Joe Dillon, MBA is a professional divorce mediator and founder of Equitable Mediation Services. Joe is passionate about helping couples avoid the destruction of attorney-driven litigation and knows first-hand that the right information, combined with the right expertise and the right kind of support can make the challenging process of divorce less expensive, less time-consuming and less stressful for divorcing couples and their families.
A mediator’s job is to get you to reach an agreement. Their sense of professional fulfillment is satisfied when an agreement is reached. Unfortunately, all too often, this can result in a person agreeing to things that are contrary to his or her interests, contrary to what the Court would order, and — in the worst case — contrary to the best interests of the children. Therefore, it is critically important to either have an attorney with you at the mediation session, or at least have one on retainer at the time, to consult before you agree to anything.
As a family law attorney and mediator for almost 30 years, I spend a great deal of time educating prospective clients and the public about the many benefits of choosing to mediate their divorce rather than selecting the more traditional litigation path. Even though divorce mediation is much less costly, less time consuming, and less divisive and stressful than the adversarial model of litigation, I often hear the same three concerns raised about mediation.

The divorce becomes final when the court clerk "enters" the Judgment and Decree, which means the clerk writes it down on a court list of all judgments.  The Judgment and Decree contains the final decisions of the court.  Sometimes it is a week or more after the default hearing before the Judgment and Decree is entered.  The court clerk may send a copy of the Judgment and Decree to the petitioner's attorney.  This attorney serves the respondent with the final Judgment and Decree and gives a copy to the petitioner.  There is no waiting period in Minnesota—the divorce is completely final when entered.
“Your Honor, the Petitioner moved out four months ago, and since then he has only had the children every other weekend, by his own acquiescence. Now all of a sudden he wants custody [or more parenting time, as the case may be]. This is clearly a disingenuous request which should be summarily denied. The schedule the parties have been following has worked well for the children, and for the sake of their sense of stability and continuity, it should continue.”

“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.

A question is often asked as to whether there is an advantage to being a petitioner versus a respondent. There is no real difference, except that the petitioner can obviously effect when the action is started, and sometimes, in what county. If you and your spouse separate, and your spouse moves to a different county before the action is commenced, the petitioning spouse can commence the action either in the county you reside in or the new county they have moved to. There are some perceived and actual differences as to how matters proceed, depending on which county they are "venued" (commenced) in. A second implication of being a petitioner versus a respondent is that ultimately, if the matter does proceed to trial, the petitioner is required to present his/her case first. This may have some minor implications relative to the cost of preparing for trial, especially it the matter settles before the respondent presents her/his case.
Mediation is a confidential discussion of the issues that need to be resolved in a divorce or custody situation.  The divorce mediator, or child custody mediator, facilitates the different possibilities for resolving those issues.  The mediator doesn’t have any decision making authority, so the process isn’t inherently risky; you can only serve to benefit if you can resolve your issues out of court.
Minnesota courts require couples seeking a divorce (and without a history of domestic violence) to use a mediation service prior to finalizing the divorce. Mediators are conflict resolution experts, often with legal training, who attempt to help couples come to an agreement on ongoing issues.  Mediation is not legally binding, but it may help shorten the divorce process or make it unnecessary. On average, mediation is 20-50 percent cheaper than a traditional divorce.
Ms. Kugler practices exclusively in the area of family law. Karen works toward equitable settlements, but is skilled in trial advocacy. Karen discusses the risks and expense of litigation with her clients. She is a knowledgeable, empathetic, and assertive legal advocate and handles all family law issues: spousal maintenance, child support, property division, and custody at the trial and appellate levels. Karen is past Chair of the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) Family Law Section and is a past Co-Chair of the RCBA Family Law Section. She is a frequent writer and speaker regarding family law, co-authoring the Child Support...
Minnesota, like most other states, passed a law called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) so that parents could not go to another state to try to get a different custody order.  Under the UCCJEA, the courts of different states have guidelines to help decide which state’s court should decide custody.  The courts are encouraged to discuss the matter and avoid disagreements between states.  Usually the court in the state where the child has lived most recently for the past six months has the authority to decide custody of the children.  If a court in one state has already decided custody, the UCCJEA prevents a court in another state from changing the custody order, unless the first court refuses to act or no longer has enough connection with the child and parties.

Unless a reasonable support amount is agreed to by the parents, the court shall set child support according to the child support guidelines and worksheet. The court may order either or both parents owing a duty of support to a child of the marriage to pay an amount reasonable or necessary for the child's support, without regard to marital misconduct. 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 AFDC program. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.551, 518.552)


Mediation is confidential and private, as opposed to divorce litigation, in which little privacy is afforded. Whatever goes on in mediation remains private, while grievances aired in a courtroom become part of the court record and are public. Any communications between parties during mediation are confidential with certain exceptions. These exceptions include child or elder abuse or one party talking about a crime they committed or one they intend to commit. The confidentiality of the mediation process allows spouses to speak openly and directly to one another without the fear something they say will be used against them.
Although many mediating couples are amicable and work well in mediation, there are also many couples who are very emotional about the divorce and don't think they can negotiate face to face. Part of every qualified mediator's training is in assisting couples who have high emotions but who still would like to work things out peacefully. People do calm down and become effective mediation participants when they see that the process can work without adding to the high emotional and financial cost of divorce.
Under both Minnesota law, [1] and federal law, [2] as long as you yourself are a party to the conversation, it is lawful for you to record that conversation, even secretly. Furthermore, such recordings happen often enough in family practice that you are wise to assume that any telephone conversation with your spouse is in fact being recorded, and to temper your speech accordingly — i.e., no anger, name-calling, or spiteful speech of any kind.
Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) in Family Court Cases - For parents who are getting divorced, this statewide program connects them with judges and evaluators early in the court process to give them an opportunity to settle their legal issues. Parties can choose to participate in one or both types of ENE: a Financial ENE (FENE) to settle financial disputes; and Social ENE (SENE) to settle custody and parenting time issues involving their children.
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