Often, spouses’ interests will overlap. This is especially likely if the interests involve a concern for other people, such as children. When an overlap like this occurs, it increases the likelihood of finding settlement options that address their common concerns. Of course, it’s not always possible to negotiate an agreement that satisfies fully all of the interests of the disputing parties. Some interests may have to be compromised, especially in divorce, where limited resources must be divided between two households. But if the focus is on identifying and addressing each person’s most important needs and interests, the resulting compromises will be ones that both spouses can live with.
Your agreement can include all parts of a divorce or focus on only financial or child-based issues. Again, this is up to you. The mediation process is confidential. Aside from agreements reached in writing, everything said in mediation is confidential. Like a psychologist’s office, your mediator cannot be called as a witness to anything said in mediation. This confidentiality lets couples discuss matters more freely than before a judge and lets them move past and resolve issues.
Mediationis one ADR method. In mediation, the parties try to work out an agreement between themselves with the help of a neutral third person called a mediator. The mediator helps the parties discuss their disagreements, make compromises and reach their own agreement. Mediation can be helpful because both of you have agreed to the outcome rather than having a big fight and the judge makes decisions for you. Mediation about custody or parenting time can be helpful because you both will continue to be parents to your children and together you can continue to work out parenting issues. In mediation both of you should be able to say what you want and cooperatively work out compromises. If you don't understand things or don't feel you have equal power with your spouse, the mediation is not fair. You can stop the process at any time without reaching an agreement. You only have to try to settle. You can't be forced to agree to something.
I provide legal services for families facing family law issues in Amherst, Springfield, and Western Massachusetts. I specialize in mediation, uncontested divorce, out-of-court divorce negotiations, and divorce consulting and document review. I will work with you to arrive at solutions regarding child support, parenting plans, property division, debt division, and spousal support issues. I will help you to make thoughtful transitions that ensure financial stability, secure parenting plans for children, and legal closure on difficult emotional issues.
If you have been ordered to pay child support and your situation has changed so that you cannot pay the amount of support ordered, it is important to contact the county child support officer right away. You can bring a motion to ask the court to lower your child support. If you do not bring a motion, there is little chance the court will forgive back support, even if you were unable to pay. For more information about child support, see our booklet Child Support Basics.
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.
Emptying the joint bank checking or savings account in anticipation of divorce would ordinarily be frowned upon, unless you had a very justifiable reason. Be warned, however, that your spouse may beat you to it. I’ve seen joint bank accounts cleaned out by the other party many times, and many times there is unapproved spending by the other spouse as the divorce approaches. Although this can be accounted-for and compensated-for in the divorce property settlement, it can still cause great difficulty if you need the money during the pendency of the proceedings and have to litigate to get any of it back.
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.
Very few things in any family law issue are black and white. Our job is to step back and help you look at the larger picture in terms of what you have to get out of your divorce versus what might be emotionally driven. We sit down with you to discuss whether what you are asking for is worth pursuing and how a judge might handle a situation if your case ends up in litigation.
Having said that, children naturally wonder and ask questions to resolve their own anxiety at a time when their parents have split up, and their family unit and daily routines have dramatically changed. Simply proceed with sensitivity, and be careful not to place the children in the middle of any disputes. Say nothing that would burden them with any guilt, or put them in the position of having to take sides.
The mediator will not allow one party to overpower the other in mediation. If one of the parties is unable to be effective during this process, the mediator will stop the mediation. However, many persons who considered themselves to be the "weaker" of the two spouses have been quite effective in mediation. As an unsophisticated spouse of a very powerful business executive once said, "I have the power to say no, and my spouse better listen or we'll wind up in court."
The best way to get started is for you and your spouse to attend a free one-hour consultation. During the consultation you will receive detailed information about mediation in general and how my process would work in your unique situation. Perhaps most importantly, during this consultation you will each have the opportunity to meet me and determine whether or not you feel comfortable with me and my professional services. Another benefit is that both you and spouse receive the same information at the same time, are able to hear each other’s questions and concerns, and may experience the neutral role of the mediator. You will also receive instructions about how to prepare for your work in mediation and how to save money. If after the consultation you believe that mediation is the best choice for your situation, the next step is to schedule the first working session and begin preparing the necessary information and documentation.
After the elapse of a period of time, nobody much cares if the reason you only had every other weekend was because the other parent truly wouldn’t “let” you have more time. Although that may very well be the case, and although you may have let your spouse control the situation in order to spare the children the trauma of parental conflict, in my experience the courts are more swayed by the pattern of contact rather than by these “excuses.” The wisdom of Solomon does not apply. 
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.
As the number of divorces has increased, divorcing couples have frequently become frustrated with the excessive costs and delays associated with an overburdened, adversarial litigation system, and have sought ways to play a greater role in determining the details of their divorces. Likewise, the court system has recognized the importance of developing methods of handling disputes outside of the courtroom, and so court-related mediation programs have increased in popularity around the country.
If you and your spouse are splitting up, one question you may be asking is, “how will I support myself?” In this era of dual income families, when you get a divorce or legal separation, you often times also lose a portion of the source of your monthly rent, mortgage, bills, and more. This can often be a deterrent for people to get a divorce – even when they desperately need one. Lawmakers in Minnesota, as in all states, have allowed for spouses to petition the court for what is known as “alimony.”
Mediation is confidential, allows you and your spouse to make the decisions, and is less expensive than filing a lawsuit. You can reach a positive agreement that is more customized than the one you might receive from a judge. In mediation, you are responsible for your attorney’s fees, as well as half of the mediator’s fees. In certain states, mediation is required by the court after a lawsuit has been filed; for example, North Carolina requires couples to attend mediation before a child custody trial and equitable distribution trial.
Very few things in any family law issue are black-and-white. Our job is to step back and help you look at the larger picture in terms of what you have to get out of your divorce versus what might be emotionally driven. We sit down with you to discuss whether what you are asking for is worth pursuing and how a judge might handle a situation if your case ends up in litigation.
In mediation, the couple, with the help of the mediator, works out agreements on the above issues. Sometimes agreements come easy, sometimes they take time and a lot of work. When agreements are hard to reach, that is when the mediator intervenes. It is the mediators job to keep the lines of communication open, brainstorm ideas, reality test the couple, teach empathy and assist the couple in their decision making process. Mediators help keep the couple focused on the issues at hand, trying not to get them off track. When divorcing couples get off track and away from the above issues during mediation, arguing, name-calling and bad prior memories are brought up.
The cost of mediation may be based on Florida Statutes which provide a reduced rate for couples with a combined income of less than $100,000. Both parties will file a financial affidavit in order to establish the exact fees for divorce mediation. A Florida judge may waive mediation requirements but generally will not do so. Costs associated with divorce mediation may include the mediation costs, filing fees, recording fees, and service of process fees if the mediation is court-ordered. These fees may be levied against the non-prevailing parent if the court determines that parent is able to pay.
Not exactly; mediated settlements do not become legally binding until they have been submitted to, and accepted by, the Court. The final product of mediation is a Memorandum of Agreement. This document memorializes all of your agreements and is the basis for your Marital Termination Agreement and Judgment and Decree. If unrepresented by attorneys, most of my clients choose to hire a neutral attorney (or scrivener) who completes all of the necessary legal documents and assists with the filing process. If either or both clients are represented, one of the attorneys may be selected for drafting the legal documents and the other attorney reviews everything for accuracy. A few of my clients choose to use the pro se forms available online through the MN District Courts website. At the conclusion of mediation, I will be able to help you determine the best option for your situation. It is important to know that even if your mediator is also an attorney, it is considered professionally unethical for a mediator to draft legal documents for his/her clients.
Judges frequently say that if both people are unhappy with the judgment, it’s a good one. In the context of divorce this philosophy is even more appropriate as there are no winners when a marriage ends. Whether in court or in the mediation room, 100% mutual satisfaction with decisions and agreements is rare. As a mediator I believe that my clients are best qualified to determine what is “fair” regarding the restructuring of their lives. I encourage my clients not to define success by happiness or victory; but rather by the effectiveness of the process.
“Legal Separation” is a major change in the status of your marriage. To get a legal separation you must serve and file a petition in Family Court in the county where you or your spouse lives. It is a separate process from divorce. In Minnesota, you don’t need to get a legal separation before you get divorced. Legal separation takes as long as a divorce, and costs just as much if not more. In many ways, a legal separation is the same as a divorce. Both include custody, parenting time, child support, and, if appropriate, spousal maintenance (alimony) orders. All the family assets and debts are permanently divided.
Then the respondent's attorney calls the respondent’s witnesses. After the respondent's attorney rests, the petitioner's attorney may call witnesses to respond to the testimony given for the respondent. The respondent's attorney may do the same. When all of the testimony is completed, the attorneys argue the case, saying why the judge should rule in his or her client’s favor. Then the judge ends the trial. The judge may announce a decision at the end of the trial. He or she may take time to think about the case and make the decision later. By law, the judge has 90 days to decide the case. Usually the judge sends copies of the decision to the attorneys. The divorce becomes final when the court clerk enters the Judgment and Decree for the court. The clerk tells the attorneys when the Judgment and Decree has been entered. The Judgment and Decree is the final decision in the case.
In order to make informed decisions as to division of marital property, and appropriate amounts of child support and spousal maintenance, it is necessary for each party to be fully informed of identity of each parties' income and assets. This information is typically exchanged through a process known as discovery. This is a process in which the lawyers may utilize numerous techniques for obtaining the financial information necessary to fairly identify and value all income and assets. The lawyers may informally by letter request the information they feel is necessary to identify all marital income and assets, or, in some cases may feel the need to serve "Interrogatories" and "Requests for Production of Documents” which are formal questions and requests for financial information and documents, such as tax returns, bank statements, financial statements and other information, which must be answered and sworn to under oath, within thirty days. In today's practice, some court's control what discovery they will allow, and may not immediately allow for the service of formal discovery, preferring the parties first use informal discovery. The attorneys may also notice the depositions of the parties themselves, or other people who may have relevant information, such as bankers and business associates. At a deposition the witness is sworn under oath, and the attorneys ask questions of the witnesses, which testimony is preserved in writing by a court reporter. The attorneys may also employ experts, such as "vocational evaluators," in the event it is alleged that a spouse who has not been working or who has only been working part time, is able to earn income to contribute to their support. They may also employ accountants or other business valuation experts to appraise family-owned or closely-held businesses. They may also employ other experts to appraise other assets such as real property and personal property, such as furnishings, jewelry and artwork.
To get a no-fault dissolution in Minnesota, you need to state in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage that “there has been an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage relationship.” Also, one of the following must exist: (1) serious marital discord adversely affecting the attitude of one or both of the parties toward the marriage, or (2) the parties have been living separate and apart for 180 days before filing.
If the parties cannot agree on custody, the court will usually order county, court or social services or a guardian ad litem to investigate the ability of each parent to care for and raise the children. The social worker, court services worker or guardian ad litem will usually interview each parent. They will contact friends and family, teachers, counselors, doctors, and other professionals who have seen the family. The investigator then writes a report to the court and makes a recommendation about custody. Your attorney may be given a copy of the report. The parties are usually required to pay the costs of a custody investigation based on their ability to pay. The court does not have to accept the recommendation of the investigator, but considers it very seriously.
After service, the receiving spouse must file an answer. If the spouses agree on the conditions of their divorce, they may file a Stipulate Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree, which will put them on a proverbial fast track to ending their marriage. However, if the receiving spouse disagrees with the petitioning spouse, then he or she may serve the petitioning spouse an answer that explains why he or she disagrees.
In order to make custody determinations the court evaluates the best interests of the children using 13 key factors which are defined in MN 518.17.In addition to being financially expensive, formal custody evaluations are also often highly adversarial and emotionally damaging for all involved, especially the children. In the end, a “victory” is often bittersweet and both parents will have some amount of court ordered parenting time. Rather than seek to prove that one parent is better than the other, it is critical to recognize that both parents are important in different ways – each providing that which can only be given by a mother or a father. You are the experts about your life and your children. You are the best qualified to make decisions about how to restructure your family and parenting time after divorce. As your mediator, I help you evaluate and discuss parenting time options and make child-focused decisions about how each of you will remain significantly involved with your children.
If your spouse tries to conceal assets, it will not benefit them. Courts do not look favorably on dishonesty. Further, divorce attorneys can use a variety of tactics to uncover assets and income, such as formal or informal discovery requests, subpoenas, contempt motions, etc. Finally, even if you find out that your spouse concealed property after the divorce is final, the Court has the discretion to reopen the proceeding and distribute or redistribute property accordingly.
Many of those who have successfully gone through divorce mediation note it is a much less expensive alternative to litigation. The costs of litigation are generally an unknown until the case settles. At that time the spouses may be shocked at the level of fees they have incurred through attorney’s fees, expert witnesses, depositions, preparation of the case for trial, filing motions back and forth and many other things associated with divorce litigation. Mediation, on the other hand, allows couples to have a good estimate of the number of hours it will take to resolve the issues at hand. The ultimate goal of mediation is to resolve the issues quickly, and this translates to financial savings.
Most mediators will emphasize the problem-solving aspect of negotiation at this stage. The problem to be solved is finding settlement options that address each spouse’s most important interests as fully as possible. With this focus, you’ll be able to negotiate by trading off acceptable options instead of getting locked into zero-sum bargaining, where one spouse’s gain is the other spouse’s loss.
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:
Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) in Family Court Cases - For parents who are getting divorced, this statewide program connects them with judges and evaluators early in the court process to give them an opportunity to settle their legal issues. Parties can choose to participate in one or both types of ENE: a Financial ENE (FENE) to settle financial disputes; and Social ENE (SENE) to settle custody and parenting time issues involving their children.