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.
Emptying the joint bank checking or savings account in anticipation of divorce would ordinarily be frowned upon, unless you had a very justifiable reason. Be warned, however, that your spouse may beat you to it. I’ve seen joint bank accounts cleaned out by the other party many times, and many times there is unapproved spending by the other spouse as the divorce approaches. Although this can be accounted-for and compensated-for in the divorce property settlement, it can still cause great difficulty if you need the money during the pendency of the proceedings and have to litigate to get any of it back.
The big warning I have is this: years ago, when the program started, the idea was that the evaluators would give their opinion of how they would likely decide the case in a full-blown custody evaluation, based on the facts learned in the SENE. This honest appraisal of how a months-long custody evaluation would likely turn out is what helped parties to settle their cases.
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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 law allows parents to make voluntary parenting plans.  A parenting plan is a plan voluntarily designed by both parents based on the best interests of the child.  A parenting plan must include a schedule of the time each parent spends with the child, who will make specific decisions regarding the child, and a way to settle disputes. An agreed-upon parenting plan may use terms other than “physical” and “legal” custody but it must clearly state if the parents have joint legal custody or joint physical custody or which parent has sole legal custody or sole physical custody.
Very few things in any family law issue are black-and-white. Our job is to step back and help you look at the larger picture in terms of what you have to get out of your divorce versus what might be emotionally driven. We sit down with you to discuss whether what you are asking for is worth pursuing and how a judge might handle a situation if your case ends up in litigation.
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.
James W. McGill holds a Master’s Degree in Guidance and Counseling and is an honors graduate of Drake University Law School. Licensed to practice law in the State of Minnesota and the Federal Courts, McGill maintains a general practice with special emphasis in the areas of Mediation, Bankruptcy Law, Employment Law, and Alternative Dispute Resoluti ... more
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James W. McGill holds a Master’s Degree in Guidance and Counseling and is an honors graduate of Drake University Law School. Licensed to practice law in the State of Minnesota and the Federal Courts, McGill maintains a general practice with special emphasis in the areas of Mediation, Bankruptcy Law, Employment Law, and Alternative Dispute Resoluti ... more

3. Be prompt. Courts are slow. Many attorneys, sadly, are chronic procrastinators and deadline-driven. Custody evaluators and Guardian ad Litems are slow. If you’re slow too, it compounds the problem. Furthermore, the quicker you can be in responding to whatever your attorney asks of you, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to settle your case sooner and at less expense. By acting quickly, attorneys are able to take charge of a divorce process, rather than being driven by court deadlines and various hearings and other requirements which might be avoided just by staying ahead of the game.
You may be surprised to know that most MN divorce cases (over 90%) are settled before they ever reach a court room. Mediation is so effective that the State of Minnesota requires you make a good faith effort to settle your divorce through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) before appearing in Court – so why not start with a process which is proven to work as well, if not better, than litigation?
Once a decision to start a divorce action is made, one party will serve two documents, one titled "summons" the other titled "petition". The person starting the action is referred to as the petitioner; the other party will thereafter be referred to as the respondent. Occasionally, however, in very amicable divorces the parties may agree to act as "co-petitioners." A petition most typically is served by having a person other than the petitioner hand a copy of the petition to the respondent. It occasionally can also be served by mail subject to certain requirements. Many times, arrangements can be made ahead of time so that your spouse is aware of the time and location he or she will be served with a summons and petition, although unfortunately sometimes service comes as a complete surprise.
The date on which earnings (including retirement contributions and other income) becomes separate property again, is the so-called “valuation date.” [1] The valuation date is the date of the initially scheduled prehearing settlement conference, unless the parties agree to a different date, or the court finds that a different date is fair and equitable. [2] In my experience, the Court seldom exercises its discretion to use a different date. One situation warranting a different date is where the parties have been separated for years prior to commencement of the divorce, and have been living separately, with separate accounts, insurance, bills, etc., during the separation period.
Minnesota has a "no-fault" divorce law.  This means it is not necessary to prove your spouse is at fault for the breakup of the marriage.  It is only necessary to prove that there has been "an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship."  This means that there is no hope that the spouses will want to live together again as husband and wife.
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