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. 

Anita Motolinia is a conflict resolution professional solely dedicated to the practice of mediation. Based in Minneapolis, Anita Motolinia Mediation serves people throughout Minnesota and the United States. She specializes in workplace, family owned business and divorce mediation. Her extensive mediation experience and training allow her to use a w ... more
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.
It is possible to complete your divorce without representation by a Minnesota divorce attorney. However, it is not recommended as this process is emotional and often more difficult than originally expected. A Minnesota men’s divorce lawyer can ensure that your interests are protected during the process as well as give you valuable advice on the overall proceedings.
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.
Litigating a divorce results in both parties operating under attack and defend mode. When mediation is used, the process is much more peaceful and conciliatory. Both parties are allowed to explain their position and perspectives on all the issues, leading to a generation of solutions which ultimately benefit both spouses and their children, if any. Parties to divorce mediation have decision-making powers and must agree to each provision in the final agreement. Couples who agree to terms voluntarily are much more likely to comply with those terms in the future, and much less likely to find themselves back in court fighting about perceived violations of the terms.

You can also go to court to get an order to change or set a parenting time schedule or for supervised parenting time. The court may send you to a parenting time expeditor before the court hears your motion for a change in parenting time.  The court can order mediation or you can voluntarily agree to use mediation to try to resolve parenting time problems.  If one parent denies parenting time, the other parent can go to court to request more parenting time or even to change custody.  The court will look at whether or not there was a good reason for denying parenting time. Abuse of the children would likely be a good reason to deny parenting time.  
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?
Courts in Minnesota usually only have power over people and things in Minnesota.  This power is called jurisdiction.  If the respondent was served outside of the State of Minnesota, or if the respondent could not be found and was served by publication or other special service, the Minnesota court might be limited to making only the following decisions:
Mediation preparation is often limited, as there is no formal discovery. Frequently, mediation begins with a "general caucus" where the parties and the mediator meet in the same room. The mediator establishes the ground rules in an "agreement to mediate." In court-mandated mediation, the court order will often contain or refer to the "rules of mediation." One of the most important mediation rules is the requirement for confidentiality.

Sometimes the respondent cannot be “served” personally with the Summons and Petition because the petitioner does not know where he or she is and has no way to find out.  In this case the petitioner can apply to the court for permission to “serve” another way—such as mailing the papers to an address where mail will likely be forwarded to the respondent or publishing a notice in a newspaper.  This special service starts the legal proceedings in cases where the respondent cannot be personally served.
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.
The law allows parents to make voluntary parenting plans.  A parenting plan is a plan voluntarily designed by both parents based on the best interests of the child.  A parenting plan must include a schedule of the time each parent spends with the child, who will make specific decisions regarding the child, and a way to settle disputes. An agreed-upon parenting plan may use terms other than “physical” and “legal” custody but it must clearly state if the parents have joint legal custody or joint physical custody or which parent has sole legal custody or sole physical custody.

Finding a divorce lawyer who is experienced and reliable can reduce your stress and help you make the best choices possible. A good divorce lawyer should be a problem solver who is skilled at negotiation and possesses a solid trial background. If both parties are open to alternative dispute resolution, such as arbitration or mediation, finding a lawyer experienced in collaborative divorce or divorce mediation would be beneficial.

In conclusion, my advice to fathers is that they should not despair. If the children would be better off in the father’s custody, that is worth fighting for, and is winnable. I have gotten many fathers custody, even in the most dismal of predicaments. For mothers, my advice is to take nothing for granted. Against a determined father, the loss of custody is a very real possibility which you should take very seriously if custody is important to you.

Once the decision to mediate is made, it is necessary to find a mediator. Many counties have community-based or court-annexed mediation centers. If the mediation is court-ordered, the court may appoint a mediator, or will allow the parties to agree upon a qualified mediator. Both lawyers and non-lawyers serve as mediators. The fees charged vary from mediator to mediator and from case to case.


Divorce mediation is about you and your soon to be ex-spouse deciding your own divorce and what is best for the both of you and most importantly, your children. In mediation, you and your spouse meet with a neutral third party, the mediator, and with their help, you work through the issues you need to resolve so the two of you can end your marriage as amicably and cost effective as possible. The issues covered include but at not limited to the following:
Very few things in any family law issue are black-and-white. Our job is to step back and help you look at the larger picture in terms of what you have to get out of your divorce versus what might be emotionally driven. We sit down with you to discuss whether what you are asking for is worth pursuing and how a judge might handle a situation if your case ends up in litigation.
Did you know that there are other ways to dissolve a marriage then to file a traditional divorce? When parties are willing to come to the table to cooperate together, mediation may be a great option. During a divorce mediation a neutral third party serves as a mediator and can help parties decide the terms of their divorce. A Brainerd divorce mediation lawyer will be able to assist you through this process and potentially allow for a more amicable dissolution.
If the parties are hostile or overly emotional, the mediator will separate the parties and shuttle back and forth between them in "private caucuses." A private caucus is a conference between the mediator and one party, without the other party being present. The mediator passes offers and demands between the parties. Conversations between a party and the mediator during private caucus are confidential unless a party authorizes the mediator to disclose information to the other side.
Effective August 1, 2013, the law in Minnesota allows same sex couples to get married or divorced in this state. To file for divorce in Minnesota, at least one party must be living in Minnesota for at least 180 days before starting the divorce case. A same sex couple may also file for divorce in Minnesota if they got married in Minnesota on or after August 1, 2013, and each party to the marriage now lives in a state that does not allow the dissolution of the parties' same sex marriage. See Minn. Stat. § 518.07, subd. 2.
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