When custody is in dispute, a Minnesota court issues a custody order that is in the "best interests of the child." Joint custody will only be awarded if parents have shown the court that they are willing and able to cooperate. A court also examines several factors with the child's welfare in mind. They include (1) the child's preference, (2) each parent's health, (3) the child's health and whether any special needs exist, (4) each parent's relationship with the child, (5) which parent has been the child's primary caretaker, (6) each parent's ability to provide a stable environment for the child, (7) any history of domestic violence or child abuse and (8) any allegations of abuse.


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.


In order to begin a divorce in the state of Minnesota, one spouse must fill out or write a Summons and Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. Within the petition, the petitioning spouse must include information about the marriage like income, debts, children, and any property owned. After he or she fills out the petition it must then be served to the receiving spouse and filed with the District Court. Service must be done by a third party who can be a friend, the sheriff or a professional server.
In equal numbers, prospective clients come to me either excited about a perceived ace-in-the-hole because of the other spouse’s adultery, or worried about his or her own adultery. Neither attitude is warranted. The Courts couldn’t care less about anyone’s adultery in and of itself, or the immorality of it. Half the divorces they see involve adultery. In fact, there’s a very real danger that pressing this issue will backfire, making the accuser appear obsessive and jealous.

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.


Attorney Andrew T. Poole practice in all areas of criminal defense and family law in Duluth, Minnesota. Mr. Poole graduated from law school in 2010 and moved to Duluth with his Duluth-native wife. Soon after moving to Duluth, Mr. Poole started his own law practice called Poole Law Office PLLC, which he operated until becoming a partner at LaCourse, Poole & Envall, P.A. in 2017. Mr. Poole's hard work and commitment to criminal defense and family law has earned him recognition as a Rising Star by Super Lawyers Magazine. He has also been named a Top...

But not every couple is a good candidate for mediation—and it can be hard to know in advance who’s going to find the process helpful and who’s going to find it useless—or worse, enraging. To get a better idea of warning signs, I spoke to Rachel Green, the family lawyer in Brooklyn, New York, who handled my own separation ten years ago. Below, the eight signs that mediation might not be right for you.
The court decides both legal and physical custody.  Legal custody is the right to make the major decisions about the children.  These include the children's religious upbringing, schooling, and medical care.  Physical custody means where the children live and which parent makes the routine daily decisions.  Physical custody is what most people think of when speaking about custody.

During a divorce, either party can petition the court to pay alimony or “spousal maintenance” to the other. Minnesota laws provide for this type of assistance so the lower earning spouses can maintain the same reasonable standard of living as before. Generally speaking, a court will be more inclined to order a longer period of alimony when the marriage was longer in duration.  
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.
To get a no-fault dissolution in Minnesota, you need to state in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage that “there has been an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage relationship.” Also, one of the following must exist: (1) serious marital discord adversely affecting the attitude of one or both of the parties toward the marriage, or (2) the parties have been living separate and apart for 180 days before filing.
Couples who are headed for a trial date may be ordered by the court to go through mediation before that date is set, however, mediation can also be voluntary. If the couples are unable to resolve their issues through mediation, they are free to pursue any other remedies they choose. Mediation is generally better for the children involved, as it allows the couple to make decisions which are in the best interests of the entire family in a non-contentious manner. Children can be damaged by hearing their parents argue and say things to one another that children should not hear. Many parents who end up litigating their divorce are not hesitant to say ugly things about the other parent in front of the children. Parents who make a conscious decision to mediate their divorce, are also more likely to be aware of ensuring the children are not privy to contentious behavior between the parents.
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.

People often ask, “Does mediation really work?” In a word, yes. We know from years of research that when you compare couples who have mediated their divorce with couples who go through an adversarial divorce, mediating couples are more likely to be satisfied with the process and the results, likely to take less time and spend less money, and are less likely to go back to court later to fight about something.
1) Is the lawyer being paid? If there is plenty of unearned money in your trust account to pay for your lawyer’s pending workload, this shouldn’t be a factor. However, if the initial retainer has been used up, and an additional retainer has not been provided, or you have not promptly paid a bill from your attorney, this may be at the root of your lawyer’s lack of attention to your case.
When a couple has made the decision to enter into divorce mediation, there are preparations which can be made which will ensure the mediation is more beneficial to both parties. Having an experienced divorce attorney in your corner is important before you attend mediation. Because a mediator is unable to give legal advice to either party, your legal questions can then be answered by your attorney. Before attending mediation, it is a good idea to make sure you are organized. This means having all documents pertaining to the issues you will be discussed together in a cohesive manner and bringing those documents to mediation.
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.

These court actions add delays, thousands or tens of thousands of dollars of costs, and interpersonal stress to the process of reaching a separation agreement. As the chart illustrates, the only way to guarantee an uncontested divorce, with no expensive, antagonistic, and time-consuming court actions, is through divorce mediation, a collaborative law divorce process, or out-of-court divorce negotiations. Attorney Julia Rueschemeyer specializes in these forms of divorce, which avoid high costs, delays, and court legal battles. You can learn more about mediation, collaborative law divorce, and differences between fault, no-fault, contested, and uncontested divorce on other pages of this website.

Mediating parents have a number of options available for determining how to provide for their children’s needs after divorce. As a starting point, we will calculate MN guideline child support using the MN Child Support Calculator which as of January 1, 2007 uses an income shares model for determining child support obligations. My process includes a complete explanation of how to properly input the information and how to read the calculator’s result. While many parents choose to follow the State guidelines; some parents decide to deviate from guideline support based on a variety of reasons. Still others adopt a less traditional (and more flexible) plan for sharing all expenses relating to the children, such as a joint checking account or monthly accounting and reimbursement method. Mediation allows you to be creative about how best to provide financial support for your children’s needs after the divorce.


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.

In any case where parties cannot agree about custody or parenting time of the children, the court will require the parties to attend an orientation and education program. Some courts have programs for children to attend. The program covers the impact that divorce and the restructuring of families and legal proceedings have upon children and families. It will also cover methods for preventing parenting time conflicts and options for resolving disputes. 

Most courts give parents the opportunity to work with independent evaluators soon after the case is filed to see if they can reach an agreement about custody, parenting time, money and property. The two types of ENE are: 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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