Thomas Tuft, a native of the East Side of Saint Paul, is a shareholder at Tuft, Lach, Jerabek & O'Connell, PLLC practicing in all areas of family law, including complex divorce, child support, paternity, and child custody. He is a Rule 114 Qualified Neutral, a Social Early Neutral Evaluator (SENE) and a Financial Early Neutral Evaluator (FENE). He has been named among the list of Minnesota SuperLawyers® since 2002 and has been named one of the Top 40 Family Law SuperLawyers in Minnesota since 2004. He has been named to the list of Top 100 Superlawyers® in Minnesota and the...
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.
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.
When thinking about your divorce, it’s important to understand that when you work with Johnson Mediation, we leverage whatever resources you need that can work with you through the entire process. This means that not only do we offer our mediation services to guide you through any issues that arise when developing your agreement, we can help you negotiate any issues that come up after the divorce is finalized. While mediators cannot provide legal advice, we can offer legal information that can help divorcing couples, or couples that have already divorced, make informed decisions about issues that can impact their lives for many years to come.
Minnesota is an equitable division state. In an equitable division state, each spouse owns the income he or she earns during the marriage, and also has the right to manage any property that's in his or her name alone. But at divorce, whose name is on what property isn't the only deciding factor. Instead, the judge will divide marital property in a way that the judge considers fair, but won't necessarily be exactly equal.

When it comes to divorce in Minnesota, it’s important to know that the state favors “equitable distribution.” This simply means that all assets are divided equally among both parties regardless of either party’s wishes. Sometimes, though, this doesn’t necessarily mean that “equitable” will be equal. Rather, the word fair is more the proper term to be used when dealing with property distribution.
More recently, however, I have noted a shift to where, in my opinion, the evaluators make assessments of how the case will most likely settle, and tailor their recommendations to that assessment. This results in more settlements overall, but at the cost of many which are not in the best interests of the children. In light of this, it is very important not to give the impression that you are willing to settle for something that is contrary to the children’s best interests. In your pitch to the evaluators, tell them what you consider to be the arrangement that is in the children’s best interests, and why — not just what you would be willing to settle for; because if that’s your approach, that’s very likely what they'll treat as your starting point, and your children will be the ones to suffer for it, by having to live with an arrangement that is not in their best interests.
Finally, mediation can be substantially less expensive than the court process. When parties hire a mediator from Bloch & Whitehouse, P.A., they typically split our reasonable hourly rate equally between them. By contrast, if both parties hire lawyers, the cost for each party could be double or triple the cost for each party’s attorney. Moreover, significant court costs and other fees are minimized as a result of choosing mediation.
The attorney representing either the petitioner or the respondent can schedule a temporary relief hearing. The other party must be served with motion papers, including a Motion for Temporary Relief and an Affidavit.  Affidavits are written statements signed under oath.  The motion papers are legal papers requesting temporary relief from the court and stating the facts on which the request is based.  These facts include the income and expenses of each party, who has the children now and why they should be in the custody of the party asking for temporary custody.  The motion papers must be mailed or handed to the other party before the hearing. There are certain time periods for giving notice to the other party before the hearing that must be followed when bringing and responding to motions. The petitioner's attorney often has the motion papers served at the same time as the Summons and Petition.
Once a marriage is far enough gone, the only remaining question is “How hard is it going to be to untangle our legal and financial lives and (if relevant) sort out custody?” For some couples, separating via mediation rather than litigated divorce has its appeal: Many people don’t want to cast their former spouses in the role of enemy, and mediation is a cheaper, more cooperative, and less adversarial process than a War of the Roses-type brawl.
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.
“Legal Separation” is a major change in the status of your marriage. To get a legal separation you must serve and file a petition in Family Court in the county where you or your spouse lives. It is a separate process from divorce. In Minnesota, you don’t need to get a legal separation before you get divorced. Legal separation takes as long as a divorce, and costs just as much if not more. In many ways, a legal separation is the same as a divorce. Both include custody, parenting time, child support, and, if appropriate, spousal maintenance (alimony) orders. All the family assets and debts are permanently divided.

Some spouses are under the impression that they must obtain a legal separation to get divorced. To the contrary, legal separation is an alternative to divorce, but the process is almost identical: you file legal paperwork, deal with all the same issues in a divorce, and ask a judge for an order of legal separation. If you plan to divorce, a legal separation is unnecessary and will only increase the total cost of the divorce.


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.
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.

While upwards of 95% of all cases settle short of trial, the most expensive and acrimonious manner of resolving your differences with your spouse is through a formal trial - and perhaps nowhere is the retention of skilled counsel more important. Trial involves extensive study of all facts and evidence relevant to your case, extensive preparation of witnesses for testimony, extensive preparation to conduct examination (questioning) of witnesses, extension preparation of exhibits summarizing your position as to the evidence, hopefully in a form understandable and convincing to the trial judge, strategy as to what witnesses will be called and in what order, as well as the actual trial examination of witnesses, which often, especially when "cross examining" opposing witnesses, requires the lawyer to think on their feet, and prepare questions on the spot as they hear evasive or unexpected answers.
In order to maintain the status quo while the divorce is being processed, spouses are allowed to file Motions for Temporary Relief in order to temporarily order child custody, child support, spousal support and any other issues that occur day to day that must be handled while the divorce is being processed. Once the divorce decree is finalized and signed by a judge, the temporary order will expire and the final divorce procedures will go into effect.
A six-month review hearing can be scheduled to make sure parents are following court orders for custody, parenting time and child support. The court cannot change orders at this hearing, but it can take steps to make sure the orders are being followed. Either parent can ask for a six-month review hearing after getting a divorce, custody, child support or parenting time order for the first time. The court administrator can give you a form and the steps needed to ask for this hearing.

You can access most of the necessary divorce forms at the Minnesota Judicial Branch website. Remember, there may be additional documents required by your county's circuit court, so please check with your circuit court before filing to assure that you have all the correct forms. If you feel like you need more help, you can use Rocket Lawyer to Find a Lawyer who's right for you.


In most counties in the Twin Cities Metropolitan area, as well as now many out state counties, after the filing of a summons and petition, the next step in the process will be an appearance at an Initial Case Management Conference ("ICMC"). ICMC’s are aimed at trying to expedite the processing of divorce cases, and minimizing conflict and the expense associated when parties quickly resort to litigating (resorting to the lawyers and the courts to decide disputes) all issues. As soon as a party files the petition or answer with the court, your matter will be assigned to one judge or referee, who in many counties will be responsible for all aspects of your case until its conclusion. Typically within thirty days thereafter, the court will schedule the ICMC. Both lawyers and both parties must appear, and the vast majority of judges and referees (judicial officers) will not allow any motions, including temporary motions, to be filed until the ICMC takes place.
Second, you and the other party are more likely to adhere to the terms of your agreement if you have some ownership of it. It is not uncommon for parties to a divorce or other family law dispute to return to court after their initial proceeding to address problems with a party who is not abiding by a parenting time schedule or failing to pay child support. Parties who make their own decisions about those issues through mediation are more likely to feel responsible for the terms of their agreement and to abide by it.
In reality, because mediation is such an adaptable and holistic approach to divorce, these common concerns are all well handled in the mediation setting. In fact, almost any divorce case, or really any family law matter, is suitable for mediation and the parties can successfully resolve their issues without the great expense and emotional costs of litigating.

Mediation also allows couples to avoid the risks of trial, protects confidentiality, and decreases stressful conflict. Mediation may also protect the children of a marriage from the pain of parental conflict. Because the parties work to create their own agreements, couples who mediate their divorce settlement often find greater satisfaction than those who go to trial. Moreover, the couples learn skills to help them resolve future conflicts.
The size of the estate doesn’t always correlate with the overall fees incurred. Dividing property is not always a major issue between spouses. Some couples with substantial marital estates manage to divide assets with minimal fighting or attorney’s fees. Once they’re informed of their rights, how the law works, and what a court would likely do, they divide property accordingly. These individuals appreciate the wisdom of avoiding unnecessary legal expenses.
If you and your ex-spouse agree to change custody of the children, you should make a motion to the court to change custody and support orders. Otherwise, you are still responsible for paying support to the other parent, even if you actually have custody of the children. Custody is sometimes changed if the custodial parent allows the children to live with the non-custodial parent for a much longer time than was ordered for parenting time.
Most Minnesota judges encourage couples go through divorce mediation where you are making the decisions about your future rather than having a judge make them for you. Avoiding litigation is much more economical for both members of a divorcing couple, yet many people don’t realize the importance and power of divorce mediation in today’s climate. If you’re ready to take the next step towards a divorce, it’s critical that you enlist the help of a reputable mediator like Jeff Johnson who specializes in divorce mediation to walk you through the process of divorce.
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.
When it comes to divorce in Minnesota, it’s important to know that the state favors “equitable distribution.” This simply means that all assets are divided equally among both parties regardless of either party’s wishes. Sometimes, though, this doesn’t necessarily mean that “equitable” will be equal. Rather, the word fair is more the proper term to be used when dealing with property distribution.
It is important to remember that the child support obligation terminates automatically at this time. [2] The obligor doesn’t need to return to Court to stop it. He just needs to stop paying. That said, if payment is through automatic income withholding, it is a good idea to alert your child support case worker in advance of the termination date, to be sure they don’t overlook it and continue withholding the money from your paycheck.
The answer to this question can get complicated because it does not matter whose name is on the deed. What matters is the value of the home and the loan balance at the time of your marriage and at present. These factors are important because there may be a marital portion of the home with equity that must be divided, and there may be a non-marital portion, which will not be divided. An attorney can help you figure out what is marital and what is nonmarital.
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 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:
Often, spouses’ interests will overlap. This is especially likely if the interests involve a concern for other people, such as children. When an overlap like this occurs, it increases the likelihood of finding settlement options that address their common concerns. Of course, it’s not always possible to negotiate an agreement that satisfies fully all of the interests of the disputing parties. Some interests may have to be compromised, especially in divorce, where limited resources must be divided between two households. But if the focus is on identifying and addressing each person’s most important needs and interests, the resulting compromises will be ones that both spouses can live with.
We work with a team of attorney mediators and non-attorney mediators who are committed to supporting divorcing spouses in the goal of hiring professionals only for what is needed. As a way to support those who want to take responsibility for their own divorces, these professionals have agreed to reduce their rates for individuals who find them through WashingtonDivorceOnline.com.
A common problem for many families is a dispute over where the minor child(ren) will attend school. If you have sole legal custody, you may decide this on your own. But if like most parents you have joint legal custody, then the choice of school is something that must be agreed upon, or otherwise submitted to the Court or Alternative Dispute Resolution for a determination.
This can be problematic if a party needs to commence a divorce in Minnesota immediately, but neither party has yet been residing here for the requisite six-month period. In such cases, one should seriously consider a legal separation, which has no length-of-residency requirement, and which can afford much of the relief afforded by divorce, such as determinations of property possession, custody, parenting time, child support, and spousal maintenance. [2] Later, after the six-month residence requirement is satisfied, the case can be converted to one for divorce.
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.

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.
Almost every state requires mediation of child custody disputes, and many states' court systems provide services such as early conflict intervention, conciliator services, community dispute resolution centers, education seminars for divorcing couples, mediation, and settlement conferences. Today, mediation, either voluntary or court mandated, is the predominant form of dispute resolution for divorcing couples.
Although many mediating couples are amicable and work well in mediation, there are also many couples who are very emotional about the divorce and don't think they can negotiate face to face. Part of every qualified mediator's training is in assisting couples who have high emotions but who still would like to work things out peacefully. People do calm down and become effective mediation participants when they see that the process can work without adding to the high emotional and financial cost of divorce.
But after a couple of years passed, the wife was no longer so angry, and they re-started mediation. Green says, “I don’t know what her personal journey was, but they were parenting well together, they both could acknowledge that the kids loved both parents and needed both parents. And then they were ready and did their property settlement pretty quickly and we finished up the divorce. She was able to forgive him, and he was able, in some ways, to apologize for his bad handling of problems that were in their marriage.

Sometimes the respondent cannot be “served” personally with the Summons and Petition because the petitioner does not know where he or she is and has no way to find out.  In this case the petitioner can apply to the court for permission to “serve” another way—such as mailing the papers to an address where mail will likely be forwarded to the respondent or publishing a notice in a newspaper.  This special service starts the legal proceedings in cases where the respondent cannot be personally served.

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