In order to make custody determinations the court evaluates the best interests of the children using 13 key factors which are defined in MN 518.17.In addition to being financially expensive, formal custody evaluations are also often highly adversarial and emotionally damaging for all involved, especially the children. In the end, a “victory” is often bittersweet and both parents will have some amount of court ordered parenting time. Rather than seek to prove that one parent is better than the other, it is critical to recognize that both parents are important in different ways – each providing that which can only be given by a mother or a father. You are the experts about your life and your children. You are the best qualified to make decisions about how to restructure your family and parenting time after divorce. As your mediator, I help you evaluate and discuss parenting time options and make child-focused decisions about how each of you will remain significantly involved with your children.
A child support obligation terminates automatically when a child turns 18, or graduates from high school — whichever comes later, but in no case beyond the child’s 20th birthday. [1]. (A rare exception to this is in the case of a child who is incapable of supporting himself because of a physical or mental condition, in which case child support may continue throughout the child’s entire life).
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)
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.
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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.

Janet Rowles is a mediator specializing in high conflict and emotionally-difficult situations. In addition to doing divorce, post-divorce, unmarried relationship dissolution, and all types of family mediations, Janet does small and large group work including circle-keeping in Minneapolis public schools and facilitating large-groups such as condo as ... more


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.
There are several key advantages to mediation of divorce and other family law related disputes. First, you know what is best for you and your family. You live your life. You understand your financial circumstances. You know your children. You are best equipped to make decisions about your future. If you place your dispute in the hands of the court, a judge who knows very little about the details of your life will make decisions for you and, in most cases, you will have no choice but to live with that decision.
A party who is dissatisfied with the court's decision may ask the trial judge to change his or her decision or set a new trial or appeal to the Court of Appeals.  No new evidence or testimony is taken by the Court of Appeals.  Appeals are hard to win.  Usually when the Court of Appeals overrules a trial judge, it is because the Court of Appeals believes the trial judge made a mistake about the law.

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.
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. 
Joe Dillon, MBA is a professional divorce mediator and founder of Equitable Mediation Services. Joe is passionate about helping couples avoid the destruction of attorney-driven litigation and knows first-hand that the right information, combined with the right expertise and the right kind of support can make the challenging process of divorce less expensive, less time-consuming and less stressful for divorcing couples and their families.

If the court finds, after a hearing, that parenting time with a parent is likely to endanger the child's physical or emotional health or impair the child's emotional development, the court shall restrict parenting time with that parent as to time, place, duration, or supervision and may deny parenting time entirely, as the circumstances warrant. The court shall consider the age of the child and the child's relationship with the parent prior to the commencement of the proceeding.

In person—Minnesota allows anyone who is 18 years of age or older and is not a party to the lawsuit to serve the divorce papers in person. In most cases, the process server is a sheriff or a professional, bonded process server.  Once the papers have been delivered to the respondent’s home, person or attorney, the process server must complete the Affidavit of Service and file it with the Clerk of Court.
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.

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.
Any information disseminated on this website does not constitute legal advice of any kind,and does not form the basis for an attorney-client relationship. As such, the reader of such information is advised to consult directly with a competent legal professional of their own choosing to discuss and answer any substantive legal questions they may have.
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)
If the custodial parent wishes to leave the state, the other parent must agree that the children can move or the custodial parent must get permission from the court.  If the other parent agrees, the agreement should be put in writing.  The court must weigh certain factors when deciding whether to allow the move. The factors are things like the reason for the move and the child’s relationship with the other parent and other family members. The parent requesting the move must convince the court to give permission, except in domestic violence cases.
While most parties find mediation to be an excellent alternative to the traditional litigation approach to divorce, it may not work for everyone. It is not as effective when one party is unable to express opinions fully and without fear, or when the parties refuse to compromise or mediate in good faith. Additionally, some legal commentators are concerned that mediators may be unable to handle the complex financial arrangements involved in some divorce agreements.

Karen is a mediator with multiple sources of experience transforming complex disputes into mutually beneficial outcomes. Karen is available for mediations, meeting and workshop facilitation, and conversation coaching. Her subject-matter expertise includes environmental, and the cultural and technical intersections of fee and tribal trust land. This ... more

Even if you and your partner do not agree on much, divorce mediation could still be for you. Check out The Divorce Mediation Quiz for typical issues to think about when considering divorce mediation. If you and your partner think that divorce mediation could be a sensible solution for your family, you should learn more by meeting with a divorce mediator who can answer questions specific to your situation.


Lesa Koski iis a state qualified neutral who became interested in mediation during law school more than 15 years ago. Lesa grew up in the Stillwater and Woodbury area and now lives in Hudson, WI. After a successful Health Care and Elder Law career, she is thrilled to begin working in her area of passion, mediation. Lesa wholeheartedly believes in f ... more

After discovery is completed, the attorneys will typically work with you to formulate a settlement proposal which is presented to the other side, either as part of a settlement meeting at one of the attorney's offices, or simply through a letter sent to the other lawyer. The attorneys will prepare a balance sheet summarizing your assets and liabilities. In Minnesota, the law requires an "Equitable Division of Property," which typically, but not always indicates an equal division of property. Parenting time proposals may also suggest the future use of a "Visitation Expeditor" or "Parenting Consultant" who are neutral third parties retained to assist in resolving future parenting and parenting time disputes. When the parties have children, settlement discussions will also involve "child support", which is currently set pursuant to "child support guidelines" based on a comparison of the gross incomes of both parties, and the amount of time the children will spend with each party. If one of the parties lacks the resources to support themselves, settlement discussions will also involve requests for either temporary or permanent "spousal maintenance." Pursuant to Minnesota Law, spousal maintenance while based on a consideration of several factors, ultimately will be based upon a consideration of the marital standard of living, the needs of the spouse requesting maintenance and the ability of that spouse to meet those needs as compared to the needs of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought, and their ability to meet their own needs and still contribute to the support of the requesting spouse. Maintenance may be temporary or permanent, depending on the facts of the case, including length of marriage whether there is any uncertainty as to if the spouse requesting maintenance will ever be able to become fully self supporting.


On a related note, it is a useful precaution to close or otherwise terminate additional borrowing authority on any joint credit cards, lines of credit, or other joint debt accounts, when a divorce appears imminent. With respect to joint credit cards and other joint unsecured consumer lines of credit, Minnesota law requires the creditor to close the account upon the written request of either party. [1]
No case is too complicated to be settled using mediation. Often times the “complicated” cases are the cases which in the context of the adversarial legal system, cost the most, last the longest and create the most extreme long-term negative impacts for all involved. If you believe your situation is complicated, do yourself a favor and begin with mediation. Additional professional assistance within the context of mediation is always available in the form of accountants, appraisers, financial planners, therapists, child specialists, and attorneys
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.

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. 
Judges, evaluators, and guardians will often pontificate about the virtue of compromise and settlement, as if this were the ultimate objective of any reasonable person, rather than as a means to an end. They speak as if both parties are equally to blame for a failure to settle, when in fact such failure is often the result of only one of the parties, who is being excessively greedy, obnoxious, stubborn, or selfish.
Like all states, Minnesota courts begin with a presumption that it's best for a child to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after a divorce. If possible, judges want to support joint custody arrangements. However, the exact nature of the time-share will be determined by the children's best interests. For more information, see Nolo's article Child Custody FAQ.
Grandparents may seek visitation with their grandchildren.  Minnesota law also allows a person who is not a parent but who previously lived with the child for two years to ask the court for the right to visit the child.  A court will grant visitation if it is in the child's best interests and if visitation will not interfere with the parent-child relationship.
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