Many of the facts and circumstances that a divorcing spouse feels are important, are likely to be of little importance to the court. It‘s unrealistic to assume a judge can review all of the circumstances that led to the divorce. The issues are simply too complex, the court lacks time to hear all of it, and in the end, they aren’t usually relevant to the case, especially in a no-fault state like Minnesota.
If the respondent answers the Petition, the parties will try to settle the case by having their attorneys work out an agreement. This is called negotiation. If the couple is able to agree on everything (through negotiation or mediation), a written agreement called a Stipulation or Marital Termination Agreement is prepared and signed by both parties and their attorneys. The parties agree that one of them will present the Stipulation to the court. Just one party needs go to court. The other party usually does not attend. The court usually accepts the agreement made by the parties. A written Stipulation may also be presented to the court without the need for any hearing. This process can only be used if each party had a lawyer.
Finally, the parties in mediation are often surprised to hear their mediator suggest that they consider retaining consulting attorneys. The thought is that they chose to mediate to avoid fighting their case out with attorneys and they don’t want that extraordinary expense. However, the role of a consulting attorney in mediation is very different than the role of a litigation advocate and is a very helpful assistance when mediating.
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Basic support is for the child's expenses, such as food, clothing and transportation, and does not include payments on arrears. It is calculated by multiplying the paying parent's percentage of the combined Parental Income for Determining Child Support (PICS) by the combined basic support amount. If a court orders parenting time to the paying parent of ten percent or more, he/she may receive a deduction from basic support, based on the percentage of court-ordered parenting time.
Spousal maintenance is money paid to support an ex-spouse. Either spouse can ask for spousal maintenance, but the court will not award spousal maintenance unless there is a need for it. Spousal maintenance may be granted for several reasons. These include disability or illness or not having worked outside the home for a number of years. If there is a large difference between your income and that of your spouse, you may be in need of spousal maintenance.
Judges frequently say that if both people are unhappy with the judgment, it’s a good one. In the context of divorce this philosophy is even more appropriate as there are no winners when a marriage ends. Whether in court or in the mediation room, 100% mutual satisfaction with decisions and agreements is rare. As a mediator I believe that my clients are best qualified to determine what is “fair” regarding the restructuring of their lives. I encourage my clients not to define success by happiness or victory; but rather by the effectiveness of the process.
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.
The summons is a simple legal notice that a divorce action has been commenced by the petitioner and advising how long the respondent has to serve an "answer" to the petition. It also contains a preliminary restraining order, preventing changes in insurance coverage and the disposition of property, except for the necessities of life or in the ordinary course of business. In Minnesota, unless the petitioner agrees to an extension the answer must be served within thirty days. If you ignore the service of a summons and petition for a longer period of time, the petitioner may serve a motion with the court requesting that default judgment be entered. This judgment will not only immediately dissolve the marriage terminating certain rights you have as a married person to rights such as health insurance. It may also result in the moving party being awarded rights and interests in property, as well as the loss by the respondent to certain rights, such as spousal maintenance (alimony) without the respondent having the opportunity to respond and defend their rights. While there are cases in which the court will subsequently set aside a default judgment, it is very important that you retain a lawyer to respond to a summons and petition within thirty days. Sometimes that response may be as simply as an agreement from the petitioner's attorney to extend the thirty day period to answer the petition.
1st meeting: The couple and the mediator identify the issues needed to be discussed and the order in which they will be discussed, then decide what information needs to be gathered and shared. Between the first and later sessions the couple gathers all relevant financial data, or if necessary, the opinions of experts such as appraisers or accountants, with this material treated with the same care and concern as would be the case in the adversarial process.
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.
If you or your partner are really committed to their narrative—that one person is absolutely the bad guy, for example—mediation might not work. Green says, “There are some people who are quite intensely invested in feeling like the victim: ‘I’m right and the other person is wrong, and there is no universe in which the other person’s actions are acceptable.’”
In order for the mediation to be successful, you, your spouse, and the mediator all need to be as fully informed as possible about the facts of your case. This is the information gathering stage. Sometimes it begins during the first session; sometimes it starts after that session. If information that you and the mediator need is unavailable or in dispute, the mediator will try to help you find ways to get it or to determine what is correct. For example, you might need the policy number and other details of a life insurance policy. If you can’t locate your copy of the policy, the mediator might suggest ways to get this information, such as contacting the broker who sold you the policy or writing to the insurance company.
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But after a couple of years passed, the wife was no longer so angry, and they re-started mediation. Green says, “I don’t know what her personal journey was, but they were parenting well together, they both could acknowledge that the kids loved both parents and needed both parents. And then they were ready and did their property settlement pretty quickly and we finished up the divorce. She was able to forgive him, and he was able, in some ways, to apologize for his bad handling of problems that were in their marriage.
Mediation is much less formal than courtroom litigation. Rather than being bound by courtroom etiquette and being under the burden of the technical rules of evidence, those involved in the mediation are seated around a table or in an informal office setting. The issues in question are discussed in a non-intimidating, non-threatening manner. Solutions and settlement options which are agreed to by both parties are the hallmarks of successful mediation. Mediation solutions also tend to be much more creative than the solutions which arise from litigation. The mediator will “brainstorm” with both spouses in order to arrive a good solution for each issue. So long as there are no violations of Florida laws, the final mediated agreement can be anything the spouses agree to with the help of their mediator.
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.
If one of the parties is awarded ownership of the home or other real estate, the Judgment and Decree will describe exactly how the transfer is to happen. Many times, the Judgment and Decree orders the other party to sign a Quit Claim Deed. A Quit Claim Deed transfers his or her rights in the real estate to the party who was given the property. The Quit Claim Deed and the Judgment and Decree are filed with the County Recorder or Registrar of Titles. If the property is registered (called Torrens) property, the owner's duplicate certificate of title is needed. The Quit Claim Deed and the Judgment and Decree are then "memorialized" by the Registrar of Titles and a new title issued. If the Quit Claim Deed is not signed and provided, you should check with an attorney and/or the County Recorder or Registrar of Titles to find out what to do.
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.
Greene says, “Mediation averages between $4,000 and $10,000,” but litigation lawyers (at least in New York City), start with a $25,000 retainer. “Most people will end up somewhere $20,000 and $200,000, but there certainly are those $300,000 divorces as well. I like to joke that divorce is one area of life in which having money is a disadvantage, because you may find [an attorney] who’s going to fan the flames and give you false hope about how you’re going find the kindly judge that is the father you never had who will see that you’re right, and that your ex is completely wrong. That’s a fantasy that is still held by many people.”
Christine Callahan has completed the certified training and is on the court roster for counties in the southwest metro to conduct Social Early Neutral Evaluations (SENE, for custody and parenting time) and Financial Early Neutral Evaluations (FENE for support and property division). For more information about the Early Neutral process in Minnesota, please see our articles.
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.
Finally, parties may agree to continue child support past the statutory termination date. When this occurs, it is usually based on a mutual desire to support a child through college. Although the Court lacks jurisdiction to order child support beyond the statutory termination date, the Court does have jurisdiction to enforce a binding stipulation of the parties which provides for that.  If I am representing the obligor, I normally advise against this, because one can always support the children through college if one so desires. There’s no reason to get the Court involved.