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.

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.

Should I Opt for a Prenuptial Agreement?

We often associate prenuptial agreements with the short-lived marriages of Hollywood stars, but nowadays many “regular” couples are choosing to sign prenuptial agreements. In 2013, 1,600 members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers were surveyed and 63 percent reported an increase in prenuptial agreements over the course of three years.

The Pros of a Prenuptial Agreement

Though, a prenup is not the most romantic thing in the world, this document can protect both parties in the event of a divorce, or the death of a spouse. Prenuptial agreements can prevent nasty, expensive court battles and protect each spouse’s premarital assets from being claimed by the other spouse. It was also protects the income and assets that are acquired during the course of the marriage. Without prenuptial agreements, a party may have to pay child support or alimony, but a prenuptial agreement can establish an agreed amount or eliminate it completely from becoming a cause for litigation in the future.

A prenuptial agreement can, of course, be difficult emotionally. However, it is nowhere near as emotionally corrosive as the pain that can be caused by an ugly divorce, especially when there are children involved. Enduring this emotional discomfort early on can prevent years of devastating later on. Prenuptial agreements have been suggested to strengthen a marriage, since it allows each spouse to become aware of where they stand financially. This benefits an individual by providing them with some protection against the unknown of the future. The rights of children from the marriage or relationship can be protected through a prenuptial agreement, and you can even decide how to handle individual financial debts like student loans or credit card bills.

The Cons of a Prenuptial Agreement

In a first marriage, a prenuptial can create permanent friction between spouses and families. Some prenuptial agreements are unnecessary, too broad and mean-spirited, often welcoming marital selfishness and creating a destructive atmosphere. Prenuptial agreements often occur on an uneven playing field, where one spouse has significantly more money or assets than the other. This can lead one spouse to feel selfish and unkind and the other to feel like the victim of an unfair agreement.

The initial prenuptial agreements can be harsh, most state the each party’s past and future assets and income belong to the party alone, except for intentional joint property. This agreement has no inheritance requirement if the couple is still married when one partner dies and there is also often an alimony waiver. Furthermore, a prenuptial agreement can increase the belief that you and your spouse aren’t fully committed to making the marriage work even when things get difficult.

Do I Need a Prenuptial Agreement?

Approximately 75 percent of American marriages end in divorce, so a prenuptial agreement is a realistic decision to make rather than a romantic one. If you want to protect your assets and finances and avoid heartbreak, grief and stress, a prenuptial agreement is an extremely wise decision to make. Keep in mind that both parties must voluntarily enter into the agreement in order for it to be valid and that no prenuptial agreement can violate criminal law or public policy.

Tips for Ex-Spouses on Successfully Co-Parenting Children

Parenting your children with an ex-spouse is a challenge that involves open communication with someone you don’t get along with, and in some cases, someone you can hardly stand to be in the same room with. Even if this is the case, your children haven’t done anything wrong and they deserve to be cared for by both of their parents in equal measure.

Fortunately the legal team at The Huntsman Firm has some advice for divorced parents on how to successfully co-parent their children without argument or drama:

    • Establish a business-like relationship with your ex
    • Give your ex the benefit of the doubt
    • Do not discuss disputes or speak ill of the other parent around your children
    • Respect the other parent ‘s privacy and don’t tap your children for information about their household, life, friends, income, etc.
    • Both spouses need to acknowledge their children’s sadness, confusion, guilt and feelings of abandonment and talk to them about those feelings
    • Make sure your children know that they are not guilty of anything and both parents love them equally
    • Bury the hatchet, stop being defensive and call a truce
    • Remain a good example for your kids
    • Don’t hesitate to seek professional therapy
    • Keep open communication open with your children

Separate Feelings from Behavior

Being hurt and angry in a divorce is natural, but these feelings shouldn’t dictate your behavior. If you’re upset, don’t vent to your children. Talk to a friend, therapist or another family member if you need to get something off your chest. Always keep your child’s best interests at heart and this might help you keep calm and resist becoming overwhelmed by anger. You can also breathe deeply, practice meditation and exercise to remain stable and collected.

It’s also essential to never, ever put your children into the middle of the situation. Your resentment and bitterness towards an ex is natural, but you need to keep those feelings distanced from your children. Children should never be used as messengers or placed in a mediator position.

Why Hire a Lawyer for an Amicable Divorce?

Handshake man - women

So you are considering a divorce. But you also realize that this is an amicable situation. So why is it necessary to involve lawyers if both parties agree to the terms and conditions of the divorce?

The fact of the matter is, divorces are not usually so cut and dry. And these are the type of things that you will really want to read the small print. Lawyers study for years to be able to understand the wording and significance of different agreements and while you may not want to get anyone else involved, you will most likely be saving yourself future pain and frustration.

Like in most big decisions, you’re agreeing to the terms have some big consequences. You will need the help of someone who can advocate for you for custody rights, the division of property and assets, and other issues. Especially if either party wants to file a modification later on. In that case, you will want to have someone on your side who is familiar with your experience.

Though you may consider the divorce amicable, if it turns out to be not-as-amicable as you thought later on, you are taking some risks. The simple truth of the matter is that in order to protect yourself from being taken advantage of, you need the help of experts. Come to the Huntsman Firm and protect your future.