When custody is in dispute, a Minnesota court issues a custody order that is in the "best interests of the child." Joint custody will only be awarded if parents have shown the court that they are willing and able to cooperate. A court also examines several factors with the child's welfare in mind. They include (1) the child's preference, (2) each parent's health, (3) the child's health and whether any special needs exist, (4) each parent's relationship with the child, (5) which parent has been the child's primary caretaker, (6) each parent's ability to provide a stable environment for the child, (7) any history of domestic violence or child abuse and (8) any allegations of abuse.
In equal numbers, prospective clients come to me either excited about a perceived ace-in-the-hole because of the other spouse’s adultery, or worried about his or her own adultery. Neither attitude is warranted. The Courts couldn’t care less about anyone’s adultery in and of itself, or the immorality of it. Half the divorces they see involve adultery. In fact, there’s a very real danger that pressing this issue will backfire, making the accuser appear obsessive and jealous.
Janet Rowles is a mediator specializing in high conflict and emotionally-difficult situations. In addition to doing divorce, post-divorce, unmarried relationship dissolution, and all types of family mediations, Janet does small and large group work including circle-keeping in Minneapolis public schools and facilitating large-groups such as condo as ... more
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.
In this stage, the tentative settlement agreement is put into writing and circulated to both spouses for review with their advisers. If the issues in your case are simple, the mediator may prepare a memorandum outlining your settlement and give you an opportunity to sign it before you leave the mediation session in which you finished up your negotiating. The memorandum can summarize the essential points of agreement and can be used as a basis for preparing a formal settlement agreement that will be filed with the court as part of the now-uncontested divorce case.
The traditional divorce process can be extremely expensive and can create an adversarial climate that can require lengthy litigation, which is often unnecessary. With divorce mediation, our goal is to create an environment that is more collaborative by working together toward solutions to ensure divorcing couples end up with an arrangement that works for them, their kids if applicable, and their budgets.

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.
Judges, evaluators, and guardians will often pontificate about the virtue of compromise and settlement, as if this were the ultimate objective of any reasonable person, rather than as a means to an end. They speak as if both parties are equally to blame for a failure to settle, when in fact such failure is often the result of only one of the parties, who is being excessively greedy, obnoxious, stubborn, or selfish.
Infidelity can also be tough, though not impossible, to work through: In one case of Green’s, the husband had been unfaithful and in a rather public way—he was active on social media, on Tinder, and he had an alternative Facebook profile, “so he had not only cheated on her, but there was a public aspect to it, so she felt very angry, and she also felt humiliated.”
The belief that the mediator will act as a quasi-judge and tell the people what they are going to do is another very common misunderstanding that I hear about the divorce mediation process. In actual fact, one of the greatest advantages of the mediation process is that the parties themselves retain control over all decisions made and agreements reached. This is very different from the litigation model where a judge, essentially a stranger in a black robe, imposes orders and judgments on the parties.
Consultation: Attorneys are available to meet (or telephone or Skype with) individuals to discuss the issues, provide information, and provide guidance. These consultations can often take place prior to the first mediation, after mediation sessions, and then once a final agreement is reached. The cost of these sessions are $125 (telephone) or $155 (Skype) per hour. (Minimum scheduled time for first session is one hour.)

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 Minnesota, Marriage Dissolution proceedings, or divorces, are viewed as "no fault" proceedings. This means that a spouse does not have to prove the other spouse was at fault or did something wrong to cause the breakdown of the marriage to obtain a divorce. Either spouse may commence a divorce action by simply alleging that there has been "an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage relationship" - in other words, that in their opinion, the marriage is dead and there is no chance of reconciliation. If one spouse feels this way, even if the other disagrees, the court will ultimately grant the dissolution of marriage. Early in the process, if you do not believe that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, the option of marriage counseling is possible. Unfortunately, if a spouse has set their mind to divorcing the other, it is unlikely that counseling can repair the marital relationship.
Marital property is defined as property, real or personal, including vested public or private pension plan benefits or rights, acquired by the parties, or either of them, to a dissolution, legal separation, or annulment proceeding at any time during the existence of the marriage, or at any time during which the parties were living together as husband and wife under a purported marriage relationship which is annulled in an annulment proceeding, but prior to the date of valuation.
The Petitioner (filing party) may file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage in the county where either party resides. If neither party resides in the state, and jurisdiction is based on the domicile of either spouse, the proceeding may be commenced in the county where either party is domiciled. If neither party resides or is domiciled in the state and jurisdiction is premised upon one of the parties being a member of the armed forces stationed in Minnesota for at least 180 days before filing, the proceeding may be commenced in the county where the service member is stationed.
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.
But there's another way. Increasingly couples are turning to divorce mediation as a realistic and healthier alternative. A couple meets with a mediator to hammer out an agreement covering all the terms of their divorce, including finances and child custody. This usually takes six to 10 sessions and costs roughly $5,000. As a litigator and mediator I prefer to mediate, if appropriate. It's faster, cheaper and, most importantly, less acrimonious, which is less damaging, not just for a couple, but also their children.
Minnesota orders all couples without a history of spousal abuse to use some type of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) before taking their case to court. One of the most common and generally successful forms of ADR is mediation. In this process, a neutral third party, known as the mediator, helps the couple work out their differences, usually resulting in a 20 to 50 percent reduction in costs over a traditional litigated divorce.
In some Minnesota counties, the court provides mediators on issues concerning the custody of the child(ren) at little or no cost. Property issues may require a private mediator, the cost of which is typically split among the parties. You can expect to spend at least $200.00 per hour for good divorce mediator services in Minnesota, the cost of which is usually divided with your spouse.
No case is too complicated to be settled using mediation. Often times the “complicated” cases are the cases which in the context of the adversarial legal system, cost the most, last the longest and create the most extreme long-term negative impacts for all involved. If you believe your situation is complicated, do yourself a favor and begin with mediation. Additional professional assistance within the context of mediation is always available in the form of accountants, appraisers, financial planners, therapists, child specialists, and attorneys
Fees may be charged on an hourly basis, or by the day or half-day. In general, mediators help the parties meet, explore options, and negotiate a mutual settlement to resolve their dispute. Mediators do not determine who is right or wrong. Instead, they help the parties reach a solution on their own that works for them. Parties should seek mediators with mediation training, experience, and specific knowledge of family law. It's also important to consider the mediator's style and mediation philosophy.
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.
In Minnesota, Marriage Dissolution proceedings, or divorces, are viewed as "no fault" proceedings. This means that a spouse does not have to prove the other spouse was at fault or did something wrong to cause the breakdown of the marriage to obtain a divorce. Either spouse may commence a divorce action by simply alleging that there has been "an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage relationship" - in other words, that in their opinion, the marriage is dead and there is no chance of reconciliation. If one spouse feels this way, even if the other disagrees, the court will ultimately grant the dissolution of marriage. Early in the process, if you do not believe that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, the option of marriage counseling is possible. Unfortunately, if a spouse has set their mind to divorcing the other, it is unlikely that counseling can repair the marital relationship.
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. 
What the mediator can do, though, is assist the divorcing couple in formulating ideas that can eventually lead to agreements that will stand the test of time. 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 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)

MN law is relatively vague about how to divide marital property (all that you own and owe). There is an assumption that all marital property should be divided equitably. Mediation allows you and your spouse to define your own concept of fairness and to control how you divide your marital property. Through the creation of a master spreadsheet you will fully document and verify all of your assets and liabilities. As you make decisions about who will receive which property, the spreadsheet calculates and reveals the overall monetary value awarded to each spouse. The end result is one comprehensive document which allows each of you to easily determine if your property division is “fair” or not. My experience is that typically the numbers speak for themselves.


People often ask, “Does mediation really work?” In a word, yes. We know from years of research that when you compare couples who have mediated their divorce with couples who go through an adversarial divorce, mediating couples are more likely to be satisfied with the process and the results, likely to take less time and spend less money, and are less likely to go back to court later to fight about something.

Some people think it will be easier and safer to have an attorney fight for their legal rights. Unfortunately, maximizing your legal rights often comes at someone else’s expense (for example your spouse or your children). This is referred to as a “win-lose” situation. All too often the transactional costs (both financial and emotional) of a “win” far exceed the value of the victory, especially for children. Although a good lawyer can be helpful, the adversarial legal process is expensive and often seeks to solve problems through opposing positions, and win-lose thinking. In my opinion, this adversarial approach is not only expensive and emotionally challenging; it is also detrimental to the long-term well-being of the people involved, especially the children. It may surprise you to know that most of my clients are unrepresented and successfully reach a complete mediated divorce settlement without retaining an attorney. My standard advice to people considering which divorce process to choose is to start with mediation and see how it goes. You may consult with or retain an attorney at any time and you never give up your right to go to court if mediation is partially or completely unsuccessful. With success rates as high as 80–90% and average savings of 20-50%, it seems the better question to ask may actually be, why wouldn’t you try mediation first?

James Rainwater has provided professional neutrality for court-ordered and private mediations since 2002. He is qualified to conduct both General and Family Law mediations. Mr. Rainwater is experienced in mediating matters involving Family Law, Child Abuse and Neglect, Insurance, Contract Disputes, Personal Injury, Real Estate, Probate, Property ... more

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.
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.
Spousal maintenance is money paid to support an ex-spouse.  Either spouse can ask for spousal maintenance, but the court will not award spousal maintenance unless there is a need for it.  Spousal maintenance may be granted for several reasons.  These include disability or illness or not having worked outside the home for a number of years.  If there is a large difference between your income and that of your spouse, you may be in need of spousal maintenance.
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