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Cynthia Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. She is an honors graduate of the University of South Dakota and William Mitchell College of Law. Cynthia's practice focuses almost exclusively on divorce and family law issues. She publishes a monthly family law column for the Minnesota Lawyer newspaper, and has contributed to Divorce Magazine and The Family Law Forum. Cynthia also serves as a panel attorney for the Anoka County Family Law Clinic.

Child in Need of Protective Services (CHIPS) deals with the health, safety, and welfare of children in Minnesota. There are a variety of reasons why a parent may be involved in a CHIPS case. Here’s what you need to know.

1.    Who can file a CHIPS petition? Anyone. In Minnesota, if you find yourself accused of child abuse or neglect, you’ll have to defend yourself. Your best bet is to hire an attorney.

2.    Will the state remove my child from my home? If a Child Protective Services (CPS) investigator deems your child is in danger, your child could be removed for up to 72 hours. That time does not include weekends and holidays.

3.    Where will my child go if removed? The court’s first choice is with a relative. If CPS removes your child, give them the name and contact information for your nearest relative.

4.    What happens if my child is placed in foster care? You have the right to be notified of this fact.

5.    What happens after my child is removed? You’ll be notified of an Emergency Placement Hearing within 72 hours of your child’s removal from your home. You should be at that hearing with your attorney.

6.    Will my child be permanently removed? The court will consider less restrictive measures, but they do err on the side of caution and heavily consider the nature of the petition.

7.    Is there a presumption of innocence? You will be asked to admit or deny allegations against you. Consult with an attorney before your hearing. If you admit to any type of neglect or abuse of your child, there could be serious consequences.

The state of Minnesota takes CHIPS allegations seriously. Your best defense is to hire an attorney; don’t answer allegations until you have proper representation.

Get your CHIPS case law questions answered today. Call 763-323-6555 to talk to a qualified Minnesota family law attorney.

Adopting a child with special needs in Minnesota is like adopting any other child, with a few differences. Five things you should know about special needs adoption include:

1. “Special needs” can refer to a variety of issues – Special needs children waiting for adoption may have mental, emotional, physical, or behavioral disabilities. MN Adopt considers sibling groups in the “special needs” category, as well. Before adopting, consider the nature of these and determine whether you have the parental skills and the financial and logistical abilities to accommodate those needs.

2. Diverse factors cause challenges with child development – Special needs children may have been neglected or abused; or exposed to chemicals or drugs in prenatal development. They may have a genetic disorder. If abused, their abuse may have been emotional, sexual, psychological, or physical, or a combination of the above. Identifying the root cause of the challenges can help you and your family adapt and nurture the child effectively.

3. You may qualify for expense reimbursement from the government – In some cases, a family adopting a special needs child may be eligible to receive reimbursement for certain non-recurring expenses.

4. Waiting lists tend to be shorter – Many adopting parents don’t feel they are equipped to handle special needs. As a result, the waiting list is generally shorter for special needs children.

5. Support groups abound to help you and your family – These groups welcome adoptive parents and provide resources to help families with special needs. To find one, Google [your child’s special need] + “support group” + [your local town]  (example: “autism support group in Minneapolis”).

Are you and your family excited to open your hearts to a little boy or girl who could benefit from your love and care? Consult a family law attorney with the Brown Law Offices at 763-323-6555 for a private case consultation.

Just as finances can be a major source of contention in a marriage, they can be even more so during a divorce. Disentangling your ex-spouse’s finances from your own may be no simple task, especially with shared assets like home and vehicles, or with shared debts. This process can be even more complicated with an uncooperative ex, or one who happens to be fiscally irresponsible.

You might be tempted to avoid or procrastinate the task of financial disentanglement, but resist this temptation to protect both your assets and your credit. Some of the details of dividing larger assets will obviously be worked out during the divorce settlement negotiations, but for now, here are some steps you can take now to begin disentangling your ex-spouse’s finances from your own.

Set up your own bank accounts

If you haven’t done so already, open up a basic checking and savings account in your own name, and start paying bills and depositing paychecks into that account. If you still hold joint bank accounts with your ex, close these accounts as soon as possible, but do not attempt to withdraw funds without talking to your divorce attorney first, as these funds may be restricted until a divorce settlement is reached. When it comes to your own income, however, you should gain sole control of these funds as quickly as possible.

Separating credit card accounts

For any revolving credit card accounts you share with your ex, take these steps now to begin the disentanglement process:

•    Close any joint credit cards you have with your ex-spouse as soon as possible. This protects you from being held responsible if your ex decides to go on a shopping spree.

•    De-authorize your ex on any credit cards for which you are the primary cardholder.

•    Disentangle from joint cards with existing balances by opening up new cards separately and performing balance transfers. You and your ex will need to agree to how much of the debt each of you should pay, but once that’s decided, transferring those balances to your own individual credit cards will start the process of separating your shared credit history—plus, you won’t have the added worry of making sure the joint cards are being paid on time.

For larger assets like homes, cars and shared business interests, disentangling your finances will be a more complex matter reserved for the divorce settlement negotiations. But taking steps now to separate finances on a smaller scale can help you get a head start on financial stability as a single person.

When you’re going through the pain and difficulty of a divorce, the last thing you usually want to think about is forgiveness. Unless your break-up is especially amicable, you are likely nursing more than a few offenses against your ex right now. However, once the divorce is complete, the last thing you want to do is hold onto that excess baggage. As we’ll see from some of the inspirational quotes below, extending forgiveness after divorce can be a key to moving on with your own life.

1. Sometimes our demand for justice turns into self-inflicted pain:

“If you spend your time hoping someone will suffer the consequences for what they did to your heart, then you’re allowing them to hurt you a second time in your mind.” ― Shannon L. Alder

2. Putting your divorce into perspective can help you forgive. See it as a correction, not a punishment:

“Your relationship may be “Breaking Up,” but you won’t be “Breaking Down.” If anything your correcting a mistake that was hurting four people, you and the person you’re with, not to mention the two people who you were destined to meet.”  ― D. Ivan Young

3. A wise word of caution against being vindictive in divorce court:

“Divorce is one of the most financially traumatic things you can go through. Money spent on getting mad or getting even is money wasted.” –Richard Wagner

4. This quote reminds us that forgiveness doesn’t enable the other person; it enables yourself:

“Forgiveness is not the misguided act of condoning irresponsible, hurtful behavior. Nor is it a superficial turning of the other cheek that leaves us
feeling victimized and martyred. Rather it is the finishing of old business that allows us to experience the present, free of contamination from the past.”
–Joan Borysenko

5. Wise words from Tyler Perry about moving on:

“When you haven’t forgiven those who hurt you, you turn your back against your future. When you do forgive, you start walking forward.” –Tyler Perry

6. Finally, how do you know when you’ve forgiven? Here’s a clue:

“You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.” –Lewis B. Smedes

Under Jewish tradition, a man and a woman are married forever, even if they get a civil divorce from a secular court. However, their own biblical literature allows for a man to divorce his wife if he finds anything “unseemly” about her (Deuteronomy 24: 1-2). For that divorce to be recognized by Jewish authorities, the man must give his wife a written divorce paper, which is called a get.

By tradition, the get is written in Aramaic, and it also contains 12 lines of text. Another unusual aspect of the get is that it is tailored to the specific condition of the couple using it. In other words, there is no “form,” or formula, for writing the document, but a professional scribe for the husband usually writes it.

The get must be given to the wife by the husband in front of two witnesses and in the presence of a special rabbinical court called a beth din. The court then issues a certificate of divorce and hands that to both parties. If either party can’t make the appointment, however, they can choose an agent to stand in for them.

Other Interesting Religious Divorce Rituals from Around the World

An ethnic minority group in China, the Jing, writes a divorce certificate, but they are careful not to write it inside the home. Once it is signed, the pen and inkstone are thrown away, because they represent bad luck.

In Japan, one zen temple allows women the opportunity to literally flush their marriages down the toilet. In this ritual, the woman writes a list of post-marriage aspirations on a piece of paper and flushes it down the toilet.

Unitarian Universalists celebrate their divorce in a Ceremony of Hope. The couple gathers in front of family and friends and a minister to apologize to each other for any pain inflicted during the marriage. Family and friends vow to support the couple in their divorce just as they did in their marriage.

Divorce is arguably harder on children than it is on adults, particularly when the divorce necessitates a move. If the children of divorce are forced to switch schools, they must leave behind their friends and favorite teachers. This can be a challenge for even the most outgoing children. Thankfully, there are many ways you can help your kids navigate this difficult transition:

1. Enroll your kids in activities and sports outside of school.

Sports teams and other extracurricular activities are great for introducing your children to their potential new best friends. Little League, for example, will allow your kid to meet a whole new group of other kids who share the same interest. By the time school starts in the fall, your kids will have a group of friends eager to help them transition to their new school district.

2. Introduce them to the school during off hours.

A new school environment can be very intimidating for kids. Ask one of the school’s administrators if your kids can visit their new school when no other children are there. This will prevent them from feeling lost and helpless on the first day of school.

3. Avoid the bus for the first few days.

The school bus can be a scary place for kids, especially when they don’t know anybody on their route. Skip this anxiety-inducing orientation by dropping your kids off at school in the morning and picking them up in the afternoon. If this is not possible, try to get in touch with other families on the bus route before school begins.

4. Help your kids keep in contact with their old friends.

Thanks to social media and the internet, it is easier than ever to stay in contact with loved ones from afar. Encourage your kids to communicate with their friends online, and if possible, arrange for them to get together during the weekend.

5. Talk to your kids about the transition.

Sometimes, the easiest way to help your children is through simple communication. Listen to any issues they may have, and work with them to find the best possible solution.

You’ve filed for divorce. It’s a process that can take plenty of time, even when uncontested. Your lawyer will likely advise you to avoid contact with your ex at this time, but checking in on them on social media can be tempting. Resist the urge to check his or her Facebook page; it’s unproductive emotionally, and it may even affect your case.

Social media is a useful tool for many things, but it’s made divorces more difficult. It means we have to see our ex’s posts every day. Lawyers may even scour your Facebook page for incriminating information. For example, say you’re in the negotiating stage of spousal support, and you’re posting information about your latest shopping spree. Lawyers could use such posts as evidence of disposable income.

Use the following good social media habits during a divorce:

Watch What You Post

If you’re feeling frustrated about the latest blip in your divorce proceeding, it can be quite tempting to vent on Facebook. Such an act may negatively affect your case. Join a private support divorce group, or talk to friends privately. It’s healthy to talk through your emotions but not in a public medium.

Keep your soon-to-be ex-spouse and children out of all your status updates. Refrain from commenting on your days in court or any communications from the other side. Post about other things. Save your arguments for your lawyer and the courtroom.

Check Your Privacy Settings

Block your soon-to-be ex-spouse on Facebook and other social media outlets to avoid temptation. Such an act will prevent you from seeing his or her status updates. It also prevents him or her from finding you. Check your privacy settings on all social media outlets to see who can find your page and what information is available to the public—and lawyers.

Step Away From the Computer

Divorces are emotionally-trying proceedings. Checking Facebook constantly won’t help you feel better. It may actually make you feel worse. Get away from your virtual friends, and start spending time with your real world ones. Get out of your house for a night: see a movie, get dinner, or organize a game night. Socializing with others will take your mind away from your current situation. Sitting at home and posting on social media will make you yearn for what you’re missing.

Getting married these days is expensive enough, with some even modest weddings costing six figures. Divorce can likewise be expensive, uncomfortable and messy. Understandably, many people want to shortcut the process to conserve resources and speed things up. In light of these economic realities, it’s probably not that surprising that a strange new phenomenon is gaining traction – the online divorce.

Can couples really dissolve a marriage by getting it done online?

Unfortunately, yes.

The process is often much cheaper than using an attorney (at least in the short term). It’s also faster. But it also carries tremendous risks and can, ironically, backfire and lead to months or years of expensive legal fighting.

If you and your partner agree on everything regarding your separation – division of assets, child custody arrangements, spousal support, etc. – then it is at least theoretically possible that you could get an online divorce and get through the process without bad repercussions. According to reports, you simply tell the divorce service what you want, and they draw up the paperwork.

Why Using an Attorney is Generally Much Better Than Relying on an Online Divorce Service

If you and your spouse disagree on financial matters, child custody arrangements, or basically anything, then you will almost certainly want to discuss your situation with an attorney. As a skeptical article in the Financial Times put it: “Would you do your own plumbing, pull out your own teeth, or self-diagnose an illness?”

The article continued with a cautionary tale from across the pond:

“A case in point is Andrew McLeod-Baikie, a 52-year-old father-of-four, who paid £600 to get an online divorce
from his wife Susan in 2011, according to reports of a magistrates’ court hearing. Mr McLeod-Baikie, however, did not obtain the decree absolute, which makes a divorce official, before marrying again. His first wife alerted the authorities when she saw pictures of his second wedding on Facebook.  Mr McLeod-Baikie, of Cresselly, Pembrokeshire, pleaded guilty to bigamy. Magistrates at Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, fined him £400 and ordered him to pay £400 in costs, according to a report of the hearing in the Daily Telegraph.”

An attorney can fight for your rights in the divorce and seek to get you a fair outcome. With an online divorce service, meanwhile, you may never even speak to an attorney. Your paperwork will simply be a cookie-cutter form that may have been prepared by an attorney, but it will be in no way customized for your unique situation. By hiring an attorney to handle your divorce, you ensure that you have an advocate who will speak for you in the legal system.

The myth that half of all marriages today end in divorce is a throw-back to the 1980s, when the divorce rate was at its highest. Since then, the divorce rate has steadily dropped. Recent statistical analyses offer insight into the factors that indicate the likelihood of divorce – or happily ever after.

The Education Factor

The divorce rate for men with a high school degree or less is 39%. For women with a similar education level, the divorce rate is 37%. For people who have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree, the divorce rate drops to 28% for men and 29% for women.

The Race Factor

Native Americans have the highest divorce rate: 44% for men and 45% for women. Black Americans are next – the divorce rate in that community, according to relatively recent data, is about 42% for both men and women. Among white Americans, 36% of men and 38% of women divorce. Hispanic-Americans have an even lower divorce rate: 27% for men and 30% for women. Asian-Americans have the lowest divorce rate: 16% for men and 18% for women.

Reasons for Divorce

Every couple faces challenges, but just a handful of problems cause most divorces. These include:

•    Marrying for the Wrong Reasons. Many people get divorced because their reasons for marrying never added up in the first place and/or because these reasons ultimately stopped inspiring progress and growth in the relationship.

•    Losing Individual Identity. Married people who sacrifice or ignore their own interests often end up feeling as if they don’t know themselves. The resentment and other negative emotions that flow from this fundamental problem break down the relationship.

•    Having Different Concepts of Success. For some people, success means acquiring a big house, an expensive car, fine clothes, country club memberships, boats and other worldly goods and social status. For others, success means security to travel freely and pursue artistic ambitions. Debates about the fundamentals of “a good life” – for instance, arguments over when or whether to have children – can lead to the end of a relationship.

•    Dwindling Intimacy. Exhaustion from work, childcare, and other obligations can understandably have a negative impact on a couple’s intimacy. A lack of physical connection can degrade the couple’s sexual relationship, paving the way for dissatisfaction and divorce.

•    Struggling to Resolve Conflicts. Couples who learn how to fight constructively – that is, who know how to resolve disputes effectively and let go of annoyances that are beyond control – tend to stay married longer than do couples who react in passive aggressive fashion or who hold grudges.

This may seem odd coming from a divorce lawyer…but there are many resources throughout the Twin Cities for those who are aiming to reconcile, or avoid divorce. Church groups, individual pastoral care, counseling, marriage courses, books and podcasts may be beneficial to you.

What happens when a married couple in Minnesota files for divorce, and one of them receives disability benefits? How will spousal maintenance, child support and the disability benefits themselves be affected? The outcome depends on the definition of marital property, how that marital property will be divided and the nature of the benefits.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is considered household income under Minnesota law, while Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is not. This distinction comes into play in certain circumstances regarding spousal maintenance and child support.

SSDI, SSI and Marital Property in Minnesota

Since Minnesota is not a community property state, how disability benefits are split when a marriage dissolves depends on a number of factors. These include:

•    Both spouse’s financial standing;
•    Each spouse’s sources of income;
•    How long the couple was married; and
•    Who ends up with custody of the children

Other factors may also come into play – for instance, if these are any special needs children in the family who also receive benefits.

Disability Benefits and Spousal Maintenance

A spouse receiving SSI benefits may see a reduction in benefits if they receive spousal maintenance. SSDI is generally not affected by alimony. For that reason, you might consider other equitable distribution options, such as adjustments to other property awards.

On August 1, 2016, a Minnesota law went into effect that reduces or terminates spousal maintenance if the receiving spouse cohabitates with another partner after the divorce.

SSI, SSDI and Child Support

Child support offers its own challenges. For instance, let’s say a child receives SSI, and the spouse with custody is awarded child support. That arrangement will affect the child’s SSI benefits. As an alternative, you could ask that child support be placed in a special needs trust (SNT). If a child receives SSDI based on a parent’s disability, the court will likely take that factor into account when establishing child support.