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?)
If your spouse files an Answer that disputes details in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, then the judge will order you and your spouse to trial. There may be a number of hearings and legal proceedings before a trial occurs, so you will probably need an attorney to guide you through the process. Before the trial, you and your spouse’s attorney may engage in evidence requests, witness interviews and negotiations. This may be a lengthy and complex process that could cost you a great deal personally and financially.
5. Use an attorney who specializes exclusively in family law, so that you’re not paying so much for the attorney to “learn”. No lawyer has perfect and complete knowledge, but a specialist is not going to have to do nearly as much legal research as a more general practitioner. (Not to mention, a specialist will be more qualified to represent you in the best way possible, because of his experience).
Sign and file a “Joint Petition for Divorce.” (Divorce court officials sometimes refer to this as the “1A form” and this divorces process as a “1A Marriage Dissolution.”) This is a divorce form that a) states when you were married and last lived together, b) identifies minor or dependent children of the marriage, c) identifies any family law court actions already in process, d) suggests an approximate date when the marriage irretrievably broke down (when it effectively ended), e) requests a divorce, and f) asks the judge to approve your “Separation Agreement” (see below).
At the end of the petition is a section referred to as a prayer for relief, where the petitioner will indicate in general their desire that the marriage be dissolved, as well as their desires as to custody/parenting time, child support, spousal maintenance, property and debt division, and allocation of attorney fees. In Minnesota, the court may order one party to pay part of the other's attorney fees, based on consideration of two factors, the first being need, and the second being whether one party's conduct has unnecessarily increased the attorney fees of the other party.
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.
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.
All that's required to make a divorce mediation successful is for both people to show up willing to negotiate and open to compromise. Don't reject mediation just because you and your spouse see a particular issue very differently—in other words, don't give up before you've begun. Mediation is a powerful process and many cases that seem impossible to resolve at the beginning end up in a settlement if everyone is committed to the process.
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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.