Brian James is a Divorce Mediator with offices in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin.  He is the founder and owner of C.E.L. & Associates, a private mediation firm that focuses on pre and post decree divorce issues. His background consists of 10.5 years working with domestic violence and divorcing families in the Criminal Justice System. He is a member of numerous mediation organizations and local chambers of commerce. His goal is to assist his clients in their time of need and help them work out agreements that are best for them and their children. At the same time, he tries to save his divorcing couples time and money that is otherwise wasted in the court system. What would you rather do with your money during a divorce, pay it to an attorney or invest it in your child's college education?

This booklet explains your rights in a Minnesota divorce and includes information on custody, parenting time, child support, maintenance, abuse, and division of property.  This booklet does NOT tell you how to get a divorce without the help of an attorney.  Divorce law is complicated and changes often.  Each case must be handled differently.  Unless your divorce is very simple, it is usually a good idea to have an attorney.

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.
A mediator’s job is to get you to reach an agreement. Their sense of professional fulfillment is satisfied when an agreement is reached. Unfortunately, all too often, this can result in a person agreeing to things that are contrary to his or her interests, contrary to what the Court would order, and — in the worst case — contrary to the best interests of the children. Therefore, it is critically important to either have an attorney with you at the mediation session, or at least have one on retainer at the time, to consult before you agree to anything.
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.
I use only processes—mediation, collaborative law divorce, and out-of-court negotiation—that emphasize open, respectful communication. I am currently not taking "contested" cases, in which each spouse hires a lawyer and fights in court. If you have been served with divorce papers or need legal representation in court, you should contact a different attorney.
For example, if there are two automobiles, each spouse is usually given one of them.  This is especially true if the cars are nearly equal in value.  If there is only one automobile, the court often awards it to the spouse who has the greater need for transportation.  Extra items of personal property may be awarded to the other spouse so that the overall value of each share remains the same.  Retirement accounts and whole life insurance policies are property too.
In addition to the child support guidelines, the court shall take into consideration the following factors in setting or modifying child support or in determining whether to deviate from the guidelines: (1) all earnings, income, and resources of the parents, including real and personal property, but excluding income from excess employment of the obligor or obligee (2) the financial needs and resources, physical and emotional condition, and educational needs of the child or children to be supported; (3) the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved, but recognizing that the parents now have separate households; (4) which parent receives the income taxation dependency exemption and what financial benefit the parent receives from it; (5) the parents' debts; (6) the obligor's receipt of public assistance under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.551, 518.552)
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.

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.


“Your Honor, the Petitioner moved out four months ago, and since then he has only had the children every other weekend, by his own acquiescence. Now all of a sudden he wants custody [or more parenting time, as the case may be]. This is clearly a disingenuous request which should be summarily denied. The schedule the parties have been following has worked well for the children, and for the sake of their sense of stability and continuity, it should continue.”
No marriage shall be adjudged a nullity on the ground that one of the parties was under the age of legal consent if it appears that the parties had voluntarily cohabitated together as husband and wife after having attained the age of legal consent. Nor shall the marriage of any insane person be adjudged void after restoration to reason, if it appears that the parties freely cohabitated together as husband and wife after such restoration.
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.
The attorney representing either the petitioner or the respondent can schedule a temporary relief hearing. The other party must be served with motion papers, including a Motion for Temporary Relief and an Affidavit.  Affidavits are written statements signed under oath.  The motion papers are legal papers requesting temporary relief from the court and stating the facts on which the request is based.  These facts include the income and expenses of each party, who has the children now and why they should be in the custody of the party asking for temporary custody.  The motion papers must be mailed or handed to the other party before the hearing. There are certain time periods for giving notice to the other party before the hearing that must be followed when bringing and responding to motions. The petitioner's attorney often has the motion papers served at the same time as the Summons and Petition.
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.
Minnesota is a “no-fault” divorce state. What this means is that neither spouse has to prove marital misconduct (such as infidelity) to obtain a divorce. Instead, the parties can simply acknowledge that there has been an “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. In Minnesota, either spouse can get a divorce if they wish to have one. A spouse does not need to “give” the other spouse a divorce; rather, it can be obtained with or without the other spouse’s cooperation.
In some cases, a spouse may be reluctant to attend mediation due to misperceptions they have regarding the mediation process. One party may feel the mediator will decide crucial issues without input. In reality, a divorce mediator cannot compel either spouse to do—or refrain from doing—anything. Others may feel a mediator can single-handedly “fix” all issues in the divorce. If one spouse fails to disclose all relevant facts related to the case, the mediator will be unable to achieve real results. In some cases, women may feel their husband will fare better during the mediation.
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.
Emptying the joint bank checking or savings account in anticipation of divorce would ordinarily be frowned upon, unless you had a very justifiable reason. Be warned, however, that your spouse may beat you to it. I’ve seen joint bank accounts cleaned out by the other party many times, and many times there is unapproved spending by the other spouse as the divorce approaches. Although this can be accounted-for and compensated-for in the divorce property settlement, it can still cause great difficulty if you need the money during the pendency of the proceedings and have to litigate to get any of it back.
Emptying the joint bank checking or savings account in anticipation of divorce would ordinarily be frowned upon, unless you had a very justifiable reason. Be warned, however, that your spouse may beat you to it. I’ve seen joint bank accounts cleaned out by the other party many times, and many times there is unapproved spending by the other spouse as the divorce approaches. Although this can be accounted-for and compensated-for in the divorce property settlement, it can still cause great difficulty if you need the money during the pendency of the proceedings and have to litigate to get any of it back.

A Motion is a paper asking the Judge or Referee to decide an issue in a case. In a divorce matter, a Motion for Temporary Relief allows you to ask the court to issue a temporary order for child custody, child support, spousal support, and certain property issues. The Temporary Order allows you to get needed financial support while your case is pending in court. The Temporary order will expire when the final divorce decree is signed by the Judge and "entered" by court administration.
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