Many metropolitan counties, as well as more and more outstate counties, have developed several innovative tools aimed at facilitating quick resolution of traditionally volatile areas - custody/parenting time and economic disputes. If the court is advised a custody/parenting time is present, the judicial officer will suggest that the parties participate in an "Early Neutral Custody Evaluation," referred to as a Social Early Neutral Evaluation "SENE" or in some counties and in others a Custody and Parenting Time Early Neutral Evaluation "CPENE." In this process the parties and counsel will be quickly scheduled to meet with two experts on child custody matters, one male and one female. Many counties have rosters listing the names of people certified to act as an Early Neutral Custody Evaluator. The parties and counsel will meet for three hours with the evaluators, with each party then afforded the opportunity to explain their role in raising the children, and what type of a parenting schedule they believe to be in their children's best interests. The two evaluators will then briefly adjourn, and then return to advise the parties what recommendation would result from a full custody evaluation. Many parties are able to reach a settlement of most parenting time issues after hearing this informal report.
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If you are trying to obtain your dissolution on your own and there are children involved, you will be required to have at least one hearing in front of the judge. You will have to use the generic documents provided by the courts such as the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and Judgment and Decree. These documents will not be specific to your needs or specific fact situation.
Christine Callahan has completed the certified training and is on the court roster for counties in the southwest metro to conduct Social Early Neutral Evaluations (SENE, for custody and parenting time) and Financial Early Neutral Evaluations (FENE for support and property division). For more information about the Early Neutral process in Minnesota, please see our articles.
If the court determines that there is probable cause that one of the parties, or a child of a party, has been physically or sexually abused by the other party, the court shall not require or refer the parties to mediation or any other process that requires parties to meet and confer without counsel, if any, present. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.619)
The court may award either party alimony if the party seeking alimony (1) lacks sufficient property to meet his or her own needs, and (2) is unable to be self-supporting through employment, or is not required to seek employment due to being a child custodian. In the absence of an agreement by the parties, Minnesota alimony law provides that the amount and duration of alimony will be determined by the judge, after considering the following factors:
If the parties can not come to an agreement on how their marital property is to be divided, the court shall base its findings on all relevant factors including the length of the marriage, any prior marriage of a party, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities, needs, opportunity for future acquisition of capital assets, and income of each party. The court shall also consider the contribution of each in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation or appreciation in the amount or value of the marital property, as well as the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker. It shall be conclusively presumed that each spouse made a substantial contribution to the acquisition of income and property while they were living together as husband and wife. If there is a substantial change in value of an asset between the date of valuation and the final distribution, the court may adjust the valuation of that asset as necessary to effect an equitable distribution. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.58)
This is based on the outdated belief that women know less about the marital finances than their husbands, therefore will not be left with a favorable outcome in the divorce. It is important to remember divorce mediators are neutral and have no interest in either spouse “winning.” Finally, most people believe couples who are barely speaking could not possibly benefit from divorce mediation. Divorce mediators are highly trained in alternative dispute resolution and are skilled at working with those who have significant levels of anger between them. Obviously, both parties will be required to speak at some point, but the divorce mediator may be able to help that happen.
Essentially, a Social Early Neutral Evaluation is similar to mediation in that it is a form of alternative dispute resolution that is voluntary and non-binding. The difference is that with ordinary mediation, the mediator generally will not take a position. Whereas the evaluators presiding over an SENE are specifically tasked to give their recommendations, as a way to help the parties reach a settlement.
After graduating law school in 2010, Sonja secured a judicial clerkship in Hennepin County Family Court. She worked on high asset divorce cases with complex financial matters as well as high conflict custody disputes. Sonja learned firsthand how judicial officers decide cases and what makes a family law attorney effective inside and outside of the courtroom. After clerking, Sonja worked for a large, national law firm where she gained a tremendous amount of experience. Sonja is empathetic, detailed, and aggressive when necessary.
The length of time to complete a divorce depends upon several things. If both sides reach an agreement or if one spouse never responds to divorce papers, a divorce doesn't take much time. If both sides can't agree, then the judge has to decide. In this case it will take much longer because the court will need to gather information and schedule time in order to make a fair decision. Gathering information might mean having a custody evaluation done or getting financial information.
Another important tool for a parent whose child has been taken or hidden is the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS). An attorney must ask the court or county attorney to request FPLS assistance. The court or county attorney can apply to the FPLS for assistance in locating the missing parent. The FPLS is a computer search using the Social Security number of the missing parent to find home and work addresses for that parent. You must have the correct Social Security number in order to use the FPLS.
On a related note, it is a useful precaution to close or otherwise terminate additional borrowing authority on any joint credit cards, lines of credit, or other joint debt accounts, when a divorce appears imminent. With respect to joint credit cards and other joint unsecured consumer lines of credit, Minnesota law requires the creditor to close the account upon the written request of either party. 
A spouse is not liable to (responsible for paying) creditors for debts of the other spouse except for necessary medical expenses and household articles and supplies used by the family while the spouses live together. A spouse is liable for credit card and other charges by the other spouse if both had agreed to be responsible to the creditor. A spouse may also be liable for credit card debt if that spouse has used the card in the past. Either spouse may close a joint credit card account at any time. In some cases, it may be wise to cancel credit cards immediately.