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?
While mediation is absolutely worth trying for most couples, not every couple belongs in mediation. For example, if there is domestic violence in your relationship, you should consider carefully before you agree to participate—but don't it out of hand. Some people who have experienced abuse in their marriages find it empowering to meet on the level playing field of a mediation session; others find there's too great a chance of replicating the dynamics of the marriage and choose to have a lawyer do their negotiating for them. Also, because the mediator can't order either of you to do anything, a person who wants to delay the proceedings or avoid paying support can abuse the process by agreeing to mediation and then stalling the process. If you need decisions about support or other issues made early in your divorce, you may need to go to court. This doesn't mean you won't be able to use mediation at a later point to resolve the rest of the issues in your divorce, though. (To learn more about who can benefit from divorce mediation, read Nolo's article Will Divorce Mediation Work For You?)
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.
In Minnesota, there is no particular age at which a child gets to decide which parent he wants to live with. Generally, the older the child, the more weight the child’s preference carries, whether in the initial custody determination or in the context of a motion to modify custody.  Still, the child’s preference alone is an insufficient basis for modification of custody.  There must be a showing of endangerment, at least on an emotional level, in order to modify custody.  The child’s preference is an important factor and often a sine qua non of a showing of endangerment.
A trickier question is whether you may record the other parent's conversations with the children. Under the doctrine of "vicarious consent," as long as a parent or guardian has "a good faith, objectively reasonable belief that the interception of telephone conversations is necessary for the best interests of the children," then he may consent to the interception (i.e. listening in or recording the call) on behalf of the children.  However, this can be risky, because if there is any dispute about whether your vicarious consent was in good faith or objectively reasonable, you may still end up having to defend against possible criminal charges or a civil lawsuit. The Wagner case I have cited, for example, was a civil lawsuit by a one parent against the other parent who had recorded telephone calls between the children and herself. The Court allowed that lawsuit to proceed because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to the motivations of the parent who had made the recordings. I don't recommend recording any such phone calls without first consulting a lawyer.
These court actions add delays, thousands or tens of thousands of dollars of costs, and interpersonal stress to the process of reaching a separation agreement. As the chart illustrates, the only way to guarantee an uncontested divorce, with no expensive, antagonistic, and time-consuming court actions, is through divorce mediation, a collaborative law divorce process, or out-of-court divorce negotiations. Attorney Julia Rueschemeyer specializes in these forms of divorce, which avoid high costs, delays, and court legal battles. You can learn more about mediation, collaborative law divorce, and differences between fault, no-fault, contested, and uncontested divorce on other pages of this website.
Sign and file a “Joint Petition for Divorce.” (Divorce court officials sometimes refer to this as the “1A form” and this divorces process as a “1A Marriage Dissolution.”) This is a divorce form that a) states when you were married and last lived together, b) identifies minor or dependent children of the marriage, c) identifies any family law court actions already in process, d) suggests an approximate date when the marriage irretrievably broke down (when it effectively ended), e) requests a divorce, and f) asks the judge to approve your “Separation Agreement” (see below).
More recently, however, I have noted a shift to where, in my opinion, the evaluators make assessments of how the case will most likely settle, and tailor their recommendations to that assessment. This results in more settlements overall, but at the cost of many which are not in the best interests of the children. In light of this, it is very important not to give the impression that you are willing to settle for something that is contrary to the children’s best interests. In your pitch to the evaluators, tell them what you consider to be the arrangement that is in the children’s best interests, and why — not just what you would be willing to settle for; because if that’s your approach, that’s very likely what they'll treat as your starting point, and your children will be the ones to suffer for it, by having to live with an arrangement that is not in their best interests.
In some cases, there will be a temporary relief hearing. This hearing can take place after the Summons and Petition have been served. At the hearing the court makes an order that sets the rules for the parties until the divorce is final. A temporary relief hearing is especially important if children are involved and there is disagreement over custody, or if child support needs to be decided right away.
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 Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.551, 518.552)
Litigating a divorce results in both parties operating under attack and defend mode. When mediation is used, the process is much more peaceful and conciliatory. Both parties are allowed to explain their position and perspectives on all the issues, leading to a generation of solutions which ultimately benefit both spouses and their children, if any. Parties to divorce mediation have decision-making powers and must agree to each provision in the final agreement. Couples who agree to terms voluntarily are much more likely to comply with those terms in the future, and much less likely to find themselves back in court fighting about perceived violations of the terms.
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.
As a family law attorney, my primary focus is to support clients through the legal process so they may transition into the next chapter of their lives. Prior to representing clients, I worked as judicial law clerk in Hennepin County Family Court. Working side-by-side with judges, I gained an immense understanding of family court procedure, and how judges decide cases. I translate that experience to my practice every day, assisting clients in making the best decisions for their families. I have experience representing clients in all aspects of family law cases, including divorce proceeding, child custody and support matters,...
Mediation offers a quite different approach to resolving conflicts between the parties. A neutral third party-the mediator- assists the parties in sorting out their affairs and comes to a mutual agreement in a confidential private format. Mediation is a solid option even for those that are having trouble with communication. It is a cost-effective process and it avoids the legal war of going to court.
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.
Unless your lawyer thinks it's important that you be represented, try the first session without your attorney. (If your spouse is insisting on having an attorney present, you'll want to do the same.) If you're not represented, but you've asked a lawyer to be your consulting attorney just for purposes of mediation, then you'll likely attend the first mediation session on your own. Either way, if you go by yourself and then you find that you can't state your position clearly or stand up for yourself alone, then consider bringing your lawyer to later sessions.
Lisa Watson Cyr has devoted her practice to the area of Divorce and Family Law since being admitted to the Minnesota Bar in 1998. Her experience and depth of knowledge ensure that her clients receive the highest quality of representation in dealing with all aspects of family law matters including divorce, custody, parenting time, child support, marital and non-marital property, alimony, and paternity. She is an effective negotiator and skilled litigator, always keeping the best interests of her clients as her sole focus. Although Lisa believes her clients are best served by a negotiated settlement and strives to settle matters...
Minnesota courts require couples seeking a divorce (and without a history of domestic violence) to use a mediation service prior to finalizing the divorce. Mediators are conflict resolution experts, often with legal training, who attempt to help couples come to an agreement on ongoing issues. Mediation is not legally binding, but it may help shorten the divorce process or make it unnecessary. On average, mediation is 20-50 percent cheaper than a traditional divorce.
Many metropolitan counties, as well as more and more outstate counties, have developed several innovative tools aimed at facilitating quick resolution of traditionally volatile areas - custody/parenting time and economic disputes. If the court is advised a custody/parenting time is present, the judicial officer will suggest that the parties participate in an "Early Neutral Custody Evaluation," referred to as a Social Early Neutral Evaluation "SENE" or in some counties and in others a Custody and Parenting Time Early Neutral Evaluation "CPENE." In this process the parties and counsel will be quickly scheduled to meet with two experts on child custody matters, one male and one female. Many counties have rosters listing the names of people certified to act as an Early Neutral Custody Evaluator. The parties and counsel will meet for three hours with the evaluators, with each party then afforded the opportunity to explain their role in raising the children, and what type of a parenting schedule they believe to be in their children's best interests. The two evaluators will then briefly adjourn, and then return to advise the parties what recommendation would result from a full custody evaluation. Many parties are able to reach a settlement of most parenting time issues after hearing this informal report.
The maintenance order shall be in amounts and for periods of time, either temporary or permanent, as the court deems just, without regard to marital misconduct, and after considering all relevant factors including: (a) the financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to the party, and the party's ability to meet needs independently, including the extent to which a provision for support of a child living with the party includes a sum for that party as custodian; (b) training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment, and the probability, given the party's age and skills, of completing education or training and becoming fully or partially self-supporting; (c) the standard of living established during the marriage; (d) the duration of the marriage and, in the case of a homemaker, the length of absence from employment and the extent to which any education, skills, or experience have become outmoded and earning capacity has become permanently diminished; (e) the loss of earnings, seniority, retirement benefits, and other employment opportunities forgone by the spouse seeking spousal maintenance; (f) the age, and the physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance; (g) the ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance; and (h) the contribution of each party in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation, or appreciation in the amount or value of the marital property, as well as the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker or in furtherance of the other party's employment or business. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.551, 518.552)