The flowchart below gives an overview of different processes for completing a divorce in Massachusetts. In 95% of divorce cases in Massachusetts, the final terms of the divorce are agreed upon in a separation agreement that is written up outside of court and presented to a judge who approves it in a 20-minute hearing. There are very different routes, however, for reaching this separation agreement and brief hearing. In many cases, there are court actions–litigation or “contested divorce” processes–before a couple agree on the terms of the divorce in a separation agreement.
Many metropolitan counties, as well as more and more outstate counties, have developed several innovative tools aimed at facilitating quick resolution of traditionally volatile areas - custody/parenting time and economic disputes. If the court is advised a custody/parenting time is present, the judicial officer will suggest that the parties participate in an "Early Neutral Custody Evaluation," referred to as a Social Early Neutral Evaluation "SENE" or in some counties and in others a Custody and Parenting Time Early Neutral Evaluation "CPENE." In this process the parties and counsel will be quickly scheduled to meet with two experts on child custody matters, one male and one female. Many counties have rosters listing the names of people certified to act as an Early Neutral Custody Evaluator. The parties and counsel will meet for three hours with the evaluators, with each party then afforded the opportunity to explain their role in raising the children, and what type of a parenting schedule they believe to be in their children's best interests. The two evaluators will then briefly adjourn, and then return to advise the parties what recommendation would result from a full custody evaluation. Many parties are able to reach a settlement of most parenting time issues after hearing this informal report.
If your spouse does not wish to contest the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, they may file a Summary Dissolution jointly with you with the court.  This obviates the need for a trial and allows parties to submit evidence in written form. To use this uncontested divorce procedure, you and your spouse must meet the following eligibility criteria:
If you or your children have been hurt or threatened by your spouse, the court cannot make you mediate.  In this circumstance, the court knows that mediation wouldn't be safe or fair. For example, you might just "agree" because you're afraid of what would happen to you or your children if you didn't.  Make sure to tell your lawyer, the court or the mediator, if you have been hurt or threatened by your spouse.
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.
During a divorce, either party can petition the court to pay alimony or “spousal maintenance” to the other. Minnesota laws provide for this type of assistance so the lower earning spouses can maintain the same reasonable standard of living as before. Generally speaking, a court will be more inclined to order a longer period of alimony when the marriage was longer in duration.  

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.
1st meeting: The couple and the mediator identify the issues needed to be discussed and the order in which they will be discussed, then decide what information needs to be gathered and shared. Between the first and later sessions the couple gathers all relevant financial data, or if necessary, the opinions of experts such as appraisers or accountants, with this material treated with the same care and concern as would be the case in the adversarial process.

Each spouse has the right to sell, give away, or dispose of any property the couple owns.  For example, either person can withdraw money from a joint bank account.  Either can charge on a joint credit card.  There are some exceptions to this general rule.  Neither spouse has the right to cash checks made out to the other spouse.  Neither spouse can withdraw money from a bank account if it is in the name of the other spouse only.  Neither spouse can sell a motor vehicle that is in the name of the other spouse.  Neither can sell real estate that is in both names or in the name of one spouse.
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.
If the court finds, after a hearing, that parenting time with a parent is likely to endanger the child's physical or emotional health or impair the child's emotional development, the court shall restrict parenting time with that parent as to time, place, duration, or supervision and may deny parenting time entirely, as the circumstances warrant. The court shall consider the age of the child and the child's relationship with the parent prior to the commencement of the proceeding.
I have a great deal of experience with court matters, but I am now concentrating more of my time on Wills and Probate. I have been an arbitrator of Minnesota No Fault Auto Accident Claims. I graduated from Hopkins (MN) High School in 1967; St. Olaf College, Northfield MN in 1971 (BA History and Asian Studies) and William Mitchell College of Law (now Mitchell Hamline Law School) in 1975 (JD), working days and attending classes at night through a four year program. I am married and have two adult children.
The big warning I have is this: years ago, when the program started, the idea was that the evaluators would give their opinion of how they would likely decide the case in a full-blown custody evaluation, based on the facts learned in the SENE. This honest appraisal of how a months-long custody evaluation would likely turn out is what helped parties to settle their cases.
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.
I prepare QDRO’s and DRO’s. A QDRO (“Qualified Domestic Relations Order”) is a legal order, entered as part of a divorce or legal separation, that is required in order to split ownership of a retirement plan to give the divorced spouse his or her share of the asset or pension plan. A DRO (“Domestic Relations Order”) is the usual name for this document if a government pension is being split.
Minnesota Divorce and Family Mediation offers skilled guidance on all the important issues surrounding your divorce. The mediation process consists of guided sessions to determine how assets will be divided, discuss budgets and future financial needs, calculate child support and spousal maintenance (when necessary), and develop a parenting plan. Through mediation, couples maintain control over the important life decisions that need to be made during a divorce, while at the same time developing a new foundation for their future relationship with each other. By choosing this gentler approach to divorce, couples are more likely to be able to positively work together in the future; they are less likely to return to court for post-decree issues; and they are more fully prepared to move forward for a better tomorrow.
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.
Another important tool for a parent whose child has been taken or hidden is the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS).  An attorney must ask the court or county attorney to request FPLS assistance.  The court or county attorney can apply to the FPLS for assistance in locating the missing parent.  The FPLS is a computer search using the Social Security number of the missing parent to find home and work addresses for that parent.  You must have the correct Social Security number in order to use the FPLS.
There are several key advantages to mediation of divorce and other family law related disputes. First, you know what is best for you and your family. You live your life. You understand your financial circumstances. You know your children. You are best equipped to make decisions about your future. If you place your dispute in the hands of the court, a judge who knows very little about the details of your life will make decisions for you and, in most cases, you will have no choice but to live with that decision.
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.
Conversely, there is no way to finalize your divorce through mediation alone. Even if you reach a tentative agreement in mediation, this agreement must be formalized in a written stipulation, signed by both parties and their attorneys, and ultimately approved by the Court. [2] This signed stipulation — not your verbal agreements from mediation sessions — is what becomes the enforceable terms of your divorce, and should be prepared or at least reviewed and revised by your lawyer before you sign.
In most counties in the Twin Cities Metropolitan area, as well as now many out state counties, after the filing of a summons and petition, the next step in the process will be an appearance at an Initial Case Management Conference ("ICMC"). ICMC’s are aimed at trying to expedite the processing of divorce cases, and minimizing conflict and the expense associated when parties quickly resort to litigating (resorting to the lawyers and the courts to decide disputes) all issues. As soon as a party files the petition or answer with the court, your matter will be assigned to one judge or referee, who in many counties will be responsible for all aspects of your case until its conclusion. Typically within thirty days thereafter, the court will schedule the ICMC. Both lawyers and both parties must appear, and the vast majority of judges and referees (judicial officers) will not allow any motions, including temporary motions, to be filed until the ICMC takes place.
I have a great deal of experience with court matters, but I am now concentrating more of my time on Wills and Probate. I have been an arbitrator of Minnesota No Fault Auto Accident Claims. I graduated from Hopkins (MN) High School in 1967; St. Olaf College, Northfield MN in 1971 (BA History and Asian Studies) and William Mitchell College of Law (now Mitchell Hamline Law School) in 1975 (JD), working days and attending classes at night through a four year program. I am married and have two adult children.
The law allows parents to make voluntary parenting plans.  A parenting plan is a plan voluntarily designed by both parents based on the best interests of the child.  A parenting plan must include a schedule of the time each parent spends with the child, who will make specific decisions regarding the child, and a way to settle disputes. An agreed-upon parenting plan may use terms other than “physical” and “legal” custody but it must clearly state if the parents have joint legal custody or joint physical custody or which parent has sole legal custody or sole physical custody.
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