Christine Callahan has completed the certified training and is on the court roster for counties in the southwest metro to conduct Social Early Neutral Evaluations (SENE, for custody and parenting time) and Financial Early Neutral Evaluations (FENE for support and property division). For more information about the Early Neutral process in Minnesota, please see our articles.
Ms. Kugler practices exclusively in the area of family law. Karen works toward equitable settlements, but is skilled in trial advocacy. Karen discusses the risks and expense of litigation with her clients. She is a knowledgeable, empathetic, and assertive legal advocate and handles all family law issues: spousal maintenance, child support, property division, and custody at the trial and appellate levels. Karen is past Chair of the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) Family Law Section and is a past Co-Chair of the RCBA Family Law Section. She is a frequent writer and speaker regarding family law, co-authoring the Child Support...
Litigating a divorce results in both parties operating under attack and defend mode. When mediation is used, the process is much more peaceful and conciliatory. Both parties are allowed to explain their position and perspectives on all the issues, leading to a generation of solutions which ultimately benefit both spouses and their children, if any. Parties to divorce mediation have decision-making powers and must agree to each provision in the final agreement. Couples who agree to terms voluntarily are much more likely to comply with those terms in the future, and much less likely to find themselves back in court fighting about perceived violations of the terms.
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.
Very few things in any family law issue are black and white. Our job is to step back and help you look at the larger picture in terms of what you have to get out of your divorce versus what might be emotionally driven. We sit down with you to discuss whether what you are asking for is worth pursuing and how a judge might handle a situation if your case ends up in litigation.
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 one party denies under oath that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the Court may not grant the divorce without finding irretrievable breakdown, after a hearing and consideration of all relevant factors, including but not limited to: 1) the circumstances that gave rise to the commencement of the proceedings; and 2) the prospect of reconciliation.  The Court may not find irretrievable breakdown as long as a reasonable prospect of reconciliation exists. 
This can be problematic if a party needs to commence a divorce in Minnesota immediately, but neither party has yet been residing here for the requisite six-month period. In such cases, one should seriously consider a legal separation, which has no length-of-residency requirement, and which can afford much of the relief afforded by divorce, such as determinations of property possession, custody, parenting time, child support, and spousal maintenance.  Later, after the six-month residence requirement is satisfied, the case can be converted to one for divorce.
There is one advantage to being the petitioner. If the parties reside in different counties, the petitioner determines venue (location) by filing for divorce in the county of choice. Venue can be critical because judicial views on custody and alimony vary from county to county. The respondent can request a change in venue, but will need to show a good reason for the change.
The petition itself typically follows a simple format, which is not designed to argue your case in detail, but rather only provides "notice" to the other side of the very basic facts ultimately necessary for the court to decide the case. The petition will list the two party's names, addresses and ages. It will identify the names and ages of the party's children, if any, together with a general allegation of what “custody” or "parenting time” arrangement the petitioner believes to be in the best interest of the children. In Minnesota, over the years the family law bar has come up with innumerable labels and terms for "child custody”/”parenting time". It will identify to the best of the petitioner's knowledge the parties "real property" (land and building) ownership, including the homestead, and any vacation or investment real property the parties have. It will identify to the best of the petitioner's knowledge the party's other assets and liabilities.
They had about $700,000 of equity in their house and she wanted to give him about $100,000 to walk away—much less than the law allows. She was not at all willing to consider his perspective. “What I came to understand was from his perspective, he was an abused husband. And his having an affair—which is not the best way to handle difficulties in your primary relationship—was a desperate act, because now that they were going to have a baby together, he felt that he was trapped in this extremely unhealthy relationship, and this was the only way he could think of to get out. So it was very eye-opening for me.”
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.
The law allows parents to make voluntary parenting plans. A parenting plan is a plan voluntarily designed by both parents based on the best interests of the child. A parenting plan must include a schedule of the time each parent spends with the child, who will make specific decisions regarding the child, and a way to settle disputes. An agreed-upon parenting plan may use terms other than “physical” and “legal” custody but it must clearly state if the parents have joint legal custody or joint physical custody or which parent has sole legal custody or sole physical custody.
This is usually a very smart thing to do, to prevent the other spouse from racking up debt in your name. I’ve seen it happen countless times. And while this can be accounted for, it’s much easier to just avoid the issue in the first place. Also, remember that even if the Court orders your spouse to assume this or that joint credit card debt, the Court has no authority to absolve you of your contractual liability to the creditor. So the joint debt will remain on your credit history, and will still be your problem to deal with if your spouse ever stops paying or pays late.
In mediation, the couple, with the help of the mediator, works out agreements on the above issues. Sometimes agreements come easy, sometimes they take time and a lot of work. When agreements are hard to reach, that is when the mediator intervenes. It is the mediators job to keep the lines of communication open, brainstorm ideas, reality test the couple, teach empathy and assist the couple in their decision making process. Mediators help keep the couple focused on the issues at hand, trying not to get them off track. When divorcing couples get off track and away from the above issues during mediation, arguing, name-calling and bad prior memories are brought up.
No dissolution shall be granted unless (1) one of the parties has resided in this state, or has been a member of the armed services stationed in this state, for not less than 180 days immediately preceding the commencement of the proceeding; or (2) one of the parties has been a domiciliary of this state for not less than 180 days immediately preceding commencement of the proceeding. The Dissolution of Marriage is typically filed with in county in which the filing spouse lives. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.07, 518.09)
The complexity of the issues and ability of the individuals to be flexible as they negotiate a fair agreement determines the length of the mediation. Every case is different, but the average case usually takes at least three to four two-hour mediation sessions, spread out over at least a month or two. More complex cases can take four to six months to complete.
Divorcing spouses who have a business may find it even harder to ensure their business continues to run smoothly during this difficult time. Family issues can intrude into the workplace, and if the business is shared by one spouse’s family, the tensions can increase exponentially. In this instance, divorce-mediation can help the spouses sort through the issues related to the business without costly litigation which also compromises the future of the business.
Case in point: I had a client once who — contrary to my advice — chose to engage in settlement negotiations for several months prior to commencement and filing of the divorce, rather than filing first and then working on settlement. The pre-filing settlement negotiations did not bear fruit, and because of the delay, the valuation date did not occur until much later than it otherwise would have, with the result that a $180,000 dividend payment received by my client was treated as martial property, when it otherwise would not have been.