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.
If you are proceeding without an attorney, you are well-served to use an experienced mediator with extensive legal background able to address all of the issues surrounding your specific case; if you have a land dispute, you want to have a mediator capable of understanding your concerns and the law as well. If you have a divorce or custody case, you want a mediator with extensive experience litigating these issues.
No dissolution shall be granted unless (1) One of the parties has resided in this state, or has been a member of the armed services stationed in this state, for not less than 180 days immediately preceding the commencement of the proceeding; or (2) One of the parties has been a domiciliary of this state for not less than 180 days immediately preceding commencement of the proceeding. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.07, 518.09)
Tera is one of the founding members and the managing partner at Minnesota Divorce and Family Mediation. She has over 15 years of combined education, training, and professional experience in facilitation, team building, negotiating, and mediating resolutions of all matters. She uses a strengths-based, client-driven approach to develop thorough parenting plans for children tailored to their unique circumstances and future needs. She has experience with complicated parenting issues, children with special needs, mental health issues, domestic partnerships, and other non-traditional relationships. Tera's goal is to develop a comprehensive divorce agreement while minimizing stress and cost.
Second, you and the other party are more likely to adhere to the terms of your agreement if you have some ownership of it. It is not uncommon for parties to a divorce or other family law dispute to return to court after their initial proceeding to address problems with a party who is not abiding by a parenting time schedule or failing to pay child support. Parties who make their own decisions about those issues through mediation are more likely to feel responsible for the terms of their agreement and to abide by it.
If child support was ordered but is not being paid, steps to enforce the order can be taken by the custodial parent or the county human services department. If the children are receiving public assistance, the county can also ask the court for a separate order requiring the other parent to pay back the assistance that has been received by the custodial parent for the past two years. The county can also ask the court for an order requiring you to pay back Medical Assistance and some other benefits the children received. The court can order payment whether or not the Judgment and Decree included a child support order.
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.
Mediation sessions are typically 2 – 3 hours long and scheduled approximately 2 weeks apart. Most of my clients reach a complete settlement in between 6 – 8 hours of mediation occurring over a 6 – 8 week period of time. Depending on the county in which you live and the time of year, processing of your legal documents can take the court another 1 – 8 weeks.
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.
To put this amount into perspective, a typical retainer paid to a divorce attorney (by one spouse) is $2,000 (or more); which means, if you both retain an attorney the starting price will likely be at least $4,000. The sticker shock gets worse when you consider that many sources indicate that when each spouse is represented by an attorney the average US divorce costs around $15,000. This same research indicates that divorce mediation in general is between 20-50% cheaper than the traditional adversarial legal process.
MN law is relatively vague about how to divide marital property (all that you own and owe). There is an assumption that all marital property should be divided equitably. Mediation allows you and your spouse to define your own concept of fairness and to control how you divide your marital property. Through the creation of a master spreadsheet you will fully document and verify all of your assets and liabilities. As you make decisions about who will receive which property, the spreadsheet calculates and reveals the overall monetary value awarded to each spouse. The end result is one comprehensive document which allows each of you to easily determine if your property division is “fair” or not. My experience is that typically the numbers speak for themselves.
In order to get a divorce in Minnesota, state law requires at least one of the parties to have lived within the state for at least 180 days (with some exceptions), but there is no waiting period after the divorce case has been resolved. However, non-resident parties may get divorced in Minnesota if the civil marriage was performed in the state and their current state of residence does not recognize the marriage because of sexual orientation.
Some mediators prefer to conduct the framing stage in separate sessions, as they believe it better prepares each of you for the next stage: negotiating. Other mediators favor joint sessions because they believe that hearing your spouse work with the mediator to formulate interests lays a better foundation for the give and take of the negotiation stage. Either way can work, although separate sessions make the mediation cost a little more and take a little longer, because anything important that is said in the separate session will have to be repeated to the other spouse.
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.
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.
Being open to compromise means that you aren't attached to one particular solution—you can't just put your idea on the table and expect your spouse to accept it. A compromise that works is one that takes both of your interests into account. Consider the possibility that your spouse might have valid ideas as well, and take the time to think them through instead of rejecting them out of hand.
Jeff has been a lawyer for 34 years, practicing family law exclusively for 28 years. For the first six years of his career he was a staff attorney at the Minnesota Court of Appeals. He has handled hundreds of cases and has the experience dealing with substantial marital estates in the millions and has tried and litigated many cases, including lengthy custody matters. He is also a trained mediator and ADR neutral on the Minnesota State Roster and is a FENE and SENE neutral in Ramsey County, Anoka County, Washington County, Scott County, Carver County, Pine County, Chisago County, Isanti...
This is usually a very smart thing to do, to prevent the other spouse from racking up debt in your name. I’ve seen it happen countless times. And while this can be accounted for, it’s much easier to just avoid the issue in the first place. Also, remember that even if the Court orders your spouse to assume this or that joint credit card debt, the Court has no authority to absolve you of your contractual liability to the creditor. So the joint debt will remain on your credit history, and will still be your problem to deal with if your spouse ever stops paying or pays late.
It also possible, as part of settlement agreements to contractually limit the amount and duration of spousal maintenance, and limit or prevent altogether any future modification of maintenance, though what is known as a "Karon waiver". Benefits of such waivers involve certainty to both parties as to amount and duration of maintenance. Risks also are possible, if a party contracts to a set term and amount of maintenance, and either through illness or job loss, either cannot meet their obligation or may need an extension of their award, as most waivers require the court to give up jurisdiction to make such a change. Importantly, Karon waivers may only be agreed upon by both parties. If there is no such agreement, a court may never order such limitations and waivers of rights to future "modification" of the amount or duration of maintenance.
The law allows parents to make voluntary parenting plans. A parenting plan is a plan voluntarily designed by both parents based on the best interests of the child. A parenting plan must include a schedule of the time each parent spends with the child, who will make specific decisions regarding the child, and a way to settle disputes. An agreed-upon parenting plan may use terms other than “physical” and “legal” custody but it must clearly state if the parents have joint legal custody or joint physical custody or which parent has sole legal custody or sole physical custody.