Since its inception in Minnesota 30 years ago, the Collaborative Divorce process has helped families in all 50 states and more than 25 countries find a healthier way to end their marriage without going to court.   However, this respectful alternative to contested divorce has largely remained unavailable to families in greater Minnesota.  The recent advent of virtual practice and Zoom meetings has changed this landscape and opened up new possibilities for the statewide availability of Collaborative Divorce. The Collaborative Divorce process was created in 1990.  Minnesota attorney Stu Webb, discouraged by the emotional and financial side effects of adversarial divorce, piloted a new approach in which attorneys would be involved for settlement purposes only.  Because Collaborative divorce attorneys were disqualified from going to court, these attorneys needed to become effective and creative negotiators and problem solvers.  The result was a process in which divorcing couples could design customized outcomes for their families and not go to court. As the Collaborative Divorce concept grew throughout North America and the world, it evolved into a team process.  By using specially trained neutral experts in child development, family systems and divorce-related finance in addition to their Collaborative attorneys, clients are able to bring this added expertise to their parenting and financial resolutions, and likely reduce the financial cost of their divorce.  The process is tailored to the needs of the family using professionals based on the skills and expertise they need. It has been an unfortunate reality for accessibility that specially trained Collaborative professionals are typically concentrated in metro areas, including in Minnesota.  But with the social distancing required by the pandemic, almost all divorce professionals are working with and representing clients online, typically through Zoom meetings.   This means that a couple’s distance from Collaboratively trained professionals is no longer an obstacle.  Individuals in greater Minnesota, can now have access to a full Collaborative team without leaving their homes. To learn if a Collaborative Divorce is right for you and your family, please visit the website of the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota at www.collaborativelaw.org.  There you will find detailed information about the Collaborative process, as well as names and bios of Collaborative professionals who practice this family-friendly, problem-solving, and future-focused process.  Collaboratively trained professionals will be happy to offer you free informational meetings via teleconferencing to help you make the decision about whether this process, and a particular attorney or neutral professional, feels right for your needs. Collaborative Practice Highlights:
  • The entire process is legally and ethically done outside of court
  • The result of the process is customized to the particular needs of a divorcing couple and/or family
  • Clients can build a team of Collaboratively trained attorneys, neutral financial experts, mediators and mental health professionals (coaches and child/family specialists) who focus on problem solving and dispute resolution
  • Collaborative professionals can offer specialized ala carte services in specific areas of particular need for clients, e.g., financial plans, parenting plans, conflict resolution, preparation and review of legal documents, and more.
  • Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota (CLI) website: collaborativelaw.org
  • Find a Professional: https://www.collaborativelaw.org/find-a-professional/
  • CLI Blog: collaborativedivorceoptions.com
  • CLI Mailing address: 4707 Highway 61 N, #217 | White Bear Lake, MN 55110
The Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota and the North Dakota Collaborative Law Group are nonprofit organizations focused on transforming the way families divorce by helping them create customized solutions and stay out of court. For more information or to find a Collaborative professional near you visit www.collaborativelaw.org (CLI) or www.nddivorce.com (NDCLG) About the Author: Shared by the Collaborative Law Institute of Minnesota Public Education Committee    
Frustrated with the world of politics today? Unless you are reading this from your hospital bed, having just awakened from a long coma, I am going to guess the answer is yes. Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, it’s likely that you have about had it with all of the acrimony and with the arguments being made by “the other side”. Probably the one thing we can all agree on is that everyone on “the other side” is quite disagreeable, both in their opinions and their manner of expressing their views. If you have bravely ventured out into the world of political discourse in an attempt to influence “the other side”, whether at a gathering of friends or family, or on some social media site, there is a pretty good chance you came away even more frustrated after the experience. Any naïve thoughts you may have had about the other person changing their mind likely hit a brick wall that, by the end of the exchange, had become, if anything, even stronger in its resistance. If “the other side” argued back at you there is a pretty good chance that your brick wall got fortified as well. You and “the other side” achieved the very opposite of what you both wanted to achieve, and you both were left in a state of frustration. As a divorce lawyer, I am struck by how similar all of this is to how most couples behave when they are in conflict.  I am hoping there is something about watching these political arguments that may create a true learning opportunity for these couples.  The reality that I just described; the dynamic that most arguments lead to chaos, frustration, and a deepening of divisions is an important insight. And what better time to learn it than when you are going through a divorce. Trust me, as someone who has “been through” numerous divorces, the maddening events that are playing out on the political stage, bear an amazing resemblance to conversations I have regularly observed in my office during the past three decades. Two people, seized with emotions, bent on getting another person to agree with them, stay awake at night thinking of great arguments to persuade their spouse that they are right, or worse, thinking of “good” attorneys who can do that for them. If you are in the middle of it (either politics or divorce), you are likely so caught up in your frustration with “the other side” that you have little insight about what you are doing that is actually making your life worse. However, if you are able to stand back, if only for a moment, both with the political arena and arguments with divorcing couple, it is fairly easy to see that all we are doing is pouring gas on a raging fire.  Once you come to that realization, you may find yourself wondering what the alternative might be. Our inner voice immediately retorts that “we can’t just give in”, thinking, from the standpoint of our ego, that fight or flight are the only true options. Is there a third option? There is. It has different names, but the most common phrase that negotiators use is “interest-based bargaining.” I will skip that jargon and simply call this alternative “dialogue” for the moment. Dialogue, in the sense I am using it, is one of those ideas that is simple but not easy. It starts with the idea of letting go of arguments and changing minds and focusing instead on seeking common ground or at least a basis for common understanding. What I have observed, at least with divorcing couples, is that if we can reframe the discussion away from “arguments to change minds” and on to dialogues aimed at achieving common understanding, it is possible to achieve common goals.  This type of dialogue is a central tenet of something called Collaborative Divorce.  To learn more about Collaborative Divorce, go to www.collaborativelaw.org.  In the meantime, watch what is happening on the political stage and see if there might be some valuable life lessons that will help us become a better nation, and better families. About the Author Ron Ousky, JD, is a Collaborative Attorney and mediator who has dedicated his practice to making sure that families facing conflict understand their options.  He believes that families facing divorce are in a unique situation to make a better life for their families and he is dedicated to helping them find the resources to build a better future.  For more information about his practice go to www.ousky.com
architecture-family-house-front-yard-106399It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway…divorces are complicated! There are many questions that an experienced mortgage professional can help answer before you finalize your divorce. For example: Can one of us afford the family home or do we need to sell it? Will I have enough income to qualify for a mortgage after the divorce? Is my credit score good enough to qualify? Will I have enough assets to refinance or purchase a new home? Do I have the right job and/or job history for mortgage qualification? What’s my home worth? Will the family home appraise high enough to pull out equity to cover the cash I owe my spouse, or do I need to pull funds from another source? What’s the consequence if my Ex-spouse keeps the home but can’t refinance it into their name after the divorce? What’s the best loan for me post-divorce? Attorneys are not mortgage experts and there are many nuances in the mortgage world that can totally derail the perfect divorce settlement. Rainbow Mortgage Inc. takes a very proactive role in assisting our attorney friends and their clients in making sure their post decree housing goals are met. We help you to (1) make realistic decisions about what is possible, (2) understand your loan options, and (3) structure a mortgage loan focusing on your post-divorce goals. We are happy to help you by participating in client-attorney meetings to discuss potential initial options, provide revised options (if necessary) prior to the final signing of the decree, provide an estimate of what your home is worth using our AVM tool (which is the same tool used by lenders to evaluate whether a value on an appraisal is reasonable) and at no cost to you or your attorney, review the decree prior to it being sent to the judge. Here are a few examples of items in a divorce decree that have caused client issues in the past: (1) The length of time that a person is to receive support payments does not meet lender guidelines to qualify for a mortgage loan. Different loans have different guidelines however, standard guidelines require that a borrower prove that they will receive the income for a minimum of three years following the funding of the mortgage loan. The dates listed in the decree must be carefully monitored and possibly adjusted if the divorce process goes on for an extended period before it’s finalized. (2) Child care expenses are being shared and the decree lists a payment that is to be made monthly to a specified bank account- underwriters will sometimes consider this child support which can throw off a person’s monthly budget causing them to no longer qualify for a loan. Divorces are complicated but the mortgage doesn’t have to be with the right professionals in your corner. We can offer you the help you need and why wouldn’t you take it? Contact us for a FREE consultation and decree review. We only get paid when you are happy with our service and your loan closes. It’s a Win-Win for you!
aA collaborative law colleague recently wrote a lovely piece in the Boston Globe describing his reasons for leaving his litigation practice behind and representing clients only in alternative dispute resolution processes. His article resonated greatly with me. I too left behind a litigation practice to enter the world of peacemaking. While not an easy choice at the time, I look back six years later and realize that these years have been the most fulfilling of my career.  I have not stepped foot in a courtroom in almost six years. I am thankful for many things in my current “out of court” career, but here are just a few:
  • I spend my days working with clients on resolutions that meet their big picture goals.
  • My conversations and negotiations are fruitful, honest and genuine.  The teams I work with and clients who choose me are seeking this type of interest-based negotiation without gamesmanship or posturing.
  • My colleagues are professionals with passion and dedication to help people through transitions in their marriage – many are my friends, including attorneys who are on the “other side” representing my client’s spouse.
  • I can be creative in tailoring outcomes to meet my clients goals.
  • We can tailor my work to each client and what they need and want out of the process.
  • I am a peacemaker who is at peace.
Peacemaking professionals provide the best experience for clients.  I share my own story as a practitioner in the hopes that potential clients will read this and get a sense of who I am.  Knowing that, clients too may choose a path of peacefulness.
flowerAs many know, because Minnesota is a no fault divorce state, one spouse not being ready does not need to stop the process from moving forward. The ready spouse can file for divorce and the process moves on in court with little control of the reluctant spouse. A potential client recently came in for a consult and, as often is the case, her husband was struggling to move forward in the process. They were at very different points on the divorce readiness scale – she was ready, he was not. This is quite typical. The other spouse is sometimes called “reluctant” or “in denial.” When one spouse is looking for a non-adversarial, out-of-court alternative (like mediation or collaborative divorce), there is more of a need to bring that other spouse along. The reluctant spouse really can delay the process and interfere with the non-reluctant spouse’s desire to divorce. This potential client said something very interesting to me. She said, “I know I am committed to collaborative divorce, but I am learning that this does not have to be a collaborative decision.” This realization was profound. She realized that she could control the process (with her husband’s agreement), even if her husband never agrees with the decision to divorce. It is common during the divorce process to have spouses be at different comfort levels with the decision to divorce. These levels of readiness can change throughout the process and even vary greatly from one meeting to another. The challenge often lies with helping the reluctant spouse commit to a collaborative process, while acknowledging his or her disagreement with the process. A good collaborative attorney can strategize ways to bring the reluctant spouse into the process and help move things forward. Ways to teach him or her about the divorce options and lay out the pros and cons of different processes for divorce.  To learn more, contact Kimberly Miller.  
My kids are spirited.  Not possessed, although somedays it seems like they are.  I thought the term “spirited child” referred to a child with ADD or ADHD.  Not true.  It’s not a diagnosis – it’s simply temperament.  Thank goodness for Minnesota’s own Mary Sheedy Kurcinka and her book, “Raising Your Spirited Child.”  As soon as I finished it, I started reading it again. Spirited kids are just “more,” and my two kiddos are high energy, intense, persistent, and slow to adapt.  This slow-to-adapt trait makes transitions a CONSTANT battle.  It’s hard enough getting my two out the door to school every day.  Then I think about kids whose parents are going through a divorce.  Not only are kids of divorce doing the everyday school, activities, home, etc., but they have two homes to toggle between.  I’m sure it’s hard for any kid to go back and forth between two homes.  Most adapt, though.  But if you have a child who doesn’t like transitions, and mix in some frustration and sadness of the divorce, you have the ingredients for a frustrating, heart-breaking battle between parent and child.  What to do? Regardless of whether they are spirited, but especially if they are, listen to your children.  Understand what your children are going through.  It’s never too late to get a child specialist involved in the process, even post-decree. Talk with your children them, instead of at them.  They didn’t ask to be in this position and they have NO control over the divorce.  Help them feel like they have some control over their world.  Don’t just assume they are doing well because they are getting straight A’s, or they’ll be OK when the divorce is final.  Maybe they will be OK.  After all, kids are resilient.  But they’re your kids.  And I think it’s our duty as parents to do as much for our kids emotionally as we can.  They deserve it.
question markWhen getting divorced, it is important to have a support network.  Having a sounding board and friends to talk through things with can help you evaluate options.  They can remind you that you are not alone.  Acquaintances who have gone through divorce themselves or who have certain expertise (like financial or real estate), may be able to help you with some of the decisions. Everyone needs someone to talk to. However, sometimes well-intentioned people can cause more harm during the divorce process than good.  Everyone seems to have a neighbor that somehow obtained a “better deal” than you did.  They either received more in settlement or support than you are considering or they paid less than you.  This “Greek Chorus” phenomenon can slow down progress and make a collaborative process more difficult than it needs to be. When reaching out to others for support during divorce, keep the following things in mind:
  • Remember that you live with your resolutions.  If something feels right to you, it might be best to not let your friends talk you out of it.
  • You can always ask your support network to just listen.
  • Figure out how you feel after talking through things with certain friends – if it doesn’t make you feel better or more positive about resolutions, they may not be the best support.
  • If you ask for advice, be very specific about what you are asking for and let your support know that you may not take their advice, you are just gathering information.
  • Be careful if you seek advice on one piece of the settlement without considering all elements.
  • You can always use your collaborative attorney as your sounding board instead of peers.   Your friends and family can support you in other ways.
173230422-little-girl-playing-gettyimagesMy two year old daughter received Legos for Christmas.  They were the bigger bricks, which are perfect for her chubby, dimpled hands, and pink and purple “princess” Legos that could be made into, what else?  Castles!  She really wasn’t interested in the figurines that were included, but she WAS interested in creating a “super tall building.”  I loved watching her build various creations. I’m pretty sure Lego didn’t make “girl” kits when I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s.  My little brother had Legos, and I just shrugged them off as toys for boys.  I was into…dare I say…Barbie.  And all things that sparkle.  I would, most certainly, have played with pink and purple Legos, though.  After all, I liked putting things together.  When my “boombox” stopped working, I took it apart and put it back together (and yes, I even fixed it!).  Would I have become an engineer instead of a lawyer if Lego had made purple bricks?  Nope.  But if Lego had created a kit of pastel bricks, Legos might have outsold Superstar Barbie! Did girls miss out on something by not playing with Legos?  Maybe not.  But what IS it about princesses?  Dressed in her sparkly tutu, my daughter plays just as much, if not more, with trucks and transformers as she does her dolls.  Is it because she has an older brother?  Does she find transformers more interesting than her dolls?  My five year old son is all boy (rough and tumble, loves trucks and ninja turtles, slides into “home plate” – which is the northwest corner of the family room – so much he wears holes in his jeans) so I was pleasantly surprised when he picked up his sister’s doll and stroller and zoomed around the house.   “Great,” I thought, “maybe he’ll play dolls with his little sister.”  Uh…no.  He took the doll and stroller to annoy his younger sibling. Nevertheless, watching my daughter with those pink and purple Legos certainly made me think about how items are “sold” or “packaged.”  Do we really buy “things” or are we buying an “experience?”  It depends.  I think in many cases, we are paying for an experience, even when we buy products.  (For instance, why do I need to have an aromatherapy experience grocery shopping?  I’m there to buy groceries to feed my family.  If I want such an “experience” I’ll go to a spa.)  Nonetheless, the way products and experiences are packaged can make all the difference in the way we feel.  But with legal services, you are buying a product (the divorce agreement/documents) as well as the experience. When you are interviewing attorneys, be aware of what they are selling you and how they are selling it.  Does the attorney you are meeting with base his or her expertise on all the cases “won.”  Chances are, that attorney is talking more about him or herself and isn’t doing much listening to you.  This is a divorce, people.  A change in significant relationships within a family.  Nobody wins in a divorce, so please don’t fall for that “package.”  This process is all about getting to a new normal, and if you have young children, parenting them well.  So, the attorneys and team you are interviewing should be all about helping you get to that new normal.  That, in my opinion, is how divorce should be “packaged.”
As a collaborative attorney, I am often asked “what would a court do?”  Although parties in a collaborative divorce are not asking the court to make decisions in their case, what the law is and how a court may view an issue is important.  It is part of the information that a client needs to understand to truly make a decision in their own best interest. I recently attended an education series with local judges to gain an understanding of the current state of the law. In the second part of this 2 part series, I outline some of the factors a court may consider in making litigated decisions. On property division and cash flow, here are some of the considerations:
  • When dividing assets and liabilities, the courts often begin with an accounting and confirmation of all real estate, accounts, retirement assets, investments,  stock options, inheritances,  gifts,  debts,  personal property, vehicles, and all other possessions.
  • The courts have to differentiate between marital property that was created or acquired during the marriage and non-marital property that should stay with one party.  Non- marital property may include assets from before marriage,  gifts or inheritances, and student loans.
  • Non-marital property stays with the receiving party.  Marital property is divided equitably. This is often interpreted as equally,  although there are some exceptions if the outcome is deemed unfair.
  • Division of property is a separate question from cash flow (child support and spousal maintenance).
  • Child support in court is often calculated with the guidelines based on percentage of overnights with each parent and incomes.  Then medical expenses and extra curricular activities are shared by percentage of income.
  • Spousal maintenance or alimony is a discretionary area of the law. It is based on the needs of the recipient and the ability of the other spouse to provide support.
  • Court requires an analysis of budgets and income or potential income of both parties.  It can be difficult to address income if a party has not or is not working.
  • Some of the factors for determining support include: length of the marriage, education and age of the spouses with regard to work ability, work history, parenting needs of children, and reasonableness of expenses.
  • Because spousal maintenance is one of the most discretionary areas of family law,  it is difficult to find consistent outcomes in the court as every case is decided based on the individual facts (and judge).
A collaborative process is a different paradigm but clients have the same legal rights as parties in court.  Know what the law is and what a court may do and then make well informed decisions. A good collaborative attorney can help in this journey.
73582147-wedding-cake-top-with-groom-bride-and-lawyer-gettyimagesWhen a couple divorces, the final decree or order from a Court typically dictates how property shall be divided, how the children shall be parented, and what support will be paid moving forward.  The decree will give you the dates and amounts of payments.  The decree will also tell you what amount each of you is awarded of accounts or who shall keep the house.  But there are some things a divorce does not dictate. After a divorce is final, here are six things you (or your attorney) should do to finalize the division and move forward:
  1. Divide cash accounts. Bank accounts and investment accounts can be divided on your own. You both may need to work together to close joint accounts or transfer funds from one individual account to another. At the end of the process, you should have no joint accounts unless you have agreed to own something jointly.
  2. Pay-off and close joint credit cards. Joint credit card should be paid off and closed. You can take care of this on your own.
  3. Divide retirement.  Retirement accounts need to be divided precisely as outlined in the decree. Non-qualified plans (like IRAs) can be divided with a copy of the decree and direction from the account holders – you can do this on your own.  Qualified plans (like pensions, 401(k)’s or 403(b)’s) need a court order and you will have to have your attorney draft this or hire a consultant.
  4. Property title transfer. Title for any real estate that was awarded in the decree needs to be transferred to the individual owner. This can be done with a quit claim deed or order from the court that needs to be recorded with the county property office.
  5. Health insurance. Set up your own health insurance if needed or work with your former spouse to continue coverage for them.
  6. Estate planning. Your original will (if you had one) is no longer valid after divorce so you will need a new one.  Hire an estate attorney to draft up a new will.