What is the difference between legal separation and divorce in Massachusetts? Spouses can live separately, but there is no “legal separation” status in Massachusetts family law. You are either married or divorced. It is, however, possible to be married, live separately, and receive “separate support” for spousal support or child support. This requires filing a Complaint for Separate Support.

As a mediator, I have found that custody mediations are frequently transformative. Parties deal with the fact that they'll have an ongoing relationship as parents. And they realize that when it comes to the kids, they can be on the same side. The result? Parties come up with a parenting plan they've jointly agreed on and gain tools to communicate with each other about their children. And research shows that parents who mediate have a better long-term relationship with their children.


Even if you don’t qualify for the summary dissolution, you may be able to proceed with an uncontested dissolution, where you and your spouse reach an agreement about the division of your property, and, if you have any children, what arrangements will be made for them. You begin the procedure by preparing and filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, along with various supporting documents. For an uncontested dissolution, one of these documents you would be a marital settlement agreement outlining the division of assets, and your agreement regarding any children. These documents are filed with the court, and copies of them are provided to your spouse. You will attend a court hearing, at which time the judge will make sure that all of your paperwork is in order, perhaps ask you a few questions, and enter your Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.   
There is one advantage to being the petitioner. If the parties reside in different counties, the petitioner determines venue (location) by filing for divorce in the county of choice. Venue can be critical because judicial views on custody and alimony vary from county to county. The respondent can request a change in venue, but will need to show a good reason for the change.
The court may restrict parenting time if the parent seeking parenting time may harm or kidnap the children.   The court can do this by limiting the hours of parenting time or limiting the place where parenting time can take place.  The court can require that he or she only visit when another person is present (supervised parenting time).  In very rare cases, parenting time may be denied altogether. 
If you and your spouse agree on the terms of the divorce and filed the Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution of a Marriage, then you will probably need to attend a court hearing so that the judge may issue the final divorce decree.  If you have minor children but still have an uncontested divorce you may file a Joint Petition for Dissolution of a Marriage, after which the judge may schedule a short hearing to discuss details of child custody before issuing the final decree.
At the end of the petition is a section referred to as a prayer for relief, where the petitioner will indicate in general their desire that the marriage be dissolved, as well as their desires as to custody/parenting time, child support, spousal maintenance, property and debt division, and allocation of attorney fees. In Minnesota, the court may order one party to pay part of the other's attorney fees, based on consideration of two factors, the first being need, and the second being whether one party's conduct has unnecessarily increased the attorney fees of the other party.
Once a decision to start a divorce action is made, one party will serve two documents, one titled "summons" the other titled "petition". The person starting the action is referred to as the petitioner; the other party will thereafter be referred to as the respondent. Occasionally, however, in very amicable divorces the parties may agree to act as "co-petitioners." A petition most typically is served by having a person other than the petitioner hand a copy of the petition to the respondent. It occasionally can also be served by mail subject to certain requirements. Many times, arrangements can be made ahead of time so that your spouse is aware of the time and location he or she will be served with a summons and petition, although unfortunately sometimes service comes as a complete surprise.
Mediation is flexible and confidential. It gives you and your spouse a way to settle the conflict between you in a way that helps you to work together as parents. This is extremely important if you have children and must interact with your ex-spouse after you are divorced. Mediation brings about communication between the couple, which can then be used when they must discuss issues in pertaining to the children. Lack of communication may have been one of the main reasons for their divorce. Mediation has the ability to help the couple learn to communicate again, if only for the sake of the children, and make their post-divorce relationship better than their married one.
Denying or interfering with an established parenting time schedule can result in more time being awarded by the court to the parent who was denied their regular parenting time. The court will look at the reasons why the parenting time schedule was not followed.  If the court determines that denying or interfering parenting time happens more than once and is on purpose, the court will award more time to the parent who was denied their regular parenting time.  The only exception is if the denial of parenting time was to protect the child’s physical or emotional health.  The court could also give a penalty to the parent who denied or interfered with the other parent’s regular time, or consider it a factor when deciding on a change of custody. 
No case is too complicated to be settled using mediation. Often times the “complicated” cases are the cases which in the context of the adversarial legal system, cost the most, last the longest and create the most extreme long-term negative impacts for all involved. If you believe your situation is complicated, do yourself a favor and begin with mediation. Additional professional assistance within the context of mediation is always available in the form of accountants, appraisers, financial planners, therapists, child specialists, and attorneys
That said, although the legal impact of the physical custody label is debatable, if you are the primary parent, it is still preferable to have sole physical custody than joint physical custody. Conversely, if you are not the primary parent, it is still preferable to have the joint physical custody label than not to have it. This is because of the uncertainty over how a future court, evaluator, parenting consultant, guardian ad litem or others might interpret that label.
After discovery is completed, the attorneys will typically work with you to formulate a settlement proposal which is presented to the other side, either as part of a settlement meeting at one of the attorney's offices, or simply through a letter sent to the other lawyer. The attorneys will prepare a balance sheet summarizing your assets and liabilities. In Minnesota, the law requires an "Equitable Division of Property," which typically, but not always indicates an equal division of property. Parenting time proposals may also suggest the future use of a "Visitation Expeditor" or "Parenting Consultant" who are neutral third parties retained to assist in resolving future parenting and parenting time disputes. When the parties have children, settlement discussions will also involve "child support", which is currently set pursuant to "child support guidelines" based on a comparison of the gross incomes of both parties, and the amount of time the children will spend with each party. If one of the parties lacks the resources to support themselves, settlement discussions will also involve requests for either temporary or permanent "spousal maintenance." Pursuant to Minnesota Law, spousal maintenance while based on a consideration of several factors, ultimately will be based upon a consideration of the marital standard of living, the needs of the spouse requesting maintenance and the ability of that spouse to meet those needs as compared to the needs of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought, and their ability to meet their own needs and still contribute to the support of the requesting spouse. Maintenance may be temporary or permanent, depending on the facts of the case, including length of marriage whether there is any uncertainty as to if the spouse requesting maintenance will ever be able to become fully self supporting.
That said, although the legal impact of the physical custody label is debatable, if you are the primary parent, it is still preferable to have sole physical custody than joint physical custody. Conversely, if you are not the primary parent, it is still preferable to have the joint physical custody label than not to have it. This is because of the uncertainty over how a future court, evaluator, parenting consultant, guardian ad litem or others might interpret that label.
In some cases, the Judgment and Decree spells out how the property will be exchanged, or sets a time limit (such as 30 days) in which the transfer must take place.  If the Judgment and Decree does not spell it out, the parties must make their own arrangements.  The party who is ordered to give the property to the other party must let him or her get the property within a reasonable time after the Judgment and Decree is entered, in a way that is convenient for both parties.  If you are afraid of your ex-spouse, you may ask a local law enforcement officer to assist you in obtaining the personal property awarded to you.

Once a marriage is far enough gone, the only remaining question is “How hard is it going to be to untangle our legal and financial lives and (if relevant) sort out custody?” For some couples, separating via mediation rather than litigated divorce has its appeal: Many people don’t want to cast their former spouses in the role of enemy, and mediation is a cheaper, more cooperative, and less adversarial process than a War of the Roses-type brawl.
The big warning I have is this: years ago, when the program started, the idea was that the evaluators would give their opinion of how they would likely decide the case in a full-blown custody evaluation, based on the facts learned in the SENE. This honest appraisal of how a months-long custody evaluation would likely turn out is what helped parties to settle their cases.

Mediation is flexible and confidential. It gives you and your spouse a way to settle the conflict between you in a way that helps you to work together as parents. This is extremely important if you have children and must interact with your ex-spouse after you are divorced. Mediation brings about communication between the couple, which can then be used when they must discuss issues in pertaining to the children. Lack of communication may have been one of the main reasons for their divorce. Mediation has the ability to help the couple learn to communicate again, if only for the sake of the children, and make their post-divorce relationship better than their married one.
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 main advantage of mediation is that it keeps you and your spouse in control of your own divorce. That can make all the difference in your recovering from your divorce and moving on with your life. Mediation allows the two of you to get through your divorce with less conflict than you would experience in an adversarial divorce. Because mediation is all about working with shared knowledge, mediation also often allows you and your spouse to work together to lower your tax bill . . . and that can often translate to more money for you.

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.


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If your spouse tries to conceal assets, it will not benefit them. Courts do not look favorably on dishonesty. Further, divorce attorneys can use a variety of tactics to uncover assets and income, such as formal or informal discovery requests, subpoenas, contempt motions, etc.  Finally, even if you find out that your spouse concealed property after the divorce is final, the Court has the discretion to reopen the proceeding and distribute or redistribute property accordingly.

The main advantage of mediation is that it keeps you and your spouse in control of your own divorce. That can make all the difference in your recovering from your divorce and moving on with your life. Mediation allows the two of you to get through your divorce with less conflict than you would experience in an adversarial divorce. Because mediation is all about working with shared knowledge, mediation also often allows you and your spouse to work together to lower your tax bill . . . and that can often translate to more money for you.
If you represent yourself in the divorce you will be called a “pro se litigant.” In all Minnesota district courts, there are forms that pro se litigants in divorce cases can use. You should check with your local courthouse or law library or the Minnesota State Courts website (www.mncourts.gov/forms) for more information about where to get these forms.
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.
Like legal custody, physical custody can be “sole” [2] or “joint”. “Joint physical custody” means that "the routine daily care and control and the residence of the child is structured between the parties." [3] Unlike joint legal custody, joint physical custody is the exception rather than the norm, and is usually only granted if both parties agree to it.
If the respondent does not answer the Petition within 30 days after it was served, the respondent is in default.  The petitioner's attorney tells the court and a default hearing is scheduled.  Default hearings are also scheduled when all of the relief to be ordered by the court has been agreed to by the parties in a written agreement called a Stipulation or Marital Termination Agreement. If both parties are represented by lawyers, the divorce may be finalized without a hearing. If both parties did not have lawyers or if the respondent never answered, there is a default hearing. At a default hearing only the petitioner and his or her attorney need to attend.  The petitioner is sworn under oath and testifies to all the facts necessary for the court to order the relief requested in the Petition or Stipulation.
When discussing issues concerning custody parental access, think about where your kids will spend most of their time: where they go to school, where they take dance and karate and other extra-curricular activities. Think about whether they have any special needs and how you’ll care for them, how you’ll cover any private school or college costs, and where they’ll spend birthdays, holidays, and special occasions.
This shortsighted approach overlooks many things, the first of which is the obvious waste of money. It’s important to ask yourself if the asset is really worth the fight. Divorce leaves most people with fewer assets than they had during marriage – why spend what you have left on attorney’s fees? It also overlooks the possibility that with more property on hand, the other spouse will be able to contribute to college costs and other child-related expenses. Finally, property allocated to your spouse may also reduce the need for alimony.

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.
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After the elapse of a period of time, nobody much cares if the reason you only had every other weekend was because the other parent truly wouldn’t “let” you have more time. Although that may very well be the case, and although you may have let your spouse control the situation in order to spare the children the trauma of parental conflict, in my experience the courts are more swayed by the pattern of contact rather than by these “excuses.” The wisdom of Solomon does not apply. [1]
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.
Seeing headlines like these, who doesn't think that hiring a $1,000-an-hour divorce attorney is the best way to get what you deserve? But in reality, divorce isn't a winner-take-all sport. In community property states (like California) courts have to split marital property down the middle. In states that don't have community property laws (like New York) they split assets equitably.
The major difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that if you have a legal separation, you are still married. The wife may not resume using her former name. If you decide you want to end your marriage after a legal separation is complete, you will need to go through the court process to get divorced. Some couples choose legal separation because of religious beliefs or moral values against divorce. In other cases, there may be insurance or other financial reasons for a legal separation.
After discovery is completed, the attorneys will typically work with you to formulate a settlement proposal which is presented to the other side, either as part of a settlement meeting at one of the attorney's offices, or simply through a letter sent to the other lawyer. The attorneys will prepare a balance sheet summarizing your assets and liabilities. In Minnesota, the law requires an "Equitable Division of Property," which typically, but not always indicates an equal division of property. Parenting time proposals may also suggest the future use of a "Visitation Expeditor" or "Parenting Consultant" who are neutral third parties retained to assist in resolving future parenting and parenting time disputes. When the parties have children, settlement discussions will also involve "child support", which is currently set pursuant to "child support guidelines" based on a comparison of the gross incomes of both parties, and the amount of time the children will spend with each party. If one of the parties lacks the resources to support themselves, settlement discussions will also involve requests for either temporary or permanent "spousal maintenance." Pursuant to Minnesota Law, spousal maintenance while based on a consideration of several factors, ultimately will be based upon a consideration of the marital standard of living, the needs of the spouse requesting maintenance and the ability of that spouse to meet those needs as compared to the needs of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought, and their ability to meet their own needs and still contribute to the support of the requesting spouse. Maintenance may be temporary or permanent, depending on the facts of the case, including length of marriage whether there is any uncertainty as to if the spouse requesting maintenance will ever be able to become fully self supporting.
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.
Janet Rowles is a mediator specializing in high conflict and emotionally-difficult situations. In addition to doing divorce, post-divorce, unmarried relationship dissolution, and all types of family mediations, Janet does small and large group work including circle-keeping in Minneapolis public schools and facilitating large-groups such as condo as ... more

Although many of Ms. Serwat’s clients reach a complete divorce settlement without retaining an attorney; some need and/or want legal representation. If your situation warrants legal representation or if you simply feel better knowing that you are legally represented your lawyer is welcome to participate with you in the mediation process. Starting divorce mediation without attorneys in no way limits your right to retain an attorney in the future and/or appear in court.

Meditation during divorce is a way of finding solutions to issues such as child custody and spousal support. It is an alternative to formal process of divorce court. During mediation, both parties to the divorce and their attorneys meet with a court appointed third party. This third party, the “mediator” assists the parties in negotiating a resolution to their divorce.
Yes; and it is the arrangement that the two of you build together. A divorce only ends the marital relationship. The parenting relationship remains and often requires a significant amount of repair in order to be effective after the divorce is final. As parenting partners you must be able to communicate and cooperate with each other about the children. A custody award cannot possibly address all of the parenting issues which impact your children’s well-being. It is in your and your children’s best interests to create a comprehensive parenting plan that proactively addresses the most common parenting issues which cause parents to continue fighting long after their divorce is final. Examples include: holiday transfer times, transfer logistics, parental communication, first rights of refusal, enrollment in and payment extra-curricular activities, vacations and travel, re-marriage, residential moves, and so on. Save yourself and you family untold frustrations and expense by setting expectations and creating a workable parenting plan in advance.
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.

Like attorneys, most mediators charge by the hour. The average total cost of divorce mediation (with me) is approximately $2,000. In addition to the mediator’s fees you will need to pay a filing fee to your county of approximately $400 and if you choose to hire a professional for legal drafting, you should also expect an additional $1,250-1,500. On average, my clients incur a total combined cost of approximately $4,000.

In reality, every divorce requires both formal legal procedures as well as some kind of settlement negotiations. In Minnesota, even if you prefer to litigate and leave every decision up to the judge, the rules require that before the Court will decide your case, parties must attempt resolution through some form of Alternative Dispute Resolution, of which mediation is still the most common. [1]


Patrick C. Burns is an experienced lawyer with a comprehensive practice of real estate, family, and general litigation. Mr. Burns has extensive experience in the courtroom, and is known for his focused and intense advocacy for his clients. He is one of the few attorneys to successfully appeal an intent to revoke a housing license in Hennepin County and regularly represents landlords in all types of leasing, licensing, and litigation matters. He has successfully foreclosed on hundreds of liens and regularly advises homeowners' associations on declarations, amendments, and remedies in collecting dues. He is also an experienced family law litigator...
The main advantage of mediation is that it keeps you and your spouse in control of your own divorce. That can make all the difference in your recovering from your divorce and moving on with your life. Mediation allows the two of you to get through your divorce with less conflict than you would experience in an adversarial divorce. Because mediation is all about working with shared knowledge, mediation also often allows you and your spouse to work together to lower your tax bill . . . and that can often translate to more money for you.

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.
Some spouses are under the impression that they must obtain a legal separation to get divorced. To the contrary, legal separation is an alternative to divorce, but the process is almost identical: you file legal paperwork, deal with all the same issues in a divorce, and ask a judge for an order of legal separation. If you plan to divorce, a legal separation is unnecessary and will only increase the total cost of the divorce.
I have been an attorney for 23 years, working exclusively in the area of Family Law. After an initial start handling workers compensation cases, I spent nine years as an assistant county attorney handling child protection, child support, juvenile delinquencies/truancies, guardianships/conservatorships and mental commitments in Southern Minnesota. In the late 90's I headed up a special grant to develop and teach battered women's advocates in basic housing laws along with handling housing and divorce cases. In 2000 I spent 7 months handling bankruptcy cases for families in financial crises. Since 2001, I have worked exclusively on family law matters involving...
After graduating law school in 2010, Sonja secured a judicial clerkship in Hennepin County Family Court. She worked on high asset divorce cases with complex financial matters as well as high conflict custody disputes. Sonja learned firsthand how judicial officers decide cases and what makes a family law attorney effective inside and outside of the courtroom. After clerking, Sonja worked for a large, national law firm where she gained a tremendous amount of experience. Sonja is empathetic, detailed, and aggressive when necessary.

Marital property is defined as property, real or personal, including vested public or private pension plan benefits or rights, acquired by the parties, or either of them, to a dissolution, legal separation, or annulment proceeding at any time during the existence of the marriage, or at any time during which the parties were living together as husband and wife under a purported marriage relationship which is annulled in an annulment proceeding, but prior to the date of valuation.


Karen is a mediator with multiple sources of experience transforming complex disputes into mutually beneficial outcomes. Karen is available for mediations, meeting and workshop facilitation, and conversation coaching. Her subject-matter expertise includes environmental, and the cultural and technical intersections of fee and tribal trust land. This ... more
Cynthia Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. She is an honors graduate of the University of South Dakota and William Mitchell College of Law. Cynthia’s practice focuses almost exclusively on divorce and family law issues. She publishes a monthly family law column for the Minnesota Lawyer newspaper, and has contributed to Divorce Magazine and The Family Law Forum. Cynthia also serves as a panel attorney for the Anoka County Family Law Clinic.

NO, THEY ARE NOT! I can’t tell you the number of times someone comes to me with this same sad predicament. For several months or years, the party has been paying less child support or spousal maintenance by verbal agreement with the other party, only to be socked later with an arrears judgment for $20,000, $30,000, or $40,000, as the case may be. The only way to protect yourself from this is to have the agreement drafted up and approved by the court in writing.
All in all, when a couple is committed to making divorce mediation work, the likelihood of success is high. No matter how you currently feel about your spouse remember how you once felt, and try to end your marriage on the most positive note humanly possible rather than with bitterness and acrimony. Mediation can help you achieve this goal by offering a safe place to discuss your disputes as well as gentle guidance to help you solve those disputes.
Mediation is confidential and non-binding. Mediators cannot force the parties into a settlement. Rather, mediators keep everyone focused and facilitate the exchange of information. Mediation is not appropriate in all cases, particularly those in which there is a history of domestic abuse among the parties. The actions and concessions of a party during mediation cannot be used against them in court pursuant to the rules of evidence.

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The length of mediation depends on what issues have been agreed to prior to mediation and those issues that need to be addressed during mediation. Also, the amount of time spent in mediation is contingent upon you and your spouse's willingness to come to agreements that are equitable for the both of you and your willingness to do what is in the best interests of your children. The time spent in mediation can be reduced if you and your spouse are able to come to agreements prior to mediation, or at the least, narrow down your options to a few workable ones. However, if you and your spouse are not able to discuss your divorce outside of mediation, it is strongly recommended that you avoid it at all costs. When couples try to work out issues on their own and it leads to arguments and "drawing lines in the sand", it makes mediation more difficult and time consuming.


A common problem for many families is a dispute over where the minor child(ren) will attend school. If you have sole legal custody, you may decide this on your own. But if like most parents you have joint legal custody, then the choice of school is something that must be agreed upon, or otherwise submitted to the Court or Alternative Dispute Resolution for a determination.
A legal annulment should not be confused with a religious annulment.  For example, a Catholic may not be permitted to remarry in the church if the church has not determined that the first marriage is null and void.  This type of annulment is granted by the church, and has no legal effect according to Minnesota law.  Likewise, a legal annulment or divorce may not affect how the church looks upon the marriage.
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