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.
You are not obligated to hire an attorney in order to file for divorce; however, having one greatly improves the likelihood your rights will be protected and that your divorce is done correctly. Otherwise, you may end up spending much more on hiring an attorney after your divorce to seek post-decree modifications to clean up anything done improperly at the outset. Having a lawyer with you during this process also lessens the pressure on you during this difficult time. Further, hiring a lawyer is especially beneficial if there are allegations of abuse — spousal, child, sexual or substance abuse — because in those situations, it may be impossible for the abused spouse to negotiate effectively. A lawyer can help arrange the necessary protection for an abused spouse and the children. There are many other instances where a lawyer will be significantly helpful in a divorce, such as: asserting a non-marital claim, complex finances, divorces involving business ownership, divorces involving one spouse living in a different state, and many more instances.
The divorce becomes final when the court clerk "enters" the Judgment and Decree, which means the clerk writes it down on a court list of all judgments. The Judgment and Decree contains the final decisions of the court. Sometimes it is a week or more after the default hearing before the Judgment and Decree is entered. The court clerk may send a copy of the Judgment and Decree to the petitioner's attorney. This attorney serves the respondent with the final Judgment and Decree and gives a copy to the petitioner. There is no waiting period in Minnesota—the divorce is completely final when entered.
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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In almost all cases, you will be required to attempt some form of alternative dispute resolution. This will typically take the form of "mediation" which is a process in which a neutral third party, typically an attorney trained in mediation, will attempt to assist the parties in reaching their own compromise settlement of some or all issues between the parties. The mediator does not make decisions, but rather facilitates a discussion between the parties (sometimes alone and sometimes with the assistance of counsel) aimed at reaching settlement of your issues. The mediation process is confidential, and if you are not successful in reaching a mediated settlement, the judicial officer will never learn what positions either party took in mediation. As part of the mediation process, the mediator will request both parties provide an accurate summary of income, assets and liabilities. It is recognized that sometimes, one party controls some or all of this information, and skilled mediators attempt to assure that there is a full and fair disclosure of financial information, and a full and fair discussion of the issues.
“Legal Separation” is a major change in the status of your marriage. To get a legal separation you must serve and file a petition in Family Court in the county where you or your spouse lives. It is a separate process from divorce. In Minnesota, you don’t need to get a legal separation before you get divorced. Legal separation takes as long as a divorce, and costs just as much if not more. In many ways, a legal separation is the same as a divorce. Both include custody, parenting time, child support, and, if appropriate, spousal maintenance (alimony) orders. All the family assets and debts are permanently divided.
Another common complaint is that the system is too soft on child support obligors. Truth be told, there are some self-employed parents that are doing well financially, but whose "inaccurate" tax returns show little income after they’ve written off business expenses (e.g., cars, travel and entertainment). Sometimes, these parents are able to fool the system and pay a lower amount of support.
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.
You may be surprised to know that most MN divorce cases (over 90%) are settled before they ever reach a court room. Mediation is so effective that the State of Minnesota requires you make a good faith effort to settle your divorce through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) before appearing in Court – so why not start with a process which is proven to work as well, if not better, than litigation?
Having said that, children naturally wonder and ask questions to resolve their own anxiety at a time when their parents have split up, and their family unit and daily routines have dramatically changed. Simply proceed with sensitivity, and be careful not to place the children in the middle of any disputes. Say nothing that would burden them with any guilt, or put them in the position of having to take sides.
NOTE: There are many ways to divide real estate in a divorce. The court forms for marriage dissolution (divorce) only give you 1 option -- one spouse gets 100% of the house, cabin, or other real estate, and the other spouse gets a lien. But, you can change the court forms. An attorney can explain other options, advise you about the law, and draft terms to meet your situation. If your divorce involves real estate, you should get advice from a lawyer on your legal rights and options.