The first opportunity for the Court to decide custody is normally at the temporary relief hearing. In Hennepin County, this can easily be four months or more from the date of filing. In other counties, it can be much speedier, as in Dakota or Scott County, where a temporary relief hearing date is normally available within about 3 weeks. Once the motions for temporary relief are heard, the Court has 90 days to rule, although they normally get temporary orders out within two to four weeks.
If the court finds, after a hearing, that parenting time with a parent is likely to endanger the child's physical or emotional health or impair the child's emotional development, the court shall restrict parenting time with that parent as to time, place, duration, or supervision and may deny parenting time entirely, as the circumstances warrant. The court shall consider the age of the child and the child's relationship with the parent prior to the commencement of the proceeding.
If you and your spouse have been unable to resolve issues involving your children, it may be necessary to have a formal custody/parenting-time evaluation. There is generally a monitory cost associated with this evaluation. This evaluation can be conducted by the Court Services workers in the county your action is venued in, if the county has such a department. In most counties this work is contracted out to third parties. Some parties, however, prefer to retain their own neutral expert, typically a child psychologist with expertise in conducting such evaluations. Private evaluations typically are more expensive than those conducted by Court Services. Whoever conducts the evaluation, however, will interview you, your children, and such third parties who have relevant information as are necessary, including other family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, doctors and counselors. They will observe you interacting with your children, and may also administer psychological testing. At the end of this process, some evaluators will first make an oral presentation of their findings in the hope that their summary will facilitate settlement. If not, a formal written report is issued.
Having said that, children naturally wonder and ask questions to resolve their own anxiety at a time when their parents have split up, and their family unit and daily routines have dramatically changed. Simply proceed with sensitivity, and be careful not to place the children in the middle of any disputes. Say nothing that would burden them with any guilt, or put them in the position of having to take sides.
What the mediator can do, though, is to point out in open session to both spouses things that each of them should be aware of about what they’re trying to accomplish. That open and free exchange of information frees up both spouses to negotiate with each other in confidence. Because both spouses are working with the same base of information, it usually takes far less time to negotiate a resolution that makes sense to both spouses.
Mediation preparation is often limited, as there is no formal discovery. Frequently, mediation begins with a "general caucus" where the parties and the mediator meet in the same room. The mediator establishes the ground rules in an "agreement to mediate." In court-mandated mediation, the court order will often contain or refer to the "rules of mediation." One of the most important mediation rules is the requirement for confidentiality.
Judges often tell litigants not to argue over the physical custody “label.” They often say that it is not important. Years ago, the physical custody label had a major impact on the issue of child support and out of state moves. Because of statutory changes, that is no longer the case at all. There is debate in the bar as to what if any legal impact the physical custody label has now that those two considerations have been removed.
“Legal Separation” is a major change in the status of your marriage. To get a legal separation you must serve and file a petition in Family Court in the county where you or your spouse lives. It is a separate process from divorce. In Minnesota, you don’t need to get a legal separation before you get divorced. Legal separation takes as long as a divorce, and costs just as much if not more. In many ways, a legal separation is the same as a divorce. Both include custody, parenting time, child support, and, if appropriate, spousal maintenance (alimony) orders. All the family assets and debts are permanently divided.
Most mediators will emphasize the problem-solving aspect of negotiation at this stage. The problem to be solved is finding settlement options that address each spouse’s most important interests as fully as possible. With this focus, you’ll be able to negotiate by trading off acceptable options instead of getting locked into zero-sum bargaining, where one spouse’s gain is the other spouse’s loss.
If you cannot afford to pay an attorney, you may be able to get assistance from the legal services office in your area. A list of the legal aid offices in Minnesota begins on the next page. You must meet low-income guidelines to be eligible for legal services (legal aid). You may be referred to a volunteer attorney program by the legal services office.
I am an experienced trial attorney, who has represented numerous individuals in times of crises during the past 21+ years. The areas in which I practice include family law, domestic abuse, criminal defense, juvenile defense and personal injury cases. I am passionate about helping ordinary people through extraordinary crises and providing our clients the opportuntity to be heard in the process.
Finally, the parties in mediation are often surprised to hear their mediator suggest that they consider retaining consulting attorneys. The thought is that they chose to mediate to avoid fighting their case out with attorneys and they don’t want that extraordinary expense. However, the role of a consulting attorney in mediation is very different than the role of a litigation advocate and is a very helpful assistance when mediating.
Another helpful approach for very high-conflict cases can include bringing an additional professional into the mix, such as a marriage and family therapist, who can meet with one or both parties in the mediation session or separately, as appropriate. The goal of the therapist is not to reconcile the parties, but to help them develop a better ability to communicate around the emotional roadblocks that they are facing. In the end, by going through the mediation process together and reaching reasonable solutions to the issues facing them, parties that mediate learn new ways of working together as they go forward into their new future. This is a huge benefit, especially when children and co-parenting are involved.
Such arguments are made both in support of temporary as well as permanent relief. Such arguments do not always carry the day, but it is often a consideration that influences judges, even if they deny it. If custody is in issue or you really want to keep the house, try to stay put until the temporary relief hearing, which is your first opportunity to legally compel the other party to move out.
If your spouse files an Answer that disputes details in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, then the judge will order you and your spouse to trial. There may be a number of hearings and legal proceedings before a trial occurs, so you will probably need an attorney to guide you through the process. Before the trial, you and your spouse’s attorney may engage in evidence requests, witness interviews and negotiations. This may be a lengthy and complex process that could cost you a great deal personally and financially.
In cases where you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement on major issues, the judge will schedule a bench or jury trial that will require you and your spouse to present arguments supporting your respective positions. In the vast majority of trials, it is the attorneys with trial experience that do most of the arguing and presenting of evidence. In addition to the legal fees paid to the attorneys, there are usually many court costs involved in a trial and pre-trial proceedings.
Judges, evaluators, and guardians will often pontificate about the virtue of compromise and settlement, as if this were the ultimate objective of any reasonable person, rather than as a means to an end. They speak as if both parties are equally to blame for a failure to settle, when in fact such failure is often the result of only one of the parties, who is being excessively greedy, obnoxious, stubborn, or selfish.
If alternative dispute resolution is not able or available to resolve temporary issues, many counties will allow formal hearings to decide temporary issues, including who will have temporary possession of the homestead during the proceeding, who will pay the mortgage, taxes, insurance and utilities on the homestead, what type of temporary custody/parenting arrangement is in the children's best interest, what amount of temporary “child support” is appropriate, what amount of temporary “spousal maintenance”, if any, is appropriate, who should pay other debt on a temporary basis, and whether there should be an award of temporary attorney fees. These requests are traditionally based upon written “motions” which is a written request for relief, with the “testimony” reflecting your position being summarized in a sworn, written affidavit. Sometimes you will also submit affidavits from other people in support of your position. The attorneys will then argue your position before a judge, who thereafter will issue a written order deciding the temporary issues.
In most cases, divorce is a difficult and painful process, both emotionally and financially. The traditional practice of hiring a lawyer and litigating in court to end a marriage is not only expensive, but can lengthen the process, increase contention, and cause additional and unnecessary stress on you, your spouse, and your children. Because of this, more and more couples are looking to mediation to walk them through the intricacies of divorce and help navigate parenting agreements. While divorce is rarely an easy event, the goal of mediation is to encourage and support you in developing the best solutions for your individual situation, in a collaborative way and on your time line, which ultimately lessens the negative impact of divorce on you and your family.
Each spouse has the right to sell, give away, or dispose of any property the couple owns. For example, either person can withdraw money from a joint bank account. Either can charge on a joint credit card. There are some exceptions to this general rule. Neither spouse has the right to cash checks made out to the other spouse. Neither spouse can withdraw money from a bank account if it is in the name of the other spouse only. Neither spouse can sell a motor vehicle that is in the name of the other spouse. Neither can sell real estate that is in both names or in the name of one spouse.