Kids at zebra crossingAngelina Jolie has been a news-maker lately for her courageous decision to disclose her personal health care response to having a breast cancer gene. You may have noticed in her media interviews how often she has referred to “my partner, Brad Pitt.” Jolie and Pitt are among many parents raising children and creating lives together without being married. Some couples do this by choice and others by historic exclusion from the opportunity to get married (an inequitable situation that has changed with the recent passage of marriage equality legislation in Minnesota).

What support options exist for these families when parents make the difficult decision to break up? And what support options exist for parents who never formed a permanent relationship but intend to co-parent? What might Collaborative Team Practice have to offer these parents and families?

Collaborative Team Practice can provide a very stable container for parents seeking to end their partnership in a dignified and respectful way, and to create a road map for future co-parenting. Depending on the legal, financial and parenting issues to be resolved, parents can select a team of professionals specifically tailored to their circumstances and needs. As a neutral child specialist, I have been privileged to work with many non-married couples and non-coupled parents to create developmentally responsive parenting plans to guide co-parenting. These are clients who take to heart the notion that kids deserve the best safe parenting they can get from both parents. The future for these children feels brighter, more hopeful and more coherent.

It takes courage and mindfulness to co-parent after a break up, or if parents have never been in a committed relationship. But we know that effective co-parenting is a cornerstone of health and resilience for children. Parents deserve all the support they can get, and Collaborative Team Practice can help provide that support.

Image courtesy of arztsamui/
Image courtesy of arztsamui/
While much of the focus of the new law legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota is focused on the upcoming weddings, the new law also paves the way for same-sex couples to legally divorce once the law goes into effect on August 1, 2013. This has a significant impact on Minnesota same-sex couples who were legally married in other states or countries and have since split up. Minnesota’s current law declared that same-sex marriages from other states were void and no rights were enforceable in Minnesota. For example, suppose you have Bill and Bob, a gay couple who legally married in Vermont in 2001, and then moved to Minnesota. Bill and Bob adopted a son, and Bob decided to stay at home to care for their son while Bill worked.  After 12 years of marriage, they decide to end the marriage. Minnesota law treated this couple as if they had never been married, and they would not have been able to bring a proceeding for divorce. They could have brought custody and child support issues in a legal proceeding, but the law would have treated them like unmarried parents and would not have been able to handle property division or spousal maintenance. But now, the new law signed by Governor Dayton allows Minnesota family courts to recognize marriages performed in other states or countries.  So same-sex couples will now have the ability to pursue a legal divorce just like an opposite-sex couple.  Depending on the facts, Bob might have a claim for spousal maintenance, and the couple’s marital property accumulated during the 11 years of marriage would be subject to an equitable division by the family court. One thing the new Minnesota law cannot fix is the tax implications on property divisions in same-sex divorce. Because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage for tax purposes. And that means same-sex couples who are dividing assets in a divorce, such as retirement accounts, are treated differently by the IRS than opposite-sex couples.  All of that could change in the next couple months when the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of DOMA. With the new law and the impending decision by the Supreme Court,  family lawyers are facing new territory.  This makes the collaborative divorce process an attractive option for same-sex couples. The collaborative divorce process allows for a couple to honor their relationship and craft customized solutions to handle the changes to the law. Bill and Bob can have a respectful divorce, work together as effective co-parents, and remarry when they find new love in the future.