Conflict, especially in a divorce or a breakup, need not be inevitable. Exploring mediation as an option means that you want to reach an agreement that serves both of you in a confidential, flexible, and cost effective manner. Mediation starts a process which will enable both of you to continue your lives as whole people, better able to parent together. The Court system assumes that parties cannot get along well enough to reach resolution on their own; the mediation/alternative dispute resolution process assumes that parties can do so.

All people have power in different ways. It is my job as mediator to balance power and ensure that both clients have an equal voice and ability to impact outcomes. In mediation, power comes from knowledge and information. Documented information about assets and liabilities and a broad understanding of each other’s needs are what make you successful in mediation.

If you can afford an attorney, but don't know any, ask a friend who was satisfied with his or her attorney.  You can also look in the yellow pages under "Attorneys."  You can contact the local bar association's attorney referral service listed below.  The Lawyer Referral Service can give you the name and telephone number of an attorney in private practice in your area who may be able to represent you.  You may have to pay an initial fee for the first appointment with the attorney.  You may be able to negotiate how much you will pay the attorney for representation in a divorce. Many attorneys will ask for payment of some money before the divorce is begun. This is called a retainer.
Often, spouses’ interests will overlap. This is especially likely if the interests involve a concern for other people, such as children. When an overlap like this occurs, it increases the likelihood of finding settlement options that address their common concerns. Of course, it’s not always possible to negotiate an agreement that satisfies fully all of the interests of the disputing parties. Some interests may have to be compromised, especially in divorce, where limited resources must be divided between two households. But if the focus is on identifying and addressing each person’s most important needs and interests, the resulting compromises will be ones that both spouses can live with.
It can be difficult for a client to know whether his or her lawyer is performing well or not. Sometimes even the best of lawyers does not achieve the desired result, and it may be due to a difficult set of facts, a bad judge and/or custody evaluator or guardian ad litem, or unrealistic expectations. There are some clear indications of bad lawyering, however, which are objectively obvious:

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.

If you can prove that an item of property was "non-marital," the court will not usually award that property to your spouse.  Non-marital property is property owned by one of you before your marriage, or was a gift or inheritance to you alone during your marriage.  Portions of a personal injury or Workers Compensation award might also be non-marital.  The court may award non-marital property to the non-owner spouse only if it would cause unfair hardship or under other limited circumstances. 
If the parties cannot agree on custody, the court will usually order county, court or social services or a guardian ad litem to investigate the ability of each parent to care for and raise the children.  The social worker, court services worker or guardian ad litem will usually interview each parent.  They will contact friends and family, teachers, counselors, doctors, and other professionals who have seen the family.  The investigator then writes a report to the court and makes a recommendation about custody.  Your attorney may be given a copy of the report.  The parties are usually required to pay the costs of a custody investigation based on their ability to pay. The court does not have to accept the recommendation of the investigator, but considers it very seriously.
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.
Many of the facts and circumstances that a divorcing spouse feels are important, are likely to be of little importance to the court. It‘s unrealistic to assume a judge can review all of the circumstances that led to the divorce. The issues are simply too complex, the court lacks time to hear all of it, and in the end, they aren’t usually relevant to the case, especially in a no-fault state like Minnesota.
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)
Dan is a leader in the field of transformative mediation. He is the author of the chapter on divorce mediation in the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation's ("ISCT") TRANSFORMATIVE MEDIATION SOURCEBOOK. He is a Past Chair of the Minnesota State Bar Association's Alternative Dispute Resolution Section. He served for 6 years on the Mi ... more
To file for divorce in any state you need to meet its residency requirements. These requirements vary by state. Two additional things that you should consider when thinking about relocating are what the divorce laws are where you are compared to the laws of the state that you are moving to, and what is the impact on any children involved. To the first point, you want to make sure that you aren’t filing for divorce in a state where the divorce laws are less favorable to you. To the second point, courts can and do frown on one parent’s leaving the state without the other’s consent. A lawyer can help you figure out which state would be best to file in and how to negotiate and interstate custody issues.
At Johnson Mediation, we think of ourselves as divorce specialists. It is our job to provide you with the most efficient level of service that ensures we address all of the necessary details surrounding your divorce, which often include a child-focused Parenting Plan in the event that you have kids. While other options may want you to believe a divorce needs to be hard fought, and drawn out, it is our experience that this is often not the case. We are skilled at helping individuals deal with complex emotions that accompany divorce. With our experience and mediation background we feel confident that we can help you cope with these emotional difficulties during and after your divorce is final.
Most mediators will emphasize the problem-solving aspect of negotiation at this stage. The problem to be solved is finding settlement options that address each spouse’s most important interests as fully as possible. With this focus, you’ll be able to negotiate by trading off acceptable options instead of getting locked into zero-sum bargaining, where one spouse’s gain is the other spouse’s loss.
If you or your partner are really committed to their narrative—that one person is absolutely the bad guy, for example—mediation might not work. Green says, “There are some people who are quite intensely invested in feeling like the victim: ‘I’m right and the other person is wrong, and there is no universe in which the other person’s actions are acceptable.’”

The Summons is a separate legal paper telling the respondent to answer the Petition within 30 days.  If the respondent does not, he or she is in default and the divorce is uncontested.  This means the petitioner (the spouse who wanted the divorce) may be granted the divorce and other relief requested.  The Summons also forbids both parties from selling or getting rid of any property or harassing one another.  It requires each party to maintain any insurance for the family.  If one spouse spends money belonging to both parties after receiving the Summons, he or she will have to explain to the court why the money was spent.
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.

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.


There is no right to a free lawyer (like a public defender) in a divorce.  However, there are nonprofit law firms that provide free legal help or arrange for volunteer attorneys for low income clients. See the back of this booklet for information on legal services.  If free legal help is not available, or you do not qualify, you will need to hire an attorney or represent yourself in the divorce. 
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Most courts give parents the opportunity to work with independent evaluators soon after the case is filed to see if they can reach an agreement about custody, parenting time, money and property. The two types of ENE are: Financial ENE (FENE) to settle financial disputes and Social ENE (SENE) to settle custody and parenting time issues involving their children.
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