Although there are many types of mediation, the mediator’s role in general is to remain neutral; she cannot give advice to either party, nor can she act as either party’s attorney. However, the mediator can and does allow the parties to exchange information and encourage a level of trust in the other party and in the process so that parties can best find a solution that suits both parties.
Mediation is paid by the hour, and the parties generally split the fees equally, or pay the fee out of a joint account. The fees are paid in full either in advance or on the day of mediation. If the parties don’t finalize an agreement during the mediation, the fees paid may include time for the mediator to prepare a written summary, which is provided to both parties.
The Summons is a separate legal paper telling the respondent to answer the Petition within 30 days. If the respondent does not, he or she is in default and the divorce is uncontested. This means the petitioner (the spouse who wanted the divorce) may be granted the divorce and other relief requested. The Summons also forbids both parties from selling or getting rid of any property or harassing one another. It requires each party to maintain any insurance for the family. If one spouse spends money belonging to both parties after receiving the Summons, he or she will have to explain to the court why the money was spent.
The mediator will also ask you and your spouse to bring in financial documents such as tax returns and bank and mortgage statements. As you progress, the mediator will summarize the information being assembled. If you agree that additional research is needed or a neutral expert is to be consulted, that will go on a “to do” list. This second stage of the mediation can span two or more sessions, especially if you need to do outside work to obtain additional information or appraisals. If you feel that you already know enough about your situation and have definite ideas on how to work out a settlement, you may find yourself impatient with this stage and anxious to move ahead with the negotiations. Even though you may want to rush on, the mediator’s job is to make sure that both you and your spouse have all the facts and information you need to negotiate an agreement that is legally binding and that you won’t regret having signed.
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.
People often ask, “Does mediation really work?” In a word, yes. We know from years of research that when you compare couples who have mediated their divorce with couples who go through an adversarial divorce, mediating couples are more likely to be satisfied with the process and the results, likely to take less time and spend less money, and are less likely to go back to court later to fight about something.
Jason Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. He is an honors graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato, and the William Mitchell College of Law. Jason has been recognized as a “Super Lawyer” by Thomson Reuters. Media appearances include WCCO Radio, KARE 11 Television, the Star Tribune, USA Today, Time Magazine, Minnesota Monthly and NBC News.
Then the respondent's attorney calls the respondent’s witnesses. After the respondent's attorney rests, the petitioner's attorney may call witnesses to respond to the testimony given for the respondent. The respondent's attorney may do the same. When all of the testimony is completed, the attorneys argue the case, saying why the judge should rule in his or her client’s favor. Then the judge ends the trial. The judge may announce a decision at the end of the trial. He or she may take time to think about the case and make the decision later. By law, the judge has 90 days to decide the case. Usually the judge sends copies of the decision to the attorneys. The divorce becomes final when the court clerk enters the Judgment and Decree for the court. The clerk tells the attorneys when the Judgment and Decree has been entered. The Judgment and Decree is the final decision in the case.
During marriage, we kept our paychecks, bank accounts, and credit cards separate. How does this affect the division of assets and property if we get divorced? In Massachusetts, all of your assets and debts are considered marital and belong to both of you. It doesn’t matter whose name is on the accounts or credit cards or who paid which bills during the marriage.
Your agreement can include all parts of a divorce or focus on only financial or child-based issues. Again, this is up to you. The mediation process is confidential. Aside from agreements reached in writing, everything said in mediation is confidential. Like a psychologist’s office, your mediator cannot be called as a witness to anything said in mediation. This confidentiality lets couples discuss matters more freely than before a judge and lets them move past and resolve issues.
Mediation is also confidential. Nothing said in mediation may be used against a person. Many times people tell me they agreed to something in mediation because they were afraid they might be seen as unreasonable. This should not be a concern in mediation, because of the confidentiality rule. (Outside of mediation, your lawyer can advise you as to what positions are reasonable or unreasonable).
“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.
If one partner is really invested in making the other person’s life worse—like not allowing her to take vacation with the kids and her family when it’s convenient, just because he wants to muck up her vacation plans—they are not good candidates for mediation. Green says, “If you feel like your ex is a narcissist or out for revenge,” mediation is not going to work.
A custody determination basically comes down to figuring out how the children’s time will be divided between the parents, and how decisions will be made. If you and your spouse can reach an agreement, it will be accepted by the judge unless it is not to be in the child’s best interest. If you cannot reach a custody agreement, Minnesota child custody law provides for the judge to decide the issue, after considering the following factors:
Police can’t arrest one spouse for visiting the family home unless there’s a restraining order prohibiting that spouse from coming back, or an order granting one spouse exclusive possession. These types of court orders are usually the result of a domestic abuse petition. If you’re the victim of domestic violence, contact your local police department for help.
Telephone or Skype Mediation: This option is usually selected if there are only a small number of outstanding issues. It is also an option if one or both spouses live out of the area. Depending on the number of issues, there may need to be more than one session. These sessions cost $145 (telephone) or $175 (Skype) per hour. (Minimum scheduled time for first session is one hour.)
If you can afford an attorney, but don't know any, ask a friend who was satisfied with his or her attorney. You can also look in the yellow pages under "Attorneys." You can contact the local bar association's attorney referral service listed below. The Lawyer Referral Service can give you the name and telephone number of an attorney in private practice in your area who may be able to represent you. You may have to pay an initial fee for the first appointment with the attorney. You may be able to negotiate how much you will pay the attorney for representation in a divorce. Many attorneys will ask for payment of some money before the divorce is begun. This is called a retainer.
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)
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With respect to financial issues, this same rule applies, as modified by the additional consideration of attorney’s fees. For example, it might be very likely that the court would award you $10,000 more in assets than your spouse is proposing, but if it will cost you $20,000 in attorney’s fees to litigate over it, it doesn’t make much sense from a purely practical, financial standpoint to do so.
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.