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?
Minnesota law allows a parent, legal, guardian, teacher, or other caretaker of a child or student to use "reasonable force" to "restrain or correct the child." [1] That said, in the context of a pending divorce or child custody case, it is inadvisable to use any kind of corporal punishment at all. Many of the guardian ad litems, custody evaluators, psychologists, and others involved in the family court system have strong feelings against the use of any kind of corporal punishment or physical correction of a child at all; and a parent's use of corporal punishment might become a reason why one of these professionals makes custody, parenting time, or other recommendations that are contrary to your wishes. Also, the use of any physical force at all can be exaggerated by the other parent, who may do so in order to gain an advantage in a custody and parenting time contest, even to the point of bringing a petition for an order for protection against you on behalf of the child. It is far safer, therefore, to use alternative disciplinary techniques, such as time-outs, verbal reprimands, withholding of privileges, etc.
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.
Courts may take title into account when determining whether a particular asset has maintained a non-marital component. For example, if one spouse amassed sizable savings before marriage and kept it all in a separate, individual account held in his or her name only, the separate title on the account may prove that spouse intended to preserve the non-marital nature of the savings.
Don’t ignore it! First, you should read the Summons and Petition completely and decide whether you agree with what it says or not. Second, you should make sure you note any hearing dates. This will give you your timeframe for responding the the Petition. If you do not go to the hearing, the case will end in a default decision and your spouse will receive whatever he or she asked for in the Petition. If you have any objections, or if you do not understand what the Summons and Petition say, contact an attorney for guidance.
Like all states, Minnesota courts begin with a presumption that it's best for a child to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after a divorce. If possible, judges want to support joint custody arrangements. However, the exact nature of the time-share will be determined by the children's best interests. For more information, see Nolo's article Child Custody FAQ.

Minnesota, like most other states, passed a law called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) so that parents could not go to another state to try to get a different custody order.  Under the UCCJEA, the courts of different states have guidelines to help decide which state’s court should decide custody.  The courts are encouraged to discuss the matter and avoid disagreements between states.  Usually the court in the state where the child has lived most recently for the past six months has the authority to decide custody of the children.  If a court in one state has already decided custody, the UCCJEA prevents a court in another state from changing the custody order, unless the first court refuses to act or no longer has enough connection with the child and parties.
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The court may also require that medical insurance for an ex-spouse continues.  For example, group medical insurance rates may not be available to one spouse or may not cover as many medical costs as the insurance available through the other spouse's employer.  The court may order that the insurance through one spouse's employer continue.  Either party may be ordered to pay the cost.  This kind of insurance coverage is part of spousal maintenance.

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 order for the mediation to be successful, you, your spouse, and the mediator all need to be as fully informed as possible about the facts of your case. This is the information gathering stage. Sometimes it begins during the first session; sometimes it starts after that session. If information that you and the mediator need is unavailable or in dispute, the mediator will try to help you find ways to get it or to determine what is correct. For example, you might need the policy number and other details of a life insurance policy. If you can’t locate your copy of the policy, the mediator might suggest ways to get this information, such as contacting the broker who sold you the policy or writing to the insurance company.
Divorce is actually a legal procedure between you and your spouse, so, in order to satisfy legal requirements, you must properly notify your spouse that legal action is being taken against them. In a divorce proceeding, this is called Service of Process, and involves delivering copies of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and Summons along with supporting documents to your spouse in a timely manner.
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.
I am an experienced trial attorney, who has represented numerous individuals in times of crises during the past 21+ years. The areas in which I practice include family law, domestic abuse, criminal defense, juvenile defense and personal injury cases. I am passionate about helping ordinary people through extraordinary crises and providing our clients the opportuntity to be heard in the process.
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The content of this website is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. To establish an attorney-client relationship with Williams Divorce & Family Law requires a retainer agreement signed by you and attorney Gerald O. Williams. Woodbury/St. Paul, Minnesota, attorney, Gerald O. Williams, represents clients in divorce and family law matters throughout the seven county metro area, including the communities of St. Paul, Minneapolis, Eagan, Inver Grove Heights, Cottage Grove, Maplewood, Oakdale, Lake Elmo, and Stillwater. The seven county metro area includes Washington, Ramsey, Hennepin, Dakota, Anoka, Scott, and Carver.
We work with a team of attorney mediators and non-attorney mediators who are committed to supporting divorcing spouses in the goal of hiring professionals only for what is needed. As a way to support those who want to take responsibility for their own divorces, these professionals have agreed to reduce their rates for individuals who find them through WashingtonDivorceOnline.com.
The respondent may disagree with the relief asked for by the petitioner and want the court to hear his or her side.  The respondent then must serve an Answer on the petitioner's attorney within 30 days of the date the respondent was served.  An Answer is a legal paper saying what the respondent says back to the Petition.  Just calling up the petitioner to say something like "I don't like this" is not an Answer.  The Answer may be mailed to the petitioner's lawyer. It does not need to be personally served.  The Answer states whether the respondent thinks the petitioner's statements in the petition are true or false.  It also tells the court what the respondent wants.
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.
Any offers made during mediation, or any possibilities that are discussed, cannot be disclosed to a court.  This creates a setting where the parties can more freely discuss and explore how far from their “stance” they might be willing to go.  A trial, or any type of litigation is very costly, so money saved by resolving issues in mediation, can often become part of a solution.   It doesn’t mean that you can take something like a bank account balance or a mental health condition, mention it in mediation, and therefore make it non-disclosable.  Facts, such as these, mentioned in mediation, can indeed become part of a court case if the situation is not resolved in mediation.  It is the discussions and offers that remain confidential.
We work with a team of attorney mediators and non-attorney mediators who are committed to supporting divorcing spouses in the goal of hiring professionals only for what is needed. As a way to support those who want to take responsibility for their own divorces, these professionals have agreed to reduce their rates for individuals who find them through WashingtonDivorceOnline.com.
Jay has been a licensed attorney since 1980. He began his career as a public defender before transitioning into insurance defense work where he gained valuable experience and knowledge of the insurance industry and insurance practices. After founding Tentinger Law Firm in 1997, Jay practiced in family law as well as continuing his insurance defense work. Today, Jay focuses his time to working with small businesses and their litigation needs. Jay is a member of the Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska State Bar Associations and a no-fault arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association. He is admitted to practice before the...

It is understandable that when people reach agreements together based upon what they think is right and fair, their agreements are much more sustainable going forward than court orders that tell the parties what they must do or not do, pay or give to the other party. In fact, a great advantage of mediating your divorce settlement is that you will make all the decisions together about what is best for you both and for your children as you go forward.
In some cases, the Judgment and Decree spells out how the property will be exchanged, or sets a time limit (such as 30 days) in which the transfer must take place.  If the Judgment and Decree does not spell it out, the parties must make their own arrangements.  The party who is ordered to give the property to the other party must let him or her get the property within a reasonable time after the Judgment and Decree is entered, in a way that is convenient for both parties.  If you are afraid of your ex-spouse, you may ask a local law enforcement officer to assist you in obtaining the personal property awarded to you.
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. [1]

Minnesota is a purely "no-fault" divorce state, meaning that you can't allege that your spouse's wrongdoing was the cause of the divorce. Instead, most divorces are based on the grounds that the parties have irreconcilable differences that have led to the breakdown of the marriage. However, fault may be considered by the court as a factor in dividing property or awarding alimony. To learn more about whether Minnesota uses fault as a determining factor in alimony and property issues, see Nolo's Essential Guide to Divorce, by Emily Doskow.


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.
The answer to this question can get complicated because it does not matter whose name is on the deed. What matters is the value of the home and the loan balance at the time of your marriage and at present. These factors are important because there may be a marital portion of the home with equity that must be divided, and there may be a non-marital portion, which will not be divided. An attorney can help you figure out what is marital and what is nonmarital.
No dissolution shall be granted unless (1) One of the parties has resided in this state, or has been a member of the armed services stationed in this state, for not less than 180 days immediately preceding the commencement of the proceeding; or (2) One of the parties has been a domiciliary of this state for not less than 180 days immediately preceding commencement of the proceeding. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.07, 518.09)

Telephone or Skype Mediation: This option is usually selected if there are only a small number of outstanding issues. It is also an option if one or both spouses live out of the area. Depending on the number of issues, there may need to be more than one session. These sessions cost $145 (telephone) or $175 (Skype) per hour. (Minimum scheduled time for first session is one hour.)
Clients often ask whether they should move out of the marital home prior to or during the commencement of divorce proceedings. The answer is very clear: “it depends”. Generally speaking, if child custody, parenting time, or possession of the home might be an issue in the proceedings, I advise against it. Although no legal precedent is created by moving out, the lawyer for the remaining occupant routinely argues that:
In person—Minnesota allows anyone who is 18 years of age or older and is not a party to the lawsuit to serve the divorce papers in person. In most cases, the process server is a sheriff or a professional, bonded process server.  Once the papers have been delivered to the respondent’s home, person or attorney, the process server must complete the Affidavit of Service and file it with the Clerk of Court.
Tera is one of the founding members and the managing partner at Minnesota Divorce and Family Mediation. She has over 15 years of combined education, training, and professional experience in facilitation, team building, negotiating, and mediating resolutions of all matters. She uses a strengths-based, client-driven approach to develop thorough parenting plans for children tailored to their unique circumstances and future needs. She has experience with complicated parenting issues, children with special needs, mental health issues, domestic partnerships, and other non-traditional relationships. Tera's goal is to develop a comprehensive divorce agreement while minimizing stress and cost.
For unmarried parents, the mother has sole legal and physical custody unless and until the Court orders otherwise, pursuant to Minnesota Statute section 257.75, subdivision 3. Nevertheless, a mother should be careful before denying parenting time, because one of the many factors which the court considers in determining permanent custody is “the disposition of each parent to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact by the other parent with the child.” Minn. Stat. § 518.17, Subd. 1(13).

After discovery is completed, the attorneys will typically work with you to formulate a settlement proposal which is presented to the other side, either as part of a settlement meeting at one of the attorney's offices, or simply through a letter sent to the other lawyer. The attorneys will prepare a balance sheet summarizing your assets and liabilities. In Minnesota, the law requires an "Equitable Division of Property," which typically, but not always indicates an equal division of property. Parenting time proposals may also suggest the future use of a "Visitation Expeditor" or "Parenting Consultant" who are neutral third parties retained to assist in resolving future parenting and parenting time disputes. When the parties have children, settlement discussions will also involve "child support", which is currently set pursuant to "child support guidelines" based on a comparison of the gross incomes of both parties, and the amount of time the children will spend with each party. If one of the parties lacks the resources to support themselves, settlement discussions will also involve requests for either temporary or permanent "spousal maintenance." Pursuant to Minnesota Law, spousal maintenance while based on a consideration of several factors, ultimately will be based upon a consideration of the marital standard of living, the needs of the spouse requesting maintenance and the ability of that spouse to meet those needs as compared to the needs of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought, and their ability to meet their own needs and still contribute to the support of the requesting spouse. Maintenance may be temporary or permanent, depending on the facts of the case, including length of marriage whether there is any uncertainty as to if the spouse requesting maintenance will ever be able to become fully self supporting.
In some cases, there will be a temporary relief hearing. This hearing can take place after the Summons and Petition have been served. At the hearing the court makes an order that sets the rules for the parties until the divorce is final. A temporary relief hearing is especially important if children are involved and there is disagreement over custody, or if child support needs to be decided right away.
Historically, courts would only grant a divorce if one spouse could prove the other's wrongdoing - for example, by presenting evidence of adultery, abuse or failure to support. Fortunately, those times are long past. Minnesota is now a no-fault state, which means you don't have to prove fault-based grounds to get a divorce. It's enough to assert that irreconcilable differences caused the marriage to break down.

If the parents can not agree on an appropriate custody arrangement, the court will examine what is in "the best interests of the child" by considering and evaluating the following factors: (1) the wishes of the child's parent or parents as to custody; (2) the reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express preference; (3) the child's primary caretaker; (4) the intimacy of the relationship between each parent and the child; (5) the interaction and interrelationship of the child with a parent or parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interests; (6) the child's adjustment to home, school, and community; (7) the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity; (8) the permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home; (9) the mental and physical health of all individuals involved; (10) the capacity and disposition of the parties to give the child love, affection, and guidance, and to continue educating and raising the child in the child's culture and religion or creed, if any; (11) the child's cultural background; (12) the effect on the child of the actions of an abuser; (13) except in cases in which a finding of domestic abuse, the disposition of each parent to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact by the other parent with the child. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.17)
Assets and liabilities can each have different tax consequences and if not properly accounted for, a settlement that might look fair on paper may turn out to be favorable to only one party and not the other. This can happen if one party trades a checking account for a 401k, confusing pre-tax with post-tax dollars, or when there are stocks involved and neither party is aware of the cost basis of a given portfolio.
Dan is a leader in the field of transformative mediation. He is the author of the chapter on divorce mediation in the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation's ("ISCT") TRANSFORMATIVE MEDIATION SOURCEBOOK. He is a Past Chair of the Minnesota State Bar Association's Alternative Dispute Resolution Section. He served for 6 years on the Mi ... more

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.
Second, you and the other party are more likely to adhere to the terms of your agreement if you have some ownership of it. It is not uncommon for parties to a divorce or other family law dispute to return to court after their initial proceeding to address problems with a party who is not abiding by a parenting time schedule or failing to pay child support. Parties who make their own decisions about those issues through mediation are more likely to feel responsible for the terms of their agreement and to abide by it.
Thereafter, if either party is still dissatisfied with the result, they may "appeal" the lower court ruling to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Such appeals are of right, and take place before a three judge panel, after extensive briefing and oral argument to the Court of Appeals. However, once the appeal is filed, the Court of Appeals will automatically put the appeal on hold, and requires it's own attempt at alternative dispute resolution known as appellate mediation. If mediation is not successful, the entire appeal process may take upwards of a year after the trial court's final decision. The Court of Appeals may affirm all decisions outright, reverse all decisions outright, or may affirm some parts of the decree while reversing others. If a party thereafter is dissatisfied with a ruling of the Court of Appeals, they may seek discretionary review by the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Supreme Court however, denies review of most cases, and only chooses to hear a few family law cases each year. Those cases selected for review typically involve novel factual or legal issues.
Financial Early Neutral Evaluations (FENE) allow the parties to meet with an accountant or lawyer neutral expert to assist the parties in preparing a balance sheet and help to negotiate a division of property. These experts can also assist in preparing cash flow summaries to help the parties settle issues of child support and spousal maintenance. As with social early neutral evaluations, the neutral may advise the parties what they believe will occur if the matter is fully litigated. As with Social ENEs, many counties provide rosters of lawyers and accountants certified to assist with FENE's in that county.
The same analysis applies to debts. Debts incurred prior to the valuation date are generally marital, regardless of who incurred them. Debts incurred after the valuation date are generally separate. If your spouse is charging up the credit cards like a drunken sailor, it is in your interest to expedite the divorce proceedings to lock in the default valuation date.
The summons is a simple legal notice that a divorce action has been commenced by the petitioner and advising how long the respondent has to serve an "answer" to the petition. It also contains a preliminary restraining order, preventing changes in insurance coverage and the disposition of property, except for the necessities of life or in the ordinary course of business. In Minnesota, unless the petitioner agrees to an extension the answer must be served within thirty days. If you ignore the service of a summons and petition for a longer period of time, the petitioner may serve a motion with the court requesting that default judgment be entered. This judgment will not only immediately dissolve the marriage terminating certain rights you have as a married person to rights such as health insurance. It may also result in the moving party being awarded rights and interests in property, as well as the loss by the respondent to certain rights, such as spousal maintenance (alimony) without the respondent having the opportunity to respond and defend their rights. While there are cases in which the court will subsequently set aside a default judgment, it is very important that you retain a lawyer to respond to a summons and petition within thirty days. Sometimes that response may be as simply as an agreement from the petitioner's attorney to extend the thirty day period to answer the petition.
Attorney fees vary from hundreds of dollars if the case is easy to thousands of dollars for cases with custody and/or property disputes.  It is important that you understand your payment arrangement with your attorney.  Many attorneys charge an hourly fee for their services.  You will be charged each time the attorney works on your file.  Ask your attorney for a written “Retainer Agreement” or letter which explains in detail how you will be charged for legal services.
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