2. Take with you all of the household goods and furnishings, and other items of personal property which you want to have, and inventory what you take. Although it is not a law, the old adage “possession is nine tenths of the law” is very applicable here. The reason boils down to the fact that litigating personal property issues is usually prohibitively expensive, because it normally costs more to litigate than the stuff is worth. So if you ever want to see it again, it is much simpler and easier to take it with you when you leave. [Caveat: don’t get too greedy. If you empty the place out and leave the spouse and children to sleep and eat on a bare concrete floor, you will not look good].
1st meeting: The couple and the mediator identify the issues needed to be discussed and the order in which they will be discussed, then decide what information needs to be gathered and shared. Between the first and later sessions the couple gathers all relevant financial data, or if necessary, the opinions of experts such as appraisers or accountants, with this material treated with the same care and concern as would be the case in the adversarial process.
Mediation sessions are typically 2 – 3 hours long and scheduled approximately 2 weeks apart. Most of my clients reach a complete settlement in between 6 – 8 hours of mediation occurring over a 6 – 8 week period of time. Depending on the county in which you live and the time of year, processing of your legal documents can take the court another 1 – 8 weeks.
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2. In divorces, there is inevitably a process of “discovery,” where each party requests information and documents from the other party. Sometimes this is informal and limited. Other times it is formal, comprehensive, and terribly time-consuming for the parties themselves (to gather the information), and for their lawyers (who must review the responses and put them together in proper legal form). Because most attorneys are sloppy and lazy with formal discovery, they request much more than is really necessary to settle a case, just to cover their butts and to avoid the work of tailoring the discovery demands to each particular case, or just to make the process more onerous for the other party.
If any issue pertinent to a custody or parenting time determination, including parenting time rights, is unresolved, the matter may be set for mediation of the contested issue prior to, concurrent with, or subsequent to the setting of the matter for hearing. The purpose of the mediation proceeding is to reduce acrimony which may exist between the parties and to develop an agreement that is supportive of the child's best interests. The mediator shall use best efforts to effect a settlement of the custody or parenting time dispute, but shall have no coercive authority.
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 you are concerned about ongoing earnings continuing to be marital in nature, then it is in your interest to lock in the default valuation date by filing the case as soon as possible and shepherding it along swiftly. For example, if you earn six figures, but your spouse is a stay-at-home unemployed parent, it is to your advantage to file the divorce first, and then work on settlement, rather than to mediate and negotiate for several months prior to filing.
Once the mediator has helped the spouses frame the issues and interests clearly, it is time to negotiate an acceptable settlement. This usually begins with an exploration of possible options. With the mediator’s help, the spouses discuss and evaluate the options, until eventually they narrow down the options to the ones that work best for both spouses. Getting to the final combination of options will involve compromises and concessions on both sides
Assets and liabilities can each have different tax consequences and if not properly accounted for, a settlement that might look fair on paper may turn out to be favorable to only one party and not the other. This can happen if one party trades a checking account for a 401k, confusing pre-tax with post-tax dollars, or when there are stocks involved and neither party is aware of the cost basis of a given portfolio.
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.
While most parties find mediation to be an excellent alternative to the traditional litigation approach to divorce, it may not work for everyone. It is not as effective when one party is unable to express opinions fully and without fear, or when the parties refuse to compromise or mediate in good faith. Additionally, some legal commentators are concerned that mediators may be unable to handle the complex financial arrangements involved in some divorce agreements.
Minnesota is a “no-fault” divorce state. What this means is that neither spouse has to prove marital misconduct (such as infidelity) to obtain a divorce. Instead, the parties can simply acknowledge that there has been an “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. In Minnesota, either spouse can get a divorce if they wish to have one. A spouse does not need to “give” the other spouse a divorce; rather, it can be obtained with or without the other spouse’s cooperation.
The mediator will also ask you and your spouse to bring in financial documents such as tax returns and bank and mortgage statements. As you progress, the mediator will summarize the information being assembled. If you agree that additional research is needed or a neutral expert is to be consulted, that will go on a “to do” list. This second stage of the mediation can span two or more sessions, especially if you need to do outside work to obtain additional information or appraisals. If you feel that you already know enough about your situation and have definite ideas on how to work out a settlement, you may find yourself impatient with this stage and anxious to move ahead with the negotiations. Even though you may want to rush on, the mediator’s job is to make sure that both you and your spouse have all the facts and information you need to negotiate an agreement that is legally binding and that you won’t regret having signed.
Fees may be charged on an hourly basis, or by the day or half-day. In general, mediators help the parties meet, explore options, and negotiate a mutual settlement to resolve their dispute. Mediators do not determine who is right or wrong. Instead, they help the parties reach a solution on their own that works for them. Parties should seek mediators with mediation training, experience, and specific knowledge of family law. It's also important to consider the mediator's style and mediation philosophy.
A dissolution of a marriage shall be granted by a county or district court when the court finds that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship. An irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship is achieved by living separate and apart for at least 180 days or serious marital discord adversely affecting the attitude of the husband, wife, or both towards the marriage. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.06, 158.13)
Mediation is non-binding. This means that the mediator has no authority to force either party to agree to anything at all. Too often people come to me after the fact, complaining that the mediator forced them to agree to something. Just remember that no matter how much they may try to tell you that your position is unreasonable, or that the Court would never side with you, you do NOT need to agree to whatever it is they are pushing for.
In mediation, the mediator’s role is not decision maker, but is to act as a neutral support system for both parties equally. The mediator helps the couple identify all the issues that they need to resolve around their divorce, gives them information and education about the law and other facts around those issues, and facilitates their discussion of those issues so that the parties themselves can decide what is the best course of action for them.
Minnesota orders all couples without a history of spousal abuse to use some type of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) before taking their case to court. One of the most common and generally successful forms of ADR is mediation. In this process, a neutral third party, known as the mediator, helps the couple work out their differences, usually resulting in a 20 to 50 percent reduction in costs over a traditional litigated divorce.
Legally, there can be no discrimination based on the sex of the parent. For a father willing to bear the time and expense of the contest, chances for custody are more or less equal to those of the mother, all else being equal. Having said that, I do think there is some lingering bias, even though judges and custody evaluators and guardians ad litem will always deny it. Often I do not believe it even occurs on a conscious level. Yet there is a gut feeling one gets, representing a father, that the job is just a little more difficult, or representing a mother, that the job is just a little bit easier.
The number of times you go to court and see a Judge or Referee depends on local court procedures and whether you and your spouse can agree on issues regarding your children, property and other matters. If you do NOT agree, the case usually takes longer to finish. It is a good idea to get legal advice before finalizing an agreement with your spouse.