A 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.
Starting a divorce can be difficult, particularly if your spouse believes the marriage can be saved. How you have this discussion may make a major difference in your life, particularly if you have children. In my thirty years of working with divorcing clients, I have found that avoiding mistakes at the very beginning of the process is crucial to the future of your family. The most common mistake is moving ahead without being fully prepared. Here is a quick guide to the type of preparation that I believe will make the most difference.
- Make sure you clearly explore your reconciliation options. Before you start down the path toward divorce, make sure that you are doing the right thing. This is important for you, and your children and will help your spouse become more accepting of the divorce if that is what ultimately needs to happen. There are many new ways to explore the divorce decision, including discernment counseling which is designed to help you determine whether your marriage can be saved. To learn more, go to the Doherty Relationship Institute website
- Make sure you understand the various options for how to divorce. There are many different ways to move ahead with divorce, including Collaborative Divorce and meditation. There are many good professionals who will explain all of the options, without charge. To learn more, go to www.collaboratiavelaw.org. or www.divorcechoice.com.
- Once you have chosen a method of moving forward, carefully plan the way of telling your spouse about the divorce. If there is any danger of abuse, make sure you consult with experienced professionals to make sure that you are aware of the safest possible method. If there is no danger of physical abuse, but have significant concerns about possible verbal abuse, make sure that you are in a public place so that you can leave if things get uncomfortable. If possible, consider having a counselor, clergy member or mutually trusted friend or family member present during this important discussion.
- Focus on the “Big Picture” and your long term goals. Sometimes divorce can create a “crisis mentality” that can cause people to lose perspective on what really matters. Focusing only on the issues that feel urgent can displace the need to focus on what is truly important such as the well-being of your children or your general health.
After the magic of the holidays dies down it can be hard to pick up the pieces. This holds true even if your holidays didn’t seem magical. The hustle and bustle of shopping, cooking, traveling, holiday parties, etc., can create a pretty good distraction and may have you wondering, “now what?” The stress of the holidays can send couples on the brink of divorce over the edge, and likewise, people set on divorce tend to try to get through one last holiday season together “for the kids” or “for the family.” More people file for divorce in the month of January than any other time of the year. Typically the day most common for filing for divorce is the first day of the first full work week of the year, which for 2014, would be Monday, January 6. We all know New Years is as good of a time as any to start setting goals. What do you want 2014 to look like for you? Finalizing your divorce, fine-tuning your parenting plan or saving up for a much needed vacation? Fill in the post-holiday gaps by working on your goals. Maybe that vacation won’t be a reality for a long time, but planning is half the fun. Start a board on Pinterest, take a stay-cation and discover all the amazing things your city has to offer, start journaling, pick up an old hobby that maybe you haven’t done since before marriage or before kids. This painful time is a growing point in your life and there are lessons to be learned during dark times, lessons that Daisy Camp can help walk you through. Daisy Camp is a one of a kind retreat that provides financial, legal and experienced advice from qualified professionals that can help women that are going through a divorce transition. Coupled with the business seminars, many inspirational and self-care sessions help enable women to navigate the business and emotional realities that come from a divorce proceeding. Daisy Camp will be offering its first retreat of 2014 on January 25th. If you or a friend find yourself amongst the post-holiday divorce statistics please remember Daisy Camp is here to offer divorce education and support. Find more info at www.daisycamp.org.
If you are going through or thinking about starting a Collaborative Divorce, you might wonder why you need a Child Specialist. After all, if you and your spouse agree on custody and parenting time (previously called “visitation”), why spend money on a Child Specialist? As a Collaborative Attorney and Mediator, I enjoy helping parents with the parenting piece; however, I am not an expert in child development, and I don’t meet with the children. Furthermore, I don’t want parents to come up with just any old plan – my wish for them is to succeed in their post-divorce co-parenting relationship and raise happy, healthy kids. A Child Specialist helps you and your spouse create not only the day-to-day and holiday/vacation schedule, but helps you identify your goals and values as parents, so you can create a custom-made plan specifically addressing the unique needs of your children. As parents in a fast-paced world, we need to determine the appropriate age for our kids to have a cell phone. We need to think about how much screen time per day is healthy. Is texting at the dinner table OK (not!)? These are issues parents need to deal with at some point, but parents residing separately really need to be on the same page. Child Specialists can assist with these decisions. Clients often tell me how glad they are they hired a Child Specialist, because they are more in-tune with their children, and are therefore, better parents. Child Specialists are valuable members of the Collaborative Team and are wonderful resources for parents. Believe me, I know this personally because I consult with them when I have questions about my own kiddo! Although you know your children the best (their funny little quirks, favorite color, best friend’s name, and so forth) Child Specialists know what makes children tick from a developmental perspective; thus, they are treasure troves of information. Why not tap into that? Think of it this way: would you rather spend the money on an expert who can guide you now to the land of great co-parenting or spend two, maybe three times or more on therapy for your kids later, because you and your spouse did the bare minimum to just get through the divorce (understandable – it’s a painful ordeal). Consistency in parenting, as well as respecting and understanding your different parenting styles and personalities, can be the difference between a “so-so” parenting plan and a “so-good” parenting plan. It’s easy to spend time and money on gadgets, toys, clothes, and activities for kids, so consider taking the time and money to invest in utilizing a Child Specialist to craft a parenting plan that will help you and your spouse co-parent effectively post-divorce. I bet you’ll be glad you did!