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?

When custody is in dispute, a Minnesota court issues a custody order that is in the "best interests of the child." Joint custody will only be awarded if parents have shown the court that they are willing and able to cooperate. A court also examines several factors with the child's welfare in mind. They include (1) the child's preference, (2) each parent's health, (3) the child's health and whether any special needs exist, (4) each parent's relationship with the child, (5) which parent has been the child's primary caretaker, (6) each parent's ability to provide a stable environment for the child, (7) any history of domestic violence or child abuse and (8) any allegations of abuse.
It is possible to complete your divorce without representation by a Minnesota divorce attorney. However, it is not recommended as this process is emotional and often more difficult than originally expected. A Minnesota men’s divorce lawyer can ensure that your interests are protected during the process as well as give you valuable advice on the overall proceedings.
Through a series of joint sessions we work through the three main components of a legal divorce settlement (property division, financial support and parenting plan). Generally speaking we follow these steps: 1) make an action plan and prioritize issues to be addressed; 2) determine what information needs to be gathered and shared; 3) assess if additional professional assistance from appraisers, accountants, therapists, attorneys, etc. is needed; 4) share and document your property (assets and liabilities); 5) make decisions about dividing your property; 6) create budgets for separate living; 7) determine financial support needs (child support and/or spousal maintenance/alimony); and 8) develop a detailed and workable parenting plan. In all cases, your personal and private information is treated confidentially with the same care and concern as in the legal process. The final product of mediation is a Memorandum of Agreement which is a comprehensive document detailing your agreements and which serves as the basis for your legal documents which are filed with the court.
If the parties are hostile or overly emotional, the mediator will separate the parties and shuttle back and forth between them in "private caucuses." A private caucus is a conference between the mediator and one party, without the other party being present. The mediator passes offers and demands between the parties. Conversations between a party and the mediator during private caucus are confidential unless a party authorizes the mediator to disclose information to the other side.
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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.

All that being said, be aware that contesting the divorce will add to the duration and expense of the case. Contesting the divorce itself can buy you some time during which to pursue reconciliation, and can be the leverage to obtain your spouse’s agreement to therapy or other reconciliation efforts, but at the end of the day, a persistent party will be able to obtain the divorce.
The court may award either party alimony if the party seeking alimony (1) lacks sufficient property to meet his or her own needs, and (2) is unable to be self-supporting through employment, or is not required to seek employment due to being a child custodian. In the absence of an agreement by the parties, Minnesota alimony law provides that the amount and duration of alimony will be determined by the judge, after considering the following factors:
There is one advantage to being the petitioner. If the parties reside in different counties, the petitioner determines venue (location) by filing for divorce in the county of choice. Venue can be critical because judicial views on custody and alimony vary from county to county. The respondent can request a change in venue, but will need to show a good reason for the change.

If you cannot afford to pay an attorney, you may be able to get assistance from the legal services office in your area. A list of the legal aid offices in Minnesota begins on the next page. You must meet low-income guidelines to be eligible for legal services (legal aid).  You may be referred to a volunteer attorney program by the legal services office.

Mediation is confidential and private, as opposed to divorce litigation, in which little privacy is afforded. Whatever goes on in mediation remains private, while grievances aired in a courtroom become part of the court record and are public. Any communications between parties during mediation are confidential with certain exceptions. These exceptions include child or elder abuse or one party talking about a crime they committed or one they intend to commit. The confidentiality of the mediation process allows spouses to speak openly and directly to one another without the fear something they say will be used against them.

Mediation is non-binding. This means that the mediator has no authority to force either party to agree to anything at all. Too often people come to me after the fact, complaining that the mediator forced them to agree to something. Just remember that no matter how much they may try to tell you that your position is unreasonable, or that the Court would never side with you, you do NOT need to agree to whatever it is they are pushing for.
I have practiced family law my entire 24-year career as a litigator and a mediator. I am licensed in Minnesota, California and Colorado. After spending time in courts in 3 states, nothing surprises me anymore. I enjoy being an advocate for my clients and guiding them successfully through the legal process be it a divorce, child custody, spousal maintenance or property matters.
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.
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.
In Minnesota, alimony or spousal maintenance is available as temporary, short-term or long-term. Temporary alimony includes payments made during the course of the divorce proceedings, while short-term involves a limited period following the divorce.  Long-term spousal maintenance is essentially permanent. In most cases, alimony is short-term and allows the dependent spouse to obtain skills to sustain themselves. The court will consider the following when awarding alimony:
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.
Many of those who have successfully gone through divorce mediation note it is a much less expensive alternative to litigation. The costs of litigation are generally an unknown until the case settles. At that time the spouses may be shocked at the level of fees they have incurred through attorney’s fees, expert witnesses, depositions, preparation of the case for trial, filing motions back and forth and many other things associated with divorce litigation. Mediation, on the other hand, allows couples to have a good estimate of the number of hours it will take to resolve the issues at hand. The ultimate goal of mediation is to resolve the issues quickly, and this translates to financial savings.
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. 
In the end, spouses who go through divorce mediation are much more likely to be satisfied with the final results. During a litigated divorce, neither spouse is likely to get what they asked for, leaving at least one of them angry and bitter over the outcome. When the final award is totally unexpected, that anger and bitterness only increase. Such a decision can leave that spouse feeling powerless and victimized. He or she may feel the judge was biased, and the settlement was far from fair or equitable. Mediation limits the feelings of victimization, even when the financial settlement is relatively modest.
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?)
The only way to force a spouse out of the house where he or she resides is to get a Court Order. If you or your child has been the victim of domestic abuse by your spouse, you can get an Order for Protection immediately, which will bar your spouse from the house. Otherwise, absent an agreement, the soonest you’ll get an order for exclusive occupancy of the home would be with the issuance of an Order for Temporary Relief, which usually takes anywhere from about one to five months to obtain, depending on the county, the judge, and the speed of your attorney.
States regulate the manner in which marriages may be dissolved (i.e. divorce), just as they regulate the marriage process itself. These regulations often include residency requirements, waiting periods, acceptable grounds for divorce, and defenses to divorce filings. Like many family laws, the legal requirements for divorce have changed drastically over the course of history to reflect the times. For instance, a spouse who wanted a divorce had to first prove the other party's fault (such as adultery or desertion) before the advent of "no-fault" divorce.

Negotiating agreements isn't always linear. You may start at what feels like the end, and you may find yourself needing to gather more information at various points. The mediator will help you to stay on track and brainstorm options, will encourage you and your spouse to express your opinions, positions, and what's important to you, and will help you listen to each other in ways that will make a resolution more likely. (You may be able to use some of these communication tools in your ongoing parenting relationship.)
Although the advantages of mediation generally far outweigh the disadvantages, there are a few potential disadvantages associated with divorce mediation. A divorce mediator may not advise you on the legal aspects regarding the decisions you are making. This could result in an agreement which leads to a loss of important rights. This is why all mediated agreements should be looked at by an experienced divorce attorney prior to giving it to the judge for approval.
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?
Courts do not usually deny requests to dissolve a marriage, even if that request is only coming from one spouse. Nevertheless, if your spouse wants a divorce but you don’t, you can argue that the marriage is not “irretrievably broken” at the evidentiary hearing. The district judge will make the determination; however, most divorce attorneys will tell you not to be optimistic about your chances of stopping the divorce by making this argument, assuming one spouse still wants the divorce.
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.

To file for divorce in any state you need to meet its residency requirements. These requirements vary by state. Two additional things that you should consider when thinking about relocating are what the divorce laws are where you are compared to the laws of the state that you are moving to, and what is the impact on any children involved. To the first point, you want to make sure that you aren’t filing for divorce in a state where the divorce laws are less favorable to you. To the second point, courts can and do frown on one parent’s leaving the state without the other’s consent. A lawyer can help you figure out which state would be best to file in and how to negotiate and interstate custody issues.
Court rules now require both sides to try ways other than court to resolve their differences.  There are many other ways to reach agreements called alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods.  Make sure you know all your choices before deciding on a method.  The parties may be asked to pay for the cost of ADR. Most ADR methods let you stop the process at any time without reaching an agreement.
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?
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.
If the case does settle, the mediator will urge the parties to sign a settlement to memorialize the agreement. A written settlement agreement is a contract between the parties, which is generally enforceable in the same manner as any other written contract. Generally, there's no record of the mediation session, and the only document produced is the settlement (or mediation) agreement.
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.
Effective August 1, 2013, the law in Minnesota allows same sex couples to get married or divorced in this state. To file for divorce in Minnesota, at least one party must be living in Minnesota for at least 180 days before starting the divorce case. A same sex couple may also file for divorce in Minnesota if they got married in Minnesota on or after August 1, 2013, and each party to the marriage now lives in a state that does not allow the dissolution of the parties' same sex marriage. See Minn. Stat. § 518.07, subd. 2.
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