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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 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.

Child custody exchanges are outlined in the custody agreement issued by the court. They are generally routine, taking place at the same time and place and on a regular schedule. If one parent regularly refuses to let the other parent take the children at these court-appointed exchange times, that parent could face contempt of court charges. But there are exceptions.

One such exception is if your spouse shows up for the exchange appearing to be drunk or high. If that is the case, then you’ll want to protect your children.

First, note the behavior that causes you to believe your spouse is drunk or using drugs. Is he or she driving a vehicle while under the influence? If so, that is obviously a serious situation that could endanger your child’s life. You should call your local law enforcement agency to report the violation.

If your spouse is not the driver, but you suspect he or she may be drunk or high, then you’ll have to weigh carefully whether you feel that your children are in danger. If so, you do not have to let your children go with the spouse under the influence. If your spouse has a history of abuse or has been arrested in the past for violence, then that history increases the potential danger to your children. You should call law enforcement and be prepared to explain why you are not allowing the exchange to take place.

Police officers are trained to administer on-the-spot substance tests to determine if an individual is violating any laws. Be prepared to let your children go with your spouse if the police give the go ahead.

If your spouse is determined to be drunk or high, he or she may be arrested or given a warning, depending on the severity of the offense. If an arrest occurs, you have the right to request a copy of the arrest report for your custody battle. Be sure to call your attorney as soon as the situation permits.

Minnesota couples who wish to adopt have a variety of resources available to them for support and encouragement. Here are six resources you should know about before you adopt.

1. Department of Human Services (DHS) – The Minnesota Department of Human Services offers financial support, training, and referrals to counseling services.

2. MN Adopt – Contracted through DHS, MN Adopt is committed to the mission of supporting families that adopt and promoting adoption as a viable means of family planning.

3. EVOLVE Adoption and Family Services – Few adoption agencies can handle it all. EVOLVE helps families adopt infants and children domestically and internationally; and it provides resources for couples who want to become foster parents. EVOLVE also provides other family and pregnancy-related services.

4. Children’s Hospital of Minnesota Department of Genetics – Not all adoptive situations are simple. Adoptive parents searching to unlock a child’s genetic history and get answers to previously unexplained medical questions can find useful resources available through the Department of Genetics and Genomics at Children’s Hospital of Minnesota.

5. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network – For couples adopting under difficult circumstances involving child trauma, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network offers a trove of information about how to deal with traumas ranging from physical abuse to complex neglect or abandonment.

6. Disability Minnesota – If you are adopting a child with a disability of any kind, Disability Minnesota can assist you with information about accessibility, education, assistive technologies, advocacy issues and much more.

More and more, people are taking pet disputes to divorce court. When a pet has been shared between partners through the duration of a marriage, courts will look at the following details to determine who should get “custody,” even though pets are considered “property” under Minnesota law.

1. Who takes care of the pet? – Who feeds the pet and takes her to vet visits? You might ask your veterinarian to sign a statement indicating you are the one who brings the pet to appointments. A family friend or relative can also serve as a witness regarding who is the primary caregiver.

2. Where will the kids live? – If the animal is a family pet, the court will want to know with whom the children will live after the marriage is dissolved. If you’ll share custody with the children, you may end up sharing custody of the pet, too. Pets can be finicky, however, so if it comes down to where the kids live and who has the best relationship with the pet, the pet and the kids could actually end up in different households.

3. Lifestyle – Whose lifestyle is better suited for taking care of the pet? If one of you travels for business a lot, or spends long hours away from home, then the other partner could end up with custody.

4. Living environment – Is where you will live after the divorce suitable for a pet? If one of you moves into an apartment where pets are not allowed, then the animal will be placed in the home of your spouse. Other living environment concerns could affect where the pet ends up as well. Are other pets involved? Do those pets get along with yours? The court will consider as many factors as are relevant.

5. Prenuptial agreement – Who owned the pet before you were married? If you haven’t tied the knot yet, get your future spouse to sign a prenup.