In any case where parties cannot agree about custody or parenting time of the children, the court will require the parties to attend an orientation and education program. Some courts have programs for children to attend. The program covers the impact that divorce and the restructuring of families and legal proceedings have upon children and families. It will also cover methods for preventing parenting time conflicts and options for resolving disputes.
If one party denies under oath that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the Court may not grant the divorce without finding irretrievable breakdown, after a hearing and consideration of all relevant factors, including but not limited to: 1) the circumstances that gave rise to the commencement of the proceedings; and 2) the prospect of reconciliation.  The Court may not find irretrievable breakdown as long as a reasonable prospect of reconciliation exists. 
That said, although the legal impact of the physical custody label is debatable, if you are the primary parent, it is still preferable to have sole physical custody than joint physical custody. Conversely, if you are not the primary parent, it is still preferable to have the joint physical custody label than not to have it. This is because of the uncertainty over how a future court, evaluator, parenting consultant, guardian ad litem or others might interpret that label.
The big warning I have is this: years ago, when the program started, the idea was that the evaluators would give their opinion of how they would likely decide the case in a full-blown custody evaluation, based on the facts learned in the SENE. This honest appraisal of how a months-long custody evaluation would likely turn out is what helped parties to settle their cases.
Christine Callahan has completed the certified training and is on the court roster for counties in the southwest metro to conduct Social Early Neutral Evaluations (SENE, for custody and parenting time) and Financial Early Neutral Evaluations (FENE for support and property division). For more information about the Early Neutral process in Minnesota, please see our articles.
I have a great deal of experience with court matters, but I am now concentrating more of my time on Wills and Probate. I have been an arbitrator of Minnesota No Fault Auto Accident Claims. I graduated from Hopkins (MN) High School in 1967; St. Olaf College, Northfield MN in 1971 (BA History and Asian Studies) and William Mitchell College of Law (now Mitchell Hamline Law School) in 1975 (JD), working days and attending classes at night through a four year program. I am married and have two adult children.
To put this amount into perspective, a typical retainer paid to a divorce attorney (by one spouse) is $2,000 (or more); which means, if you both retain an attorney the starting price will likely be at least $4,000. The sticker shock gets worse when you consider that many sources indicate that when each spouse is represented by an attorney the average US divorce costs around $15,000. This same research indicates that divorce mediation in general is between 20-50% cheaper than the traditional adversarial legal process.
Couples who are headed for a trial date may be ordered by the court to go through mediation before that date is set, however, mediation can also be voluntary. If the couples are unable to resolve their issues through mediation, they are free to pursue any other remedies they choose. Mediation is generally better for the children involved, as it allows the couple to make decisions which are in the best interests of the entire family in a non-contentious manner. Children can be damaged by hearing their parents argue and say things to one another that children should not hear. Many parents who end up litigating their divorce are not hesitant to say ugly things about the other parent in front of the children. Parents who make a conscious decision to mediate their divorce, are also more likely to be aware of ensuring the children are not privy to contentious behavior between the parents.
The date on which earnings (including retirement contributions and other income) becomes separate property again, is the so-called “valuation date.”  The valuation date is the date of the initially scheduled prehearing settlement conference, unless the parties agree to a different date, or the court finds that a different date is fair and equitable.  In my experience, the Court seldom exercises its discretion to use a different date. One situation warranting a different date is where the parties have been separated for years prior to commencement of the divorce, and have been living separately, with separate accounts, insurance, bills, etc., during the separation period.
Attorney fees vary from hundreds of dollars if the case is easy to thousands of dollars for cases with custody and/or property disputes. It is important that you understand your payment arrangement with your attorney. Many attorneys charge an hourly fee for their services. You will be charged each time the attorney works on your file. Ask your attorney for a written “Retainer Agreement” or letter which explains in detail how you will be charged for legal services.
A mediator is a neutral professional specially trained to help you and your spouse reach agreement about all the important legal issues relating to your divorce. A mediator is not a decision maker. As your mediator, I guide you through the divorce process. I answer your questions and help you understand the court system. I facilitate a productive discussion of the issues while maintaining a safe and respectful environment. I assist you in understanding each other’s needs, wants and concerns. I help you generate and consider creative options. If you have minor children, I help you create a comprehensive Parenting Plan which will increase your likelihood of parenting success after your divorce is final. And finally, I document your agreements in a Memorandum of Agreement.
Jay has been a licensed attorney since 1980. He began his career as a public defender before transitioning into insurance defense work where he gained valuable experience and knowledge of the insurance industry and insurance practices. After founding Tentinger Law Firm in 1997, Jay practiced in family law as well as continuing his insurance defense work. Today, Jay focuses his time to working with small businesses and their litigation needs. Jay is a member of the Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska State Bar Associations and a no-fault arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association. He is admitted to practice before the...
1st meeting: The couple and the mediator identify the issues needed to be discussed and the order in which they will be discussed, then decide what information needs to be gathered and shared. Between the first and later sessions the couple gathers all relevant financial data, or if necessary, the opinions of experts such as appraisers or accountants, with this material treated with the same care and concern as would be the case in the adversarial process.
Probably the most common misconception that I hear from people about divorce mediation it that they believe it is only suitable for couples that are very amicable. Their perception is that since they are not getting along very well with their spouse, they can’t sit down together and discuss anything let alone issues regarding their money and children. In fact, mediation is very well suited to helping parties who are high conflict to work through their differences and come to a reasonable solution.
Each spouse has the right to sell, give away, or dispose of any property the couple owns. For example, either person can withdraw money from a joint bank account. Either can charge on a joint credit card. There are some exceptions to this general rule. Neither spouse has the right to cash checks made out to the other spouse. Neither spouse can withdraw money from a bank account if it is in the name of the other spouse only. Neither spouse can sell a motor vehicle that is in the name of the other spouse. Neither can sell real estate that is in both names or in the name of one spouse.