Case in point: I had a client once who — contrary to my advice — chose to engage in settlement negotiations for several months prior to commencement and filing of the divorce, rather than filing first and then working on settlement. The pre-filing settlement negotiations did not bear fruit, and because of the delay, the valuation date did not occur until much later than it otherwise would have, with the result that a $180,000 dividend payment received by my client was treated as martial property, when it otherwise would not have been.
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.
The petition itself typically follows a simple format, which is not designed to argue your case in detail, but rather only provides "notice" to the other side of the very basic facts ultimately necessary for the court to decide the case. The petition will list the two party's names, addresses and ages. It will identify the names and ages of the party's children, if any, together with a general allegation of what “custody” or "parenting time” arrangement the petitioner believes to be in the best interest of the children. In Minnesota, over the years the family law bar has come up with innumerable labels and terms for "child custody”/”parenting time". It will identify to the best of the petitioner's knowledge the parties "real property" (land and building) ownership, including the homestead, and any vacation or investment real property the parties have. It will identify to the best of the petitioner's knowledge the party's other assets and liabilities.
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.
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 for where the line is between generous cooperation and foolish capitulation.
In order to maintain the status quo while the divorce is being processed, spouses are allowed to file Motions for Temporary Relief in order to temporarily order child custody, child support, spousal support and any other issues that occur day to day that must be handled while the divorce is being processed. Once the divorce decree is finalized and signed by a judge, the temporary order will expire and the final divorce procedures will go into effect.
It is important to understand that each case is unique; however, a number of key factors influence the length (and cost) of your process. The first factor is preparation. Completing the requested preparations in advance and supplying the necessary documentation allows us to move more quickly. The second factor is complexity. Certain situations are simply more complicated to work through than others. That said, even the most complicated cases can be settled through mediation. During your free consultation, I am typically able to identify potentially complicating factors. Third is emotional readiness and conflict. Often times divorcing spouses are in a different stage of readiness; these differences can lead to conflict which may lengthen the time needed to resolve the issues. When you both feel ready to move forward and you are able to discuss the issues without a lot of conflict the process tends to move more quickly. Regardless of your particular situation, I am committed to helping all of my clients complete mediation as efficiently and cost effectively as possible, and believe that taking a divorce education class prior to beginning any divorce process can greatly increase your likelihood of success and efficiency.
It is understandable that when people reach agreements together based upon what they think is right and fair, their agreements are much more sustainable going forward than court orders that tell the parties what they must do or not do, pay or give to the other party. In fact, a great advantage of mediating your divorce settlement is that you will make all the decisions together about what is best for you both and for your children as you go forward.
In this first stage, the mediator works with you and your spouse to lay a foundation for the rest of the mediation. You give the mediator background information about your situation, and the mediator explains how the mediation will be conducted. Depending on how well you and your spouse communicate and what the issues are in your case, the mediator suggests an approach that should optimize the chances of reaching an agreement. You'll assess the issues on which you and your spouse agree or disagree, helping you to work together on an agenda for the rest of the mediation.
If there are children of the marriage, each spouse has the right to decide where the children live or go to school, whether they should see a doctor, and can make other arrangements that need to be made. These decisions are left to the parents, as long as the children are not being hurt. If the children are being hurt, other people might become involved —doctors or nurses, school personnel, community workers or the police. If you do not want your spouse to take or visit the children because you are afraid the children will not be returned or will be harmed, you do not have to let the children go. However, if there is not a threat that your spouse will kidnap the children, you should think about the children's best interests and whether it would be good for them to see their other parent. If you are concerned about your spouse's visits, consider getting a custody order. If there are children who were born before the marriage and there has been no adoption or custody order, the mother has sole custody in Minnesota until there is a court order to the contrary.