72472453-wedding-cake-visual-metaphor-with-figurine-gettyimagesAn annulment is a legal process to end a marriage. An annulment is different from a divorce, however. An annulment treats the marriage as if it never took place. In Minnesota, a marriage may be annulled under any of the following circumstances:
  1. One party lacked capacity to voluntarily consent to the marriage. The inability to consent could be due to mental incapacity or infirmity, and the other party did not know this at the time of the marriage ceremony. The lack of consent could be due to the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other incapacitating substances. The consent could have been involuntary because it was obtained by force or fraud, and the parties did not subsequently voluntarily cohabitate.
  1. One party lacks the physical capacity to consummate the marriage by sexual intercourse and the other party did not know this at the time of the marriage ceremony.
  1. One of the parties was under the legal age for marriage. If otherwise competent, a person who is 18 years of age may enter into a civil marriage. A person who is 16 years of age may be able to enter into a valid marriage with parental consent and judicial approval.
In addition, the seeking of an annulment must be commenced within certain time limits, depending upon the underlying circumstances. Anyone interested in seeking an annulment of marriage should consult with an attorney for a more detailed explanation of the annulment process.
183341330-stressed-young-couple-relocation-gettyimagesA lot of confusion exists about the terms “separation” and “legal separation” under Minnesota law. While both refer to a change in marital status, they have distinct meanings, processes, and consequences. “Separation” means only that you are living in different residences. Minnesota law allows spouses to live separately while still married. Separation works best if the ongoing responsibilities for care of the children, financial support, and bill payment have been discussed and agreed upon. While separation does not involve a legal proceeding, there may be legal consequences to living apart. Therefore, it is a good idea to consult with an attorney before separating to better understand your options. “Legal separation” does require court involvement. In fact, in Minnesota a proceeding for legal separation is very similar to one for divorce. While the law does not require that divorcing couples live separately, parenting time, child support, and spousal maintenance must be addressed in the final court order. A legal separation can also include the division of assets and debts. The major difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that after becoming legally separated you and your spouse are still married to each other. Because the cost, timing and issues involved are similar to a divorce, it is much less common. Couples who do legally separate usually do so due to religious beliefs against divorce. Because a number of detailed legal documents must be drafted, signed, and filed with the court, a lawyer’s help is essential if you decide to seek a legal separation.    
173132360I find that what my clients want most is to return to a happy, peaceful life. Divorce is a place of upheaval with many unknowns. Will my kids be okay? Where will I live? Will I be able to make ends meet? Will I ever be able to retire? These questions and more interfere with the normal rhythms of life. The fear and anxiety of not knowing the answers cause distraction at work and sleeplessness at night. How can peace of mind be restored? A good place to start is the practice of acceptance. By acceptance I mean merely acknowledging what is, without judgment or wanting it to be different … without resistance. Whenever you find yourself feeling a negative emotion such as anger or frustration, it is likely you are resisting an external circumstance … wishing that something or someone were different. While it is natural for human beings to resist the unpleasant, a lot of time and energy can be spent trying to control external circumstances beyond our control. Acceptance is merely acknowledging those circumstances and allowing what is in life to be as it is, without judging it as good or bad, or wanting it to be different. Practicing acceptance can help you let go of the pain, stress, anger and anxiety that inevitably accompany divorce. Here are a few reminders:
  1. Acceptance does not mean giving up. Empowered action comes from a place of clarity and serenity.
  2. You can’t change other people, but you can change your response to them. While what your former spouse or partner thinks or feels is beyond your control, your mindful response to a situation can have a powerful effect.
  3. Resistance can get in the way of solutions. The inner stillness that comes with acceptance enhances your openness to previously unseen possibilities.
Genuine and lasting happiness and peace come from within. You alone are in control of how you will experience life moving forward from this very moment. It is your choice not to suffer. Finally, here is a quote that has helped me through many of life’s challenging moments: “Letting go doesn’t mean we don’t care. Letting go doesn’t mean we shut down. Letting go means we stop trying to force outcomes and make people behave. It means we give up resistance to the way things are, for the moment. It means we stop trying to do the impossible–controlling that which we cannot–and instead, focus on what is possible–which usually means taking care of ourselves. And we do this in gentleness, kindness, and love, as much as possible.” -Melody Beattie
1. Forcing Your Kids to Take Sides The last thing a parent wants to do during a divorce is to cause more pain for the children. Divorce is a painful time during which many negative emotions can arise, including anger, fear, regret and grief. Often there is a perceived need to blame the other party for one’s unhappiness, together with a desire to hold your children close. However, keep in mind that putting your kids in the middle is harmful to them. Resist the urge to blame and criticize your spouse in your kids’ presence. Don’t force your kids to take sides or to report on the other parent’s activities. No matter how difficult it may seem, the best thing you can do for your kids during a divorce is to remind them that both of their parents love them and will always be there for them. 2. Engaging in an Adversarial Divorce Divorce is a major life event. It is the legal recognition that your marriage is over. Unless your situation is unusually simple (short marriage with no children and few assets and liabilities), each party should have an attorney to provide advice and to make sure that the required documentation is accurate and complete. For most couples, the divorce process can be completed without setting foot in a courthouse. Using skilled neutrals in the Collaborative Process or mediation helps to avoid the polarization that often takes place in more adversarial processes. Better post-divorce communication, lower divorce costs and less resentment are other benefits of no-court divorce processes. 3. Having Unrealistic Financial Expectations Divorce means creating two households in place of one. Most couples are struggling to make ends meet before separation. Creating a plan to support both households can be challenging. Unless income can be increased, down-sizing and belt-tightening are often required. There must also be a plan to pay divorce costs. Understanding these challenges going into divorce can provide both parties with a reality check and allow the divorce process to go more quickly and smoothly. 4. Forgetting to Consider Tax Implications Many of the financial decisions made in divorce have tax consequences, some more obvious than others. When dividing marital assets, it is important to recognize that some assets may actually be worth less than face value due to future income tax liabilities. Most retirement accounts, for example, have been funded with pre-tax earnings, meaning that withdrawals will be taxed and, depending upon the timing, may have early-withdrawal penalties as well. Stock portfolios will likely be subject to capital gains taxes upon liquidation. On the cash flow side, dependency exemptions and characterization of support payments (child support or spousal maintenance) impact the amount of after-tax cash each party has available to meet living expenses. It is essential to get competent advice during the divorce process in order to avoid unexpected surprises down the road.
186858906How to provide financially for children after divorce has been a much-discussed topic for decades. Courts have traditionally used child support guidelines established by state government to calculate a monthly payment from one parent to the other. The Minnesota guideline child support calculator incorporates a number of variables, including both parents’ incomes, number of children, parenting time percentages, and children’s medical and day care costs, in arriving at a monthly payment amount. While statutory formulas produce a number, they don’t always resolve the issue. Many unanswered questions may remain, such as: “Is summer camp included in my child support payment?” “Do I have to contribute toward dance lessons on top of my child support?” “Our child needs private tutoring … does my ex have to pay half?” “Who pays for hockey equipment and ice time?” Ambiguity often results in conflict. Some couples return to court again and again to try to resolve questions like these. The emotional and financial costs of repeated court appearances add up in a hurry. The Collaborative divorce process takes a different approach toward paying the children’s direct and indirect expenses. Parents compile a list of their kids’ direct expenses (clothing, haircuts, school lunches, daycare, summer camps, extracurricular activities, etc.) and then discuss options for paying these expenses. Some couples decide to fund a joint children’s account to be used solely for enumerated expenses. Others divide the expenses with mom paying some and dad paying some. Others decide to use the guideline calculator, spelling out how any additional expenses will be covered. Indirect expenses (housing and food) are included in each parent’s budget and are usually part of a more general discussion about support. Collaborative support agreements typically include periodic reviews allowing for adjustments as parents’ incomes and the children’s needs change. Plans like these can preemptively avoid repeated unpleasant discussions in the years following divorce. If you are interested in learning more about the Collaborative process, please visit The Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota’s website.
182021502The Collaborative divorce process is one of many ways to divorce. It’s not for everyone. So how do you know whether it is right for you and your spouse or partner? Here are a few questions to help you decide:
  • Do you want your children to be in the center rather than in the middle?
  • Do you want your lawyer to be a wise counselor rather than a hired gun?
  • Are you willing to be in the same room with your spouse or partner?
  • Are you able to speak for yourself and articulate your own goals and interests?
  • Are you open to solutions that respect both your and your spouse’s interests?
  • Do you want to focus on future solutions rather than past disagreements?
  • Do you want a comfortable co-parenting relationship with your former spouse?
  • Are you willing to experience and live with some discomfort at times during your divorce?
  • Do you want solutions that take into consideration the uniqueness of your family?
  • Do you want to model healthy dispute resolution for your children, friends and family?
  • Do you want to be able to look back on your divorce and feel good about both the outcome and how you handled yourself during the process?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, another, more traditional divorce process may be a better choice for you. Collaborative divorce is best-suited for couples who understand the value of divorcing well. How you divorce greatly impacts your children’s well-being and your own ability to move forward in life without resentment. If you answered “yes” to these questions, the Collaborative divorce process may be a good choice for you. To find out more, go to www.collaborativelaw.org and contact a Collaborative professional.
482285789I recently attended a symposium about divorce entitled, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” At first glance you might wonder whether we had anything to talk about. What do love and divorce have in common? Isn’t divorce the result of the loss of love? Sharing ideas with others interested in improving the divorce process reinforced my belief that love, forgiveness and compassion are the keys to divorcing well, and that divorce can indeed be a healing process. Divorce is an all-too-common event these days. We all have friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers who have experienced becoming unmarried. Some just barely survive and are stuck looking back at their divorce with regret and resentment. Years later they continue to bad-mouth their ex and blame their divorce for their ongoing unhappiness. Their inability to be present and available has long-term consequences for their children as well. Most of us also know people who not only survive, but thrive in their post-divorce lives. They are somehow able to accept the major changes in their day-to-day lives and move forward. By doing so, they are healthy role models for their children and fun to be around.  What accounts for these vastly different outcomes? Personality certainly has something to do with it. Some humans are blessed with more optimistic outlooks than others. Seeing the glass half full reduces anxiety about the future. Life circumstances also play a role. Good health, steady employment, and a healthy balance sheet contribute to feeling better about what lies ahead. However, several decades of experience tells me that one factor trumps everything else in terms of one’s ability to recover from divorce … the ability to forgive. Anger, bitterness, blame and resentment are feelings associated with the loss of a loving relationship. Grieving the loss is necessary in order to get on with life. Tara Brach, a leading western teacher of Buddhist meditation, emotional healing and spiritual awakening, who was a symposium presenter, says, “Vengeance is a lazy form of grief.” Rather than being lazy and stuck, working through one’s grief with a therapist, clergy person, or trusted friend can lead to understanding and forgiveness. Acknowledgment and forgiveness of one’s own contributions to the divorce are essential, as is forgiveness of the other person. In the Collaborative divorce process, our professional team includes a neutral coach and a child specialist, both of whom assist the parties in reaching closure with regard to their marriage and defining their future co-parenting relationship. “When you forgive somebody who has wronged you, you’re spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride. For both parties, forgiveness means the freedom again to be at peace inside their own skins and to be glad in each others’ presence.” -Fredrick Buechner
153886436Divorce can be scary for kids. They may feel alone. They may feel responsible. They may feel sad. Parents may find it difficult to initiate conversations about the changes going on in the family. Very young children may be fearful and confused about having two homes instead of just one. Fortunately, there are a number of children’s books available that can help young ones open up about their feelings. Here is a list of books my clients have found helpful: All of these books are available for purchase online. They may be available at your local library.
Divorce is one of life’s most stressful events. In fact, research shows that ending a marriage is second only to the death of a spouse as a predictor of illness. So in order to stay healthy, it makes sense to incorporate stress-reduction techniques early and often throughout the process. Here are three suggestions:
  1. Find an emotional outlet. It is common to focus on the loss you feel at the end of a relationship. While you may be tempted to suppress these unpleasant feelings, doing so will prevent you from moving past them. Make an effort to confront your negative emotions by talking them out with supportive friends or a therapist. It is normal to want to isolate yourself, but relationships are important. The end of your marriage does not mean that you must go through life alone. Putting your thoughts and fears on paper can also help you articulate your feelings and gain some clarity about your past, present and future.
  2. Practice self-care. Stressful times require that you become more intentional about taking care of yourself. Eating nourishing, nutrient-rich foods will give your body the fuel it needs to maintain your energy levels. Regular exercise can lower your stress levels and provide a healthy distraction from your worries. Treating yourself to something you love, such as a round of golf or massage, can alleviate stress.  Creating space for relaxation is essential also, whether it’s reading a good book, doing yoga or mediation, or taking a nap. Self-care is essential to the healing process.
  3. Feel gratitude. A breakup is painful and can make it difficult to look past your immediate feelings of pain and loss. Taking the time at the beginning and end of each day to recognize the many gifts you have been given can increase your sense of well-being. Try pausing at various times during the day to remind yourself, “I am grateful.” Some people find it helpful to keep a gratitude journal. Consciously choosing to be grateful on a regular basis can brighten your outlook on life.
Establishing these three healthy habits can help anyone reduce stress. They can be particularly helpful if you are experiencing the disruption of divorce.
  When Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin recently announced their breakup as “consciousuncoupling”, they created quite a buzz. Comments both positive and negative streamed forth into the media. While many applauded the honesty and civility of the couple’s joint post, others were more critical, wondering, for example, whether conscious uncoupling is simply “breaking up for vegans.” As a family law attorney focused on helping families in transition, I was impressed by the couple’s joint statement. Acknowledging that they “are and always will be a family” and that they “are parents first and foremost” reveals an elevated level of consciousness. By making the public aware of a kinder, more generous approach to divorce, my hope is that this celebrity couple is raising the awareness of others considering divorce. While I understand that conscious uncoupling can refer to a variety of processes, the core principles include acceptance of mutual responsibility for the past and discussion of shared goals for the future. Divorce presents an opportunity for each partner to gain insight into his or her own patterns of behavior and how those patterns impacted the relationship. The Collaborative divorce process encourages conscious uncoupling. A neutral coach can help couples honor their feelings of grief and anger and develop a relationship plan for the future. Creating an honorable ending to one relationship improves the outlook for future relationships. If the family has children, they, too, will benefit from their parents’ healing and improved communication.