Once the decision to mediate is made, it is necessary to find a mediator. Many counties have community-based or court-annexed mediation centers. If the mediation is court-ordered, the court may appoint a mediator, or will allow the parties to agree upon a qualified mediator. Both lawyers and non-lawyers serve as mediators. The fees charged vary from mediator to mediator and from case to case.
Case in point: I had a client once who — contrary to my advice — chose to engage in settlement negotiations for several months prior to commencement and filing of the divorce, rather than filing first and then working on settlement. The pre-filing settlement negotiations did not bear fruit, and because of the delay, the valuation date did not occur until much later than it otherwise would have, with the result that a $180,000 dividend payment received by my client was treated as martial property, when it otherwise would not have been.
The summons is a simple legal notice that a divorce action has been commenced by the petitioner and advising how long the respondent has to serve an "answer" to the petition. It also contains a preliminary restraining order, preventing changes in insurance coverage and the disposition of property, except for the necessities of life or in the ordinary course of business. In Minnesota, unless the petitioner agrees to an extension the answer must be served within thirty days. If you ignore the service of a summons and petition for a longer period of time, the petitioner may serve a motion with the court requesting that default judgment be entered. This judgment will not only immediately dissolve the marriage terminating certain rights you have as a married person to rights such as health insurance. It may also result in the moving party being awarded rights and interests in property, as well as the loss by the respondent to certain rights, such as spousal maintenance (alimony) without the respondent having the opportunity to respond and defend their rights. While there are cases in which the court will subsequently set aside a default judgment, it is very important that you retain a lawyer to respond to a summons and petition within thirty days. Sometimes that response may be as simply as an agreement from the petitioner's attorney to extend the thirty day period to answer the petition.
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.
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.
Some people think it will be easier and safer to have an attorney fight for their legal rights. Unfortunately, maximizing your legal rights often comes at someone else’s expense (for example your spouse or your children). This is referred to as a “win-lose” situation. All too often the transactional costs (both financial and emotional) of a “win” far exceed the value of the victory, especially for children. Although a good lawyer can be helpful, the adversarial legal process is expensive and often seeks to solve problems through opposing positions, and win-lose thinking. In my opinion, this adversarial approach is not only expensive and emotionally challenging; it is also detrimental to the long-term well-being of the people involved, especially the children. It may surprise you to know that most of my clients are unrepresented and successfully reach a complete mediated divorce settlement without retaining an attorney. My standard advice to people considering which divorce process to choose is to start with mediation and see how it goes. You may consult with or retain an attorney at any time and you never give up your right to go to court if mediation is partially or completely unsuccessful. With success rates as high as 80–90% and average savings of 20-50%, it seems the better question to ask may actually be, why wouldn’t you try mediation first?
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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).
If the non-custodial parent does not pay the child support ordered, there are three main ways of enforcing the order. All of these methods are complicated. You should try to find an attorney to help you. You can hire an attorney, or you can ask for legal help from the child support enforcement office of your county. This office is sometimes called Support and Collections orthe IV-D (4-D) unit. Please see our Child Support booklet for more information.
All in all, when a couple is committed to making divorce mediation work, the likelihood of success is high. No matter how you currently feel about your spouse remember how you once felt, and try to end your marriage on the most positive note humanly possible rather than with bitterness and acrimony. Mediation can help you achieve this goal by offering a safe place to discuss your disputes as well as gentle guidance to help you solve those disputes.
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.
But not every couple is a good candidate for mediation—and it can be hard to know in advance who’s going to find the process helpful and who’s going to find it useless—or worse, enraging. To get a better idea of warning signs, I spoke to Rachel Green, the family lawyer in Brooklyn, New York, who handled my own separation ten years ago. Below, the eight signs that mediation might not be right for you.
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.
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 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.
Any offers made during mediation, or any possibilities that are discussed, cannot be disclosed to a court. This creates a setting where the parties can more freely discuss and explore how far from their “stance” they might be willing to go. A trial, or any type of litigation is very costly, so money saved by resolving issues in mediation, can often become part of a solution. It doesn’t mean that you can take something like a bank account balance or a mental health condition, mention it in mediation, and therefore make it non-disclosable. Facts, such as these, mentioned in mediation, can indeed become part of a court case if the situation is not resolved in mediation. It is the discussions and offers that remain confidential.
Following trial and final written submissions, the judicial officer is allowed up to ninety days to issue written "Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree" which is the legal document dissolving your marriage and deciding all issues involving your children, property division, child support, spousal maintenance and attorney fees. After the issuance of the Judgment and Decree, Minnesota Law has a set procedure and time limit to allow either party to ask the court to correct any perceived or actual errors; to argue to the court to change its' decision; or, to argue that based on alleged errors, a new trial should take place. Although a new trial is rarely granted, it is not uncommon, especially when presented with complex issues, for the Court is slightly amend its' decision following the original judgment and decree.
The number of times you go to court and see a Judge or Referee depends on local court procedures and whether you and your spouse can agree on issues regarding your children, property and other matters. If you do NOT agree, the case usually takes longer to finish. It is a good idea to get legal advice before finalizing an agreement with your spouse.