Spousal support that lasts more than a couple years may be subject to cost of living adjustments (COLAs). This is negotiated as part of your divorce settlement. As the cost of living goes up, spousal support can increase as well, to meet its intent of maintaining the ex-spouse’s standard of living. Fortunately, the State of Minnesota’s Office on the Economic Status of Women (OESW) provides a booklet that contains a worksheet and instructions for calculating the cost of living increase for spousal support, as well as child support. The OESW’s A Guide to Child Support & Spousal Maintenance Cost-of-Living Adjustments also has template forms for notifying the paying ex-spouse of the increase and an Affidavit of Service by Mail form. Why an Affidavit of Service by Mail form? Because if the paying ex-spouse does not increase the support as requested, the affidavit is proof that they had been notified. All these forms and worksheets should also be filed with the court administrator where the decree was filed. This is a lot of paperwork, but OESW’s guide also has a checklist to make sure all of the involved parties get the correct documents. One additional piece of information needed to complete the COLA calculations is the Consumer Price Index Table. This table is also maintained and available for download at the OESW website. The index numbers on this table are used to show the increase in the cost of goods and services over time. These index numbers are used in the calculations to determine how much spousal support (and child support) should increase to keep up. The table shows over 20 years of data but, if one is being diligent about requesting increases, only the index numbers from the past couple of years should be needed. The Consumer Price Index Table contains sets of price index numbers: the CPI-U shows how much prices have increased on average for the entire United States; the CPI-U MSP shows how much prices have increased in the Twin Cities Metropolitan area. Your divorce decree will likely indicate which set of index numbers you should use. Note that while using the CPI-U MSP can most accurately reflect the increase in prices in Minnesota, this set is updated twice a year, in January and July, and it takes an additional month for the updated figure to be published. OESW’s A Guide to Child Support & Spousal Maintenance Cost-of-Living Adjustments is easy to follow and doesn’t require too many calculations. If you are not good at math or filling out forms, it is a good idea to get help from a financial professional or your family law attorney. Link to the Guide Link to the Consumer Price Index Table
How 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.
When parents think about divorce, thoughts often go to their children. How do we tell them? Will they adjust to having two homes instead of one? How will we pay their expenses? Will my ex and I be able to communicate well enough to co-parent effectively? This is unfamiliar territory, and thinking about these questions can feel overwhelming. Having a team of experienced professionals supporting you as you and your spouse move through the divorce process can make it less scary. In addition to having your own attorneys, the Collaborative Process uses neutral specialists who assist you in answering questions like these. How to tell our children about our divorce? A neutral child specialist helps you create a “we statement” for telling your children about your becoming unmarried. Your children will remember this moment for the rest of their lives, so you want to do it together, thoughtfully and with intention. The child specialist continues to work with you and your children in creating a parenting plan unique to your kids’ ages, needs and personalities. As part of your parenting plan, you and your spouse can agree to return to the child specialist for guidance if parenting issues arise in the future. How will we pay for our child’s expenses? A neutral financial specialist assists you in putting together a plan for sharing your children’s expenses. Rather than relying upon a generic child support calculator, you and your spouse openly discuss your children’s future expenses. For some couples, contributing to a joint children’s checking account makes the most sense. For others, having each parent take responsibility for certain expenses is more practical. By having a healthy discussion, you and your spouse can come up with a plan that fits your unique situation. Will we be able to communicate effectively for our future needs? A neutral coach helps you and your spouse understand and manage your emotions during the divorce process and can also guide you in methods to improve your post-divorce communications. Avoiding these conversations can leave you feeling angry and resentful, making it impossible to fully enjoy future events such as holidays, graduations, and weddings. By finding a way to move forward with your life with a positive attitude, you will make your children’s lives easier as well. If you are interested in learning more about the Collaborative Process, visit our website at www.colllaborativelaw.org to schedule a free consultation.
Professionals who work with divorcing couples know that it is rare for couples to be at the same place in terms of deciding whether the marriage needs to end. In almost every case, there is one spouse who has taken more time to think about the life of the marriage and how it may have become damaging to both parents and children. What are some tips for those who have given the subject a great deal of thought, and think the future could be brighter in two homes?
- Make sure your spouse knows that you have heard their own complaints. On a consistent basis, when they start to complain about your behavior, let them know you understand they are unhappy also, and that you want them to be happy as much as you want to be happy. Life is short, and going around in circles over what can’t be fixed is wasted time. It’s important to acknowledge with respect that you may not be able to meet each other’s needs, even if you were able to do so at one time.
- Do your research. Find ways to approach a potential divorce as positive as possible, and will not end in your family’s ruin. Collaborative Divorce is a professional team approach to solving family differences which focuses on creating the smartest solution possible – with an intentional financial plan, and parenting plan. Find a way to contain the amount of time you need to make decisions, to contain the cost and get the smartest solution possible for your family. Share the positive aspects of your research with your spouse.
- Find a safe place to talk. This may NOT be your kitchen table, or the local coffee shop. It may be in the office of a family specialist with the knowledge and skill to create a therapeutic setting for tough conversations. Talk with respected friends and colleagues who may know a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), Licensed Social Worker (LICSW), Psychologist (LP) or other mental health professional who understands the dynamics of family systems and has a positive, proven approach.
The myths and misunderstandings about divorce could make you act in ways that would hurt you in your divorce. Here are some of the most common myths and how actions based on those myths could impact the final divorce terms. 1. LEAVE THE HOUSE, YOU LOSE IT. A home purchased during the marriage is a marital asset whether or not you are living in the home at the time of the divorce. Its value is included in the final property division. You don’t lose that value by leaving the home. In fact, most couples have a hard time living in the same residence during the divorce and many people need to separate during this time. However, who is living in the home at the time of a court hearing on the issue of temporary occupancy of the home will have an advantage. While the divorce is going on, it will be harder to get a court order transferring temporary occupancy away from the spouse then residing in the home. 2. EMPTY OUT THE BANK ACCOUNTS. What you owned before the divorce started is what will be included in the marital estate to be divided in the divorce. You and your spouse will most likely get one half of your marital assets in your divorce. If you fear that your spouse will empty out your accounts, it is acceptable for you to take out one-half and deposit these funds in a new account in your name alone. Taking all of the funds will be negatively viewed by the court. 3. QUIT YOUR JOB, LOWER YOUR INCOME. If you have earned income during the marriage, your income history will be the bench mark for any court orders on financial support, including child support and spousal support. If you have a job, don’t quit it or take action to reduce your earnings. The court can impute income you would have earned if you had not taken those actions. Both of your potential earnings are considered in any court decision on support, so even if you have not been earning income recently, your potential earnings are relevant. If you apply for jobs and show recent history of efforts to seek employment, the court has a basis for a finding on whether or not you could earn potential income. If the result of your efforts is obtaining employment, that is a good result. For most families facing the increased costs of two households, extra income will be needed after the divorce. You should be maximizing, not minimizing income. 4. TAKE THE KIDS AND RUN. Unless you or your children’s physical safety is at risk, hiding them from your spouse can actually hurt you in a custody dispute. You can move out with your children but, unless their safety is at risk if they have contact with your spouse, you should make sure your spouse has contact and parenting time with them after the separation. In a disputed custody case, an important issue will be how each parent supports the children’s relationship with the other parent. If you have kept the children away from your spouse and denied parenting time, that could hurt you in a custody case. 5. SPEND A LOT. Your standard of living and spending during the marriage is what the court will look at, not inflated spending after the divorce starts. If spending around the time of the divorce is unusually high, the court has the power to call that spending a dissipation of marital assets and can reduce the property settlement awarded to the spouse found to have dissipated assets. Again, most families have more expenses for two households after a divorce and so you should be reducing, not increasing your spending. Your friends and relatives may have advice about what you should do if you are thinking about divorce. Get some advice from a professional experienced in divorce issues before you take action.
Prenuptial agreements – “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” For people planning their wedding, the thought of entering into a prenuptial agreement may seem unromantic and pessimistic. It addresses what would happen if your marriage doesn’t work out. But a well thought out prenuptial agreement can give you and your spouse control over the terms of your divorce, if that should happen, helping you avoid future litigation, and it also can be a process for discovering your expectations and views about financial issues. In Minnesota, to enter into a valid and enforceable prenuptial agreement, you must sign a written agreement before two witnesses and a notary public before you are married. The agreement must include a full disclosure of each person’s income and property and a statement that each has had an opportunity to consult with legal counsel of their choice before signing the agreement. The better practice is to enter into such an agreement well before the wedding date so each of you has an opportunity to consult with their own attorney. The issues which are most often addressed in prenuptial agreements are deciding how property and debts existing at the time of marriage and acquired during the marriage will be divided in the event of divorce. Some agreements address whether there will be spousal support (alimony) awarded in a divorce and how much will be awarded. These agreements are generally enforced by Minnesota courts unless there are extreme inequities resulting from enforcement at the time of the divorce. Agreements on child custody and child support are not enforceable as part of prenuptial agreements in Minnesota. The court in a divorce examines the best interests of the children at the time of the divorce in deciding who should have custody, what the parenting time should be, and how much child support should be paid. Couples who have acquired substantial assets before the marriage, who have been married before and have children, or who want to preserve their estate plans for their adult children from previous marriages, enter into prenuptial agreements to ensure that their goals and financial expectations are followed in the event of a divorce. These are not the only couples who may need prenuptial agreements. For example, with the recent legalization of same-sex marriages in Minnesota, some-same sex couples contemplating marriage may need to consult with legal counsel to learn the differences in how their income and property will be treated once married under Minnesota law and whether a prenuptial agreement may be appropriate. Professionals are available for consultations on these issues. The collaborative process gives couples (not the court) the power to shape their future financial destiny. The collaborative process also ensures that the needs and interests of each person are addressed, with full disclosure of financial information, advocacy for each person and neutral professional financial and other advice. Making sure each of you have the information you need is what love has to do with it.
I heard a story about a 9-year-old girl who competed in ice skating. She told her coach that she wanted to become a lawyer when she grew up so she could help families stop fighting after divorce. “I am so sick of my parents arguing about who is going to pay for my skating tights.” Minnesota’s child support laws can calculate child support, but they do not tell you who pays for the skating tights. Or the music lessons. Or the school lunches. And sometimes parents feel resentful paying child support when they are making a payment to the other parent, and they don’t really see how that money is paying for the child. Just consider Kanye West’s song “Gold Digger”:
I know somebody payin’ child support for one of his kids His baby momma’s car crib is bigger than his You will see him on TV, any given Sunday Win the Superbowl and drive off in a Hyundai She was supposed to buy ya shorty Tyco with ya money She went to the doctor got lipo with ya moneyWhen parents are willing to step outside the courtroom to solve the issue of supporting their children, they can create custom solutions that minimize fighting. In the collaborative divorce process, we ask our families to put together budgets and we separate the children’s expenses. What are the actual expenses for your children? Things such as summer camps, sports, tutoring, clothing, cell phones,and driving lessons. Once parents have a clear picture of what the expenses are, they can talk about how to pay for these expenses. One creative solution many of our clients adopt is an account for the children’s expenses. The parents designate a joint account, decide how to fund the account and how to handle payments from the account. So when Susie is at mom’s house and says she needs to bring a check for school lunches, mom can write a check from the joint account. When dad takes Billy shopping for new soccer cleats, he can pay with a debit card from the joint account. The parents can talk about the actual expenses and revise their budget as the needs of their children change. And no one is taking child support to get plastic surgery like in Kanye’s song.