If any issue pertinent to a custody or parenting time determination, including parenting time rights, is unresolved, the matter may be set for mediation of the contested issue prior to, concurrent with, or subsequent to the setting of the matter for hearing. The purpose of the mediation proceeding is to reduce acrimony which may exist between the parties and to develop an agreement that is supportive of the child's best interests. The mediator shall use best efforts to effect a settlement of the custody or parenting time dispute, but shall have no coercive authority.
Mediation is non-binding. This means that the mediator has no authority to force either party to agree to anything at all. Too often people come to me after the fact, complaining that the mediator forced them to agree to something. Just remember that no matter how much they may try to tell you that your position is unreasonable, or that the Court would never side with you, you do NOT need to agree to whatever it is they are pushing for.
Divorce in Minnesota is called dissolution of marriage. A dissolution for any married couple will accomplish two things: (1) severing the marital relationship, and (2) dividing assets and debts. If they have been married for a significant length of time and one of them will be unable to be self-supporting, the issue of alimony may arise. If there are minor children, the issues of child custody, visitation, and support will need to be resolved.
Although each mediator has his or her own approach, most mediations tend to move along the same lines. You'll usually start with a phone call in which you'll speak with the mediator or an assistant and provide background information about your marriage, your family, and what the issues are. Some mediators want a great deal of basic information before the mediation begins, while others prefer to gather all of the information in the first meeting when everyone is present.
Judges, evaluators, and guardians will often pontificate about the virtue of compromise and settlement, as if this were the ultimate objective of any reasonable person, rather than as a means to an end. They speak as if both parties are equally to blame for a failure to settle, when in fact such failure is often the result of only one of the parties, who is being excessively greedy, obnoxious, stubborn, or selfish.
Julia actually came to my rescue twice. The first time, I was fortunate enough to stumble across her website while looking for divorce mediation. We did not have the time or money for court battles; we just needed someone to insert some sense and sanity into what is already a tricky and painful process. Julia was able to make our divorce process simple and straightforward, and we both felt like we were heard! Four years later, I contacted Julia again to help me with the next intimidating process of amending the divorce agreement. Again, I felt like she did her conscientious best to humanize and streamline the process (and save me money!) with her compassion, quick thinking, and thorough attention to detail. And as a bonus: she answered my panicked emails in a timely and kindly fashion.
The mediator will not allow one party to overpower the other in mediation. If one of the parties is unable to be effective during this process, the mediator will stop the mediation. However, many persons who considered themselves to be the "weaker" of the two spouses have been quite effective in mediation. As an unsophisticated spouse of a very powerful business executive once said, "I have the power to say no, and my spouse better listen or we'll wind up in court."
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.
Decisions about spousal maintenance are often emotional and challenging. Unfortunately, MN law does not specify how to calculate a spousal maintenance obligation. Unlike child support, MN divorce laws are discretionary when it comes to spousal maintenance (alimony) stating only that many factors should be considered when determining the need for spousal maintenance as well as the amount and duration of the support. Relevant factors often include: the length of marriage, each spouse’s financially ability to be self-supporting, education and employment history, age, and the marital standard of living. Mediation encourages the use of reasonable budgets and information sharing rather than the traditional adversarial legal approach which often relies on exaggerated budgets and win-lose negotiation tactics. The creation of reasonable budgets allows you and your spouse to understand your individual financial needs as well as the financial realities of your situation. This mutual understanding is vital to the successful discussion and resolution of the spousal maintenance issue. I also utilize a specialized computer program which provides useful information about tax impacts and projected cash flow for each spouse before and after the exchange of financial support.
Taking or hiding a child, or not returning the child after parenting time, can be a serious crime. Minnesota has a law which makes it a crime to deprive another of their custodial or parental rights. Under this law, you do not have to have a court order giving you custody or parenting time. If the other parent is hiding the child, you may be able to show that you have been deprived of your custodial or parental rights.
If you are represented by an attorney, the question will arise whether your attorney should attend the divorce mediation with you. This is something you'll work out with the mediator, your attorney, your spouse, and your spouse's attorney. Very often, family law mediation sessions involve just the divorcing spouses and the mediator. This keeps costs down and ensures that you and your spouse do the talking and make the decisions (lawyers have a tendency to take over when they are present).
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.
Many people think that when a couple wants to live apart they have to get a "legal separation." This is not true. Often couples live apart for awhile before they decide to get a divorce. This is not "illegal." Legal separations are for people who do not want a divorce (usually for religious reasons). They still need a legal paper to settle custody, support, and property questions. The court makes the same kinds of decisions that it makes in a divorce. However, the couple remains married, and the division of property is not final.