Many people think that when a couple wants to live apart they have to get a "legal separation." This is not true.  Often couples live apart for awhile before they decide to get a divorce.  This is not "illegal."  Legal separations are for people who do not want a divorce (usually for religious reasons).  They still need a legal paper to settle custody, support, and property questions.  The court makes the same kinds of decisions that it makes in a divorce.  However, the couple remains married, and the division of property is not final.
During a divorce, either party can petition the court to pay alimony or “spousal maintenance” to the other. Minnesota laws provide for this type of assistance so the lower earning spouses can maintain the same reasonable standard of living as before. Generally speaking, a court will be more inclined to order a longer period of alimony when the marriage was longer in duration.  

If the court determines that there is probable cause that one of the parties, or a child of a party, has been physically or sexually abused by the other party, the court shall not require or refer the parties to mediation or any other process that requires parties to meet and confer without counsel, if any, present. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.619)
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.
While it may be true that the two people are too emotional to sit down together alone, in mediation they work with their mediator, a trained professional and neutral third party, who has experience and training to help them focus on the issues at hand and to work together to resolve them. The mediator has many tools available to assist when emotions run high, such as caucusing by meeting with the parties in separate rooms or using an online platform until emotions have a chance to settle down. The mediator is skilled at helping the people to focus on the issues at hand and the future rather than the things that happened in the past that brought them to divorce in the first place.
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.
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. [1] Still, the child’s preference alone is an insufficient basis for modification of custody. [2] There must be a showing of endangerment, at least on an emotional level, in order to modify custody. [3] The child’s preference is an important factor and often a sine qua non of a showing of endangerment.

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.

Mediation is confidential and non-binding. Mediators cannot force the parties into a settlement. Rather, mediators keep everyone focused and facilitate the exchange of information. Mediation is not appropriate in all cases, particularly those in which there is a history of domestic abuse among the parties. The actions and concessions of a party during mediation cannot be used against them in court pursuant to the rules of evidence.


Clients often ask whether they should move out of the marital home prior to or during the commencement of divorce proceedings. The answer is very clear: “it depends”. Generally speaking, if child custody, parenting time, or possession of the home might be an issue in the proceedings, I advise against it. Although no legal precedent is created by moving out, the lawyer for the remaining occupant routinely argues that:

The success Fellows of the Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers have had is based in part on the business sophistication and experience of many of our attorneys. That experience carries forward after trial, to the detailed written summations of the evidence and the law, submitted to the trial judge either immediately prior to or after trial, depending on the preferences of the judicial officer assigned to your case.
It also possible, as part of settlement agreements to contractually limit the amount and duration of spousal maintenance, and limit or prevent altogether any future modification of maintenance, though what is known as a "Karon waiver". Benefits of such waivers involve certainty to both parties as to amount and duration of maintenance. Risks also are possible, if a party contracts to a set term and amount of maintenance, and either through illness or job loss, either cannot meet their obligation or may need an extension of their award, as most waivers require the court to give up jurisdiction to make such a change. Importantly, Karon waivers may only be agreed upon by both parties. If there is no such agreement, a court may never order such limitations and waivers of rights to future "modification" of the amount or duration of maintenance.

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The court can also make an order restraining (stopping) an abusive or violent spouse from harassing or harming the other spouse or the children.  The court can order one of the spouses to leave and not return to the home.  A violation of this part of the order may be a misdemeanor.  The party violating it can be ordered to pay a fine or go to jail.
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.
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)
3.     Even if we don’t settle the case, it’s great preparation and knowledge for purposes of going into court.  Even though it’s confidential, and therefore an offer the other party made cannot be used in court against them, if you discuss the case in mediation and reach an impass, it does give us a better idea how best to present the dispute to the court.

In cases where you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement on major issues, the judge will schedule a bench or jury trial that will require you and your spouse to present arguments supporting your respective positions. In the vast majority of trials, it is the attorneys with trial experience that do most of the arguing and presenting of evidence.  In addition to the legal fees paid to the attorneys, there are usually many court costs involved in a trial and pre-trial proceedings.

In order for the mediation to be successful, you, your spouse, and the mediator all need to be as fully informed as possible about the facts of your case. This is the information gathering stage. Sometimes it begins during the first session; sometimes it starts after that session. If information that you and the mediator need is unavailable or in dispute, the mediator will try to help you find ways to get it or to determine what is correct. For example, you might need the policy number and other details of a life insurance policy. If you can’t locate your copy of the policy, the mediator might suggest ways to get this information, such as contacting the broker who sold you the policy or writing to the insurance company.
Mediation is much less formal than courtroom litigation. Rather than being bound by courtroom etiquette and being under the burden of the technical rules of evidence, those involved in the mediation are seated around a table or in an informal office setting. The issues in question are discussed in a non-intimidating, non-threatening manner. Solutions and settlement options which are agreed to by both parties are the hallmarks of successful mediation. Mediation solutions also tend to be much more creative than the solutions which arise from litigation. The mediator will “brainstorm” with both spouses in order to arrive a good solution for each issue. So long as there are no violations of Florida laws, the final mediated agreement can be anything the spouses agree to with the help of their mediator.
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.
Mediation is one of the most frequently used methods of negotiating a divorce settlement. In divorce mediation, you and your spouse—or, in some cases, the two of you and your respective lawyers—hire a neutral third party, called a mediator, to meet with you in an effort to discuss and resolve the issues in your divorce. The mediator doesn't make decisions for you, but serves as a facilitator to help you and your spouse figure out what's best.
If you own your home or other land, this property must also be divided fairly.  The court may order the property sold so that each of you will have your share as soon as possible.  The court might award one spouse the home and give the other spouse other property, such as retirement accounts, that equal the equity in the home.  If the court believes that it would be better for the minor children to remain in the home, it may permit the children and the custodial parent to remain in the home until the children are 18 years old.  Then the proceeds from the sale of the home will be split. 

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Cynthia Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. She is an honors graduate of the University of South Dakota and William Mitchell College of Law. Cynthia’s practice focuses almost exclusively on divorce and family law issues. She publishes a monthly family law column for the Minnesota Lawyer newspaper, and has contributed to Divorce Magazine and The Family Law Forum. Cynthia also serves as a panel attorney for the Anoka County Family Law Clinic.
The first opportunity for the Court to decide custody is normally at the temporary relief hearing. In Hennepin County, this can easily be four months or more from the date of filing. In other counties, it can be much speedier, as in Dakota or Scott County, where a temporary relief hearing date is normally available within about 3 weeks. Once the motions for temporary relief are heard, the Court has 90 days to rule, although they normally get temporary orders out within two to four weeks.
This booklet explains your rights in a Minnesota divorce and includes information on custody, parenting time, child support, maintenance, abuse, and division of property.  This booklet does NOT tell you how to get a divorce without the help of an attorney.  Divorce law is complicated and changes often.  Each case must be handled differently.  Unless your divorce is very simple, it is usually a good idea to have an attorney.
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