Consultation: Attorneys are available to meet (or telephone or Skype with) individuals to discuss the issues, provide information, and provide guidance. These consultations can often take place prior to the first mediation, after mediation sessions, and then once a final agreement is reached. The cost of these sessions are $125 (telephone) or $155 (Skype) per hour. (Minimum scheduled time for first session is one hour.)
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:
Although there are many types of mediation, the mediator’s role in general is to remain neutral; she cannot give advice to either party, nor can she act as either party’s attorney. However, the mediator can and does allow the parties to exchange information and encourage a level of trust in the other party and in the process so that parties can best find a solution that suits both parties.
If one of the parties is awarded ownership of the home or other real estate, the Judgment and Decree will describe exactly how the transfer is to happen. Many times, the Judgment and Decree orders the other party to sign a Quit Claim Deed. A Quit Claim Deed transfers his or her rights in the real estate to the party who was given the property. The Quit Claim Deed and the Judgment and Decree are filed with the County Recorder or Registrar of Titles. If the property is registered (called Torrens) property, the owner's duplicate certificate of title is needed. The Quit Claim Deed and the Judgment and Decree are then "memorialized" by the Registrar of Titles and a new title issued. If the Quit Claim Deed is not signed and provided, you should check with an attorney and/or the County Recorder or Registrar of Titles to find out what to do.
Thereafter, if either party is still dissatisfied with the result, they may "appeal" the lower court ruling to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Such appeals are of right, and take place before a three judge panel, after extensive briefing and oral argument to the Court of Appeals. However, once the appeal is filed, the Court of Appeals will automatically put the appeal on hold, and requires it's own attempt at alternative dispute resolution known as appellate mediation. If mediation is not successful, the entire appeal process may take upwards of a year after the trial court's final decision. The Court of Appeals may affirm all decisions outright, reverse all decisions outright, or may affirm some parts of the decree while reversing others. If a party thereafter is dissatisfied with a ruling of the Court of Appeals, they may seek discretionary review by the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Supreme Court however, denies review of most cases, and only chooses to hear a few family law cases each year. Those cases selected for review typically involve novel factual or legal issues.
But there's another way. Increasingly couples are turning to divorce mediation as a realistic and healthier alternative. A couple meets with a mediator to hammer out an agreement covering all the terms of their divorce, including finances and child custody. This usually takes six to 10 sessions and costs roughly $5,000. As a litigator and mediator I prefer to mediate, if appropriate. It's faster, cheaper and, most importantly, less acrimonious, which is less damaging, not just for a couple, but also their children.
Remember that even though your children may be small today, as they grow up your roles as parents will change. You may have to consult with each other on important life decisions such as medical needs, or see each other at milestones like graduations, weddings, and the birth of your grandchildren. Learning to effectively co-parent early on will help you years down the road.
The flowchart below gives an overview of different processes for completing a divorce in Massachusetts. In 95% of divorce cases in Massachusetts, the final terms of the divorce are agreed upon in a separation agreement that is written up outside of court and presented to a judge who approves it in a 20-minute hearing. There are very different routes, however, for reaching this separation agreement and brief hearing. In many cases, there are court actions–litigation or “contested divorce” processes–before a couple agree on the terms of the divorce in a separation agreement.
Cynthia Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. She is an honors graduate of the University of South Dakota and William Mitchell College of Law. Cynthia’s practice focuses almost exclusively on divorce and family law issues. She publishes a monthly family law column for the Minnesota Lawyer newspaper, and has contributed to Divorce Magazine and The Family Law Forum. Cynthia also serves as a panel attorney for the Anoka County Family Law Clinic.
Even if you don’t qualify for the summary dissolution, you may be able to proceed with an uncontested dissolution, where you and your spouse reach an agreement about the division of your property, and, if you have any children, what arrangements will be made for them. You begin the procedure by preparing and filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, along with various supporting documents. For an uncontested dissolution, one of these documents you would be a marital settlement agreement outlining the division of assets, and your agreement regarding any children. These documents are filed with the court, and copies of them are provided to your spouse. You will attend a court hearing, at which time the judge will make sure that all of your paperwork is in order, perhaps ask you a few questions, and enter your Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.
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.
Marital property is defined as property, real or personal, including vested public or private pension plan benefits or rights, acquired by the parties, or either of them, to a dissolution, legal separation, or annulment proceeding at any time during the existence of the marriage, or at any time during which the parties were living together as husband and wife under a purported marriage relationship which is annulled in an annulment proceeding, but prior to the date of valuation.
SUPERIOR SERVICE: All mediators are not created equal! Although mediators are not decision makers, they do have a significant impact on your divorce process. Mediators set the tone and guide you through the rough patches. Therefore, it is wise to interview mediators and select one who respects your sense of fairness, recognizes the importance of self-determination, helps generate creative solutions and facilitates workable agreements.
The mediator will also ask you and your spouse to bring in financial documents such as tax returns and bank and mortgage statements. As you progress, the mediator will summarize the information being assembled. If you agree that additional research is needed or a neutral expert is to be consulted, that will go on a “to do” list. This second stage of the mediation can span two or more sessions, especially if you need to do outside work to obtain additional information or appraisals. If you feel that you already know enough about your situation and have definite ideas on how to work out a settlement, you may find yourself impatient with this stage and anxious to move ahead with the negotiations. Even though you may want to rush on, the mediator’s job is to make sure that both you and your spouse have all the facts and information you need to negotiate an agreement that is legally binding and that you won’t regret having signed.
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.