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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. 

 

In parts one and two, we covered an overview of military divorce and discussed special considerations regarding children and military divorce. In our final post in this series, we’ll examine implications for pensions and alimony as well as how to advocate for your rights and a fair result.

How Military Pension Works

When a service member retires after a minimum of 20 years of service, he or she receives a pension as compensation. Under the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act of 1982, these pensions are considered marital property. As such, they are split during the divorce, and that division can be negotiated. In many cases, the deciding factor is the length of the marriage and whether it overlapped with the person’s time in the service and, if so, for how long. Again, that division does not need to be equal.

Under the USFSPA, state courts can withdraw a maximum of 50 percent of the retired person’s pension. Although the courts might award a higher amount, the retired person will then need to pay the difference directly to his or her ex. In addition, the marriage needed to last a minimum of 10 years in order to go through the finance center. If the court does grant pension to a person whose marriage lasted less than 10 years, then he or she again needs to directly pay the ex.
In some cases, the spouse might trade off a smaller portion of the pension for another consideration, such as a house. The spouse should consult with a family law attorney to see which option makes the most strategic sense depending on the situation.

Survivor’s Benefit Plan

The spouse should ensure that he or she is included in the Survivor’s Benefit Plan (SBP), which continues to pay the pension if the spouse precedes him or her in death. The SBP is separate from the pension, and it should be assessed accordingly.

Service Members Group Life Insurance

During a divorce, the couple can also negotiate naming the ex as the beneficiary in the Service Members Group Life Insurance policy. This money can be designed to replace child support payments should the person die while serving his or her country. For example, the ex can receive $80,000, while the remainder can be placed into a trust for the children.

Additional Military Benefits

An ex-spouse might also be entitled to full medical, theater, exchange and commissary privileges under the following circumstances:

•    The couple was married for at least 20 years
•    The service member accumulated a minimum of 20 years of service and
•    The military service and the marriage had at least a 20-year overlap.

Pension Payments and Your Military Divorce

Pension negotiations can be quite complex, especially if a couple has been married for 20 years or more. Our family law firm understands these challenges. Contact us at 763-323-6555 to find out how we can help.

In a military divorce, the nonmilitary spouse likely has not worked outside the home or possibly only held down part-time employment in order to accommodate the lifestyle with moves and lengthy deployments.

On the one hand, nonmilitary spouses often struggle to find employment because of those factors. On the other hand, they can frequently build strong cases for child custody. After all, the military professional’s frequent deployments may make child care complicated if not impossible.

Considering the Best Interests of the Child

The judge will consider what’s in the best interests of your children. If he or she determines that military-related moves could hurt the children emotionally and socially or disrupt schooling, sports, medical treatment or other activities, the judge might award custody to the parent who is less likely to move.

Special Considerations

Since both parties understand the need for cooperation in the event of sudden deployments, they should work with a knowledgeable family law attorney who can provide them with good advice on how to proceed.

Similar to a civilian divorce, a military custody plan should consider diverse factors, such as:

•    The age of the children
•    The possibility of deployment and a plan of action
•    A plan of action for a return from deployment and
•    Visitation in the event of a stateside or international deployment.

In addition, assess the custody plan according to the age of each child and future considerations. You might need to make adjustments based on a different job, remarriage or other relevant criteria.

Collecting Child Support

In some cases, the parties will need a temporary order to address the payment of daily expenses during the separation until the divorce is finalized. Both parents must support their children, and the court will consider the following factors when ordering payments:

•    The number of children
•    Any special needs
•    Shared custody arrangements
•    The number and frequency of overnight visits with the non-custodial parent and
•    Other relevant factors.

The military enforces the collection of child support via the following methods:

•    Wage garnishments
•    Voluntary or involuntary allotments and
•    Court orders.

Addressing Custody Matters in Your Military Divorce

Due to the relocation of military parents, custody issues can lead to especially sensitive conversations and debates. Our experienced and skilled family law team can suggest solutions; call us for help at 763-323-6555.

From 2001 until 2011, the divorce rate rose from 2.6 percent to 3.7 percent for military couples, according to the Defense Department. The military enforces special regulations for divorces in order to protect both enlisted individuals and their spouses. These cover a gamut of issues, including processing the divorce, residency matters, compliance, custody and the division of pensions. In part one of this extended series, we’ll overview the military divorce process. Part two will address how children are affected by military divorces, and part three will cover pensions and spousal support.

Divorce Jurisdiction

Active duty personnel are immune from divorce proceedings, so that they can focus on their service to the U.S. When a military couple divorces, either party can usually file wherever they are stationed, even if neither individual is a resident of that state. In addition, they have other options as well, including filing in the state where either spouse claims legal residency.

Once the spouse files, then he or she will need to follow the laws of that state regarding the divorce, division of property and child custody and support. For clarification, contact the legal aid office at your local military base. Be advised that the JAG office can only provide general advice and cannot prepare divorce paperwork, represent clients or file the legal documents in court. Indeed, a military attorney does not need to be licensed in the state, so he or she might not know local laws. Thus, the person who files for divorce should also contact a qualified local family law attorney.

Military Identification Cards

The military member does not have the right to confiscate his or her spouse’s ID card, since those cards are granted by Congress and not by the military person. If the spouse does confiscate the card, he or she can face larceny charges. Even when the spouse refuses to sign a card, the Personnel Office can still issue one. However, the nonmilitary spouse will likely lose the card upon divorce, except if the spouse served for at least 20 years and if the couple was also married for at least 20 years. The ID card qualifies the spouse for medical, theater, commissary and other benefits. If the former spouse remarries, he or she will lose those benefits.

Understanding the Nuances of a Military Divorce

In addition to state laws, military personnel need to adhere to specific federal regulations when it comes to divorce. Our experienced legal team knows how to navigate the complex issues related to military separations. Call us for a no-obligation consultation at 763-323-6555.

One of the biggest reasons second marriages end in divorce is conflict between step-parents and children from the previous marriage. If you want your blended family to succeed, foster a positive relationship between the kids and the step-parent. Consider implementing the following tips and ideas:

1. Create a culture of respect. The family unit can’t get along as a unit unless the individual members love and respect each other. To foster those feelings, allow the step-parent some one-on-one time with each child, so everyone can get to know each other better. Schedule a half-hour outing for the step-parent and step-child each week (a trip to the ice cream parlor, a shopping spree, or a trip to park).

2. Buckle in for the emotional roller coaster. Children experiencing major life transitions are emotional. Allow the outbursts to occur. Instead of reacting, make eye contact, and listen to the child vent. Even small things like dropped candy bars and routine activities can be frustrating. Learn to listen to the frustrations (and the deeper needs and feelings behind them) without feeling like you need to fix them or alter coping strategies.

3. Get it off your chest – constructively. Parents and step-parents need to vent, too. Find a confidante outside the family (e.g. a therapist or a patient friend) to work through your own feelings about what’s happening. Don’t complain about the ex or your parenting frustrations in front of the children.

4. Participate in activities that unite the family. You don’t want to leave anyone out. Blended families face challenges when parents and their biological children go off together to do their own thing. That can be great for their relationships, but if the step-parent can never be included in your activities together with your children, tension will inevitably follow. Relieve that tension by finding things all of you can do together.

5. If possible, involve the other parent in solutions. Too many times, parents and step-parents speak negatively about the other parent in front of children. That badmouthing will cause unnecessary tension and even lead to charges of parental alienation. If the other parent isn’t meeting your needs, involve him or her in a solution. Empty complaining won’t make your situation better. And, again, keep negative, derisive comments about the other parent to yourself and away from the children.

Ask your family law questions in a private consultation with one of our Minnesota family law attorneys by calling 763-323-6555 today.

Are marriage and divorce different for the very rich and very poor? One oft-cited statistic is that 50% of marriages end in divorce, but that doesn’t account for income disparity, nor does it account for the fact that many divorces are from second and third marriages. Still, a look at marriage rates in recent years reveals  that fewer people are getting married overall.

There are many reasons why fewer people seek marriage today, which also means fewer people are getting divorced. Interestingly, when the recession hit in 1998, that economic change sparked an upsurge in divorce. That fact should come as no surprise, since arguing over money is one of the main causes of divorce, among both the rich and the poor.

While arguments over money obviously can lead to marital strife and the break down of communication, the story is not so simple. People don’t just get divorced because they lack resources. Certainly, empty pockets add to the stress of raising a family, and that can lead to poor families splitting as well as to behaviors (such as criminal acts or addiction) that further fray relationships. However, there’s a wrinkle: many poor people simply can’t afford to divorce… or at least they believe they cannot afford to separate.

Another cultural phenomenon may be relevant to our question. Over the last 50 years, women have been joining the workforce in droves. As a result, women have seen their incomes go up. Interestingly, in homes where the woman earns more than her husband, the couple seems to be at higher risk of divorce. Could new gender economics somehow contribute to some divorces?

Celebrity divorces get a lot of media attention, but are celebrities even a good proxy for the “wealthy”? Perhaps the complexities of fame dictate how and why celebrity couples split more so than fortune.

Marriage and divorce are complicated matters. It’s difficult to say which socioeconomic class divorces more often, but we can say married couples are more financially stable and that divorce (in general) leads to wealth reduction. It appears from the data we have that the most financially secure are people who get married and stay married.

Our Minnesota divorce lawyers can help you understand your options and develop a clear strategic approach to meeting your needs and protecting your children. Please call us at 763-323-6555 to discuss your situation.

In Minnesota, you can file a document with the state to recognize a man as father of your child even if you aren’t married to that man. It’s a voluntary action, and both adult parties must sign the document. If you know who the father of your child is, and he is willing to be recognized as the child’s father, the ROP offers a less expensive option than paternity testing. You can bypass many of the typical legal hoops you have to jump through to prove paternity.

It’s important that you and the father understand that signing the Recognition of Parentage form does not give the father any visitation or custody rights. It simply establishes the legal relationship between the man and the child.

The Benefits of ROP to the Father and Mother

Once the ROP is in place, the father can then petition the court to request visitation and custody rights. It also gives you the right to petition the court to force the father to provide financial support for the child, and you can obtain medical information about the father. The father also has the right to include the child on his medical and dental insurance policies. Here are the potential downsides; both parties lose the right to:

1. Genetic testing to prove fatherhood
2. Have an attorney represent them in court
3. Request a trial to prove paternity

After filing for an ROP, you can file another form to have it revoked within 60 days. If circumstances permit, you can petition a court to revoke your ROP after 60 days but within the first year, but this strategy is substantially more difficult to accomplish. If the man who signed your ROP is not the biological father of your child, and you have genetic testing to prove it, you have six months after obtaining that proof to revoke the Recognition of Parentage.

If you want to know more about ROP and paternity testing, contact a Minnesota family law attorney at 763-323-6555 right now.

Spousal maintenance, also called alimony, allows a lower-earning spouse to retain a standard of living similar to the one that he or she enjoyed during the marriage. Once this arrangement has been established, under what circumstances can it be changed?

The alimony process aims to create fair results based on the marriage’s history, the spouses’ educational and financial backgrounds and many other factors. From the court’s perspective, ideally, once alimony has been established, the arrangement should be followed unless circumstances change drastically. Minnesota courts generally do allow for spousal maintenance payments to be modified in the following six cases.

1.    Mistakes. For example, when the court originally calculated monthly payments, a clerical error set alimony to last for two extra years. Such simple mistakes are generally easily corrected.

2.    New evidence affects your case. For instance, your ex spouse enjoys a sudden surge of income due to a promotion or, conversely, suddenly starts struggling financially after a major business deal blows up, eliminating her main source of cash flow.

3.    Fraud, misconduct, falsification of documents or misrepresentation. For instance, your spouse intentionally hid assets in part to avoid having to pay his share during the divorce.

4.    Satisfaction of the judgment or order. Spousal support is not always forever. Depending on the length of the marriage and other factors, alimony may just be a temporary measure to provide the receiving spouse with time and space to find work or retrain. Once he has completed schooling and/or obtained a job, the purpose of the spousal support is satisfied, and the court might then reduce or eliminate the monthly payments.

5.    Vacating the judgment or order. The courts can overturn a prior order and update it with a new order.

6.    Major life, health and relationship changes. For instance, the remarriage of the either spouse can dramatically affect the financial picture. If a woman receiving substantial alimony remarries a multi-millionaire entrepreneur, for instance, the court may decide that she no longer needs or qualifies for spousal maintenance.
Even when couples come to agreement about alimony outside of court, a judge can be called in to rule on the matter. In Minnesota, the judge has a significant amount of flexibility. In general, the longer the marriage lasted and the greater the income disparity, the greater the award will be.

Exceptions to Spousal Support Modification

In some cases, the parties agree ahead of time in a pre- or post-nuptial agreement or in the divorce settlement that they will not change alimony amounts, no matter the circumstances. However, the court must agree to such stipulations and determine that they are fair to both parties. Minnesota courts call this a Karon waiver based on a 1989 case.

Need Help Updating Your Spousal Maintenance?

If you want to modify to your spousal maintenance payments, call the Brown Law Office, P.A. at 763-323-6555 for a private consultation.

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.