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.
Mediation is confidential, allows you and your spouse to make the decisions, and is less expensive than filing a lawsuit. You can reach a positive agreement that is more customized than the one you might receive from a judge. In mediation, you are responsible for your attorney’s fees, as well as half of the mediator’s fees. In certain states, mediation is required by the court after a lawsuit has been filed; for example, North Carolina requires couples to attend mediation before a child custody trial and equitable distribution trial.
Once your negotiations are finished and you have found a solution, either the mediator or one of your attorneys will write an agreement and, in many cases, a parenting schedule or parenting plan. These documents will be incorporated with the rest of your divorce paperwork and become part of your divorce judgment, which means that a court could enforce them if one of you doesn't do what the agreements say you'll do.
What the mediator can do, though, is to point out in open session to both spouses things that each of them should be aware of about what they’re trying to accomplish. That open and free exchange of information frees up both spouses to negotiate with each other in confidence. Because both spouses are working with the same base of information, it usually takes far less time to negotiate a resolution that makes sense to both spouses.
“Dear Spouse: I very much regret that we have been unable to agree to a suitable interim parenting time schedule for the children pending the temporary relief hearing scheduled for xx/xx/xx. In order to spare the children the experience of our conflict over this issue, I will abide by the schedule you have unilaterally dictated while we await court action. Nevertheless, I want to make clear my strong objection to this interim schedule, which we both know is not in the children’s best interests.”
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.
I want to get divorced, but my spouse doesn’t. Can my spouse prevent us from getting divorced? No. Your spouse can, however, refuse to work together on the terms of the divorce. If that happens, you would have to file for divorce and have your spouse served. Unfortunately, this would mean a contested divorce process, which is long and expensive and tends to generate new animosity between you. Faced with that prospect, many spouses eventually cooperate to develop a separation agreement and file an uncontested divorce.
The law allows parents to make voluntary parenting plans. A parenting plan is a plan voluntarily designed by both parents based on the best interests of the child. A parenting plan must include a schedule of the time each parent spends with the child, who will make specific decisions regarding the child, and a way to settle disputes. An agreed-upon parenting plan may use terms other than “physical” and “legal” custody but it must clearly state if the parents have joint legal custody or joint physical custody or which parent has sole legal custody or sole physical custody.
Not exactly; mediated settlements do not become legally binding until they have been submitted to, and accepted by, the Court. The final product of mediation is a Memorandum of Agreement. This document memorializes all of your agreements and is the basis for your Marital Termination Agreement and Judgment and Decree. If unrepresented by attorneys, most of my clients choose to hire a neutral attorney (or scrivener) who completes all of the necessary legal documents and assists with the filing process. If either or both clients are represented, one of the attorneys may be selected for drafting the legal documents and the other attorney reviews everything for accuracy. A few of my clients choose to use the pro se forms available online through the MN District Courts website. At the conclusion of mediation, I will be able to help you determine the best option for your situation. It is important to know that even if your mediator is also an attorney, it is considered professionally unethical for a mediator to draft legal documents for his/her clients.
Joe Dillon, MBA is a professional divorce mediator and founder of Equitable Mediation Services. Joe is passionate about helping couples avoid the destruction of attorney-driven litigation and knows first-hand that the right information, combined with the right expertise and the right kind of support can make the challenging process of divorce less expensive, less time-consuming and less stressful for divorcing couples and their families.
Mediating parents have a number of options available for determining how to provide for their children’s needs after divorce. As a starting point, we will calculate MN guideline child support using the MN Child Support Calculator which as of January 1, 2007 uses an income shares model for determining child support obligations. My process includes a complete explanation of how to properly input the information and how to read the calculator’s result. While many parents choose to follow the State guidelines; some parents decide to deviate from guideline support based on a variety of reasons. Still others adopt a less traditional (and more flexible) plan for sharing all expenses relating to the children, such as a joint checking account or monthly accounting and reimbursement method. Mediation allows you to be creative about how best to provide financial support for your children’s needs after the divorce.
It can be difficult for a client to know whether his or her lawyer is performing well or not. Sometimes even the best of lawyers does not achieve the desired result, and it may be due to a difficult set of facts, a bad judge and/or custody evaluator or guardian ad litem, or unrealistic expectations. There are some clear indications of bad lawyering, however, which are objectively obvious:
If you are concerned about ongoing earnings continuing to be marital in nature, then it is in your interest to lock in the default valuation date by filing the case as soon as possible and shepherding it along swiftly. For example, if you earn six figures, but your spouse is a stay-at-home unemployed parent, it is to your advantage to file the divorce first, and then work on settlement, rather than to mediate and negotiate for several months prior to filing.
You may be surprised to know that many divorcing couples are fairly respectful of each other and work well together in divorce mediation. There are also many couples who are very emotional about the divorce and as a result, exhibit more conflicted behaviors or believe they can not successfully negotiate face to face. As a mediator, I am trained to assist people in putting their emotions aside and focusing on the relevant issues. My job is to keep you on track and help you through the crisis. Rest assured that you will be accepted as you are; there will be no judgment or criticism and you will receive grounded professional assistance aimed at helping you succeed. My personal and professional experience has taught me that both emotions and conflict tend to diminish through the course of our work together. Professional guidance is often a key factor of success. As you progress through the process, you will likely come to understand why mediation is so successful at alleviating some of the non-monetary transactional costs of divorce.
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?
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.
Decisions about spousal maintenance are often emotional and challenging. Unfortunately, MN law does not specify how to calculate a spousal maintenance obligation. Unlike child support, MN divorce laws are discretionary when it comes to spousal maintenance (alimony) stating only that many factors should be considered when determining the need for spousal maintenance as well as the amount and duration of the support. Relevant factors often include: the length of marriage, each spouse’s financially ability to be self-supporting, education and employment history, age, and the marital standard of living. Mediation encourages the use of reasonable budgets and information sharing rather than the traditional adversarial legal approach which often relies on exaggerated budgets and win-lose negotiation tactics. The creation of reasonable budgets allows you and your spouse to understand your individual financial needs as well as the financial realities of your situation. This mutual understanding is vital to the successful discussion and resolution of the spousal maintenance issue. I also utilize a specialized computer program which provides useful information about tax impacts and projected cash flow for each spouse before and after the exchange of financial support.
At Johnson Mediation, we think of ourselves as divorce specialists. It is our job to provide you with the most efficient level of service that ensures we address all of the necessary details surrounding your divorce, which often include a child-focused Parenting Plan in the event that you have kids. While other options may want you to believe a divorce needs to be hard fought, and drawn out, it is our experience that this is often not the case. We are skilled at helping individuals deal with complex emotions that accompany divorce. With our experience and mediation background we feel confident that we can help you cope with these emotional difficulties during and after your divorce is final.
If you do move out, take steps to guard against destruction of property. Videotape the contents of the home (e.g., furniture, art and other valuables) and make copies of important documents (birth certificates, account statements, deeds and insurance policies) before you leave. You may also consider taking your own family heirlooms and other personal, irreplaceable items with you.
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.
Finally, the parties in mediation are often surprised to hear their mediator suggest that they consider retaining consulting attorneys. The thought is that they chose to mediate to avoid fighting their case out with attorneys and they don’t want that extraordinary expense. However, the role of a consulting attorney in mediation is very different than the role of a litigation advocate and is a very helpful assistance when mediating.
“ A thousand kudos to you and your professional staff and excellent service. Without your help I would have spent thousands of dollars for no good reason. The documents were prepared without flaw, and my divorce was granted on the terms that were agreed upon without any problems whatsoever. The time frame from initial filing to final decree was less than a month. ”
Taking or hiding a child, or not returning the child after parenting time, can be a serious crime. Minnesota has a law which makes it a crime to deprive another of their custodial or parental rights. Under this law, you do not have to have a court order giving you custody or parenting time. If the other parent is hiding the child, you may be able to show that you have been deprived of your custodial or parental rights.
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.
The court decides both legal and physical custody. Legal custody is the right to make the major decisions about the children. These include the children's religious upbringing, schooling, and medical care. Physical custody means where the children live and which parent makes the routine daily decisions. Physical custody is what most people think of when speaking about custody.