I provide legal services for families facing family law issues in Amherst, Springfield, and Western Massachusetts. I specialize in mediation, uncontested divorce, out-of-court divorce negotiations, and divorce consulting and document review. I will work with you to arrive at solutions regarding child support, parenting plans, property division, debt division, and spousal support issues. I will help you to make thoughtful transitions that ensure financial stability, secure parenting plans for children, and legal closure on difficult emotional issues.
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.
If the respondent does not answer the Petition within 30 days after it was served, the respondent is in default.  The petitioner's attorney tells the court and a default hearing is scheduled.  Default hearings are also scheduled when all of the relief to be ordered by the court has been agreed to by the parties in a written agreement called a Stipulation or Marital Termination Agreement. If both parties are represented by lawyers, the divorce may be finalized without a hearing. If both parties did not have lawyers or if the respondent never answered, there is a default hearing. At a default hearing only the petitioner and his or her attorney need to attend.  The petitioner is sworn under oath and testifies to all the facts necessary for the court to order the relief requested in the Petition or Stipulation.
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.
If you do move out, take steps to guard against destruction of property. Videotape the contents of the home (e.g., furniture, art and other valuables) and make copies of important documents (birth certificates, account statements, deeds and insurance policies) before you leave. You may also consider taking your own family heirlooms and other personal, irreplaceable items with you.
In Minnesota, alimony or spousal maintenance is available as temporary, short-term or long-term. Temporary alimony includes payments made during the course of the divorce proceedings, while short-term involves a limited period following the divorce.  Long-term spousal maintenance is essentially permanent. In most cases, alimony is short-term and allows the dependent spouse to obtain skills to sustain themselves. The court will consider the following when awarding alimony:
After the mediator covers the rules of mediation and insures that any necessary agreements to mediate are signed, the mediator explains the mediation process. The parties or their representative may then make opening statements to identify issues and clarify perceptions. Many mediators will encourage the parties to begin a conversation during general caucus.
Minnesota law allows a parent, legal, guardian, teacher, or other caretaker of a child or student to use "reasonable force" to "restrain or correct the child." [1] That said, in the context of a pending divorce or child custody case, it is inadvisable to use any kind of corporal punishment at all. Many of the guardian ad litems, custody evaluators, psychologists, and others involved in the family court system have strong feelings against the use of any kind of corporal punishment or physical correction of a child at all; and a parent's use of corporal punishment might become a reason why one of these professionals makes custody, parenting time, or other recommendations that are contrary to your wishes. Also, the use of any physical force at all can be exaggerated by the other parent, who may do so in order to gain an advantage in a custody and parenting time contest, even to the point of bringing a petition for an order for protection against you on behalf of the child. It is far safer, therefore, to use alternative disciplinary techniques, such as time-outs, verbal reprimands, withholding of privileges, etc.
Infidelity can also be tough, though not impossible, to work through: In one case of Green’s, the husband had been unfaithful and in a rather public way—he was active on social media, on Tinder, and he had an alternative Facebook profile, “so he had not only cheated on her, but there was a public aspect to it, so she felt very angry, and she also felt humiliated.”

In some Minnesota counties, the court provides mediators on issues concerning the custody of the child(ren) at little or no cost. Property issues may require a private mediator, the cost of which is typically split among the parties. You can expect to spend at least $200.00 per hour for good divorce mediator services in Minnesota, the cost of which is usually divided with your spouse.
A question is often asked as to whether there is an advantage to being a petitioner versus a respondent. There is no real difference, except that the petitioner can obviously effect when the action is started, and sometimes, in what county. If you and your spouse separate, and your spouse moves to a different county before the action is commenced, the petitioning spouse can commence the action either in the county you reside in or the new county they have moved to. There are some perceived and actual differences as to how matters proceed, depending on which county they are "venued" (commenced) in. A second implication of being a petitioner versus a respondent is that ultimately, if the matter does proceed to trial, the petitioner is required to present his/her case first. This may have some minor implications relative to the cost of preparing for trial, especially it the matter settles before the respondent presents her/his case.
Although many of Ms. Serwat’s clients reach a complete divorce settlement without retaining an attorney; some need and/or want legal representation. If your situation warrants legal representation or if you simply feel better knowing that you are legally represented your lawyer is welcome to participate with you in the mediation process. Starting divorce mediation without attorneys in no way limits your right to retain an attorney in the future and/or appear in court.

Probably the most common misconception that I hear from people about divorce mediation it that they believe it is only suitable for couples that are very amicable. Their perception is that since they are not getting along very well with their spouse, they can’t sit down together and discuss anything let alone issues regarding their money and children. In fact, mediation is very well suited to helping parties who are high conflict to work through their differences and come to a reasonable solution. 
You do not want to put your divorce in the hands of a mediator, mediate an agreement, only to find that the Court will not accept it. Instead, you want to be able to craft your own agreement which meets, as much as possible, your needs and the needs of your spouse while also keeping the Court’s requirements in mind. This ability gives control back to you rather than investing it in an overworked court system.
Getting divorced and resolving family law issues involves transitions that are not easy. I am an experienced divorce mediator and family lawyer, and I will guide you through these transitions with compassion, treating you and your concerns with respect. We will work together, one issue at a time, to create solutions that work for you and your family and ensure that the focus stays on the healthiest process and outcome for you and your children.

If the respondent answers the Petition, the parties will try to settle the case by having their attorneys work out an agreement.  This is called negotiation.  If the couple is able to agree on everything (through negotiation or mediation), a written agreement called a Stipulation or Marital Termination Agreement is prepared and signed by both parties and their attorneys.  The parties agree that one of them will present the Stipulation to the court.  Just one party needs go to court.  The other party usually does not attend.  The court usually accepts the agreement made by the parties.  A written Stipulation may also be presented to the court without the need for any hearing.  This process can only be used if each party had a lawyer.


As mentioned above, the court is going to ask what Alternative Dispute Resolution you have used prior to coming to court.  In most cases, some type of ADR is required, but there are exceptions, such as some cases involving domestic violence.  In recent years many mediators have developed better protocols for accommodating those circumstances, and so some cases involving domestic violence do proceed with mediation today.  A victim of domestic violence should seek the advice of counsel regarding any ADR process they are considering.

If a parent has been convicted of certain crimes, that parent must convince the court that parenting time with the child is in the child's best interest. These crimes include assault, sexual abuse, parental kidnapping, terroristic threats, felony harassment, domestic assault by strangulation, and stalking. Ask your lawyer if these laws apply in your case.


Steven Coodin was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada . He received his Bachelor of Arts Advanced Degree from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg in 1996. He later attended law school at Thomas Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan and graduated in the fall of 2001. He has been practicing law since he was admitted to the Minnesota State Bar in 2002 and primarily works in the area of criminal defense and family law. Steven prides himself in his work ethic and dedication to his client's cases. Steven formed his own solo attorney...
Did you know that there are other ways to dissolve a marriage then to file a traditional divorce? When parties are willing to come to the table to cooperate together, mediation may be a great option. During a divorce mediation a neutral third party serves as a mediator and can help parties decide the terms of their divorce. A Brainerd divorce mediation lawyer will be able to assist you through this process and potentially allow for a more amicable dissolution.
Mediation is a forum in which a neutral mediator facilitates communication between parties to promote reconciliation, understanding, and settlement. Mediation is particularly suited to divorces and other family law proceedings because there is likely to be a continuing relationship between the parties, especially if minor children are involved. Many divorcing couples find mediation allows them to avoid the high financial and emotional costs of a litigated divorce. Because settlement is generally quicker, costs are reduced.

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.
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