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.
Finding a divorce lawyer who is experienced and reliable can reduce your stress and help you make the best choices possible. A good divorce lawyer should be a problem solver who is skilled at negotiation and possesses a solid trial background. If both parties are open to alternative dispute resolution, such as arbitration or mediation, finding a lawyer experienced in collaborative divorce or divorce mediation would be beneficial.
When a couple has made the decision to enter into divorce mediation, there are preparations which can be made which will ensure the mediation is more beneficial to both parties. Having an experienced divorce attorney in your corner is important before you attend mediation. Because a mediator is unable to give legal advice to either party, your legal questions can then be answered by your attorney. Before attending mediation, it is a good idea to make sure you are organized. This means having all documents pertaining to the issues you will be discussed together in a cohesive manner and bringing those documents to mediation.
In reality, every divorce requires both formal legal procedures as well as some kind of settlement negotiations. In Minnesota, even if you prefer to litigate and leave every decision up to the judge, the rules require that before the Court will decide your case, parties must attempt resolution through some form of Alternative Dispute Resolution, of which mediation is still the most common. 
If you have been ordered to pay child support and your situation has changed so that you cannot pay the amount of support ordered, it is important to contact the county child support officer right away. You can bring a motion to ask the court to lower your child support. If you do not bring a motion, there is little chance the court will forgive back support, even if you were unable to pay. For more information about child support, see our booklet Child Support Basics.
Many metropolitan counties, as well as more and more outstate counties, have developed several innovative tools aimed at facilitating quick resolution of traditionally volatile areas - custody/parenting time and economic disputes. If the court is advised a custody/parenting time is present, the judicial officer will suggest that the parties participate in an "Early Neutral Custody Evaluation," referred to as a Social Early Neutral Evaluation "SENE" or in some counties and in others a Custody and Parenting Time Early Neutral Evaluation "CPENE." In this process the parties and counsel will be quickly scheduled to meet with two experts on child custody matters, one male and one female. Many counties have rosters listing the names of people certified to act as an Early Neutral Custody Evaluator. The parties and counsel will meet for three hours with the evaluators, with each party then afforded the opportunity to explain their role in raising the children, and what type of a parenting schedule they believe to be in their children's best interests. The two evaluators will then briefly adjourn, and then return to advise the parties what recommendation would result from a full custody evaluation. Many parties are able to reach a settlement of most parenting time issues after hearing this informal report.
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Essentially, a Social Early Neutral Evaluation is similar to mediation in that it is a form of alternative dispute resolution that is voluntary and non-binding. The difference is that with ordinary mediation, the mediator generally will not take a position. Whereas the evaluators presiding over an SENE are specifically tasked to give their recommendations, as a way to help the parties reach a settlement.
For unmarried parents, the mother has sole legal and physical custody unless and until the Court orders otherwise, pursuant to Minnesota Statute section 257.75, subdivision 3. Nevertheless, a mother should be careful before denying parenting time, because one of the many factors which the court considers in determining permanent custody is “the disposition of each parent to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact by the other parent with the child.” Minn. Stat. § 518.17, Subd. 1(13).
Depending on the judicial officer, most ICMC's are fairly informal. The judicial officer will come into the courtroom, and give a small presentation to the parties. Literally all presentations are based on a common theme - the benefit of working cooperatively to reach a mediated settlement. The judicial officer will discuss the high cost, both financially and emotionally, of litigating your divorce issues rather than working towards an amicable settlement. The judicial officer will then discuss with the lawyers what issues they believe your case presents, what needs to be done to reach a resolution of those issues, what procedures the lawyers believe are necessary to prepare the matter for resolution (either through subsequent settlement or trial) and how much time will be needed to complete this work. At this point, it will be determined whether a temporary hearing is necessary to determine issues involving possession of the home, parenting of children, temporary child support and spousal maintenance, as well as temporary attorney fees, while the divorce proceeding is pending. Many times the courts will encourage the parties to participate in an early mediation sessions to determine temporary issues. On rare occasions in today's family law practice, a formal temporary hearing may be needed, as described below. In lieu of such a hearing, some judicial officers may request the lawyers follow a more informal process of simply writing the judicial officer a letter providing the economic data necessary to decide temporary issues together with brief argument. The judicial officer will then decide the temporary issue.
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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.
The Petitioner must personally serve the Respondent (non-filing party) with the Summons and Petition, unless a Joint Petition is filed. The Respondent has 30 days to answer the Petition. In the case of service by publication, the 30 day time period does not begin until the expiration of the period allowed for publication. In the case of a Counter-Petition for dissolution or legal separation to a Petition for Dissolution or Legal Separation, no Answer to the Counter-Petition is required, and the original Petitioner is deemed to have denied each and every statement, allegation and claim in the Counter-Petition.
Some people think it will be easier and safer to have an attorney fight for their legal rights. Unfortunately, maximizing your legal rights often comes at someone else’s expense (for example your spouse or your children). This is referred to as a “win-lose” situation. All too often the transactional costs (both financial and emotional) of a “win” far exceed the value of the victory, especially for children. Although a good lawyer can be helpful, the adversarial legal process is expensive and often seeks to solve problems through opposing positions, and win-lose thinking. In my opinion, this adversarial approach is not only expensive and emotionally challenging; it is also detrimental to the long-term well-being of the people involved, especially the children. It may surprise you to know that most of my clients are unrepresented and successfully reach a complete mediated divorce settlement without retaining an attorney. My standard advice to people considering which divorce process to choose is to start with mediation and see how it goes. You may consult with or retain an attorney at any time and you never give up your right to go to court if mediation is partially or completely unsuccessful. With success rates as high as 80–90% and average savings of 20-50%, it seems the better question to ask may actually be, why wouldn’t you try mediation first?
I have been an attorney for 23 years, working exclusively in the area of Family Law. After an initial start handling workers compensation cases, I spent nine years as an assistant county attorney handling child protection, child support, juvenile delinquencies/truancies, guardianships/conservatorships and mental commitments in Southern Minnesota. In the late 90's I headed up a special grant to develop and teach battered women's advocates in basic housing laws along with handling housing and divorce cases. In 2000 I spent 7 months handling bankruptcy cases for families in financial crises. Since 2001, I have worked exclusively on family law matters involving...
If you represent yourself in the divorce you will be called a “pro se litigant.” In all Minnesota district courts, there are forms that pro se litigants in divorce cases can use. You should check with your local courthouse or law library or the Minnesota State Courts website (www.mncourts.gov/forms) for more information about where to get these forms.
For example, if there are two automobiles, each spouse is usually given one of them. This is especially true if the cars are nearly equal in value. If there is only one automobile, the court often awards it to the spouse who has the greater need for transportation. Extra items of personal property may be awarded to the other spouse so that the overall value of each share remains the same. Retirement accounts and whole life insurance policies are property too.
Historically, courts would only grant a divorce if one spouse could prove the other's wrongdoing - for example, by presenting evidence of adultery, abuse or failure to support. Fortunately, those times are long past. Minnesota is now a no-fault state, which means you don't have to prove fault-based grounds to get a divorce. It's enough to assert that irreconcilable differences caused the marriage to break down.
Basic support is for the child's expenses, such as food, clothing and transportation, and does not include payments on arrears. It is calculated by multiplying the paying parent's percentage of the combined Parental Income for Determining Child Support (PICS) by the combined basic support amount. If a court orders parenting time to the paying parent of ten percent or more, he/she may receive a deduction from basic support, based on the percentage of court-ordered parenting time.
Mediation is confidential, allows you and your spouse to make the decisions, and is less expensive than filing a lawsuit. You can reach a positive agreement that is more customized than the one you might receive from a judge. In mediation, you are responsible for your attorney’s fees, as well as half of the mediator’s fees. In certain states, mediation is required by the court after a lawsuit has been filed; for example, North Carolina requires couples to attend mediation before a child custody trial and equitable distribution trial.
If the parents can not agree on an appropriate custody arrangement, the court will examine what is in "the best interests of the child" by considering and evaluating the following factors: (1) the wishes of the child's parent or parents as to custody; (2) the reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express preference; (3) the child's primary caretaker; (4) the intimacy of the relationship between each parent and the child; (5) the interaction and interrelationship of the child with a parent or parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interests; (6) the child's adjustment to home, school, and community; (7) the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity; (8) the permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home; (9) the mental and physical health of all individuals involved; (10) the capacity and disposition of the parties to give the child love, affection, and guidance, and to continue educating and raising the child in the child's culture and religion or creed, if any; (11) the child's cultural background; (12) the effect on the child of the actions of an abuser; (13) except in cases in which a finding of domestic abuse, the disposition of each parent to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact by the other parent with the child. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.17)
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 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.