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.
The number of times you go to court and see a Judge or Referee depends on local court procedures and whether you and your spouse can agree on issues regarding your children, property and other matters. If you do NOT agree, the case usually takes longer to finish. It is a good idea to get legal advice before finalizing an agreement with your spouse.
States regulate the manner in which marriages may be dissolved (i.e. divorce), just as they regulate the marriage process itself. These regulations often include residency requirements, waiting periods, acceptable grounds for divorce, and defenses to divorce filings. Like many family laws, the legal requirements for divorce have changed drastically over the course of history to reflect the times. For instance, a spouse who wanted a divorce had to first prove the other party's fault (such as adultery or desertion) before the advent of "no-fault" divorce.
Like attorneys, most mediators charge by the hour. The average total cost of divorce mediation (with me) is approximately $2,000. In addition to the mediator’s fees you will need to pay a filing fee to your county of approximately $400 and if you choose to hire a professional for legal drafting, you should also expect an additional $1,250-1,500. On average, my clients incur a total combined cost of approximately $4,000.
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.
A trickier question is whether you may record the other parent's conversations with the children. Under the doctrine of "vicarious consent," as long as a parent or guardian has "a good faith, objectively reasonable belief that the interception of telephone conversations is necessary for the best interests of the children," then he may consent to the interception (i.e. listening in or recording the call) on behalf of the children.  However, this can be risky, because if there is any dispute about whether your vicarious consent was in good faith or objectively reasonable, you may still end up having to defend against possible criminal charges or a civil lawsuit. The Wagner case I have cited, for example, was a civil lawsuit by a one parent against the other parent who had recorded telephone calls between the children and herself. The Court allowed that lawsuit to proceed because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to the motivations of the parent who had made the recordings. I don't recommend recording any such phone calls without first consulting a lawyer.
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.
File a notarized “Separation Agreement” signed by both parties. This is a written contract between spouses that addresses all issues related to:Property division (How are property and debts to be divided? Will one of you keep the house or will you sell the house? How will your retirement accounts be divided? What happens with credit card and student loan debts?)
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.
The Petition for Dissolution of Marriage must declare the appropriate Minnesota grounds upon which the dissolution of marriage is being sought. The appropriate lawful ground will be that which the parties agree upon and can substantiate, or that which the filing spouse desires to prove to the court. The dissolution of marriage grounds are as follows:
The court may restrict parenting time if the parent seeking parenting time may harm or kidnap the children. The court can do this by limiting the hours of parenting time or limiting the place where parenting time can take place. The court can require that he or she only visit when another person is present (supervised parenting time). In very rare cases, parenting time may be denied altogether.
In order to maintain the status quo while the divorce is being processed, spouses are allowed to file Motions for Temporary Relief in order to temporarily order child custody, child support, spousal support and any other issues that occur day to day that must be handled while the divorce is being processed. Once the divorce decree is finalized and signed by a judge, the temporary order will expire and the final divorce procedures will go into effect.
On average, pre-decree divorce mediation can be completed in 4-10 sessions. Again, how long it takes really depends on what if any communication there is between the divorcing couples and their level of animosity for each other. If either one of the spouses is unwilling to budge from their certain position on a divorce issues, mediation may not be an option for them and they may have to litigate in court. Once this happens, communication is shut down and the fight begins.
To put this amount into perspective, a typical retainer paid to a divorce attorney (by one spouse) is $2,000 (or more); which means, if you both retain an attorney the starting price will likely be at least $4,000. The sticker shock gets worse when you consider that many sources indicate that when each spouse is represented by an attorney the average US divorce costs around $15,000. This same research indicates that divorce mediation in general is between 20-50% cheaper than the traditional adversarial legal process.
There is one advantage to being the petitioner. If the parties reside in different counties, the petitioner determines venue (location) by filing for divorce in the county of choice. Venue can be critical because judicial views on custody and alimony vary from county to county. The respondent can request a change in venue, but will need to show a good reason for the change.
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 small hourly cost for the attorney’s time is well worth the expense as it helps the client to make decisions and thereby move the mediation forward. In addition, at the point in the process when the parties have finalized all their agreements and a draft Separation Agreement is prepared, it is advisable that both parties review that agreement with their own attorney before they sign it. After all, this document will have lasting impact on their finances, their children, and their lives for some time to come, and it is prudent and wise to be sure that they both fully understand the terms in the agreement and that it accurately reflect their wishes.
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.
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.
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.