Jason Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. He is an honors graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato, and the William Mitchell College of Law. Jason has been recognized as a “Super Lawyer” by Thomson Reuters. Media appearances include WCCO Radio, KARE 11 Television, the Star Tribune, USA Today, Time Magazine, Minnesota Monthly and NBC News.
At Johnson Mediation, we think of ourselves as divorce specialists. It is our job to provide you with the most efficient level of service that ensures we address all of the necessary details surrounding your divorce, which often include a child-focused Parenting Plan in the event that you have kids. While other options may want you to believe a divorce needs to be hard fought, and drawn out, it is our experience that this is often not the case. We are skilled at helping individuals deal with complex emotions that accompany divorce. With our experience and mediation background we feel confident that we can help you cope with these emotional difficulties during and after your divorce is final.
The best mediators have both a high level of experience and knowledge about divorce and family law and a calm and diplomatic approach to the situation and towards each of the parties. Mediators who have spent many years as attorneys, representing clients in mediations and litigations, have had the opportunity to see many situations and many types of resolutions. As mediators, they are often able to help clients think outside the box and craft creative solutions. They can also offer perspective on how similar cases have been perceived by the courts. But the mediators approach in presenting this information is also critical. Mediators need to be able to rise above the emotion and conflict that is often present, and help the parties see what is and isn’t relevant to resolving their case.
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.
What the mediator can do, though, is to point out in open session to both spouses things that each of them should be aware of about what they’re trying to accomplish. That open and free exchange of information frees up both spouses to negotiate with each other in confidence. Because both spouses are working with the same base of information, it usually takes far less time to negotiate a resolution that makes sense to both spouses.
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.
The process takes an average of less than 1 hour to answer the required questions and generate the documents. Once you file your documents with the court according the filing procedures, the length of time will vary depending on the number of cases in front of yours. Each court has only one or just a few Judges, Masters, or Referees to review all the pending cases.
The court can appoint a "parenting time expeditor" (previously called a “visitation expeditor”). This “expeditor” is a neutral person who will help solve problems about parenting time. An “expeditor” may not be available in all counties. If an agreement is not reached, the expeditor will make the decision. The decision of the parenting time expeditor is "non-binding." This means that the court can change the decision if either party brings a motion asking the court to resolve the dispute. Until changed by the court, the parents must follow the expeditor’s decision.
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.
As mentioned above, the court is going to ask what Alternative Dispute Resolution you have used prior to coming to court. In most cases, some type of ADR is required, but there are exceptions, such as some cases involving domestic violence. In recent years many mediators have developed better protocols for accommodating those circumstances, and so some cases involving domestic violence do proceed with mediation today. A victim of domestic violence should seek the advice of counsel regarding any ADR process they are considering.
If one partner is really invested in making the other person’s life worse—like not allowing her to take vacation with the kids and her family when it’s convenient, just because he wants to muck up her vacation plans—they are not good candidates for mediation. Green says, “If you feel like your ex is a narcissist or out for revenge,” mediation is not going to work.
While mediation is absolutely worth trying for most couples, not every couple belongs in mediation. For example, if there is domestic violence in your relationship, you should consider carefully before you agree to participate—but don't it out of hand. Some people who have experienced abuse in their marriages find it empowering to meet on the level playing field of a mediation session; others find there's too great a chance of replicating the dynamics of the marriage and choose to have a lawyer do their negotiating for them. Also, because the mediator can't order either of you to do anything, a person who wants to delay the proceedings or avoid paying support can abuse the process by agreeing to mediation and then stalling the process. If you need decisions about support or other issues made early in your divorce, you may need to go to court. This doesn't mean you won't be able to use mediation at a later point to resolve the rest of the issues in your divorce, though. (To learn more about who can benefit from divorce mediation, read Nolo's article Will Divorce Mediation Work For You?)
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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.
If the court finds that either spouse's resources or property, including the spouse's portion of the marital property, are so inadequate as to work an unfair hardship, considering all relevant circumstances, the court may, in addition to the marital property, apportion up to one-half of the non-marital property, which is otherwise excluded, to prevent the unfair hardship.
Kay Snyder Attorney at Law has offices in St. Cloud, Big Lake, and Cold Spring, MN. She's a part of the Chamber of Commerce in those communities, as well as many volunteer organizations helping those in need in the area who cannot afford legal counsel. Kay Snyder Attorney is also involved with the Minnesota State Bar Association, the Stearns/Benton Bar Association, Minnesota Women Lawyers, and the St. Cloud Downtown Council.
Applying that rule, however, is far from straightforward. Courts must weigh a wide range of considerations. Generally speaking, children do best when they have ongoing contact with both parents. Yet that doesn't necessarily mean a 50-50 time-sharing arrangement. Instead, it depends on what works best for your family - and what will best serve the needs of the children.
If you can prove that an item of property was "non-marital," the court will not usually award that property to your spouse. Non-marital property is property owned by one of you before your marriage, or was a gift or inheritance to you alone during your marriage. Portions of a personal injury or Workers Compensation award might also be non-marital. The court may award non-marital property to the non-owner spouse only if it would cause unfair hardship or under other limited circumstances.
The other party is often awarded a lien or a mortgage for a share of what the property is worth. A lien is a claim on the property. The party awarded the real estate owes the other party the amount of the lien or mortgage. The Judgment and Decree usually sets a date by which the payment must be paid. If the lien is not paid when due, the party owed the money can ask the court to order the other to pay the lien, or to change division of the property in the Judgment and Decree. In the case of a mortgage, the holder of the mortgage could foreclose.
To put this amount into perspective, a typical retainer paid to a divorce attorney (by one spouse) is $2,000 (or more); which means, if you both retain an attorney the starting price will likely be at least $4,000. The sticker shock gets worse when you consider that many sources indicate that when each spouse is represented by an attorney the average US divorce costs around $15,000. This same research indicates that divorce mediation in general is between 20-50% cheaper than the traditional adversarial legal process.