As a family law attorney and mediator for almost 30 years, I spend a great deal of time educating prospective clients and the public about the many benefits of choosing to mediate their divorce rather than selecting the more traditional litigation path. Even though divorce mediation is much less costly, less time consuming, and less divisive and stressful than the adversarial model of litigation, I often hear the same three concerns raised about mediation.
Cynthia Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. She is an honors graduate of the University of South Dakota and William Mitchell College of Law. Cynthia’s practice focuses almost exclusively on divorce and family law issues. She publishes a monthly family law column for the Minnesota Lawyer newspaper, and has contributed to Divorce Magazine and The Family Law Forum. Cynthia also serves as a panel attorney for the Anoka County Family Law Clinic.
Fill out and file Financial Statements. These statements document a) income, b) assets (house, cars, pensions, etc.), c) living expenses, and d) debts. There is a Long Form version if your annual income is over $75,000, and a Short Form version if your annual income is below $75,000. These forms disclose financial information that is necessary for coming to an agreement on Division of Marital Assets, Child Support, and Alimony (see Separation Agreement, below).
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If there is a chance your spouse may seek an Order for Protection or Harassment Restraining Order against you — whether legitimately or fraudulently — it is important to have a plan in case you are suddenly served with one and are barred from your home, with no court hearing set for two weeks. If that happens, do you have a place to stay? Cash and important documents? A spare change of clothing?
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.
After graduating law school in 2010, Sonja secured a judicial clerkship in Hennepin County Family Court. She worked on high asset divorce cases with complex financial matters as well as high conflict custody disputes. Sonja learned firsthand how judicial officers decide cases and what makes a family law attorney effective inside and outside of the courtroom. After clerking, Sonja worked for a large, national law firm where she gained a tremendous amount of experience. Sonja is empathetic, detailed, and aggressive when necessary.
Divorce mediation still feels like a new idea in some parts of the country, but it’s increasingly well-known and widely accepted. Mediation means different things to different people. In the form I recommend, you and your spouse would sit down in the same room with each other and with a neutral mediator. With the mediator’s help, you would work through all the issues you need to resolve so the two of you can get through your divorce.
If you own your home or other land, this property must also be divided fairly. The court may order the property sold so that each of you will have your share as soon as possible. The court might award one spouse the home and give the other spouse other property, such as retirement accounts, that equal the equity in the home. If the court believes that it would be better for the minor children to remain in the home, it may permit the children and the custodial parent to remain in the home until the children are 18 years old. Then the proceeds from the sale of the home will be split.
To ensure you cover everything, create a master list of all your assets and possessions—regardless of whether an item is thought to be yours or your spouse’s. The master list should include all real property (house, rental properties, vacation homes), personal property (books, DVDs, furniture, artwork, jewelry), vehicles (including boats, motorcycles, ATVs), bank accounts (joint and separate, checking, savings), credit cards, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, annuities, stocks and other financial products. Account for everything you own.
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 most consumer legal issues, the size of the practice is much less important than the experience, competence, and reputation of the attorney(s) handling your case. Among the most important factors when choosing an attorney are your comfort level with the attorney or practice and the attorney's track record in bringing about quick, successful resolutions to cases similar to yours.
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...
The vast majority of divorcing spouses - 97% according to some research - resolve all issues without going to trial. More and more individuals are resolving their issues on their own. Attorneys have recognized this, and many seek to support divorcing spouses in this do-it-yourself process. For example, some divorcing spouses will meet with attorneys separately for a consultation, and then attend mediation on their own. This way, each spouse can be well-informed about their options, but still maintain control (and keep the costs down) as they move forward to resolve any outstanding issues.
By far, the easiest and cheapest way to complete the divorce process is if you and your spouse are in full agreement about major issues and you represent yourself. That is why you should make every effort to come to an agreement with your spouse prior to starting the divorce procedure. You will save a lot of money and effort by filing a Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution of a Marriage and fulfilling the court’s requests without legal counsel. MyDivorcePapers.com can offer valuable guidance and the forms necessary to complete this process with minimal cost and effort.
Each divorce mediator will have his or her own approach, however, some of the basics will likely remain the same. You will probably speak to the mediator on the phone, providing information about your marriage your family and the issues at hand. Some mediators will ask you for a great deal of information, while others may prefer to stick with the basics until meeting both parties. During the first meeting, the mediator will explain how the divorce mediation process will proceed. All parties may meet in the same room at all times, or the mediator may meet with each party separately at least one time.
Your attorney will have referrals to local mediators. If you're representing yourself, you'll have to locate a divorce mediator on your own. If you can, try to find recommendations from someone whose judgment you trust. You can ask lawyers, financial advisers, therapists, or spiritual advisers for referrals, as well as friends who've been through a divorce. If you can't find direct, personal referrals, here are some other ideas:
If there are children of the marriage, each spouse has the right to decide where the children live or go to school, whether they should see a doctor, and can make other arrangements that need to be made. These decisions are left to the parents, as long as the children are not being hurt. If the children are being hurt, other people might become involved —doctors or nurses, school personnel, community workers or the police. If you do not want your spouse to take or visit the children because you are afraid the children will not be returned or will be harmed, you do not have to let the children go. However, if there is not a threat that your spouse will kidnap the children, you should think about the children's best interests and whether it would be good for them to see their other parent. If you are concerned about your spouse's visits, consider getting a custody order. If there are children who were born before the marriage and there has been no adoption or custody order, the mother has sole custody in Minnesota until there is a court order to the contrary.