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.
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.
During this stage, the mediator may first begin to discuss the general legal rules that might apply to your case. This can include the laws of your state dictating how a judge would divide your assets and debts, how child custody and child support would be decided, when and how alimony can be ordered, and laws dealing with related issues like taxes and life and health insurance. This general legal information will help you decide how to approach the issues in your case.
The big warning I have is this: years ago, when the program started, the idea was that the evaluators would give their opinion of how they would likely decide the case in a full-blown custody evaluation, based on the facts learned in the SENE. This honest appraisal of how a months-long custody evaluation would likely turn out is what helped parties to settle their cases.
The mediator will not allow one party to overpower the other in mediation. If one of the parties is unable to be effective during this process, the mediator will stop the mediation. However, many persons who considered themselves to be the "weaker" of the two spouses have been quite effective in mediation. As an unsophisticated spouse of a very powerful business executive once said, "I have the power to say no, and my spouse better listen or we'll wind up in court."
A business which is the sole source of the couple’s income could end up shut down if the couple is unable to discuss the issues related to the business. This could lead to both parties suffering financially. A divorcing couple with a business can enter divorce mediation and may be able to come up with a compromise which could potentially save the business. Even if every little detail is not agreed upon, the mediator will attempt to get the couple to work together for the good of the business.
The next step will be to assess where you and your spouse agree and where you need some work to get to agreement. Once you have a sense of what needs to be accomplished, you, your spouse, and the mediator will plan how you're going to accomplish it. It's very likely that you will need to gather more information, especially if you're dealing with property issues as well as child custody questions. (For example, if you don't know the value of your house, you can't have an intelligent discussion about a buyout.) The mediator will help you figure out what information you need and ask each of you to commit to bringing certain things for the next session.
Many people think that when a couple wants to live apart they have to get a "legal separation." This is not true. Often couples live apart for awhile before they decide to get a divorce. This is not "illegal." Legal separations are for people who do not want a divorce (usually for religious reasons). They still need a legal paper to settle custody, support, and property questions. The court makes the same kinds of decisions that it makes in a divorce. However, the couple remains married, and the division of property is not final.
Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) in Family Court Cases - For parents who are getting divorced, this statewide program connects them with judges and evaluators early in the court process to give them an opportunity to settle their legal issues. Parties can choose to participate in one or both types of ENE: a Financial ENE (FENE) to settle financial disputes; and Social ENE (SENE) to settle custody and parenting time issues involving their children.