Divorce can be a difficult and stressful process, even in amicable situations. Navigating the maze of legal issues is confusing for many separating couples. To make matters more complicated, there few hard-and-fast rules and rarely any black-or-white answers. Instead, the outcome of important matters such as property division, alimony and child custody hinges on the unique circumstances of your family.
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 and your spouse agree on the terms of the divorce and filed the Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution of a Marriage, then you will probably need to attend a court hearing so that the judge may issue the final divorce decree.  If you have minor children but still have an uncontested divorce you may file a Joint Petition for Dissolution of a Marriage, after which the judge may schedule a short hearing to discuss details of child custody before issuing the final decree.
Mediationis one ADR method. In mediation, the parties try to work out an agreement between themselves with the help of a neutral third person called a mediator.  The mediator helps the parties discuss their disagreements, make compromises and reach their own agreement.  Mediation can be helpful because both of you have agreed to the outcome rather than having a big fight and the judge makes decisions for you.  Mediation about custody or parenting time can be helpful because you both will continue to be parents to your children and together you can continue to work out parenting issues.  In mediation both of you should be able to say what you want and cooperatively work out compromises.  If you don't understand things or don't feel you have equal power with your spouse, the mediation is not fair.  You can stop the process at any time without reaching an agreement.  You only have to try to settle.  You can't be forced to agree to something.
File a notarized “Separation Agreement” signed by both parties. This is a written contract between spouses that addresses all issues related to:Property division (How are property and debts to be divided? Will one of you keep the house or will you sell the house? How will your retirement accounts be divided? What happens with credit card and student loan debts?)
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. 

A spouse is not liable to (responsible for paying) creditors for debts of the other spouse except for necessary medical expenses and household articles and supplies used by the family while the spouses live together.  A spouse is liable for credit card and other charges by the other spouse if both had agreed to be responsible to the creditor.  A spouse may also be liable for credit card debt if that spouse has used the card in the past.  Either spouse may close a joint credit card account at any time.  In some cases, it may be wise to cancel credit cards immediately.
To put this amount into perspective, a typical retainer paid to a divorce attorney (by one spouse) is $2,000 (or more); which means, if you both retain an attorney the starting price will likely be at least $4,000. The sticker shock gets worse when you consider that many sources indicate that when each spouse is represented by an attorney the average US divorce costs around $15,000. This same research indicates that divorce mediation in general is between 20-50% cheaper than the traditional adversarial legal process.
In order for the mediation to be successful, you, your spouse, and the mediator all need to be as fully informed as possible about the facts of your case. This is the information gathering stage. Sometimes it begins during the first session; sometimes it starts after that session. If information that you and the mediator need is unavailable or in dispute, the mediator will try to help you find ways to get it or to determine what is correct. For example, you might need the policy number and other details of a life insurance policy. If you can’t locate your copy of the policy, the mediator might suggest ways to get this information, such as contacting the broker who sold you the policy or writing to the insurance company.
Like legal custody, physical custody can be “sole” [2] or “joint”. “Joint physical custody” means that "the routine daily care and control and the residence of the child is structured between the parties." [3] Unlike joint legal custody, joint physical custody is the exception rather than the norm, and is usually only granted if both parties agree to it.
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.
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.

3.     Even if we don’t settle the case, it’s great preparation and knowledge for purposes of going into court.  Even though it’s confidential, and therefore an offer the other party made cannot be used in court against them, if you discuss the case in mediation and reach an impass, it does give us a better idea how best to present the dispute to the court.
In order for the mediation to be successful, you, your spouse, and the mediator all need to be as fully informed as possible about the facts of your case. This is the information gathering stage. Sometimes it begins during the first session; sometimes it starts after that session. If information that you and the mediator need is unavailable or in dispute, the mediator will try to help you find ways to get it or to determine what is correct. For example, you might need the policy number and other details of a life insurance policy. If you can’t locate your copy of the policy, the mediator might suggest ways to get this information, such as contacting the broker who sold you the policy or writing to the insurance company.
Divorce mediation is about you and your soon to be ex-spouse deciding your own divorce and what is best for the both of you and most importantly, your children. In mediation, you and your spouse meet with a neutral third party, the mediator, and with their help, you work through the issues you need to resolve so the two of you can end your marriage as amicably and cost effective as possible. The issues covered include but at not limited to the following:
Very few divorce cases actually go to trial.  Most cases are settled before the trial begins.  Usually the attorneys and the judge have a short meeting before the trial starts.  The purpose of this meeting is to decide what must be addressed during the trial and what has already been settled by the parties. The attorneys also make agreements so that the trial will be easier, faster, and less formal.  For example, they might agree on the order in which witnesses will testify.
If your ex-spouse is ordered to pay a debt but doesn't pay it, the creditor may force you to pay it if you originally signed for the credit.  This can happen no matter what the divorce decree says.  If that happens, you can ask the court to order your ex-spouse to pay you back.  The court can also find your ex-spouse in contempt of court for violating the court's order.
Anita Motolinia is a conflict resolution professional solely dedicated to the practice of mediation. Based in Minneapolis, Anita Motolinia Mediation serves people throughout Minnesota and the United States. She specializes in workplace, family owned business and divorce mediation. Her extensive mediation experience and training allow her to use a w ... more

But there's another way. Increasingly couples are turning to divorce mediation as a realistic and healthier alternative. A couple meets with a mediator to hammer out an agreement covering all the terms of their divorce, including finances and child custody. This usually takes six to 10 sessions and costs roughly $5,000. As a litigator and mediator I prefer to mediate, if appropriate. It's faster, cheaper and, most importantly, less acrimonious, which is less damaging, not just for a couple, but also their children.
1.     You just might settle the case.    The parties involved have the most information about their situation, and therefore are in the best position to craft a creative solution specifically tailored to them.  Judges, on the other hand, are bound by case law, statutes, and rules and must provide a solution for the parties that fits within this framework.
What the mediator can do, though, is assist the divorcing couple in formulating ideas that can eventually lead to agreements that will stand the test of time. 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.
Unless a reasonable support amount is agreed to by the parents, the court shall set child support according to the child support guidelines and worksheet. The court may order either or both parents owing a duty of support to a child of the marriage to pay an amount reasonable or necessary for the child's support, without regard to marital misconduct. In addition to the child support guidelines, the court shall take into consideration the following factors in setting or modifying child support or in determining whether to deviate from the guidelines: (1) all earnings, income, and resources of the parents, including real and personal property, but excluding income from excess employment of the obligor or obligee (2) the financial needs and resources, physical and emotional condition, and educational needs of the child or children to be supported; (3) the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved, but recognizing that the parents now have separate households; (4) which parent receives the income taxation dependency exemption and what financial benefit the parent receives from it; (5) the parents' debts; (6) the obligor's receipt of public assistance under the AFDC program. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.551, 518.552)
5. Use an attorney who specializes exclusively in family law, so that you’re not paying so much for the attorney to “learn”. No lawyer has perfect and complete knowledge, but a specialist is not going to have to do nearly as much legal research as a more general practitioner. (Not to mention, a specialist will be more qualified to represent you in the best way possible, because of his experience).
No marriage shall be adjudged a nullity on the ground that one of the parties was under the age of legal consent if it appears that the parties had voluntarily cohabitated together as husband and wife after having attained the age of legal consent. Nor shall the marriage of any insane person be adjudged void after restoration to reason, if it appears that the parties freely cohabitated together as husband and wife after such restoration.

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.

If a person wishes to terminate his or her marriage, he or she may file for a divorce. In a divorce proceeding, the court will terminate the marriage and determine the rights and responsibilities of the divorcing parties regarding child custody, child visitation, child support and spousal support (alimony). The court will also redistribute marital assets.
1. Never let your spouse suck you into a fight — even a verbal one. Once it starts getting heated, just withdraw from your spouse’s presence. While this won’t protect you against a spouse who is willing to make up a false abuse allegation out of whole cloth, it will protect you from a spouse who is trying to set you up to do something which will allow him or her to claim s/he was physically harmed or put in fear of imminent bodily harm.
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.
The respondent may disagree with the relief asked for by the petitioner and want the court to hear his or her side.  The respondent then must serve an Answer on the petitioner's attorney within 30 days of the date the respondent was served.  An Answer is a legal paper saying what the respondent says back to the Petition.  Just calling up the petitioner to say something like "I don't like this" is not an Answer.  The Answer may be mailed to the petitioner's lawyer. It does not need to be personally served.  The Answer states whether the respondent thinks the petitioner's statements in the petition are true or false.  It also tells the court what the respondent wants.
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.

Brian James is a Divorce Mediator with offices in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin.  He is the founder and owner of C.E.L. & Associates, a private mediation firm that focuses on pre and post decree divorce issues. His background consists of 10.5 years working with domestic violence and divorcing families in the Criminal Justice System. He is a member of numerous mediation organizations and local chambers of commerce. His goal is to assist his clients in their time of need and help them work out agreements that are best for them and their children. At the same time, he tries to save his divorcing couples time and money that is otherwise wasted in the court system. What would you rather do with your money during a divorce, pay it to an attorney or invest it in your child's college education?
If you were served with a "Summons and Petition" (you are the Respondent), you should talk to an attorney before you sign the "Answer and Counterpetition," and before you sign a "Stipulated Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree" (which is an agreement with your spouse on how to divide all assets and debts).
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