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.
During marriage, we kept our paychecks, bank accounts, and credit cards separate. How does this affect the division of assets and property if we get divorced? In Massachusetts, all of your assets and debts are considered marital and belong to both of you. It doesn’t matter whose name is on the accounts or credit cards or who paid which bills during the marriage.
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.
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.
Negotiating agreements isn't always linear. You may start at what feels like the end, and you may find yourself needing to gather more information at various points. The mediator will help you to stay on track and brainstorm options, will encourage you and your spouse to express your opinions, positions, and what's important to you, and will help you listen to each other in ways that will make a resolution more likely. (You may be able to use some of these communication tools in your ongoing parenting relationship.)
Court rules now require both sides to try ways other than court to resolve their differences. There are many other ways to reach agreements called alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods. Make sure you know all your choices before deciding on a method. The parties may be asked to pay for the cost of ADR. Most ADR methods let you stop the process at any time without reaching an agreement.
When a problem must be settled before trial and the parties cannot agree, one of the parties may request a motion hearing before the court. Motions may be used to ask the court to make the other party turn over evidence or to enforce the decisions made by the court in earlier orders. Sometimes the temporary relief order must be changed when there has been a change in the facts or an important problem was overlooked at the first hearing.
Jason Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. He is an honors graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato, and the William Mitchell College of Law. Jason has been recognized as a “Super Lawyer” by Thomson Reuters. Media appearances include WCCO Radio, KARE 11 Television, the Star Tribune, USA Today, Time Magazine, Minnesota Monthly and NBC News.
To ensure you cover everything, create a master list of all your assets and possessions—regardless of whether an item is thought to be yours or your spouse’s. The master list should include all real property (house, rental properties, vacation homes), personal property (books, DVDs, furniture, artwork, jewelry), vehicles (including boats, motorcycles, ATVs), bank accounts (joint and separate, checking, savings), credit cards, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, annuities, stocks and other financial products. Account for everything you own.
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.
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.
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.
1. You just might settle the case. The parties involved have the most information about their situation, and therefore are in the best position to craft a creative solution specifically tailored to them. Judges, on the other hand, are bound by case law, statutes, and rules and must provide a solution for the parties that fits within this framework.
When you have a choice, it is cheaper to cooperate with informal and limited discovery. In cases where the other party is not cooperative or not trustworthy, more formal discovery may be a necessity. Some of the formal discovery demands you receive will be objectionable. In most cases, however, it is much cheaper for you to just get the information and documents, than to pay your lawyer to argue with the other side about it. Also, don’t trickle it in piecemeal to your attorney if at all possible. Get it all together into one package, as complete and as organized as possible.
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.
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Moreover, even in a simple divorce, you’ll have to make major decisions that will impact your future, including decisions about alimony, what to do with the family home, or retirement benefits. A paralegal service can’t provide the guidance you might need; these divorce decisions should be reached with the help of an experienced family law attorney.
2. In divorces, there is inevitably a process of “discovery,” where each party requests information and documents from the other party. Sometimes this is informal and limited. Other times it is formal, comprehensive, and terribly time-consuming for the parties themselves (to gather the information), and for their lawyers (who must review the responses and put them together in proper legal form). Because most attorneys are sloppy and lazy with formal discovery, they request much more than is really necessary to settle a case, just to cover their butts and to avoid the work of tailoring the discovery demands to each particular case, or just to make the process more onerous for the other party.
It should come as no surprise that it is difficult for parties to a divorce or other family law dispute to reach agreements on important issues on their own. However, oftentimes, disputes related to divorce and other family law matters can be resolved with the assistance of a neutral third party through mediation. The job of the Minnesota divorce mediators at Bloch & Whitehouse, P.A., is to facilitate communication between parties to promote an agreement.
Emptying the joint bank checking or savings account in anticipation of divorce would ordinarily be frowned upon, unless you had a very justifiable reason. Be warned, however, that your spouse may beat you to it. I’ve seen joint bank accounts cleaned out by the other party many times, and many times there is unapproved spending by the other spouse as the divorce approaches. Although this can be accounted-for and compensated-for in the divorce property settlement, it can still cause great difficulty if you need the money during the pendency of the proceedings and have to litigate to get any of it back.
A Motion is a paper asking the Judge or Referee to decide an issue in a case. In a divorce matter, a Motion for Temporary Relief allows you to ask the court to issue a temporary order for child custody, child support, spousal support, and certain property issues. The Temporary Order allows you to get needed financial support while your case is pending in court. The Temporary order will expire when the final divorce decree is signed by the Judge and "entered" by court administration.