In order to make custody determinations the court evaluates the best interests of the children using 13 key factors which are defined in MN 518.17.In addition to being financially expensive, formal custody evaluations are also often highly adversarial and emotionally damaging for all involved, especially the children. In the end, a “victory” is often bittersweet and both parents will have some amount of court ordered parenting time. Rather than seek to prove that one parent is better than the other, it is critical to recognize that both parents are important in different ways – each providing that which can only be given by a mother or a father. You are the experts about your life and your children. You are the best qualified to make decisions about how to restructure your family and parenting time after divorce. As your mediator, I help you evaluate and discuss parenting time options and make child-focused decisions about how each of you will remain significantly involved with your children.
There is no right to a free lawyer (like a public defender) in a divorce. However, there are nonprofit law firms that provide free legal help or arrange for volunteer attorneys for low income clients. See the back of this booklet for information on legal services. If free legal help is not available, or you do not qualify, you will need to hire an attorney or represent yourself in the divorce.
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.
The length of time to complete a divorce depends upon several things. If both sides reach an agreement or if one spouse never responds to divorce papers, a divorce doesn't take much time. If both sides can't agree, then the judge has to decide. In this case it will take much longer because the court will need to gather information and schedule time in order to make a fair decision. Gathering information might mean having a custody evaluation done or getting financial information.
Telephone or Skype Mediation: This option is usually selected if there are only a small number of outstanding issues. It is also an option if one or both spouses live out of the area. Depending on the number of issues, there may need to be more than one session. These sessions cost $145 (telephone) or $175 (Skype) per hour. (Minimum scheduled time for first session is one hour.)
4. Use just one (1) attorney. Many people hire law firms to represent them, and end up in situations where more than one attorney is working on their case. This is inefficient, because each attorney involved needs to be independently educated about the case, and no attorney is as well informed as he would be if he were the only attorney on the case. I’ve seen billing statements from other firms with numerous charges for a “strategy conference” between attorneys in the same firm. I’ve seen billings for two attorneys from the same firm attending the same deposition. Obviously these duplicative charges don’t happen when you use a single attorney for your case.
The cost of mediation may be based on Florida Statutes which provide a reduced rate for couples with a combined income of less than $100,000. Both parties will file a financial affidavit in order to establish the exact fees for divorce mediation. A Florida judge may waive mediation requirements but generally will not do so. Costs associated with divorce mediation may include the mediation costs, filing fees, recording fees, and service of process fees if the mediation is court-ordered. These fees may be levied against the non-prevailing parent if the court determines that parent is able to pay.
There is no specific Massachusetts form for your separation agreement, but several probate courts have made available templates that a committed person could use for a do-it-yourself divorce or pro se divorce. You can download a Massachusetts separation agreement form, or template, for divorce with no children here, created by Worcester County probate court, or a Massachusetts separation agreement with minor children form, or template, here.
There is a growing movement toward using alternatives to traditional litigation to resolve divorce cases. One of the most popular options is mediation, which involves both spouses, and their attorneys, meeting with a neutral person trained to help them come to an agreement that is mutually acceptable. Our family law lawyers have often served as divorce mediators in Minnesota and represented hundreds of clients as such.
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.
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.
Many individuals mistakenly believe that they’ve abandoned their equity in the family home by moving out. While the court may award the family home to the spouse living in it at the time the divorce is heard, the spouse that moved out will typically be awarded other property or a cash settlement equal to his or her equity in the home. The bottom line here is that you don’t give up your equity in the marital home by moving out.
On a related note, it is a useful precaution to close or otherwise terminate additional borrowing authority on any joint credit cards, lines of credit, or other joint debt accounts, when a divorce appears imminent. With respect to joint credit cards and other joint unsecured consumer lines of credit, Minnesota law requires the creditor to close the account upon the written request of either party. 
Some people think it will be easier and safer to have an attorney fight for their legal rights. Unfortunately, maximizing your legal rights often comes at someone else’s expense (for example your spouse or your children). This is referred to as a “win-lose” situation. All too often the transactional costs (both financial and emotional) of a “win” far exceed the value of the victory, especially for children. Although a good lawyer can be helpful, the adversarial legal process is expensive and often seeks to solve problems through opposing positions, and win-lose thinking. In my opinion, this adversarial approach is not only expensive and emotionally challenging; it is also detrimental to the long-term well-being of the people involved, especially the children. It may surprise you to know that most of my clients are unrepresented and successfully reach a complete mediated divorce settlement without retaining an attorney. My standard advice to people considering which divorce process to choose is to start with mediation and see how it goes. You may consult with or retain an attorney at any time and you never give up your right to go to court if mediation is partially or completely unsuccessful. With success rates as high as 80–90% and average savings of 20-50%, it seems the better question to ask may actually be, why wouldn’t you try mediation first?
To file for divorce in any state you need to meet its residency requirements. These requirements vary by state. Two additional things that you should consider when thinking about relocating are what the divorce laws are where you are compared to the laws of the state that you are moving to, and what is the impact on any children involved. To the first point, you want to make sure that you aren’t filing for divorce in a state where the divorce laws are less favorable to you. To the second point, courts can and do frown on one parent’s leaving the state without the other’s consent. A lawyer can help you figure out which state would be best to file in and how to negotiate and interstate custody issues.
You may be surprised to know that many divorcing couples are fairly respectful of each other and work well together in divorce mediation. There are also many couples who are very emotional about the divorce and as a result, exhibit more conflicted behaviors or believe they can not successfully negotiate face to face. As a mediator, I am trained to assist people in putting their emotions aside and focusing on the relevant issues. My job is to keep you on track and help you through the crisis. Rest assured that you will be accepted as you are; there will be no judgment or criticism and you will receive grounded professional assistance aimed at helping you succeed. My personal and professional experience has taught me that both emotions and conflict tend to diminish through the course of our work together. Professional guidance is often a key factor of success. As you progress through the process, you will likely come to understand why mediation is so successful at alleviating some of the non-monetary transactional costs of divorce.
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.
Most state courts require you to submit a financial affidavit during the dissolution process. Be sure to check your local rules or consult with an attorney. It’s paramount to complete your financial affidavit accurately, as that information can be held against you later. Creating a rough draft early in the information-gathering process will ensure that your final version will be error-free. It also serves as a roadmap of the financial factors to cover during mediation.
Grandparents may seek visitation with their grandchildren. Minnesota law also allows a person who is not a parent but who previously lived with the child for two years to ask the court for the right to visit the child. A court will grant visitation if it is in the child's best interests and if visitation will not interfere with the parent-child relationship.