How to Protect Yourself When Leaving an Abusive Marriage

If you are caught in a violent relationship, your first priority should be to get yourself and your children to safety. To be safe from harm, you need to find housing somewhere the abuser can’t find you, whether it’s a women’s shelter, a hotel or the home of a friend the abuser doesn’t know. Never go to your parents’ house or to stay with a close friend, because he can find you there. The majority of battered spouses or partners are women, but if you are a battered man, the same advice applies to you.

Plan for Safety

Sometimes you have time to plan and you can put aside cash, preferably somewhere other than your house. Leave clothes and other important items with a friend in case you need to leave the house quickly. Document every incident of physical or emotional abuse in your household, whether it involves you or your kids. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence recommends that you make a list of safe people to contact, memorize phone numbers of people or places to call for help, keep change and cash with you at all times and establish a code word to alert others for help without alerting the abuser.

You should also take important papers with you, such as your credit cards and checkbook, social security cards, birth certificates, copies of deeds, proof of income, copies of bank or credit card statements and any documentation that proves past abuse.

Additional Suggestions from the NCADV

  • If you’re staying in your home, have the locks changed
  • Don’t stay alone
  • Change your routine frequently
  • Think about how you’ll get away if confronted by the abuser
  • Meet the abuser in a public place
  • Contact people you trust at your workplace and your children’s school so they are alert to anything unusual

Child Custody

If you share legal custody of your children with an abusive spouse or partner, you need to make arrangement for neutral pickup sites or for others to pick up and drop off your kids. If you have sole custody of your children, but the judge has ordered some type of visitation rights, ask for conditions to be placed on that right. Consider a restraining order if you don’t think it’s safe to be in the same place as your spouse, and in extreme cases, ask the court to appoint a visitation supervision monitor.

Getting Through the Holidays with Your Ex-Spouse

After a divorce, approaching the holidays becomes difficult. You probably don’t want to spend time with your ex, but it’s important for your children to spend the season with both parents. If you’ve had certain traditions for years, things are going to change after divorce. To enjoy the holidays and create a good experience for your children, be flexible and open to change.

Avoiding Conflict

If you get along well with your ex, a holiday gathering with both of you and your kids makes sense. However, any risk of conflict means it’s better for each parent to have a separate holiday celebration with the children. Another important thing to keep in mind is how much alcohol you drink at these gatherings, as too much could cause you to become argumentative or hostile.

Make Plans in Advance

Discuss your holiday plans and schedules well in advance to prevent any misunderstandings or arguments about who has the kids at what time. Keep your kids in the loop early on so they know who they’ll be with and where they’ll be going.

Let Your Kids Have Influence

Let your children have input into the holiday plans. Think about their favorite traditions as you’re planning. Children need to feel reassured and have some sense of control amidst the family changes. Maintaining traditions in both households gives children a sense that not everything is changing and some things will stay the same.

Create New Traditions

New holiday traditions will make the season special and show that you can embrace the changes in your life. Volunteer work, crafts and community activities are all good ways to celebrate the holiday season with your children.

Reach Out for Support

Take care of yourself during the holidays. Get rest; eat healthy food and exercise, as this gives you more patience to be loving and respectful. Don’t hesitate to reach out to close friends or family members. You can even visit a mental health professional if you’re having a particularly difficult time.

Financial Steps Every Woman Should Take During a Divorce

A divorce is a difficult experience no matter who asks for it. During this emotional crisis, you may want to hide, but there are important steps you need to take if you want to secure your financial future. Divorce always involves a large amount of upheaval, so it’s only natural to feel overwhelmed. If you want to save yourself grief later on, get your finances in order as you prepare for divorce.

Take inventory of financial documents

You immediately need to gather all of your financial records, including bank account information, mortgage statements, credit card bills, wills and trusts. Make copies of all these documents and find a secure place to store them. Never keep these records in your home. Leave them with a reliable friend/family member or use a safe deposit box that your husband can’t access.

Secure funds for legal and other professional fees

It’s possible that your husband controls all the access to family funds, so he can make it difficult for you hire the divorce team that you need. Many husbands often cut off the money supply and force women to sign divorce settlement agreements that are in his favor. Make sure there are secure funds available only to you to avoid this.

Open new accounts in your name

Go to a different bank than the one where you have joint accounts. Open a new checking and savings account in your name. The divorce attorney may tell you to withdraw nearly half of your joint funds and deposit them in your new accounts. Open a new credit card account in your name, but keep in mind that establishing credit on your own will be difficult if you have little or no income.

Get a copy of your credit report

If you keep an eye on your credit report you’ll know if your husband is charging purchases to your joint credit cards. He might also be dissipating marital assets in another way. This also allows you to keep tabs on your credit score.

Open your own post office box

After you hire a divorce team and open new accounts, you want to keep mail confidential. Open a post office box of your own and you’ll never have to worry about your husband reading your mail. Make sure this box is secure, locked and only accessible by you.

Financial Tips during a Divorce

1. Get professional help

Divorce is highly emotional, which means you might not always be thinking clearly. Having a team of experts by your side will help you rationally navigate the divorce process. A divorce attorney, certified divorce financial analyst and mental health counselor are all great resources during this stressful event.

2. Organize your important documents

As soon as you have made a decision about divorce, collect the following:

  • Bank statements
  • Credit card statements
  • Tax returns
  • Retirement account balances
  • Appraisals for valuable items

You should also look for money being secretly withdrawn from bank accounts and double-check tax returns for unrecognized income. Then look for line items on IRS forms that might be worth money and should be factored into the settlement.

3. Get a copy of your credit report

Credit reports should be carefully reviewed and spouses should look for loans or accounts they don’t recognize. If these issues are noticed, your lawyer can help you determine whether or not you’re responsible for any debt that has been incurred without your knowledge.

4. Establish your own credit score

Your credit score can drop after a divorce, especially if you don’t have accounts only in your name. Apply for your own credit card before your divorce is finalized, although your score will take a hit. You can use this card to make a few purchases and immediately pay them off. Just make sure you don’t incur debt and rack up interest charges, as this will make a bad financial situation even worse.

5. Create a new budget

You shouldn’t assume your expenses will be cut in half because you’re divorcing. Housing, transportation and utilities will likely stay the same if you choose not to move. Expenses like insurance can even go up after a divorce. Sometimes divorcees can keep the same standard of living, but most of the time changes need to be made.

6. Review your estate plan

If you’ve listed your ex as a beneficiary, you need to change that before the divorce is final. You don’t want your ex-spouse to get your assets if something happens to you. It also may be necessary to designate a new power of attorney and update your health insurance forms for health decisions. This will ensure that your ex is not left in charge of your finances and medical care if you become incapacitated.

7. Wait on major financial decisions

After a divorce, take time before making big decisions. Many people act rashly during a divorce without considering long-term effects. Don’t make dramatic decisions fueled by emotions during and after a divorce, as this can destroy your finances forever. You’re already losing your marriage; don’t also lose your finances.

Divorce in the United States of America

It is common knowledge that 50 percent of all marriages in America will end in divorce, as the American divorce rate is nearly twice as large as it was in 1960. However, as of this year, studies showed that both marriage and divorce rates have significantly decreased since 2000. According to the most recent study in 2014, marriage rate in the U.S. is currently 6.8 per 1,000 people and the rate of divorce is 3.2 per 1,000 people. Keep in mind that this is a crude divorce rate and does not provide accurate information on the percentage of first marriages ending in divorce.

Reasons Why People Get Divorced

  • Whether it’s for money or to please others, people are still marrying for the wrong reasons. If one partner is wealthy, the other might grow accustomed to a certain quality life and find that difficult to abandon. In other cases, a partner may feel pressured to stay in a marriage because of others’ opinions. Whatever it is, staying in a marriage that you aren’t committed to is a surefire ticket to eventual divorce.
  • Codependency is unhealthy. All human beings need their own lives, interests, hobbies and opportunities to express themselves. If you feel completely reliant on your spouse and don’t know how to live your life alone, this is a sign that you are losing your individuality and need to get out of the marriage.
  • Many people become lost in their marriage and forget their single friends and single interests. When children come into the mix, many parents start neglecting or forgetting the fact that they are a couple. Eventually children grow up and need less care. When this happens many spouses realize that they’ve grown apart and all they have in common is their children.
  • When you and your partner have different expectations of a marriage it’s going to make things difficult. Maybe your spouse expects you to do all of the housework without contributing or you have completely different ideas about spending money. If you’re not on the same page, the marriage is likely going to fail.
  • Sometimes in a marriage, intimacy and romance fades away. Both men and women require sexual and romantic receptivity to feel wanted and fulfilled in a marriage. When these desires lessen on either side, it can cause partners to withdraw due to feeling unloved and unappreciated. When these feelings cannot be repaired it often leads to divorce.

Fathers’ Rights in a Divorce

Due to historical gender roles where women were considered the primary caregiver, it is still most common for mothers to be granted primary custody instead of fathers. This gender bias often leaves many caring and involved fathers disconnected from their children. If you are a father going through a divorce, you should know that you have natural rights and responsibilities regarding your children during and after divorce. These rights do not need to be court ordered, they are guaranteed by the United States constitution and the laws of your individual state from the moment you became a father.

Unless a court rules otherwise, your rights as a father include the following:

  • Being an involved influence in your children’s lives, interacting and spending time with them
  • Loving and nurturing the children without harassment from the other parent
  • Deciding where your children will live
  • Participating in the parenting of your children
  • Access to your children’s school and medical records
  • Participating in children’s extracurricular activities
  • Custody, care and control of your children
  • Choosing your children’s school
  • Determining your children’s religious faith
  • Making decisions about your children’s medical and dental care
  • Following your own beliefs and parenting style without interference
  • Guiding and disciplining your children
  • Choosing what is best for the children

Along with these rights, fathers have the following responsibilities as a parent:

  • Supporting children
  • Providing food, shelter and clothing
  • Seeing that children receive appropriate medical treatment
  • Giving your children access to good schooling
  • Protecting children from harm and neglect
  • Fostering their relationship with the other parent
  • Giving them all the love, nurturing and encouragement you possibly can
  • Keeping in contact with your child
  • Doing everything within your power to keep your marital problems and negative feelings from impacting your child
  • Behaving in a manner that helps your child trust you

You have the same legal rights as your child’s mother before and during the divorce. As a father you have the right to stay in the home you share with your children. You also have the legal right to refuse to allow their mother to remove them from the home. No matter what your ex-wife wants, your right to father your children is constitutionally protected.

How Juvenile Court is Different from Adult Court

The juvenile justice system is different than the normal criminal justice system. Juvenile court deals with minors who have been accused of violating a criminal statute and the proceedings are civil, rather than criminal like in an adult case. Juvenile offenders are accused of committing a delinquent act instead of being formally charged with a criminal offense.

When a prosecutor or probation officer files a civil petition that charges the juvenile with violating a criminal law, the juvenile case will officially begin. If charges are proved in juvenile court and the youth is determined a delinquent, the offender will come under the power of the courts. After this, the juvenile court has complete authority to do what it considers in the best interest of the juvenile delinquent. Juvenile court will usually maintain legal authority until the juvenile becomes an adult, but in some cases they will retain legal power for even longer.

Who is Eligible for Juvenile Court?

In most states, any youth under the age of 18 is considered a juvenile. However, in some states the age is 16 or 17, and in Wyoming the maximum age is 19. Most states consider children under the age of seven incapable of determining the difference between right and wrong or forming guilt. Parents pay compensation to anyone victimized by the acts of a very young child. Courts often deem parents unfit to care for a child who commits a crime at a young age and place that child into the custody of relatives or foster care. If a judge feels that a child was capable of forming criminal intent, they will be sent to juvenile court.

Cases in Juvenile Court

Juvenile delinquency cases: This involves minors who commit crimes, meaning offenses that an adult would be tried for in regular criminal court. Procedures in juvenile court are significantly different from those in adult criminal court.
Juvenile dependency cases: These cases involve minors who are abused or neglected by parents or guardians. The judge will ultimately decide whether or not the minor should be removed from a problematic home environment.
Cases involving status offenses: This only applies to minors and involves offenses like truancy, curfew violations, running away and underage drinking.

Common Juvenile Offenses

More than half of juvenile arrests are made for the following violations:

  • Theft
  • Simple assault
  • Drug abuse
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Curfew violations

Only about three percent of cases heard in juvenile court are violent offenses like rape, robbery, murder and aggravated assault.

Generally, the vast majority of juvenile court cases have involved male offenders, but the number of girls entering the system has risen in recent years. Girls now account for 27 percent of all juveniles facing proceeding in juvenile courts in the United States.

Juvenile Court Procedures

The procedures in juvenile court are drastically different from those of adult criminal court. The police, prosecutors, juvenile court intake officials and court judges have broad discretion to take more informal steps when handling the case. As a result of this, many young offenders never reach the point of a formal hearing. Juveniles do have the right to an attorney, but in most states they don’t have the right to have their case heard by a jury. Serious offenses are transferred to adult court in a procedure called a waiver. In these cases, juveniles have the right to a hearing.

Modifying Your Child Custody Agreement

In the United States, there are two parts to custody: physical and legal. Physical custody refers to where the children physically live and legal custody refers to the parent having the right to make important decisions about the child. Unless there is violence in the family, the child has special needs, the parents live far apart or there is another extenuating circumstance relevant, joint custody is presumed to be in the best interest of the child. A child custody agreement is legally binding and demands that both parents share the child according to the terms of that agreement.

However, there are cases when someone might want to modify child custody in the best interest of the child’s safety and well-being. The court will typically only change a custody agreement if something dramatically different is happening with one parent, referred to as a “material change in circumstances.” Material changes include a long-distance move, change in living conditions, change in the environment or a change in the parent’s ability to provide a decent home and good care for the child.

A specific example of a material change that would warrant custody modification: The primary parent was completely fit to provide care during the time of the original agreement, but has since developed an addiction to drugs or alcohol which inhibits them from caring for the child properly.

Modification Time Frame

The court usually considers it best for children to have consistency, and for this reason, most will not make a change within a certain time frame of the creation of the original agreement. The waiting period will vary by each state, but one to two years is most common. Of course, if a child is in imminent danger the process will be sped up so they can be safely relocated to a responsible caregiver.

Essential Questions for Modification

General factors to question:

  • Parents’ conduct and moral standards
  • Which parent is more likely to act in the child’s best interest
  • Which parent will allow the child frequent, continuing contact with the other
  • The depth, quality and overall nature of the parent-child relationship

More specific questions:

  • Will joint legal custody or joint physical custody be better for the child’s physical, psychological and emotional needs?
  • Which parent has the better ability to give first priority to the child’s welfare?
  • Are the parents able to reach shared decisions in the child’s best interest?
  • Can both parents encourage and accept a positive relationship between the child and other parent?
  • What is the distance between the parents’ homes?
  • What are the child’s preferences?
  • Are the parents mature and willing enough to protect the child from their own conflict?
  • Can parents cooperate with each other and make joint decisions?
  • Is there any history or future potential of child abuse, spousal abuse or kidnapping?

Custody Settlements for a Special Needs Child

Raising a child with special needs requires patience, love and of course, money. While raising children in 2016 is expensive by default (approximately $245,340 from birth until age 18} the cost of raising a special needs child can often quadruple those expenses. Doctors’ visits, hospitalization, medical equipment, therapy, special education, medications, caregivers– these costs add up to hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, of dollars. This financial stress often puts serious strain on a marriage and as a result, parents of special needs children have a higher divorce rate than the overall population.

Divorce is already a complicated situation when there are children involved. Adding a special needs child into the mix creates an even more delicate situation. Custody decisions must be made completely based upon what is best for the child, and there are various factors you should consider when faced with this choice.

Come to an agreement regarding the child’s needs

Parents often disagree about how to raise children and address their needs. With a special needs child, it is even more essential to come to an agreement quickly. Determine where the areas of disagreement are in order to properly address the future needs and care of the child as part of the divorce case.

Determine if the special needs child will require support after age 18

The severity of disabilities can vary greatly. When a case is extreme, there is no debate whether or not the child will need continuing support as an adult. Child support will be continued indefinitely in this case. However, you cannot always determine whether the child needs support beyond high school. If the court does not recognize the need for permanent support then the burden will be on the primary caregiver. When an adult disabled child needs support beyond the lives of their parents it increases expenses and creates unique challenges.

Create a parenting plan

Whichever party receives full custody is going to know more about the child’s disability. If you are sharing custody, it is vital to educate your ex-spouse on the daily care of your child. You need to spell out all the essential information: managing behaviors, monitoring food, adapting physical surroundings, medication schedules or the preferences of a nonverbal child.

Educate yourself on public benefits planning

Your child might be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (cash benefits for individuals with disabilities) so alimony and child support must be organized within your child’s benefit eligibility. A family law attorney will work with a special needs attorney and an experienced financial adviser to make sure you receive all of your child’s monetary entitlements. Child support payments can affect government benefit programs like SSI and Medicaid, so it’s critical to address these issues during the divorce process.

Additional Questions

There are several other questions you and your ex-spouse need to address when handling the custody of your special needs child. These questions include:

  • With whom will the child live?
  • How much contact will the non-primary parent have?
  • Does the school district where the child attends have a residency requirement?
  • Can the child make smooth or frequent transitions between houses?
  • Does the child have access to the other parent at all times?
  • Can the child be away from home/the primary parent for extended periods of time?
  • If there is more than one child in the household, how will parenting time be split up?
  • Who will pay child support and in what amount?

Deciding Who Gets Custody of Pets in a Divorce

When you think of custody in a divorce, it’s likely that children come to mind immediately, but what about pets? Nowadays, most people consider cats and dogs to be family members, rather than just another asset to divide up. We all love and care about our animals and don’t want to be without them, so how do we deal with custody? Since there is no actual law about pet custody in a divorce, this can be tricky, and the issue of pet custody can often cause almost as much drama and distress as custody of children.

Tips from Our Legal Experts

If you’re going through a divorce and you’re worried about losing custody of your furry loved one, here are a few realistic questions you should ask in order to make a wise decision:

Who is living in the family house?

If one of you is going to stay in the house your pet is used to, that might be a sign that they should have prominent custody. Pets, especially dogs, need space to run around and play. If one of you is moving to a small apartment, it is smarter and healthier for the dog to stay in a house with a backyard and space to be active.

Who spends the most time with the pets?

Consider who it is that takes the pet to the vet, who buys food and supplies, who takes the dog on a walk and who just generally spends the most time playing and caring for the pet. If one party is more involved with the animal than the other, it’s in the pet’s best interest for that person to receive full custody. It’s also normal for the ex-spouse who is awarded custody of children to receive custody of pets as well, since keeping family pets around establishes some normalcy for the children.

Whose lifestyle is more conducive to caring for a pet?

People who travel often for work or deal with a demanding job and long commute don’t have as much time to take care of their pets. If your lifestyle doesn’t have room for a pet, don’t risk neglecting your cat or dog and accept that your ex-spouse is a better caretaker for the animal.

What is your motivation for wanting the pet?

Think about it: Do you really want the pet or are you just trying to get custody out of resentment? While a cat or a dog is not the same as a child, they are still living things that deserve your affection and full commitment, so if you don’t really want the pet to live with you it is best that you don’t fight for custody.

Is a joint-custody situation possible?

In some cases, when both parties are equally dedicated, people can agree to joint custody over pets. This means that if you are the person with full custody and you go on a vacation or you’re unable to take care of the pet due to illness, you can rely on your ex-spouse as a pet-sitter. The situation ensures that your pet will always be taken care of by someone who loves them and never left alone for a long period of time.