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.
In order to make custody determinations the court evaluates the best interests of the children using 13 key factors which are defined in MN 518.17.In addition to being financially expensive, formal custody evaluations are also often highly adversarial and emotionally damaging for all involved, especially the children. In the end, a “victory” is often bittersweet and both parents will have some amount of court ordered parenting time. Rather than seek to prove that one parent is better than the other, it is critical to recognize that both parents are important in different ways – each providing that which can only be given by a mother or a father. You are the experts about your life and your children. You are the best qualified to make decisions about how to restructure your family and parenting time after divorce. As your mediator, I help you evaluate and discuss parenting time options and make child-focused decisions about how each of you will remain significantly involved with your children.
After the mediator covers the rules of mediation and insures that any necessary agreements to mediate are signed, the mediator explains the mediation process. The parties or their representative may then make opening statements to identify issues and clarify perceptions. Many mediators will encourage the parties to begin a conversation during general caucus.
A legal annulment should not be confused with a religious annulment. For example, a Catholic may not be permitted to remarry in the church if the church has not determined that the first marriage is null and void. This type of annulment is granted by the church, and has no legal effect according to Minnesota law. Likewise, a legal annulment or divorce may not affect how the church looks upon the marriage.
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.
The next step will be to assess where you and your spouse agree and where you need some work to get to agreement. Once you have a sense of what needs to be accomplished, you, your spouse, and the mediator will plan how you're going to accomplish it. It's very likely that you will need to gather more information, especially if you're dealing with property issues as well as child custody questions. (For example, if you don't know the value of your house, you can't have an intelligent discussion about a buyout.) The mediator will help you figure out what information you need and ask each of you to commit to bringing certain things for the next session.
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?
The parties in a mediation are not required to reach an agreement, and sometimes they don't. Whether the case settles or reaches an impasse, the mediator usually meets with the parties together at the end of the session. If the case has neither settled nor reached an impasse, the mediator will likely encourage the parties to attend another mediation session.
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.
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."
In cases where the child is approaching the start of kindergarten, or will be transitioning to middle school, junior high, or high school, this can be a closer call. Obviously the quality of the school will matter. Fortunately school statistics are readily available, including standardized test scores. The Minnesota Department of Education provides School Report Cards on their website.
The court will order a reasonable amount of child support to be paid by the non-custodial parent. Minnesota law has guidelines that say how much support should be paid. The court can also order either parent to pay medical insurance premiums or expenses and to pay part of child care costs. The court considers the parent's income or ability to earn income and the number of children supported.
Brian James is a Divorce Mediator with offices in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin. He is the founder and owner of C.E.L. & Associates, a private mediation firm that focuses on pre and post decree divorce issues. His background consists of 10.5 years working with domestic violence and divorcing families in the Criminal Justice System. He is a member of numerous mediation organizations and local chambers of commerce. His goal is to assist his clients in their time of need and help them work out agreements that are best for them and their children. At the same time, he tries to save his divorcing couples time and money that is otherwise wasted in the court system. What would you rather do with your money during a divorce, pay it to an attorney or invest it in your child's college education?
“Your Honor, the Petitioner moved out four months ago, and since then he has only had the children every other weekend, by his own acquiescence. Now all of a sudden he wants custody [or more parenting time, as the case may be]. This is clearly a disingenuous request which should be summarily denied. The schedule the parties have been following has worked well for the children, and for the sake of their sense of stability and continuity, it should continue.”
Eric graduated magna cum laude from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN in 1990. In 1994 he received a Doctorate of Law (JD) degree from the University of Minnesota. Following that, he spent the next two years as a judicial clerk for the distinguished Honorable Lois J. Lang, Judge of District Court, with a workload that primarily involved the drafting of divorce decrees, orders, and legal memoranda on a host of issues pertaining to divorce, child custody, child support, visitation, spousal maintenance, distribution of marital and non-marital property, valuation of property, domestic abuse and harassment, and the like....
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."  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.
But not every couple is a good candidate for mediation—and it can be hard to know in advance who’s going to find the process helpful and who’s going to find it useless—or worse, enraging. To get a better idea of warning signs, I spoke to Rachel Green, the family lawyer in Brooklyn, New York, who handled my own separation ten years ago. Below, the eight signs that mediation might not be right for you.
Minnesota divorce laws are put in place for both the Petitioner (or Co-Petitioner) and the Respondent (or Co-Petitioner) to receive a fair divorce. Sometimes, hiring a divorce lawyer or mediator in your area is the best way to ensure that this happens. Or, if you and your spouse are able to cooperate and agree on everything, you can do your own Minnesota divorce online.
If you were served with a "Summons and Petition" (you are the Respondent), you should talk to an attorney before you sign the "Answer and Counterpetition," and before you sign a "Stipulated Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree" (which is an agreement with your spouse on how to divide all assets and debts).