Divorce can be a terrifying and confusing process. Everyone has an opinion as to what are the best options for you to pursue. Should you try to mediate first, retain an attorney immediately, move out, stay put together in the same house? Empty out joint bank accounts, take only half the funds? Everyone has a sister, a brother-in-law, a neighbor, a co-worker, someone with a horror story to share.
It appears to be a giant chess game of strategies and positions. Individuals can feel as though they truly are just a pawn in a winner-takes-all chess game.
Every situation is unique. Every couple has unique challenges and strengths. No two divorces are alike, as no two medical treatments are alike. Results may vary- the same disclaimer as every pharmaceutical commercial on television.
Let me share some reliable information to consider in two major elements of divorce- child support and spousal maintenance. Both issues are emotionally charged and fraught with well-meaning “advice”.
Child Support– Minnesota has a Child Support Calculator which is used to determine the court ordered amount of child support to be paid when minor children are involved. The calculator collects the same information from every divorcing couple- income- if any- of each spouse, number of children, percentage of time the children will spend with each parent, children from previous relationships and other sources of income. The calculator runs the provided numbers through a matrix model and calculates the amount of child support paid to be paid by a parent. The calculator is straight-forward and accepted by the courts. The challenges come when the percentage of parenting time is straddling a step up or down on the calculator, and when there are large swings in annual income or other unusual circumstances.
Spousal Maintenance– Spousal maintenance (formerly alimony) is very different from child support calculations. There is not a calculator or a recognized guideline. Determination of spousal support is at best “squishy”. Spousal support is intended to help a spouse bridge time to return to the workforce, complete a degree or find childcare. A classic example would be a stay-at-home Mom to three kids 10, 8 and 5 years of age. The husband and wife were married twelve years. She worked until the birth of their first child. She cannot return to work tomorrow and earn enough money to support herself to her previous standard of living. She will need spousal maintenance- how much, how long? Spousal support is the element of divorce where the negotiations really occur. A spouse can waive spousal maintenance; can reserve spousal maintenance in the future or even agree to not claim spousal maintenance in consideration for a more favorable property settlement. Your neighbor’s spousal maintenance settlement will vary from your cousin’s settlement. It is the nature of negotiations.
Every divorce is different. Mediation is a useful, safe and thoughtful opportunity to work though the possible scenarios and settlements. The two spouses understand their working dynamics, especially when children are involved. In mediation both parents work together to craft a settlement that is organic and sustainable because they helped to design and create the settlement.