Minnesota courts require couples seeking a divorce (and without a history of domestic violence) to use a mediation service prior to finalizing the divorce. Mediators are conflict resolution experts, often with legal training, who attempt to help couples come to an agreement on ongoing issues. Mediation is not legally binding, but it may help shorten the divorce process or make it unnecessary. On average, mediation is 20-50 percent cheaper than a traditional divorce.
The major difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that if you have a legal separation, you are still married. The wife may not resume using her former name. If you decide you want to end your marriage after a legal separation is complete, you will need to go through the court process to get divorced. Some couples choose legal separation because of religious beliefs or moral values against divorce. In other cases, there may be insurance or other financial reasons for a legal separation.
If you own your home or other land, this property must also be divided fairly. The court may order the property sold so that each of you will have your share as soon as possible. The court might award one spouse the home and give the other spouse other property, such as retirement accounts, that equal the equity in the home. If the court believes that it would be better for the minor children to remain in the home, it may permit the children and the custodial parent to remain in the home until the children are 18 years old. Then the proceeds from the sale of the home will be split.
If you and your ex-spouse agree to change custody of the children, you should make a motion to the court to change custody and support orders. Otherwise, you are still responsible for paying support to the other parent, even if you actually have custody of the children. Custody is sometimes changed if the custodial parent allows the children to live with the non-custodial parent for a much longer time than was ordered for parenting time.
Many of the facts and circumstances that a divorcing spouse feels are important, are likely to be of little importance to the court. It‘s unrealistic to assume a judge can review all of the circumstances that led to the divorce. The issues are simply too complex, the court lacks time to hear all of it, and in the end, they aren’t usually relevant to the case, especially in a no-fault state like Minnesota.
A common problem for many families is a dispute over where the minor child(ren) will attend school. If you have sole legal custody, you may decide this on your own. But if like most parents you have joint legal custody, then the choice of school is something that must be agreed upon, or otherwise submitted to the Court or Alternative Dispute Resolution for a determination.
The length of mediation depends on what issues have been agreed to prior to mediation and those issues that need to be addressed during mediation. Also, the amount of time spent in mediation is contingent upon you and your spouse's willingness to come to agreements that are equitable for the both of you and your willingness to do what is in the best interests of your children. The time spent in mediation can be reduced if you and your spouse are able to come to agreements prior to mediation, or at the least, narrow down your options to a few workable ones. However, if you and your spouse are not able to discuss your divorce outside of mediation, it is strongly recommended that you avoid it at all costs. When couples try to work out issues on their own and it leads to arguments and "drawing lines in the sand", it makes mediation more difficult and time consuming.
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.
In the end, spouses who go through divorce mediation are much more likely to be satisfied with the final results. During a litigated divorce, neither spouse is likely to get what they asked for, leaving at least one of them angry and bitter over the outcome. When the final award is totally unexpected, that anger and bitterness only increase. Such a decision can leave that spouse feeling powerless and victimized. He or she may feel the judge was biased, and the settlement was far from fair or equitable. Mediation limits the feelings of victimization, even when the financial settlement is relatively modest.
Decisions about spousal maintenance are often emotional and challenging. Unfortunately, MN law does not specify how to calculate a spousal maintenance obligation. Unlike child support, MN divorce laws are discretionary when it comes to spousal maintenance (alimony) stating only that many factors should be considered when determining the need for spousal maintenance as well as the amount and duration of the support. Relevant factors often include: the length of marriage, each spouse’s financially ability to be self-supporting, education and employment history, age, and the marital standard of living. Mediation encourages the use of reasonable budgets and information sharing rather than the traditional adversarial legal approach which often relies on exaggerated budgets and win-lose negotiation tactics. The creation of reasonable budgets allows you and your spouse to understand your individual financial needs as well as the financial realities of your situation. This mutual understanding is vital to the successful discussion and resolution of the spousal maintenance issue. I also utilize a specialized computer program which provides useful information about tax impacts and projected cash flow for each spouse before and after the exchange of financial support.
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.
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. 
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?
4. Use just one (1) attorney. Many people hire law firms to represent them, and end up in situations where more than one attorney is working on their case. This is inefficient, because each attorney involved needs to be independently educated about the case, and no attorney is as well informed as he would be if he were the only attorney on the case. I’ve seen billing statements from other firms with numerous charges for a “strategy conference” between attorneys in the same firm. I’ve seen billings for two attorneys from the same firm attending the same deposition. Obviously these duplicative charges don’t happen when you use a single attorney for your case.
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The Brown Law Offices, P.A., is a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. We serve primarily Hennepin, Anoka, Sherburne and Wright County. In addition to divorce, our lawyers handle custody, child support, alimony, paternity, prenuptial agreements, step-parent adoptions, harassment restraining orders and cases involving domestic abuse. Jason Brown founded the Brown Law Offices, P.A., in 2003, after clerking for the (now retired) Chief Judge of Minnesota’s Tenth Judicial District. He is an experienced trial lawyer, who handled a wide variety of cases (including civil commitment, criminal defense, probate, personal injury and commercial litigation) early in his career....
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.
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.
Meditation during divorce is a way of finding solutions to issues such as child custody and spousal support. It is an alternative to formal process of divorce court. During mediation, both parties to the divorce and their attorneys meet with a court appointed third party. This third party, the “mediator” assists the parties in negotiating a resolution to their divorce.
I am a Rochester native with over 30 years of experience practicing family law in the Olmsted County and Southeast Minnesota area. I was admitted to practice in 1980. In addition to representing clients in all of the counties in Minnesota’s Third Judicial District, I have represented clients in Goodhue, Blue Earth, and Faribault counties located in the First and Fifth Judicial Districts. I am a graduate of St. Olaf College and Hamline University School of Law. I have taken particular interest in advocating for the best interest of children. I am a volunteer Guardian...
Sometimes the respondent cannot be “served” personally with the Summons and Petition because the petitioner does not know where he or she is and has no way to find out. In this case the petitioner can apply to the court for permission to “serve” another way—such as mailing the papers to an address where mail will likely be forwarded to the respondent or publishing a notice in a newspaper. This special service starts the legal proceedings in cases where the respondent cannot be personally served.
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.