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Jill Anderson is a senior associate attorney 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 Northern Iowa and Drake Law School. Jill is a former social worker, who routinely handles complex custody and parenting time disputes. She has been recognized as a "North Star Lawyer" by the Minnesota State Bar Association, in light of her extensive work with Judicare of Anoka County, Legal Assistance of Washington County and the Alexandra House.

The end of summer prompts feelings of regret and sadness in many Minnesotans, and not just because they dread shoveling snow or driving on icy roads. The quickly diminishing sunlight contributes greatly to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that correlates with seasonal patterns. The divorce process always takes a toll on ex-spouses, but SAD can make this already harrowing experience that much more difficult.

How Daylight Savings Time Exacerbates SAD Symptoms

Symptoms of SAD include sleepiness, anxiety, poor appetite, and lack of motivation. These symptoms may begin to arrive already before daylight savings time kicks in, as the days naturally get shorter when winter approaches. SAD sufferers get one extra hour of sleep when the clock falls back, but at the price of even less sunlight exposure when it’s most important. Researchers believe that morning exposure to light helps SAD sufferers far more than light in the evening, but unfortunately, daylight savings time is explicitly designed to extend evening daylight. This shift messes with millions of years of evolution, which never prepared humans to deal with such a sudden change in daylight exposure. It is, perhaps, for this reason that the rate of auto accidents rises dramatically during the first few days after daylight savings time goes into effect.

How Daylight Savings Time and SAD Impact Divorce

During daylight savings time, the emotionally charged process of finalizing a divorce can easily exacerbate the already problematic symptoms of SAD. Contentious disagreements with your ex, coupled with stressful sessions in divorce court, deplete your already tapped reserves, making it that much more difficult to get through the day.

Be mindful of symptoms, and visit with a medical professional if you are having an unusually difficult season.

October brings the best of autumn: cooler weather and fun activities for those in Minnesota. Don’t spend your next visitation weekend sitting around the TV and playing video games. Try one of these family-friendly activities instead:

Find a U-Pick Center

Cider mills and U-Pick centers are full of nature’s bounty. Find a pumpkin patch or an apple orchard to spend the day. Sample those yummy apple cider donuts. Let your kids pick out their own pumpkins and carve them as a family. Don’t forget to roast the seeds!

Discover a Corn Maze

Local farms set their corn mazes for the season. The mazes range from courses suitable for preschoolers to the truly challenging for all ages. Consider attending at nightfall for a spookier experience with older children.

Go to the Scarecrow Festival

Visit the Scarecrow Festival in Belle Plain now through October 30. Admission is $5.50 and includes tractor trikes and wagon rides.

Visit the Como Zoo

Have preschoolers at home? The big kids are back in school. Try Lil’ Explorer Thursdays where your little one can learn all about the animals in the exhibits. Bring the whole family on the weekends to explore the Halloween exhibits and everything else that the zoo has to offer.

Visit the Library

Looking for something fun and also free? Visit your local library. Libraries offer story time hours free of charge for toddlers and preschoolers. Even older kids can get involved with workshops. Visit your county or town library’s website to see what’s available in your area.

Prepare a Meal

Pick a dish, and let your kids get involved in the meal preparation. Let them pick the recipe, get the ingredients from the store, and do the cooking. It could be something as easy as pizza, or it could be a new food the family’s never tried before. Always provide supervision around the oven, stovetop, and sharp knives. Pumpkin pie? Pumpkin seeds? Pumpkin bread?

Go to the Museum

Travel to one of the Twin Cities’ museums on a cold or rainy day. Younger children will love the Minnesota Children’s Museum. Older children will enjoy the Science Museum of Minnesota. They’ll be having so much fun that they won’t even notice that they’re learning something new.

An Emory University study suggests a huge age gap increases the likelihood of divorce. The study indicates that a five-year age gap increases the likelihood of divorce by 18 percent. A 10-year age difference, meanwhile, increases that rate to 39 percent. Add another 10-year difference, and the chance of divorce is 95 percent. On the flip side, the longer the couple stays together, the less likely they’ll end up divorced. One decade together can nearly cancel out the added risk of divorce for couples 20 years apart in age.

Divorce Statistics: What Factors Weigh More Heavily for Staying Together?

As any statistics boffin will tell you, correlation does not mean causation. Couples should be self-aware and keep the lines of communication open rather than let numbers dictate their fates.

One way to think about this is to ask: what do you and your spouse have in common? If you are close in age, you will be more likely to have more in common. A couple with a 20 year age difference may have different tastes in music, food, fashion, and other lifestyle choices. Those differences don’t necessarily spell divorce in all situations, but if you have little in common with your spouse (regardless of ages), you’ll have a difficult time building a relationship on anything substantive.

You can be friends with someone of another generation, but if you find that you don’t have much in common, then consider marrying someone closer to your age… or at least someone with whom you have more in common.

Raising children on your own is challenging enough without the added stress of teenage rebellion. Still, it is your duty as parent to establish guidelines for behavior that could keep your child from getting in trouble with the law. Here are some tips for the single parent dealing with a teenager’s bad behavior.

1.    Realize you can’t necessarily control the behavior. Start by trying to understand your teen. They are beginning to go through changes associated with puberty. Secondly, they are at the age when exploring their self-identity is common, so give them some breathing room. It’s possible that a recent divorce could be a contributing factor.

2.    Open up the lines of communication. Your teenager may be experiencing peer pressure and testing boundaries. Start an ongoing dialogue about what constitutes good, respectful behavior. Then, let them make their choices.

3.    Establish guidelines with clear consequences. Parents demonstrate concern for their child’s safety by establishing clear boundaries and communicating the consequences for crossing those boundaries. If you include your teen in a heart-to-heart discussion and give them a chance to provide input, you are more likely to see cooperation when it comes to respecting boundaries.

4.    Praise positive behavior. Instead of harping on the negative behaviors, try praising the positive behaviors. Instill a spirit of pride in your teen, and she’ll try harder to please you.

5.    Model respect. Many parents seek to gain respect by demanding it. Instead, teach your teen to respect others by being respectful toward them. Model the behavior you expect.

Your teenager is trying to come into his or her own. That requires some patience on your part and a careful selection of battles. Help your teenager think through the consequences of unwanted behaviors. If possible, talk to your ex-spouse about your situation, and work together to get your teen on the right track.

Minnesota offers great attractions for the entire family. If you’re stumped about what to do, or where to go, during your parenting time, try these fun locations:

1. Itaska State Park – Itaska is Minnesota’s oldest state park. Not only is it great for camping, but it also contains one of America’s most enduring attractions: the beginning of the Mississippi River. Walk across the rocks from one side to the other.

2. Cave Country – Some of the most beautiful caves in America are in Minnesota (to the surprise of many – including us). Take the kids to see the historic Niagara Cave, or head over to Mystery Cave, which truly lives up to its name. Head southeast to Minnesota’s cave country.

3. Mall of America – In Bloomington, the Mall of America is a place for children of all ages. Go on a tour of the Sea Life Aquarium, have fun at Crayola Experience and The LEGO Store, supplement your child’s education at the Children’s Museum, and walk through the Amazing Mirror Maze.

4. Walnut Grove – Walnut Grove was the childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder. They have a museum, gift store, and a pageant of entertainment the entire family will love. Small town flair, with minimal cost.

5. Valleyfair – Valleyfair is the largest amusement park in the Upper Midwest. Enjoy thrill rides, family rides, Planet Snoopy, a waterpark, the Dinosaurs Alive exhibition (a favorite of elementary-aged kids), and more.

6. Como Park Zoo – Who doesn’t like animals? Minnesota’s Como Park Zoo is completely free, and it includes incredible exhibits of animals from all around the world. There are also great family entertainment attractions like Como Town and Ribbit Zibit. It’s the perfect day outing when you have the kids.

Whether you have a day visit, a weekend to get away, or just a couple of hours, there is plenty to do in Minnesota for children of any age.

Perhaps your previously happy-go-lucky children have now become withdrawn and even hostile towards you following your divorce. You might also notice that they seem more agitated after spending time with your former spouse. Could your kids be suffering from Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), a condition in which a brainwashed child acts out toward a targeted parent? Here are eight common indicators of PAS.

1.    The other parent asks the children to secretly snoop into your personal business, such as dating, friendships and private activities. The children think that sneaking around is normal in a relationship. They feel tense because they love both parents, and they do not want to be put in a position of having to choose between them.

2.    The other parent keeps secrets, shares private confidences or uses special code words to destroy your relationship with your children.

3.    The other parent lets the children choose to skip visits or end visits prematurely, despite a court-ordered schedule. He or she blames the non-custodial parent for the conflict, and the children become angry.

4.    The other parent fails to cooperate regarding activities, schedules, vacation plans and other events.

5.    The other parent discloses sensitive personal information about the divorce or relationship to diminish the children’s respect for you.

6.    The children get defensive when confronted with evidence that Parental Alienation has occurred. They use the same language that the other parent does when describing your quirks or the “bad things” you’ve allegedly done to the family. In other words, the children have no awareness that these ideas have been programmed in them.

7.    The other parent becomes upset when the children have fun during your visits. Children develop feelings of guilt for enjoying themselves around you, almost as though they are betraying the alienating parent by doing so.

8.    The other parent will not adjust schedules to meet the child’s needs. For example, the child wants to attend summer camp, but the camp falls during your scheduled family vacation. The other parent will sign the child up for camp anyway and blame you for not being flexible.

An amendment, introduced in the Minnesota Legislature on March 15, 2016, proposed an change to Minn. Stat. sec. 518A.39, Subd. 3, which will terminate alimony payments if the recipient remarries or dies. HF1333 or the “cohabitation bill” also covers situations in which a recipient cohabitates with another person.

Similar Legislation Passed Across the Nation

Many other states are passing statutes like HF1333 regarding cohabitating relationships. For instance, New York, Missouri and Georgia allow courts discretion to modify alimony if they determine that cohabitation exists.

Will Alimony Be Terminated or Suspended?

HF 1333 as it’s presently written says that cohabitation creates grounds to suspend or terminate maintenance. This language is important, because of the difference between “termination” and “suspension.”

Per the Minnesota Statutes, “termination” means that the receiving spouse cannot return to court to get maintenance payments reintroduced. But the proposed law will not terminate payments for cohabitants. This raises a key question: will the bill encourage cohabitation and discourage remarriage?

The economic incentives will certainly be in place, even if the intent is otherwise. As Steve Jobs once sagely observed: “There are downsides to everything; there are unintended consequences to everything. The most corrosive piece of technology that I’ve ever seen is called television – but then, again, television, at its best, is magnificent.”

So will the effects of this proposed bill be “magnificent” or “corrosive” or a bit of both?

Seven Factors That Help Determine Whether Cohabitation Exists

1.    The couple owns assets in common, such as bank accounts, vehicle titles and real estate.

2.    The couple shares responsibilities.

3.    Others (e.g. friends and family) recognize the nature of the relationship.

4.    The couple lives together. This is the typical way people think about cohabitation. In fact, the word “cohabitate” literally means living together. (In our article in April’s Minnesota Lawyer, we argued that: “in our view, the proposed legislation would be just as effective if the “living situation” was the only issue explored by the court.”)

5.    The couple’s relationship has endured. This is a murky area, because overnight visits often gradually convert to living together in earnest. Also, some people move in immediately (without knowing each other well). Others live apart for years but nevertheless have very serious, albeit somewhat independent relationships.

6.    The couple has made promises to each other regarding support or gone through some form of commitment ceremony short of marriage.

7.    The court can consider other, diverse evidence – anything related to the issue of cohabitation.

Implications of HF 1333

•    Interestingly, the law would allow the court to determine that a couple is cohabiting even if they don’t actually live together physically.
•    Also, the court does not need to rely on one factor over the others discussed above. Since no one factor dominates, we believe the first four factors will likely be most important, because there should be less information available about the last three.
•    Per HF 1333, the obligor has the burden of proof to show that his or her ex is cohabitating.
•    Finally, the court must make written findings for all seven factors.

*A longer version of this article authored by Cynthia and Jason Brown originally appeared in the Minnesota Lawyer newspaper on April 7, 2016.

According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, about 6 percent of married women between 15 and 44 struggle with infertility. These women cannot become pregnant after 12 months of unprotected sex. They might seek other alternatives, such as assisted reproduction. If you have decided to pursue assisted reproduction options, either by yourself or with a partner, this brief overview can help you make informed decisions.

•    Superovulation and Intrauterine Insemination. Superovulation and Intrauterine Insemination optimizes the woman’s chances of conception by stimulating the ovaries so that they release more than one egg each cycle. At the same time, the eggs are exposed to more sperm. This process can double or even triple the chances of conception and also increase the risk of a pregnancy with multiples. In

•    Vitro Fertilization. First used in 1978, IVF involves egg fertilization that occurs outside of the body. These babies are sometimes called test-tube babies.

•    Follicle stimulation and monitoring. The woman receives high doses of follicle-stimulating hormones in order to encourage the production of multiple eggs. She gives herself these shots for 10 days and sees the doctor every two to three days for monitoring in order to ensure that the optimal number of eggs develops.

•    Egg Retrieval. A nurse retrieves anywhere from zero to 30 eggs or oocytes from the woman while she is sedated. The eggs are examined by the embryologist and then incubated until the sperm fertilize them.

•    Fertilization and Incubation. The sperm and eggs are then incubated for a few days.

•    Embryo Transfer Procedure. The doctor transfers the embryos to the uterus via a catheter. The mother should rest after the transfer to allow for the implant.
Cryopreservation. The couple might want to freeze the embryos for later use. When they decide to have more children, the lab thaws the embryos, then transferring them to the uterus.

•    Testicular Sperm Extraction. In some cases, the man might not have any sperm in his ejaculate. However, sperm can still be removed from the testicle.

•    Gestational Carrier. A woman might not be able to carry a baby in her uterus, even though her ovaries and eggs function properly. Once IVF is completed, the embryos are then placed in a gestational surrogate, who carries the baby. After birth, the baby belongs to the biological parents. Before hiring a surrogate, all parties should seek legal counsel from an experienced family law attorney.

•    Donor Egg Program (DEP). If the woman cannot produce her own eggs, she might receive them from a donor. After IVF, the eggs undergo fertilization by either a sperm donor or her partner.

•    Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI). In this method, the lab injects a single sperm directly into a mature egg. The process can sometimes be more effective than traditional IVF methods.

A lot of people get cold feet before the wedding. No big deal, right?

Perhaps it actually is a big deal.

A new study confirms that some people’s “spidey sense” about their relationships is eerily predictive. In other words, if you get a sense that you shouldn’t go through with your vows, pay attention to that voice, as it indicates you will likely struggle during the marriage.

Florida State University Associate Professor of Psychology James K. McNulty recently found that people intuitively know whether their marriages will be happy or fraught before they even head down the aisle. McNulty’s study looked at 135 heterosexual couples. All of them had been married for less than six months, and researchers contacted the participants every six months for four years. The couples completed a baseline experiment that indicated their happiness levels and gauged their fluctuating feelings about their marriages.

The study, released in the journal Science in the Nov. 29, 2015 issue, suggested that the “intuitive” feelings measured prior to the altar predicted martial happiness levels as well as future strife to a striking degree.

Study Process

Researchers asked each participant to assess their relationships and the seriousness of their interpersonal struggles. They also graded their marriages by using adjectives. Analysts also assessed reaction times to positive or negative words flashed on a computer screen alongside photos of subjects’ spouses. When people had positive feelings about their spouses, they responded quickly to the positive words and slowly to the negative words. The conflict between the word and their feelings dramatically slowed down response times. Conversely, when they had negative feelings about their spouses, they responded slowly to the positive words and quickly to the negative words.

This test, performed at the beginning of the study, helped gauge the subject’s true feelings about his or her spouse. Four years later, the ones who showed negative attitudes reported that they were the unhappiest in their marriages. McNulty concluded that people should pay attention to negative gut reactions, even when such reactions are balanced by intellectual self-justification for going through with a marriage, and possibly seek therapy prior to tying the knot.

According to the Parental Alienation Awareness Organization website, “Parental alienation is defined as a set of behaviors that are harmful and damaging to a child’s emotional and mental health. It generally involves the mental manipulation and/or bullying of the child to pick between their mother or father. These behaviors can also result in destroying a loving and warm relationship they once shared with a parent.”

If you suspect that your ex-spouse has been engaged in alienation, what can you do to resolve your family’s crisis in a way that protects your relationships with your children and avoids or at least minimizes hostile interactions with the other parent? What therapies actually work to roll back the damage of alienation and strengthen families?

Strategies for Recovery

Dr. Elizabeth Ellis proposes five steps for alienated parents to help their children overcome PAS:

1.    Show children that the alienated parent is not the “bad guy.”  Per Dr. Ellis, children who see the targeted parent treated with respect might reconsider their perspective and come to see that parent as valued and worthwhile, contradicting the alienating parent’s narrative.
2.    Avoid making the child choose between the two parents.
3.    Look for ways to mitigate the other parent’s hurt and animosity.
4.    Find ways to create allies among all parties.
5.    Persist in seeking reunification despite setbacks and frustrations.

Dr. Ellis also suggests that, in some cases, physically separating the child and alienating parent can be useful and can end the bad effects of the brainwashing. Depending on circumstances and nature of the alienation, the courts might consider actions, such as altering the custody arrangement.

Cautions when Addressing PAS

According to Edward Kruk, Ph.D., children who’ve been alienated could also suffer from something akin to post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD). Dr. Kruk cautions that while the relationship between the targeted parent and children can be restored over time, those involved need to be sensitive and to avoid rushing the process. Undoing the damage caused by brainwashing is neither simple, nor linear. Prepare for ups and downs.

Reunification Goals

According to PAS authority, Dr. Richard Warshak, the goals for reunification after PAS include the following:

•    Avoiding parental conflict in front of the child
•    Encouraging an independent child
•    Teaching critical thinking skills
•    Understanding different perspectives and
•    Promoting a healthy relationship with both parents.

Dr. Warshak believes that therapies should teach children how to overcome their codependence with the alienating and enmeshed parent and help them view relationships more empathetically.

Therapy for the Targeted Parent

It’s normal for targeted parents to feel deeply hurt and betrayed by the alienation. Frustratingly, this pain can prevent them from getting the help they need and even lead them to internalize a sense of victimhood. “Perhaps my ex and the kids have a point when they criticize me?”

Targeted parents may need extensive therapy both by themselves and with the children (and with the other parent, if possible) to heal from the experience and rebuild good relationships and a sense of self-esteem.