There is a growing movement toward using alternatives to traditional litigation to resolve divorce cases. One of the most popular options is mediation, which involves both spouses, and their attorneys, meeting with a neutral person trained to help them come to an agreement that is mutually acceptable. Our family law lawyers have often served as divorce mediators in Minnesota and represented hundreds of clients as such.
As a family law attorney and mediator for almost 30 years, I spend a great deal of time educating prospective clients and the public about the many benefits of choosing to mediate their divorce rather than selecting the more traditional litigation path. Even though divorce mediation is much less costly, less time consuming, and less divisive and stressful than the adversarial model of litigation, I often hear the same three concerns raised about mediation.

3. Be prompt. Courts are slow. Many attorneys, sadly, are chronic procrastinators and deadline-driven. Custody evaluators and Guardian ad Litems are slow. If you’re slow too, it compounds the problem. Furthermore, the quicker you can be in responding to whatever your attorney asks of you, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to settle your case sooner and at less expense. By acting quickly, attorneys are able to take charge of a divorce process, rather than being driven by court deadlines and various hearings and other requirements which might be avoided just by staying ahead of the game.


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.
If you and your spouse agree on the terms of the divorce and filed the Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution of a Marriage, then you will probably need to attend a court hearing so that the judge may issue the final divorce decree.  If you have minor children but still have an uncontested divorce you may file a Joint Petition for Dissolution of a Marriage, after which the judge may schedule a short hearing to discuss details of child custody before issuing the final decree.
This is a common fear which is rooted in the adversarial legal system. The reality is that many parents who are mediating their divorce separate before the divorce is final, some even purchase a second home. Living together after a decision has been made to divorce is extremely difficult. Separation provides many people the distance they need to more successfully manage the challenges and difficulties of divorce. During mediation you have many opportunities to be creative and solve problems in a cooperative and mutually beneficial manner.
This booklet explains your rights in a Minnesota divorce and includes information on custody, parenting time, child support, maintenance, abuse, and division of property.  This booklet does NOT tell you how to get a divorce without the help of an attorney.  Divorce law is complicated and changes often.  Each case must be handled differently.  Unless your divorce is very simple, it is usually a good idea to have an attorney.
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. [1]
The next step will be to assess where you and your spouse agree and where you need some work to get to agreement. Once you have a sense of what needs to be accomplished, you, your spouse, and the mediator will plan how you're going to accomplish it. It's very likely that you will need to gather more information, especially if you're dealing with property issues as well as child custody questions. (For example, if you don't know the value of your house, you can't have an intelligent discussion about a buyout.) The mediator will help you figure out what information you need and ask each of you to commit to bringing certain things for the next session.
Moreover, even in a simple divorce, you’ll have to make major decisions that will impact your future, including decisions about alimony, what to do with the family home, or retirement benefits. A paralegal service can’t provide the guidance you might need; these divorce decisions should be reached with the help of an experienced family law attorney.
Julia actually came to my rescue twice. The first time, I was fortunate enough to stumble across her website while looking for divorce mediation. We did not have the time or money for court battles; we just needed someone to insert some sense and sanity into what is already a tricky and painful process. Julia was able to make our divorce process simple and straightforward, and we both felt like we were heard! Four years later, I contacted Julia again to help me with the next intimidating process of amending the divorce agreement. Again, I felt like she did her conscientious best to humanize and streamline the process (and save me money!) with her compassion, quick thinking, and thorough attention to detail. And as a bonus: she answered my panicked emails in a timely and kindly fashion.
There is no specific Massachusetts form for your separation agreement, but several probate courts have made available templates that a committed person could use for a do-it-yourself divorce or pro se divorce. You can download a Massachusetts separation agreement form, or template, for divorce with no children here, created by Worcester County probate court, or a Massachusetts separation agreement with minor children form, or template, here.
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James W. McGill holds a Master’s Degree in Guidance and Counseling and is an honors graduate of Drake University Law School. Licensed to practice law in the State of Minnesota and the Federal Courts, McGill maintains a general practice with special emphasis in the areas of Mediation, Bankruptcy Law, Employment Law, and Alternative Dispute Resoluti ... more
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. 
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.
Just because an asset is titled in one spouse’s name does not mean that asset belongs exclusively to the title-holding spouse. How you acquired the property determines whether property is marital or nonmarital, which determines how (or whether) the property will be divided. Marital property includes assets purchased or paid for during a marriage. Marital property will usually be divided between spouses. Non-marital property is different, however. Nonmarital property includes assets that are acquired by only one spouse, either as a gift or inheritance, as property the individual brought into the marriage, or in some instances, that one party acquired alone during the marriage. An attorney can help you figure out what property is marital and what is not. An attorney can also advise you about how to protect your assets in a divorce.
Depending on the judicial officer, most ICMC's are fairly informal. The judicial officer will come into the courtroom, and give a small presentation to the parties. Literally all presentations are based on a common theme - the benefit of working cooperatively to reach a mediated settlement. The judicial officer will discuss the high cost, both financially and emotionally, of litigating your divorce issues rather than working towards an amicable settlement. The judicial officer will then discuss with the lawyers what issues they believe your case presents, what needs to be done to reach a resolution of those issues, what procedures the lawyers believe are necessary to prepare the matter for resolution (either through subsequent settlement or trial) and how much time will be needed to complete this work. At this point, it will be determined whether a temporary hearing is necessary to determine issues involving possession of the home, parenting of children, temporary child support and spousal maintenance, as well as temporary attorney fees, while the divorce proceeding is pending. Many times the courts will encourage the parties to participate in an early mediation sessions to determine temporary issues. On rare occasions in today's family law practice, a formal temporary hearing may be needed, as described below. In lieu of such a hearing, some judicial officers may request the lawyers follow a more informal process of simply writing the judicial officer a letter providing the economic data necessary to decide temporary issues together with brief argument. The judicial officer will then decide the temporary issue.
Probably the most common misconception that I hear from people about divorce mediation it that they believe it is only suitable for couples that are very amicable. Their perception is that since they are not getting along very well with their spouse, they can’t sit down together and discuss anything let alone issues regarding their money and children. In fact, mediation is very well suited to helping parties who are high conflict to work through their differences and come to a reasonable solution. 
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.

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.


But not every couple is a good candidate for mediation—and it can be hard to know in advance who’s going to find the process helpful and who’s going to find it useless—or worse, enraging. To get a better idea of warning signs, I spoke to Rachel Green, the family lawyer in Brooklyn, New York, who handled my own separation ten years ago. Below, the eight signs that mediation might not be right for you.
If you cannot afford to pay an attorney, you may be able to get assistance from the legal services office in your area. A list of the legal aid offices in Minnesota begins on the next page. You must meet low-income guidelines to be eligible for legal services (legal aid).  You may be referred to a volunteer attorney program by the legal services office.
During a divorce, either party can petition the court to pay alimony or “spousal maintenance” to the other. Minnesota laws provide for this type of assistance so the lower earning spouses can maintain the same reasonable standard of living as before. Generally speaking, a court will be more inclined to order a longer period of alimony when the marriage was longer in duration.  
While upwards of 95% of all cases settle short of trial, the most expensive and acrimonious manner of resolving your differences with your spouse is through a formal trial - and perhaps nowhere is the retention of skilled counsel more important. Trial involves extensive study of all facts and evidence relevant to your case, extensive preparation of witnesses for testimony, extensive preparation to conduct examination (questioning) of witnesses, extension preparation of exhibits summarizing your position as to the evidence, hopefully in a form understandable and convincing to the trial judge, strategy as to what witnesses will be called and in what order, as well as the actual trial examination of witnesses, which often, especially when "cross examining" opposing witnesses, requires the lawyer to think on their feet, and prepare questions on the spot as they hear evasive or unexpected answers.
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 ex-spouse was ordered to provide medical or life insurance, but does not buy insurance or cancels the insurance, the court can order your ex-spouse to reinstate the insurance policy or get a new policy.  The court may also order your ex-spouse to pay medical or hospital bills which should have been paid by the insurance.  If cash was received for the policy that was canceled, the court can award you all or part of the money.  You can also ask the court to find your ex-­spouse in contempt of court.
The petition itself typically follows a simple format, which is not designed to argue your case in detail, but rather only provides "notice" to the other side of the very basic facts ultimately necessary for the court to decide the case. The petition will list the two party's names, addresses and ages. It will identify the names and ages of the party's children, if any, together with a general allegation of what “custody” or "parenting time” arrangement the petitioner believes to be in the best interest of the children. In Minnesota, over the years the family law bar has come up with innumerable labels and terms for "child custody”/”parenting time". It will identify to the best of the petitioner's knowledge the parties "real property" (land and building) ownership, including the homestead, and any vacation or investment real property the parties have. It will identify to the best of the petitioner's knowledge the party's other assets and liabilities.
Jeff has been a lawyer for 34 years, practicing family law exclusively for 28 years. For the first six years of his career he was a staff attorney at the Minnesota Court of Appeals. He has handled hundreds of cases and has the experience dealing with substantial marital estates in the millions and has tried and litigated many cases, including lengthy custody matters. He is also a trained mediator and ADR neutral on the Minnesota State Roster and is a FENE and SENE neutral in Ramsey County, Anoka County, Washington County, Scott County, Carver County, Pine County, Chisago County, Isanti...
More recently, however, I have noted a shift to where, in my opinion, the evaluators make assessments of how the case will most likely settle, and tailor their recommendations to that assessment. This results in more settlements overall, but at the cost of many which are not in the best interests of the children. In light of this, it is very important not to give the impression that you are willing to settle for something that is contrary to the children’s best interests. In your pitch to the evaluators, tell them what you consider to be the arrangement that is in the children’s best interests, and why — not just what you would be willing to settle for; because if that’s your approach, that’s very likely what they'll treat as your starting point, and your children will be the ones to suffer for it, by having to live with an arrangement that is not in their best interests.
No marriage shall be adjudged a nullity on the ground that one of the parties was under the age of legal consent if it appears that the parties had voluntarily cohabitated together as husband and wife after having attained the age of legal consent. Nor shall the marriage of any insane person be adjudged void after restoration to reason, if it appears that the parties freely cohabitated together as husband and wife after such restoration.

Another helpful approach for very high-conflict cases can include bringing an additional professional into the mix, such as a marriage and family therapist, who can meet with one or both parties in the mediation session or separately, as appropriate. The goal of the therapist is not to reconcile the parties, but to help them develop a better ability to communicate around the emotional roadblocks that they are facing. In the end, by going through the mediation process together and reaching reasonable solutions to the issues facing them, parties that mediate learn new ways of working together as they go forward into their new future. This is a huge benefit, especially when children and co-parenting are involved.  
You can ask the court for an Order for Protection.  It will order the abuser to stop all the abuse and threats.  It can also order the abuser to leave the home, to stay away from your work place or school.  It can provide for temporary custody, child support and use of the car or home.  It can also do other things to protect you and the children.  It doesn't matter whether or not you've started a divorce or if you're still living together.
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