Divorce can be a difficult and stressful process, even in amicable situations. Navigating the maze of legal issues is confusing for many separating couples. To make matters more complicated, there few hard-and-fast rules and rarely any black-or-white answers. Instead, the outcome of important matters such as property division, alimony and child custody hinges on the unique circumstances of your family.
A trickier question is whether you may record the other parent's conversations with the children. Under the doctrine of "vicarious consent," as long as a parent or guardian has "a good faith, objectively reasonable belief that the interception of telephone conversations is necessary for the best interests of the children," then he may consent to the interception (i.e. listening in or recording the call) on behalf of the children.  However, this can be risky, because if there is any dispute about whether your vicarious consent was in good faith or objectively reasonable, you may still end up having to defend against possible criminal charges or a civil lawsuit. The Wagner case I have cited, for example, was a civil lawsuit by a one parent against the other parent who had recorded telephone calls between the children and herself. The Court allowed that lawsuit to proceed because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to the motivations of the parent who had made the recordings. I don't recommend recording any such phone calls without first consulting a lawyer.
Judges often tell litigants not to argue over the physical custody “label.” They often say that it is not important. Years ago, the physical custody label had a major impact on the issue of child support and out of state moves. Because of statutory changes, that is no longer the case at all. There is debate in the bar as to what if any legal impact the physical custody label has now that those two considerations have been removed.
I have more than 15 years experience with families and churches in conflict management and resolution. Clear thinking and calm presence is a must in stressful interpersonal situations so I’m balanced between a logical head and caring heart. Skill and experience in crisis counseling, de-escalation and conflict resolution is what I bring to to the table. As a former ER chaplain, I’m sensitive to diverse faiths and beliefs, and understand many of the differences that age, education, setting and lifestyle can make in dealing with conflict. I know my limits in dealing with different cultures yet have much inter-cultural experience. Immersed in language study in college, I also lived with people from over 20 countries including people from Africa, South America and Asia.
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.
A question is often asked as to whether there is an advantage to being a petitioner versus a respondent. There is no real difference, except that the petitioner can obviously effect when the action is started, and sometimes, in what county. If you and your spouse separate, and your spouse moves to a different county before the action is commenced, the petitioning spouse can commence the action either in the county you reside in or the new county they have moved to. There are some perceived and actual differences as to how matters proceed, depending on which county they are "venued" (commenced) in. A second implication of being a petitioner versus a respondent is that ultimately, if the matter does proceed to trial, the petitioner is required to present his/her case first. This may have some minor implications relative to the cost of preparing for trial, especially it the matter settles before the respondent presents her/his case.
Court cutbacks mean that judges have less time to handle every case; many times, people find themselves stalled for months at a time waiting for a court date or for something to ‘happen’ on their case. Parties can spend tens of thousands of dollars on attorney fees and then one or two years later fire both attorneys and come up with their own agreement. Mediation lets people move forward at their own pace.
This can be a very complex situation. A spouse can hide a lot of income through a business, which can greatly affect what you may be entitled to in the divorce. Further, it may not be for the best interest of both spouses if a profitable business is split up. There are many issues and pitfalls that arise when a business is involved in a divorce. You should consult with an attorney who understands both the divorce and the business issues.
Minnesota, like most other states, passed a law called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) so that parents could not go to another state to try to get a different custody order. Under the UCCJEA, the courts of different states have guidelines to help decide which state’s court should decide custody. The courts are encouraged to discuss the matter and avoid disagreements between states. Usually the court in the state where the child has lived most recently for the past six months has the authority to decide custody of the children. If a court in one state has already decided custody, the UCCJEA prevents a court in another state from changing the custody order, unless the first court refuses to act or no longer has enough connection with the child and parties.
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)
Most state courts require you to submit a financial affidavit during the dissolution process. Be sure to check your local rules or consult with an attorney. It’s paramount to complete your financial affidavit accurately, as that information can be held against you later. Creating a rough draft early in the information-gathering process will ensure that your final version will be error-free. It also serves as a roadmap of the financial factors to cover during mediation.
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.
During marriage, we kept our paychecks, bank accounts, and credit cards separate. How does this affect the division of assets and property if we get divorced? In Massachusetts, all of your assets and debts are considered marital and belong to both of you. It doesn’t matter whose name is on the accounts or credit cards or who paid which bills during the marriage.
But there's another way. Increasingly couples are turning to divorce mediation as a realistic and healthier alternative. A couple meets with a mediator to hammer out an agreement covering all the terms of their divorce, including finances and child custody. This usually takes six to 10 sessions and costs roughly $5,000. As a litigator and mediator I prefer to mediate, if appropriate. It's faster, cheaper and, most importantly, less acrimonious, which is less damaging, not just for a couple, but also their children.
The court may appoint a “guardian ad litem” if it believes one party has hurt the child or that having someone to represent what's best for the child would be helpful. A guardian ad litem advises the court about custody, parenting time and support during the case. A guardian ad litem is different from other kinds of guardians. The guardian ad litem does not have custody. A guardian ad litem makes an independent investigation about what's best for the child and writes a report for the court. The parties may be asked to pay the costs of a guardian ad litem.
Greene says, “Mediation averages between $4,000 and $10,000,” but litigation lawyers (at least in New York City), start with a $25,000 retainer. “Most people will end up somewhere $20,000 and $200,000, but there certainly are those $300,000 divorces as well. I like to joke that divorce is one area of life in which having money is a disadvantage, because you may find [an attorney] who’s going to fan the flames and give you false hope about how you’re going find the kindly judge that is the father you never had who will see that you’re right, and that your ex is completely wrong. That’s a fantasy that is still held by many people.”
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.
Finally, parties may agree to continue child support past the statutory termination date. When this occurs, it is usually based on a mutual desire to support a child through college. Although the Court lacks jurisdiction to order child support beyond the statutory termination date, the Court does have jurisdiction to enforce a binding stipulation of the parties which provides for that.  If I am representing the obligor, I normally advise against this, because one can always support the children through college if one so desires. There’s no reason to get the Court involved.
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 a person wishes to terminate his or her marriage, he or she may file for a divorce. In a divorce proceeding, the court will terminate the marriage and determine the rights and responsibilities of the divorcing parties regarding child custody, child visitation, child support and spousal support (alimony). The court will also redistribute marital assets.
Depending on the judicial officer, most ICMC's are fairly informal. The judicial officer will come into the courtroom, and give a small presentation to the parties. Literally all presentations are based on a common theme - the benefit of working cooperatively to reach a mediated settlement. The judicial officer will discuss the high cost, both financially and emotionally, of litigating your divorce issues rather than working towards an amicable settlement. The judicial officer will then discuss with the lawyers what issues they believe your case presents, what needs to be done to reach a resolution of those issues, what procedures the lawyers believe are necessary to prepare the matter for resolution (either through subsequent settlement or trial) and how much time will be needed to complete this work. At this point, it will be determined whether a temporary hearing is necessary to determine issues involving possession of the home, parenting of children, temporary child support and spousal maintenance, as well as temporary attorney fees, while the divorce proceeding is pending. Many times the courts will encourage the parties to participate in an early mediation sessions to determine temporary issues. On rare occasions in today's family law practice, a formal temporary hearing may be needed, as described below. In lieu of such a hearing, some judicial officers may request the lawyers follow a more informal process of simply writing the judicial officer a letter providing the economic data necessary to decide temporary issues together with brief argument. The judicial officer will then decide the temporary issue.
To get a no-fault dissolution in Minnesota, you need to state in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage that “there has been an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage relationship.” Also, one of the following must exist: (1) serious marital discord adversely affecting the attitude of one or both of the parties toward the marriage, or (2) the parties have been living separate and apart for 180 days before filing.
Mediationis one ADR method. In mediation, the parties try to work out an agreement between themselves with the help of a neutral third person called a mediator. The mediator helps the parties discuss their disagreements, make compromises and reach their own agreement. Mediation can be helpful because both of you have agreed to the outcome rather than having a big fight and the judge makes decisions for you. Mediation about custody or parenting time can be helpful because you both will continue to be parents to your children and together you can continue to work out parenting issues. In mediation both of you should be able to say what you want and cooperatively work out compromises. If you don't understand things or don't feel you have equal power with your spouse, the mediation is not fair. You can stop the process at any time without reaching an agreement. You only have to try to settle. You can't be forced to agree to something.
If you are proceeding without an attorney, you are well-served to use an experienced mediator with extensive legal background able to address all of the issues surrounding your specific case; if you have a land dispute, you want to have a mediator capable of understanding your concerns and the law as well. If you have a divorce or custody case, you want a mediator with extensive experience litigating these issues.
As mentioned above, the court is going to ask what Alternative Dispute Resolution you have used prior to coming to court. In most cases, some type of ADR is required, but there are exceptions, such as some cases involving domestic violence. In recent years many mediators have developed better protocols for accommodating those circumstances, and so some cases involving domestic violence do proceed with mediation today. A victim of domestic violence should seek the advice of counsel regarding any ADR process they are considering.
You’ll also want to gather records for all income sources: paystubs, self-employment profit and loss statements, pension disbursements, social security, alimony and child support payments received. As for expenses, you’ll want to list your recurring expenses as well as ongoing liabilities, so that all mortgage payments, car loans, health insurance costs, food, utilities, student loans, credit card payments, etc. are known.
All people have power in different ways. It is my job as mediator to balance power and ensure that both clients have an equal voice and ability to impact outcomes. In mediation, power comes from knowledge and information. Documented information about assets and liabilities and a broad understanding of each other’s needs are what make you successful in mediation.
No dissolution shall be granted unless (1) one of the parties has resided in this state, or has been a member of the armed services stationed in this state, for not less than 180 days immediately preceding the commencement of the proceeding; or (2) one of the parties has been a domiciliary of this state for not less than 180 days immediately preceding commencement of the proceeding. The Dissolution of Marriage is typically filed with in county in which the filing spouse lives. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.07, 518.09)
Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) in Family Court Cases - For parents who are getting divorced, this statewide program connects them with judges and evaluators early in the court process to give them an opportunity to settle their legal issues. Parties can choose to participate in one or both types of ENE: a Financial ENE (FENE) to settle financial disputes; and Social ENE (SENE) to settle custody and parenting time issues involving their children.