taking steps to serve him papers, even if that means serving a notice in the newspaper. Confinement to a mental hospital. People become mentally incompetent for a variety of reasons, whether due to mental illness, as the result of an accident or another cause. What’s key here is that the party must have been confined for at least three years and the severity of their mental disorder is to the degree that it’s unlikely to improve and, if it does, relapse of the disorder is very likely. While confinement may be grounds for divorce, the statute was also put in place to help protect the confined person’s interests and the just and right division of property. The court will likely appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the person who is confined. If you say, “Oh well, they’re confined, so I should get everything in the estate,” you probably won’t be granted the divorce! The role of fault-grounds in Texas divorce The difference between no-fault grounds and fault grounds is pretty straightforward. With fault grounds, someone is actually found at fault for the divorce. Again, you don’t have to prove fault grounds to get a divorce in Texas. However, if you claim certain fault grounds – like adultery – and the judge doesn’t buy your argument, he or she could still...

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

By Christine Powers Leatherberry If you’re one of many fans who binge-watched seasons one and two of “The Crown,” you probably can’t wait for 2019 to roll around. That’s when season three of the popular Netflix series is projected to premiere. The Royal Family was – and still is – no stranger to divorce. As we wait patiently for the new season to arrive, let’s take a look at the lessons we’ve learned from “The Crown” – and today’s royals – about love, marriage and divorce. No. 1: It’s good to be King – if you want to get divorced. Well, at least it was for Henry VIII. When Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was unable to produce a male heir, the King asked the Pope to annul the marriage. The Pope refused, so Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church. Subsequently, the Archbishop of Canterbury declared the marriage null and void. This cleared the way for the King to marry Anne Boleyn and take control of the Church of England. Strangely enough, when Anne was unable to produce a male heir, Henry VIII chose to have Anne investigated for treason and other crimes, instead of seeking a divorce or annulment. Anne was found guilty and beheaded in the Tower of London. No. 2: For some, love matters more than power. Even though Henry VIII facilitated his own annulment, the Church of England continued to frown upon annulments and divorce for centuries to come. To get divorced or become involved with someone who was divorced could be scandalous, especially for members of high society or the Royal Family. Such was the case in 1936, when King Edward VIII was forced to abdicate the throne to his brother George (father of the current Queen Elizabeth II) in order to marry the twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson. Edward’s love for Wallis was stronger than his desire to remain King, and the couple – the Duke and Duchess of Windsor – remained together and devoted to each other until Edward’s death in 1972. No. 3: Sacrificing love for duty may be bad for your health. “The Crown” covered this topic in depth. When Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth II, fell in love with Peter Townsend, a divorced father of two, the Church of England – and ultimately her sister the Queen – refused to allow the marriage to proceed. Instead of leaving the monarchy – which she would have been forced to do had she married Townshend – Margaret eventually broke off the relationship. As depicted in this clip from season two of “The Crown,” Margaret was consequently heartbroken and began drinking more. When the Queen says to Margaret, “You’re drinking far more than you used to,” Margaret responds, “Why do you think that is? Because I’m unhappier than I used to be. And why is that? Because I’m still unmarried. And why is that? Oh, because you denied me my perfect match.” Margaret eventually married photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones in 1960. The couple divorced in 1978, resulting in negative press for the Princess and the Royal Family, because society and the public still frowned upon divorce in the 70s. No. 4: The times and the perception of divorce are changing. Even the Church agrees that there is a place for divorce in society today. In 2002, the Church of England announced that, “The Church teaches that marriage is for life, it also recognizes that some marriages sadly fail, if this should happen, it seeks to be available for all involved. The Church accepts that, in exceptional circumstances, a divorced person...

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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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