If you were served with a "Summons and Petition" (you are the Respondent), you should talk to an attorney before you sign the "Answer and Counterpetition," and before you sign a "Stipulated Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree" (which is an agreement with your spouse on how to divide all assets and debts).
There are several key advantages to mediation of divorce and other family law related disputes. First, you know what is best for you and your family. You live your life. You understand your financial circumstances. You know your children. You are best equipped to make decisions about your future. If you place your dispute in the hands of the court, a judge who knows very little about the details of your life will make decisions for you and, in most cases, you will have no choice but to live with that decision.
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.
The flowchart below gives an overview of different processes for completing a divorce in Massachusetts. In 95% of divorce cases in Massachusetts, the final terms of the divorce are agreed upon in a separation agreement that is written up outside of court and presented to a judge who approves it in a 20-minute hearing. There are very different routes, however, for reaching this separation agreement and brief hearing. In many cases, there are court actions–litigation or “contested divorce” processes–before a couple agree on the terms of the divorce in a separation agreement.
Judges frequently say that if both people are unhappy with the judgment, it’s a good one. In the context of divorce this philosophy is even more appropriate as there are no winners when a marriage ends. Whether in court or in the mediation room, 100% mutual satisfaction with decisions and agreements is rare. As a mediator I believe that my clients are best qualified to determine what is “fair” regarding the restructuring of their lives. I encourage my clients not to define success by happiness or victory; but rather by the effectiveness of the process.
Tera is one of the founding members and the managing partner at Minnesota Divorce and Family Mediation. She has over 15 years of combined education, training, and professional experience in facilitation, team building, negotiating, and mediating resolutions of all matters. She uses a strengths-based, client-driven approach to develop thorough parenting plans for children tailored to their unique circumstances and future needs. She has experience with complicated parenting issues, children with special needs, mental health issues, domestic partnerships, and other non-traditional relationships. Tera's goal is to develop a comprehensive divorce agreement while minimizing stress and cost.
Many metropolitan counties, as well as more and more outstate counties, have developed several innovative tools aimed at facilitating quick resolution of traditionally volatile areas - custody/parenting time and economic disputes. If the court is advised a custody/parenting time is present, the judicial officer will suggest that the parties participate in an "Early Neutral Custody Evaluation," referred to as a Social Early Neutral Evaluation "SENE" or in some counties and in others a Custody and Parenting Time Early Neutral Evaluation "CPENE." In this process the parties and counsel will be quickly scheduled to meet with two experts on child custody matters, one male and one female. Many counties have rosters listing the names of people certified to act as an Early Neutral Custody Evaluator. The parties and counsel will meet for three hours with the evaluators, with each party then afforded the opportunity to explain their role in raising the children, and what type of a parenting schedule they believe to be in their children's best interests. The two evaluators will then briefly adjourn, and then return to advise the parties what recommendation would result from a full custody evaluation. Many parties are able to reach a settlement of most parenting time issues after hearing this informal report.
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.
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.
Making the decision to part from your spouse is always difficult – particularly where there is money and support involved. While the alimony laws in Minnesota may be difficult to understand, the good news is that you don’t have to go through this process alone. A good first step in requesting alimony is to contact a Minnesota divorce lawyer, who can advocate on your behalf.
There are alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods other than mediation. Arbitration is an ADR where both sides agree that the neutral third person will decide the dispute. In arbitration, both parties can agree whether or not the arbitration decision will be enforced by the court. Arbitration might be used when you can't agree about the value of something and you're willing to let someone else, other than a judge, decide.
There is no right to a free lawyer (like a public defender) in a divorce. However, there are nonprofit law firms that provide free legal help or arrange for volunteer attorneys for low income clients. See the back of this booklet for information on legal services. If free legal help is not available, or you do not qualify, you will need to hire an attorney or represent yourself in the divorce.
If the court finds, after a hearing, that parenting time with a parent is likely to endanger the child's physical or emotional health or impair the child's emotional development, the court shall restrict parenting time with that parent as to time, place, duration, or supervision and may deny parenting time entirely, as the circumstances warrant. The court shall consider the age of the child and the child's relationship with the parent prior to the commencement of the proceeding.
When you have a choice, it is cheaper to cooperate with informal and limited discovery. In cases where the other party is not cooperative or not trustworthy, more formal discovery may be a necessity. Some of the formal discovery demands you receive will be objectionable. In most cases, however, it is much cheaper for you to just get the information and documents, than to pay your lawyer to argue with the other side about it. Also, don’t trickle it in piecemeal to your attorney if at all possible. Get it all together into one package, as complete and as organized as possible.
Many individuals mistakenly believe that they’ve abandoned their equity in the family home by moving out. While the court may award the family home to the spouse living in it at the time the divorce is heard, the spouse that moved out will typically be awarded other property or a cash settlement equal to his or her equity in the home. The bottom line here is that you don’t give up your equity in the marital home by moving out.
Minnesota Divorce and Family Mediation offers skilled guidance on all the important issues surrounding your divorce. The mediation process consists of guided sessions to determine how assets will be divided, discuss budgets and future financial needs, calculate child support and spousal maintenance (when necessary), and develop a parenting plan. Through mediation, couples maintain control over the important life decisions that need to be made during a divorce, while at the same time developing a new foundation for their future relationship with each other. By choosing this gentler approach to divorce, couples are more likely to be able to positively work together in the future; they are less likely to return to court for post-decree issues; and they are more fully prepared to move forward for a better tomorrow.
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.
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.