If the respondent answers the Petition, the parties will try to settle the case by having their attorneys work out an agreement.  This is called negotiation.  If the couple is able to agree on everything (through negotiation or mediation), a written agreement called a Stipulation or Marital Termination Agreement is prepared and signed by both parties and their attorneys.  The parties agree that one of them will present the Stipulation to the court.  Just one party needs go to court.  The other party usually does not attend.  The court usually accepts the agreement made by the parties.  A written Stipulation may also be presented to the court without the need for any hearing.  This process can only be used if each party had a lawyer.

The complexity of the issues and ability of the individuals to be flexible as they negotiate a fair agreement determines the length of the mediation. Every case is different, but the average case usually takes at least three to four two-hour mediation sessions, spread out over at least a month or two. More complex cases can take four to six months to complete.

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In order to make informed decisions as to division of marital property, and appropriate amounts of child support and spousal maintenance, it is necessary for each party to be fully informed of identity of each parties' income and assets. This information is typically exchanged through a process known as discovery. This is a process in which the lawyers may utilize numerous techniques for obtaining the financial information necessary to fairly identify and value all income and assets. The lawyers may informally by letter request the information they feel is necessary to identify all marital income and assets, or, in some cases may feel the need to serve "Interrogatories" and "Requests for Production of Documents” which are formal questions and requests for financial information and documents, such as tax returns, bank statements, financial statements and other information, which must be answered and sworn to under oath, within thirty days. In today's practice, some court's control what discovery they will allow, and may not immediately allow for the service of formal discovery, preferring the parties first use informal discovery. The attorneys may also notice the depositions of the parties themselves, or other people who may have relevant information, such as bankers and business associates. At a deposition the witness is sworn under oath, and the attorneys ask questions of the witnesses, which testimony is preserved in writing by a court reporter. The attorneys may also employ experts, such as "vocational evaluators," in the event it is alleged that a spouse who has not been working or who has only been working part time, is able to earn income to contribute to their support. They may also employ accountants or other business valuation experts to appraise family-owned or closely-held businesses. They may also employ other experts to appraise other assets such as real property and personal property, such as furnishings, jewelry and artwork.

The success Fellows of the Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers have had is based in part on the business sophistication and experience of many of our attorneys. That experience carries forward after trial, to the detailed written summations of the evidence and the law, submitted to the trial judge either immediately prior to or after trial, depending on the preferences of the judicial officer assigned to your case.


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.
For unmarried parents, the mother has sole legal and physical custody unless and until the Court orders otherwise, pursuant to Minnesota Statute section 257.75, subdivision 3. Nevertheless, a mother should be careful before denying parenting time, because one of the many factors which the court considers in determining permanent custody is “the disposition of each parent to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact by the other parent with the child.” Minn. Stat. § 518.17, Subd. 1(13).
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.

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. [4] 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.

All property that was acquired during the marriage is called "marital property."   It does not matter whose name is on the title.  Both parties are assumed to have made an equal contribution.  A homemaker's work in the home counts as an equal contribution.  This "marital" property is divided fairly. Usually, fairly means equally.  The court will decide the value of all the property and try to divide the property so that each spouse gets approximately half of the overall value.  If one spouse has misspent the family's income, or misused or taken property, the court may award more property to the other spouse to make up for that.  If one spouse has special needs, the court may award more property to the needy spouse. 

Mediation in divorce is a process by which a mediator or a trained neutral, often a lawyer or mental health professional, helps divorcing spouses reach agreement. The mediator works as a facilitator to guide the divorcing spouses through the process to resolve the outstanding issues. Some divorcing spouses have reached agreement on certain issues, but need assistance resolving other ones, and they attend mediation to address just those issues. Others need assistance with all of the issues. But those who elect mediation are electing to work together to maintain control of their lives. (When individuals litigate and go to court, the judge makes the decision. Those decisions are often not what either side really wants, but once the judge makes the decision, it is the one that controls.)
Legally, there can be no discrimination based on the sex of the parent. For a father willing to bear the time and expense of the contest, chances for custody are more or less equal to those of the mother, all else being equal. Having said that, I do think there is some lingering bias, even though judges and custody evaluators and guardians ad litem will always deny it. Often I do not believe it even occurs on a conscious level. Yet there is a gut feeling one gets, representing a father, that the job is just a little more difficult, or representing a mother, that the job is just a little bit easier.

Very few divorce cases actually go to trial.  Most cases are settled before the trial begins.  Usually the attorneys and the judge have a short meeting before the trial starts.  The purpose of this meeting is to decide what must be addressed during the trial and what has already been settled by the parties. The attorneys also make agreements so that the trial will be easier, faster, and less formal.  For example, they might agree on the order in which witnesses will testify.

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The other party is often awarded a lien or a mortgage for a share of what the property is worth.  A lien is a claim on the property.  The party awarded the real estate owes the other party the amount of the lien or mortgage.  The Judgment and Decree usually sets a date by which the payment must be paid.  If the lien is not paid when due, the party owed the money can ask the court to order the other to pay the lien, or to change division of the property in the Judgment and Decree.  In the case of a mortgage, the holder of the mortgage could foreclose.
If your spouse files an Answer that disputes details in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, then the judge will order you and your spouse to trial. There may be a number of hearings and legal proceedings before a trial occurs, so you will probably need an attorney to guide you through the process.  Before the trial, you and your spouse’s attorney may engage in evidence requests, witness interviews and negotiations.  This may be a lengthy and complex process that could cost you a great deal personally and financially.
If the parties cannot agree on custody, the court will usually order county, court or social services or a guardian ad litem to investigate the ability of each parent to care for and raise the children.  The social worker, court services worker or guardian ad litem will usually interview each parent.  They will contact friends and family, teachers, counselors, doctors, and other professionals who have seen the family.  The investigator then writes a report to the court and makes a recommendation about custody.  Your attorney may be given a copy of the report.  The parties are usually required to pay the costs of a custody investigation based on their ability to pay. The court does not have to accept the recommendation of the investigator, but considers it very seriously.
If the non-custodial parent does not pay the child support ordered, there are three main ways of enforcing the order.  All of these methods are complicated.  You should try to find an attorney to help you.  You can hire an attorney, or you can ask for legal help from the child support enforcement office of your county.  This office is sometimes called Support and Collections orthe IV-D (4-D) unit.  Please see our Child Support booklet for more information.
Mediation in divorce is a process by which a mediator or a trained neutral, often a lawyer or mental health professional, helps divorcing spouses reach agreement. The mediator works as a facilitator to guide the divorcing spouses through the process to resolve the outstanding issues. Some divorcing spouses have reached agreement on certain issues, but need assistance resolving other ones, and they attend mediation to address just those issues. Others need assistance with all of the issues. But those who elect mediation are electing to work together to maintain control of their lives. (When individuals litigate and go to court, the judge makes the decision. Those decisions are often not what either side really wants, but once the judge makes the decision, it is the one that controls.)
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.
Following trial and final written submissions, the judicial officer is allowed up to ninety days to issue written "Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree" which is the legal document dissolving your marriage and deciding all issues involving your children, property division, child support, spousal maintenance and attorney fees. After the issuance of the Judgment and Decree, Minnesota Law has a set procedure and time limit to allow either party to ask the court to correct any perceived or actual errors; to argue to the court to change its' decision; or, to argue that based on alleged errors, a new trial should take place. Although a new trial is rarely granted, it is not uncommon, especially when presented with complex issues, for the Court is slightly amend its' decision following the original judgment and decree.
The same analysis applies to debts. Debts incurred prior to the valuation date are generally marital, regardless of who incurred them. Debts incurred after the valuation date are generally separate. If your spouse is charging up the credit cards like a drunken sailor, it is in your interest to expedite the divorce proceedings to lock in the default valuation date.

Notwithstanding all of the above, mediation can often be the process that helps break an impasse and result in a reasonable settlement of one’s case. But for mediation to work, both parties must be prepared to compromise. If you approach mediation with the attitude that it will be an opportunity to convince the other party to do things your way, mediation will likely fail. That said, be careful not to concede too much. A lawyer can give you an appreciation of where the line is between generous cooperation and foolish capitulation.
Eric graduated magna cum laude from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN in 1990. In 1994 he received a Doctorate of Law (JD) degree from the University of Minnesota. Following that, he spent the next two years as a judicial clerk for the distinguished Honorable Lois J. Lang, Judge of District Court, with a workload that primarily involved the drafting of divorce decrees, orders, and legal memoranda on a host of issues pertaining to divorce, child custody, child support, visitation, spousal maintenance, distribution of marital and non-marital property, valuation of property, domestic abuse and harassment, and the like....
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.
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.
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