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Jason Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. He is an honors graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato, and the William Mitchell College of Law. Jason has been recognized as a "Super Lawyer" by Thomson Reuters. Media appearances include WCCO Radio, KARE 11 Television, the Star Tribune, USA Today, Time Magazine, Minnesota Monthly and NBC News. 

Blame it on television, movies, or messy celebrity splits — divorce has a reputation for being a contentious, litigation-based affair, with little room for compromise. Those who have not navigated the divorce process may envision couples screaming and yelling at each other in the courtroom as the judge tries in vain to keep the peace.  Thankfully, this level of divorce drama is no longer a reality for most couples, as mediation allows spouses to complete divorce proceedings in a calm, mature manner.

How Does Mediation Work?

The ultimate goal of mediation is to keep divorce out of the courtroom. Instead of a judge looming over the case, a third-party mediator is hired to act as a peace broker. The mediator listens carefully to both spouses as they voice their concerns, and, from there, offers detailed feedback and possible solutions. A skilled mediator can thereby make the divorce process feel more like an amicable bartering session than a messy courtroom battle.

Mediation and the Science of Cooperation

Millions of years of evolution have convinced people that competition is always better, whether in the classroom, at work, or in divorce court. This impulse can be difficult to overcome, but as Harvard University Professor of Biology Martin Nowak points out, there is great value in ignoring the competitive instinct and opting for cooperation. In his book “SuperCooperators: Altruism, Evolution, and Why We Need Each Other to Succeed,” Nowak explains that successful cooperation often involves a “tit for tat” approach, along with an emphasis on generosity, forgiveness, and optimism. Mediation incorporates all three qualities — and that’s exactly why so many couples exit the mediation process feeling satisfied with the results, despite having made certain concessions.

Mediation works well because it calls upon spouses to be their best selves, even in the face of significant disagreement. When spouses work together, they can achieve favorable outcomes, all while keeping the stress and anxiety associated with divorce to a minimum.

If you choose to settle your differences with your ex through mediation, you can still retain legal counsel from a trusted Minnesota family attorney. Look to the Brown Law Offices, P.A. for compassionate counsel.

Child custody is a complex issue. When parents dissolve a marriage, if they can’t agree on whom the children will live with, then the court must decide. How is that determined? Several factors are considered.

•    The most important concerns are the interests of the child. Historically, that weighted a court’s decision in favor of the mother. In recent years, gender equity has shifted legal priorities.
•    If either parent relinquishes custodial rights or requests the other parent have sole custody, then that is considered.
•    Where things get sticky is when both parents insist on having sole custody. In that case, the court must settle the matter. Often, the decision boils down to which parent is better able to provide for education, medical attention, a suitable lifestyle, and connection to the family religion.

Factors include:

◦    Finances – Which parent has the better job, most stable employment, and/or highest income or savings?
◦    Living Situation – Has either parent remarried, or is there another romantic partner in the picture? What kind of living conditions will the children be subjected to? Has one of the parents moved out of the area?
◦    Religion – Who is better able to provide stable religious training? If parents are of different religions, have they chosen to educate the children in one religion over the other? If one parent is religious, and the other isn’t, the court may consider that in light of other factors.
◦    Dangers – Has either parent been convicted of a crime or abused drugs or alcohol? Are there other concerns, such as a history of abusive behavior or a volatile home environment?

Courts rarely award legal custody to step-parents; however, it does happen. All things are considered in light of the best interests of the child.

Are you fighting for custody of your children? Contact an experienced Minnesota custody lawyer at 763-323-6555 for a private, confidential consultation.

It can be daunting to think that the biggest decisions regarding your divorce could come down to the opinion of one person: your divorce court judge. His or her verdict could be the final word on such matters as distribution of assets, financial responsibility, custody of the children, etc. Gaining the judge’s favor can make a significant impact on the outcome of your divorce, but persuasion is a subtle art. How do you persuade your divorce court judge without trying too hard? Let’s take our cue from six people considered masters at the art of persuasion.

1. Dean Rusk, U.S. Secretary of State for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson

“One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears—by listening to them.”

When the person you’re trying to persuade feels like you’re listening to them, he/she is naturally inclined to reciprocate. Wise words from a man who was Secretary of State during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

2. Benjamin Franklin, American statesman

“If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect.”

Presenting a rational argument isn’t always enough; “appealing to interest” has more to do with reading between the lines and learning to speak the other person’s language.

3. Edward R. Murrow, American journalist

“To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful.”

Honesty is a key to any persuasive argument. If the divorce court judge believes for a minute that you’re hiding something, your chances of favor dwindle considerably.

4. Thomas Carlyle, British essayist

“Let one who wants to move and convince others, first be convinced and moved themselves. If a person speaks with genuine earnestness the thoughts, the emotion and the actual condition of their own heart, others will listen because we all are knit together by the tie of sympathy.”

Personal conviction in your appeal is a key to persuasion. In a word: be genuine.

5. Blaise Pascal, French philosopher

“People are usually more convinced by reasons they discovered themselves than by those found out by others.”

The takeaway here is to present the facts in such a way that the judge arrives at the same conclusion you did.

6. Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States 1861-1865

“If you wish to win a man over to your ideas, first make him your friend.”

Spoken by a man who convinced a deeply divided Congress to ratify the Emancipation Proclamation, abolishing slavery in the United States.

In the months or years following a divorce, as life situations change for parents and children, renegotiations of child custody and visitation agreements are quite common. However, if you enter into negotiations ill-prepared, you could end up wasting a lot of time and money while making it even more of a challenge to renegotiate down the road. Here are five big mistakes people often make during child custody/visitation renegotiations, and how to avoid them.

1. Offering no change of circumstance

Remember, the court has previously determined child visitation and custody rights for specific reasons, taking certain factors into account. If you ask your ex or a judge for a change in these rights without offering clear evidence that these deciding factors have changed, your request to renegotiate is likely to fall flat.

2. Failure to abide by the current agreement

If you have withheld visitation from the other parent without just cause, or if you have disobeyed any court order related to custody and visitation, you’re coming to the table with two strikes already against you. Neither your ex nor a judge will look favorably on your request to change the terms of custody if you’ve not been showing respect for the current terms.

3. Failure to clarify exactly what you want in concrete terms

If you are unhappy with your current child custody agreement, chances are it’s because you failed to be specific about terms the first time around. (For example, if you didn’t address who gets the kids during certain holidays, that lack of clarity might now be a point of contention with your ex.) Custody renegotiation is a perfect time to fill in some of those gaps; if you don’t tie up loose ends, you’re wasting an opportunity.

4. Using renegotiation (and the kids) as a tool for vengeance

In particularly contentious divorces, one parent might be tempted to extend the custody battle as a way of getting back at the other. This is a bad idea because it turns the children into pawns in your personal dispute. Since the court’s goal is the best interest of the children, anything that demonstrates you are not acting in their best interests will backfire on you. Just don’t do it.

5. Not seeking legal representation

Child custody is a nuanced and tricky business. If you attempt to renegotiate without the help of a skilled attorney, you’re likely to be just as unhappy with the outcome than you were the first time. Always seek professional legal counsel before trying to renegotiate child custody and visitation agreements.

While it’s not often talked about, divorce can be just as traumatic for a blended family as it is for any other family. Tight bonds often form between half-siblings, as well as between children and step-parents, all of which can make splitting up a blended family very painful for all involved. To complicate things even further, many times the children in a blended family have already been through a divorce with their biological parents, so the mesh of extended family is now even more complex. If you’re in the process of divorce within a blended family, here are some tips for keeping things as clean, composed and civil as possible for the sake of all involved.

Don’t Fight in Front of Children

No matter how severe the rift between you and your ex, keep it between the two of you. Involving your children or step-children in your disagreements only puts unfair pressure on them to divide their loyalties and take sides.

Be on the Same Page with your Ex Regarding the Split

As far as breaking the news to your kids, explaining the reasons for the divorce and how the split will take place, both of you need to present a united front. When the parents have different versions of what is happening, it only adds to the confusion and pain.

Encourage Open Dialogue

Just as with any other divorce involving children, the kids should have the freedom to ask questions, express emotions and process what is happening. This open dialogue is all the more important with a blended family because the children aren’t just processing a split between two biological parents; they’re processing a possible separation between half-siblings themselves. If tight bonds have been formed, the pain is likely to be more acute.

Encourage Ongoing Relationships

When a blended family is established and new relationships form, those relationships should not be jeopardized or cut off just because you and your spouse are separating. Stress to the children that even though they may not be living together in the same house anymore, they are free to maintain friendships and relationship with each other and with their step-parents, if they so desire.

When it’s time to finalize your divorce, the way you dress for divorce court can have an impact on the outcome of your case. This isn’t to suggest that the judge won’t be as impartial as possible regardless of what you wear—it’s just to say that the judge is a human being, and humans are affected by first impressions. According to Business Insider, you only have 7 seconds to make a first impression; the Association for Pscyhological Science says first impressions can take as little as one-tenth of a second! Since no one makes a conscious judgment within that time, first impressions obviously happen subconsciously, which is why you want to look your best in order to keep your appearance from becoming an issue that subtly works against you.

What should you wear to divorce court?

Appropriate courtroom dress should convey professionalism and respect without drawing too much attention to oneself. Think of it as dressing for an important business meeting: a clean dress shirt, necktie and coat for men; a fashionable dress, skirt/blouse or business suit for women. Make sure your clothes are clean and fit you well. Wear jewelry in moderation to enhance your look without dominating it. You’re aiming for a look that represents you well while remaining conservative and neutral. You don’t want your appearance to be the “main event.”

What should you not wear to divorce court?

Avoid wearing anything that is either too casual or too distracting—a loud green suit will probably not do you any more favors in the courtroom than a pair of sweats. Below are some other examples of what not to wear:

•    Jeans, tee shirts, shorts or other overly casual clothing
•    Clothing that is particularly low-cut, revealing or provocative
•    Noisy or gaudy jewelry (you don’t want to jangle when you walk)
•    Expensive accessories (wearing that Rolex watch to court might suggest to the judge that you can afford more alimony)
•    Hats or sunglasses

Additional tips for a professional look

Besides clothes and jewelry, the following tips should help enhance your first impression with the judge:

•    Cover tattoos. While body art is more common nowadays, it can still convey an unwanted message in court. Wear long sleeves to cover your tattoos.
•    Avoid body jewelry. Body piercings convey a message similar to tattoos, so leave the nose ring at home for today.
•    Remember good hygiene. A shaven face, fresh breath and modestly applied cologne/perfume can go a long way toward a positive impression.

By coming to court well dressed, you’re sending a message that you respect the judge and take the proceedings seriously. Dressing appropriately for divorce court won’t necessarily make or break your case, it will at least ensure your appearance doesn’t get in the way.

The Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project is a longitudinal study that explores the effect of the nature of adoption. It’s a collaborative effort between the University of Minnesota and the University of Texas at Austin. Recruitment began in the 1980s. The Project questioned parents (both adoptive and birth) over the course of several decades using in-person and internet measures.

The Project is expansive. It requires research of the entire adoptive network, from birth to adoptive families. It also raises unique ethical concerns about confidentiality and privacy.

Privacy Concerns in Adoption

The Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project has many implications for privacy. Adoption is a sensitive subject for all parties involved. Adoptive parents may be unwilling to acknowledge that their family’s dynamic is any different than a biological family’s. Adoptive parents may withhold information from their children about birth parents. Children may have a relationship with their birth parents without the adoptive parents’ knowledge.

Openness of Adoption and Relationship Quality

The Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project aimed to examine how the nature of the adoption affected the relationships of all parties involved. The Project questioned parents of children from a variety of adoption arrangements: no contact, stopped contact, face-to-face contact, and contact without meetings.

Each arrangement elicited different feelings about the experience. Families who experienced contact with the birth mother were more likely to experience positive feelings about her and a higher level of satisfaction about the openness of the adoption.

Adolescent children and adoptive mothers who had face-to-face contact reported having the highest level of satisfaction. Adolescent children and adoptive mothers with no or stopped contact had the least level of satisfaction. Adolescents who had no contact were mostly likely to want an increase in the intensity of contact. Fewer than 1% of families wanted less contact.

What Does This Mean for Family Adoptions?

Adoptions are private family affairs. Adoptive and birth parents do what they think is in the child’s best interest. The Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project seems to suggest that families who have continued contact with the birth mother experience a higher degree of satisfaction. Participants in an open adoption may want to consider continued contact.

In a recent article in the New York Times, Dr. Kerry Maguire reportedly threatened to divorce her dentist husband, Dr. Tom Stossel, if he voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election. While we don’t know whether he actually voted for Trump (or whether she is going through with the divorce, if he did), it raises an interesting question: Will some couples opt for divorce over this particularly bitter election? Will the deep divides that have already split some families on this issue begin to affect marriages, as well?

Not a Typical Election

Perhaps it seems rash to divorce one’s spouse over their choice of presidential candidate, and in most situations, it probably would be. However, this was anything but a typical election, and for many, ideology had very little to do with it. On one hand, we had Hillary Clinton, a Democrat whose career had been marred by controversy and scandal—but still, we had the opportunity to elect our first-ever female President. On the other hand, we had Donald J. Trump, the boisterous billionaire-turned-reality-television-star who for many represented an opportunity to shake up the government—yet Trump is a controversial figure in his own right, known for racist, sexist and bullying remarks.

For many, this wasn’t a choice of Republican or Democrat, but a choice between two very polarizing characters fighting it out in the most unorthodox campaign season of our lifetimes. It’s little wonder that divisions have run deep, not just between friends, but among family members as well:

•    For many, a vote for Donald Trump meant a vote against females, minorities, or a vote in favor of white supremacy.
•    For many, a vote for Hillary Clinton meant a vote to propagate a corrupt political machine, or a death knell for the pro-life agenda.
•    For many, a vote for either candidate represented a chance to keep the other’s dangerous agenda at bay.

Is Politics a Reason for Divorce?

In most cases, probably not, but it’s understandable why some couples might be considering it. For many, this vote felt personal, and voting for the opposing candidate often represented a personal affront. That being said, if you’re currently at odds with your own spouse over the 2016 Presidential Election, remember that divorce is a serious and fairly permanent solution to what may be a temporary rift. Before you cite it as an irreconcilable difference, we recommend talking with your spouse at length to see if you can find common ground before deciding to separate.

We often think about divorce in terms of dividing a couple’s assets: cars, homes, real estate, bank accounts, and investments top the list. Property division in divorce can be challenging. Sometimes, our most treasured assets don’t carry a price tag. Family keepsakes are a source of contention in divorce. They often lack monetary value, and they can be hard to divide between the parties for sentimental reasons. Learn the best course of action for dividing mementos in a divorce.

Catalogue Everything

It’s your responsibility to catalogue all of your assets in a divorce. The same responsibility applies to keepsakes. Memorabilia and gifts with special meaning should make your list. Don’t worry if the items have little monetary value. Your property will be divided in accordance with your state’s divorce laws. Minnesota is an equitable distribution state. A judge will divide assets in a way that’s fair and equitable for both parties.

For example, a couple’s dishware may be a wedding gift that passed down through generations of the wife’s family. The dishware may belong to the couple, but the wife will more likely get to keep it as part of the property division.

Who Gets the Pet?

The family pet is often a hotly contested asset. You may adoringly refer to your dog as your “baby.” The law doesn’t treat pets any differently from the family china. A poll from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that pets are increasingly a custody issue in divorces. A judge will consider who will spend the most time caring for the pet, such as feeding, walking, and visits to the veterinarian.

Consider Your Motivations

Consider why you want a particular piece of memorabilia or family keepsake. Is it actually because it’s a memento that you can’t live without? Is it a power struggle between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse? Does it remind you of a happier time before the divorce proceeding began? We’re all guilty of feeling spite and resentment from time to time. Ask yourself if you really want the item or if you just want more control over the situation.

Some judges will divide family keepsakes or mementos. Other judges will require that you do handle this division process through mediation. Talk to your attorney about what’s most appropriate for you.

A divorce affects every aspect of your life: social, emotional, and physical. Divorce can even disturb your business. Your small business is one of your most important assets. Know how to protect it.

Here’s a common scenario: you marry your spouse when your business is worth $100,000. You file for divorce 20 years later. Your business is worth $10 million now. The business is your own, but your ex-spouse has some stake in it. It may be too late for the prenuptial, but you can still take steps to protect your business from divorce.

Keep All Finances Separate

Keeping your family and business bookkeeping separate is more than just good business sense. It could also help save your enterprise.

Pay Yourself Well

Give yourself a good salary to keep your family afloat. Funneling all of the money into retirement may seem like a good idea, but remember that your soon-to-be ex-spouse might have a claim to it in a divorce. Funnel all of your extra cash back into the business, and your spouse may have a better legal argument for keeping a stake in it.

Ease Your Spouse Out of the Business

It may seem cruel to fire your spouse. It makes good business sense if you’re headed for a breakup. Soon-to-be ex-spouses have more of a stake in a company when they’re involved for longer periods of time.

Divide business assets cautiously. Sacrifice homes, vehicles, and other things to maintain 100% ownership of your business.

Put Your Business in a Trust

A business in a trust is no longer considered an asset. If you don’t personally own it, it won’t be subject to property division. Talk to a business lawyer to see whether this is an appropriate move for you.

Take Preventive Measures

We can’t always predict the future. If you’re getting married, consider taking preventive measures to protect your business, such as signing a prenuptial. You could sign an early postnuptial in the alternative. Judges can view postnuptials skeptically, depending on circumstances. Consider a buy-sell agreement if you’re uncomfortable with prenuptials or postnuptials. A buy-sell agreement details what will happen to a company in the event of a divorce.