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.
For unmarried parents, the mother has sole legal and physical custody unless and until the Court orders otherwise, pursuant to Minnesota Statute section 257.75, subdivision 3. Nevertheless, a mother should be careful before denying parenting time, because one of the many factors which the court considers in determining permanent custody is “the disposition of each parent to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact by the other parent with the child.” Minn. Stat. § 518.17, Subd. 1(13).
A mediator is a neutral professional specially trained to help you and your spouse reach agreement about all the important legal issues relating to your divorce. A mediator is not a decision maker. As your mediator, I guide you through the divorce process. I answer your questions and help you understand the court system. I facilitate a productive discussion of the issues while maintaining a safe and respectful environment. I assist you in understanding each other’s needs, wants and concerns. I help you generate and consider creative options. If you have minor children, I help you create a comprehensive Parenting Plan which will increase your likelihood of parenting success after your divorce is final. And finally, I document your agreements in a Memorandum of Agreement.

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.


Civil lawsuits- those involving land, inheritance, or services provided, are most often moved to the end of any Court’s calendar. Often, a civil matter will not be heard before a judge for more than two years after the case is filed with the Court. This long delay for justice/resolution, together with the high costs of trial, often make litigation impractical. It is not uncommon for attorney fees, expert witness fees, filing fees, court reporter fees and other related costs to exceed the amount in dispute.

1. If custody or parenting time is in issue, don’t move out without first getting an enforceable written stipulation addressing custody and parenting time after the move-out. The key is to have in place at least an interim parenting time schedule which affords you at least as much parenting time as you hope to obtain through the court. Otherwise, the longer you acquiesce to a pattern of parenting time that is less than you desire, the more of an argument the other party will make of it against you. Often arguments like the following are heard:
NO, THEY ARE NOT! I can’t tell you the number of times someone comes to me with this same sad predicament. For several months or years, the party has been paying less child support or spousal maintenance by verbal agreement with the other party, only to be socked later with an arrears judgment for $20,000, $30,000, or $40,000, as the case may be. The only way to protect yourself from this is to have the agreement drafted up and approved by the court in writing.
Spousal maintenance is money paid to support an ex-spouse.  Either spouse can ask for spousal maintenance, but the court will not award spousal maintenance unless there is a need for it.  Spousal maintenance may be granted for several reasons.  These include disability or illness or not having worked outside the home for a number of years.  If there is a large difference between your income and that of your spouse, you may be in need of spousal maintenance.
You can ask the court for an Order for Protection.  It will order the abuser to stop all the abuse and threats.  It can also order the abuser to leave the home, to stay away from your work place or school.  It can provide for temporary custody, child support and use of the car or home.  It can also do other things to protect you and the children.  It doesn't matter whether or not you've started a divorce or if you're still living together.
Making the decision to part from your spouse is always difficult – particularly where there is money and support involved. While the alimony laws in Minnesota may be difficult to understand, the good news is that you don’t have to go through this process alone. A good first step in requesting alimony is to contact a Minnesota divorce lawyer, who can advocate on your behalf.
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.
Conversely, there is no way to finalize your divorce through mediation alone. Even if you reach a tentative agreement in mediation, this agreement must be formalized in a written stipulation, signed by both parties and their attorneys, and ultimately approved by the Court. [2] This signed stipulation — not your verbal agreements from mediation sessions — is what becomes the enforceable terms of your divorce, and should be prepared or at least reviewed and revised by your lawyer before you sign.
In all of the states we practice in, both equitable distribution states and community property states, the parties are encouraged to actively participate in, and come to agreement on, the fair division of their marital assets and liabilities. But unless you and your spouse are experts in the financial matters pertaining to divorce, this can be a dangerous path to walk.

Depending on the judicial officer, most ICMC's are fairly informal. The judicial officer will come into the courtroom, and give a small presentation to the parties. Literally all presentations are based on a common theme - the benefit of working cooperatively to reach a mediated settlement. The judicial officer will discuss the high cost, both financially and emotionally, of litigating your divorce issues rather than working towards an amicable settlement. The judicial officer will then discuss with the lawyers what issues they believe your case presents, what needs to be done to reach a resolution of those issues, what procedures the lawyers believe are necessary to prepare the matter for resolution (either through subsequent settlement or trial) and how much time will be needed to complete this work. At this point, it will be determined whether a temporary hearing is necessary to determine issues involving possession of the home, parenting of children, temporary child support and spousal maintenance, as well as temporary attorney fees, while the divorce proceeding is pending. Many times the courts will encourage the parties to participate in an early mediation sessions to determine temporary issues. On rare occasions in today's family law practice, a formal temporary hearing may be needed, as described below. In lieu of such a hearing, some judicial officers may request the lawyers follow a more informal process of simply writing the judicial officer a letter providing the economic data necessary to decide temporary issues together with brief argument. The judicial officer will then decide the temporary issue.
A trickier question is whether you may record the other parent's conversations with the children. Under the doctrine of "vicarious consent," as long as a parent or guardian has "a good faith, objectively reasonable belief that the interception of telephone conversations is necessary for the best interests of the children," then he may consent to the interception (i.e. listening in or recording the call) on behalf of the children. [3] However, this can be risky, because if there is any dispute about whether your vicarious consent was in good faith or objectively reasonable, you may still end up having to defend against possible criminal charges or a civil lawsuit. The Wagner case I have cited, for example, was a civil lawsuit by a one parent against the other parent who had recorded telephone calls between the children and herself. The Court allowed that lawsuit to proceed because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to the motivations of the parent who had made the recordings. I don't recommend recording any such phone calls without first consulting a lawyer.
Typically the SENE will involve both parties, both attorneys, and two court-appointed custody evaluators. Usually three hours is blocked for a session. During the session, each party (and his or her attorney) is given the opportunity to explain what they would like for a custody and parenting time arrangement, and why. Questions from the evaluators are asked and answered. Then there is a break while the evaluators confer. Then the meeting reconvenes and recommendations are given and explained, whereupon the parties discuss settlement.
I use only processes—mediation, collaborative law divorce, and out-of-court negotiation—that emphasize open, respectful communication. I am currently not taking "contested" cases, in which each spouse hires a lawyer and fights in court. If you have been served with divorce papers or need legal representation in court, you should contact a different attorney.
Thomas Tuft, a native of the East Side of Saint Paul, is a shareholder at Tuft, Lach, Jerabek & O'Connell, PLLC practicing in all areas of family law, including complex divorce, child support, paternity, and child custody. He is a Rule 114 Qualified Neutral, a Social Early Neutral Evaluator (SENE) and a Financial Early Neutral Evaluator (FENE). He has been named among the list of Minnesota SuperLawyers® since 2002 and has been named one of the Top 40 Family Law SuperLawyers in Minnesota since 2004. He has been named to the list of Top 100 Superlawyers® in Minnesota and the...
Finally, the parties in mediation are often surprised to hear their mediator suggest that they consider retaining consulting attorneys. The thought is that they chose to mediate to avoid fighting their case out with attorneys and they don’t want that extraordinary expense. However, the role of a consulting attorney in mediation is very different than the role of a litigation advocate and is a very helpful assistance when mediating.
Many lawyers charge a retainer fee of between $2,500 and $5,000 for average cases, and bill the client for services in addition to the time covered by the retainer. The retainer amount will be substantially more in complex cases, so the cost of mediation from beginning to end can be less than the combined retainer fees would be if the parties hired lawyers to handle the divorce.
3.     Even if we don’t settle the case, it’s great preparation and knowledge for purposes of going into court.  Even though it’s confidential, and therefore an offer the other party made cannot be used in court against them, if you discuss the case in mediation and reach an impass, it does give us a better idea how best to present the dispute to the court.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Through a series of joint sessions we work through the three main components of a legal divorce settlement (property division, financial support and parenting plan). Generally speaking we follow these steps: 1) make an action plan and prioritize issues to be addressed; 2) determine what information needs to be gathered and shared; 3) assess if additional professional assistance from appraisers, accountants, therapists, attorneys, etc. is needed; 4) share and document your property (assets and liabilities); 5) make decisions about dividing your property; 6) create budgets for separate living; 7) determine financial support needs (child support and/or spousal maintenance/alimony); and 8) develop a detailed and workable parenting plan. In all cases, your personal and private information is treated confidentially with the same care and concern as in the legal process. The final product of mediation is a Memorandum of Agreement which is a comprehensive document detailing your agreements and which serves as the basis for your legal documents which are filed with the court.
If there is a chance your spouse may seek an Order for Protection or Harassment Restraining Order against you — whether legitimately or fraudulently — it is important to have a plan in case you are suddenly served with one and are barred from your home, with no court hearing set for two weeks. If that happens, do you have a place to stay? Cash and important documents? A spare change of clothing?
Go over the pros and cons of mediation, as opposed to other methods. Whether it’s in person at a coffee shop, over the phone, via text messages, or through email, the first step is to agree to participate wholeheartedly. Strong-arming your spouse might get him or her to the table, but the mediation won’t be effective and you’ll end up wasting time and money.
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. 
Although many of Ms. Serwat’s clients reach a complete divorce settlement without retaining an attorney; some need and/or want legal representation. If your situation warrants legal representation or if you simply feel better knowing that you are legally represented your lawyer is welcome to participate with you in the mediation process. Starting divorce mediation without attorneys in no way limits your right to retain an attorney in the future and/or appear in court.
A common problem for many families is a dispute over where the minor child(ren) will attend school. If you have sole legal custody, you may decide this on your own. But if like most parents you have joint legal custody, then the choice of school is something that must be agreed upon, or otherwise submitted to the Court or Alternative Dispute Resolution for a determination.
To file for divorce in Minnesota you must file a Summons and a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the Clerk’s Office of the county court. Although the exact filing fee will depend on the county in which you file, Minnesota has some of the highest in the nation with the average around $400. Whether or not you are representing yourself, you must also file a Certificate of Representation.
Many lawyers charge a retainer fee of between $2,500 and $5,000 for average cases, and bill the client for services in addition to the time covered by the retainer. The retainer amount will be substantially more in complex cases, so the cost of mediation from beginning to end can be less than the combined retainer fees would be if the parties hired lawyers to handle the divorce.

Following trial and final written submissions, the judicial officer is allowed up to ninety days to issue written "Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree" which is the legal document dissolving your marriage and deciding all issues involving your children, property division, child support, spousal maintenance and attorney fees. After the issuance of the Judgment and Decree, Minnesota Law has a set procedure and time limit to allow either party to ask the court to correct any perceived or actual errors; to argue to the court to change its' decision; or, to argue that based on alleged errors, a new trial should take place. Although a new trial is rarely granted, it is not uncommon, especially when presented with complex issues, for the Court is slightly amend its' decision following the original judgment and decree.
If the parents can not agree on an appropriate custody arrangement, the court will examine what is in "the best interests of the child" by considering and evaluating the following factors: (1) the wishes of the child's parent or parents as to custody; (2) the reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express preference; (3) the child's primary caretaker; (4) the intimacy of the relationship between each parent and the child; (5) the interaction and interrelationship of the child with a parent or parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interests; (6) the child's adjustment to home, school, and community; (7) the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity; (8) the permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home; (9) the mental and physical health of all individuals involved; (10) the capacity and disposition of the parties to give the child love, affection, and guidance, and to continue educating and raising the child in the child's culture and religion or creed, if any; (11) the child's cultural background; (12) the effect on the child of the actions of an abuser; (13) except in cases in which a finding of domestic abuse, the disposition of each parent to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact by the other parent with the child. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.17)
Another helpful approach for very high-conflict cases can include bringing an additional professional into the mix, such as a marriage and family therapist, who can meet with one or both parties in the mediation session or separately, as appropriate. The goal of the therapist is not to reconcile the parties, but to help them develop a better ability to communicate around the emotional roadblocks that they are facing. In the end, by going through the mediation process together and reaching reasonable solutions to the issues facing them, parties that mediate learn new ways of working together as they go forward into their new future. This is a huge benefit, especially when children and co-parenting are involved.  
Although many of Ms. Serwat’s clients reach a complete divorce settlement without retaining an attorney; some need and/or want legal representation. If your situation warrants legal representation or if you simply feel better knowing that you are legally represented your lawyer is welcome to participate with you in the mediation process. Starting divorce mediation without attorneys in no way limits your right to retain an attorney in the future and/or appear in court.
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. [4] 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.
If you represent yourself in the divorce you will be called a “pro se litigant.” In all Minnesota district courts, there are forms that pro se litigants in divorce cases can use. You should check with your local courthouse or law library or the Minnesota State Courts website (www.mncourts.gov/forms) for more information about where to get these forms.
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