Jeff has been a lawyer for 34 years, practicing family law exclusively for 28 years. For the first six years of his career he was a staff attorney at the Minnesota Court of Appeals. He has handled hundreds of cases and has the experience dealing with substantial marital estates in the millions and has tried and litigated many cases, including lengthy custody matters. He is also a trained mediator and ADR neutral on the Minnesota State Roster and is a FENE and SENE neutral in Ramsey County, Anoka County, Washington County, Scott County, Carver County, Pine County, Chisago County, Isanti...
You may be surprised to know that most MN divorce cases (over 90%) are settled before they ever reach a court room. Mediation is so effective that the State of Minnesota requires you make a good faith effort to settle your divorce through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) before appearing in Court – so why not start with a process which is proven to work as well, if not better, than litigation?

Cynthia Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. She is an honors graduate of the University of South Dakota and William Mitchell College of Law. Cynthia’s practice focuses almost exclusively on divorce and family law issues. She publishes a monthly family law column for the Minnesota Lawyer newspaper, and has contributed to Divorce Magazine and The Family Law Forum. Cynthia also serves as a panel attorney for the Anoka County Family Law Clinic.
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.
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 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.
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.
A dissolution of a marriage shall be granted by a county or district court when the court finds that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship. An irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship is achieved by living separate and apart for at least 180 days or serious marital discord adversely affecting the attitude of the husband, wife, or both towards the marriage. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.06, 158.13)
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.
Litigating a divorce results in both parties operating under attack and defend mode. When mediation is used, the process is much more peaceful and conciliatory. Both parties are allowed to explain their position and perspectives on all the issues, leading to a generation of solutions which ultimately benefit both spouses and their children, if any. Parties to divorce mediation have decision-making powers and must agree to each provision in the final agreement. Couples who agree to terms voluntarily are much more likely to comply with those terms in the future, and much less likely to find themselves back in court fighting about perceived violations of the terms.
This can be problematic if a party needs to commence a divorce in Minnesota immediately, but neither party has yet been residing here for the requisite six-month period. In such cases, one should seriously consider a legal separation, which has no length-of-residency requirement, and which can afford much of the relief afforded by divorce, such as determinations of property possession, custody, parenting time, child support, and spousal maintenance. [2] Later, after the six-month residence requirement is satisfied, the case can be converted to one for divorce.
You’ll also want to gather records for all income sources: paystubs, self-employment profit and loss statements, pension disbursements, social security, alimony and child support payments received. As for expenses, you’ll want to list your recurring expenses as well as ongoing liabilities, so that all mortgage payments, car loans, health insurance costs, food, utilities, student loans, credit card payments, etc. are known.
You'll then attend the first meeting—usually held in a conference room or comfortable office—where the mediator will explain what you can expect from the process. For example, the mediator may tell you that everyone will be in the same room for the entire mediation or that you'll meet in separate sessions so that the mediator can get your views or positions in private. The mediator may also take care of some housekeeping business—for example, ask you to sign an agreement that says that you'll keep what's said in the mediation confidential and that you understand that the mediator can't disclose any of what goes on there if there's a court proceeding later on. At the same time, the mediator will try to make you feel comfortable by establishing a rapport with both you and your spouse.

Grounds which the courts in the past have recognized as valid reasons to permit out-of-state relocation are: a better job opportunity in the other state; [4] and joining a fiancé who resides in another state. [5] These reasons do not guarantee that permission will be granted, but they have been recognized as legitimate grounds for seeking such permission.

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.
Once the decision to mediate is made, it is necessary to find a mediator. Many counties have community-based or court-annexed mediation centers. If the mediation is court-ordered, the court may appoint a mediator, or will allow the parties to agree upon a qualified mediator. Both lawyers and non-lawyers serve as mediators. The fees charged vary from mediator to mediator and from case to case.
In 2005, the average mediated case cost $3000 and was settled in 90 days. In turn, the average litigated case in the courts cost $15,000 and took 18 months to settle. Keep in mind, the litigated cases led to more spite and frustration between the divorcing couples, usually leading to a lose/lose situation for both. Not many people walk away from a litigated divorce feeling satisfied. On the other hand, couples who went through mediation felt satisfied with the agreements they had reached and both walked away feeling that they had gotten what they had wanted. Who would you rather have decide what happens with your children and assets after a divorce, you during mediation or attorneys and judges during a divorce in the courts? Who knows more about you, attorneys, judges or you? Why have people who know nothing about you tell you how you are going to live the rest of your life.
All that's required to make a divorce mediation successful is for both people to show up willing to negotiate and open to compromise. Don't reject mediation just because you and your spouse see a particular issue very differently—in other words, don't give up before you've begun. Mediation is a powerful process and many cases that seem impossible to resolve at the beginning end up in a settlement if everyone is committed to the process.

As a mediator, I have found that custody mediations are frequently transformative. Parties deal with the fact that they'll have an ongoing relationship as parents. And they realize that when it comes to the kids, they can be on the same side. The result? Parties come up with a parenting plan they've jointly agreed on and gain tools to communicate with each other about their children. And research shows that parents who mediate have a better long-term relationship with their children.
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.

Applying that rule, however, is far from straightforward. Courts must weigh a wide range of considerations. Generally speaking, children do best when they have ongoing contact with both parents. Yet that doesn't necessarily mean a 50-50 time-sharing arrangement. Instead, it depends on what works best for your family - and what will best serve the needs of the children.
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.
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.
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.
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. [3] 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.
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).
Mediation is one of the most frequently used methods of negotiating a divorce settlement. In divorce mediation, you and your spouse—or, in some cases, the two of you and your respective lawyers—hire a neutral third party, called a mediator, to meet with you in an effort to discuss and resolve the issues in your divorce. The mediator doesn't make decisions for you, but serves as a facilitator to help you and your spouse figure out what's best.

Mediationis one ADR method. In mediation, the parties try to work out an agreement between themselves with the help of a neutral third person called a mediator.  The mediator helps the parties discuss their disagreements, make compromises and reach their own agreement.  Mediation can be helpful because both of you have agreed to the outcome rather than having a big fight and the judge makes decisions for you.  Mediation about custody or parenting time can be helpful because you both will continue to be parents to your children and together you can continue to work out parenting issues.  In mediation both of you should be able to say what you want and cooperatively work out compromises.  If you don't understand things or don't feel you have equal power with your spouse, the mediation is not fair.  You can stop the process at any time without reaching an agreement.  You only have to try to settle.  You can't be forced to agree to something.
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.)
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.
Marital property is defined as property, real or personal, including vested public or private pension plan benefits or rights, acquired by the parties, or either of them, to a dissolution, legal separation, or annulment proceeding at any time during the existence of the marriage, or at any time during which the parties were living together as husband and wife under a purported marriage relationship which is annulled in an annulment proceeding, but prior to the date of valuation.

Regardless of your children’s ages, you need to communicate about what’s happening, since it affects their lives too. Agree to talk to your kids together. Agree on how it will be done, where it will be done, and what you will say. Present a united front and try to answer their questions as well as possible, without divulging unnecessary adult information. Kids are smart, and they probably already know something’s up. They deserve to hear that their parents will continue to love and support them and that everything will be ok.

3. Be prompt. Courts are slow. Many attorneys, sadly, are chronic procrastinators and deadline-driven. Custody evaluators and Guardian ad Litems are slow. If you’re slow too, it compounds the problem. Furthermore, the quicker you can be in responding to whatever your attorney asks of you, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to settle your case sooner and at less expense. By acting quickly, attorneys are able to take charge of a divorce process, rather than being driven by court deadlines and various hearings and other requirements which might be avoided just by staying ahead of the game.
Grounds which the courts in the past have recognized as valid reasons to permit out-of-state relocation are: a better job opportunity in the other state; [4] and joining a fiancé who resides in another state. [5] These reasons do not guarantee that permission will be granted, but they have been recognized as legitimate grounds for seeking such permission.
If the non-custodial parent does not pay the child support ordered, there are three main ways of enforcing the order.  All of these methods are complicated.  You should try to find an attorney to help you.  You can hire an attorney, or you can ask for legal help from the child support enforcement office of your county.  This office is sometimes called Support and Collections orthe IV-D (4-D) unit.  Please see our Child Support booklet for more information.

If you have been ordered to pay child support and your situation has changed so that you cannot pay the amount of support ordered, it is important to contact the county child support officer right away.  You can bring a motion to ask the court to lower your child support. If you do not bring a motion, there is little chance the court will forgive back support, even if you were unable to pay.  For more information about child support, see our booklet Child Support Basics. 
Courts in Minnesota usually only have power over people and things in Minnesota.  This power is called jurisdiction.  If the respondent was served outside of the State of Minnesota, or if the respondent could not be found and was served by publication or other special service, the Minnesota court might be limited to making only the following decisions:
Just because an asset is titled in one spouse’s name does not mean that asset belongs exclusively to the title-holding spouse. How you acquired the property determines whether property is marital or nonmarital, which determines how (or whether) the property will be divided. Marital property includes assets purchased or paid for during a marriage. Marital property will usually be divided between spouses. Non-marital property is different, however. Nonmarital property includes assets that are acquired by only one spouse, either as a gift or inheritance, as property the individual brought into the marriage, or in some instances, that one party acquired alone during the marriage. An attorney can help you figure out what property is marital and what is not. An attorney can also advise you about how to protect your assets in a divorce.
Probably the most common misconception that I hear from people about divorce mediation it that they believe it is only suitable for couples that are very amicable. Their perception is that since they are not getting along very well with their spouse, they can’t sit down together and discuss anything let alone issues regarding their money and children. In fact, mediation is very well suited to helping parties who are high conflict to work through their differences and come to a reasonable solution. 
Amy provides resources for small and medium size businesses needing to handle conflicts in a cost effective and timely manner. With experience of 22 years working at a Fortune 10 corporation, Amy brings her skills of negotiation, strategic planning and personal connection to resolve any conflict to resolution. Most importantly, Amy finds ways busin ... more
The Minnesota Judicial Branch maintains a helpful section on divorce at its website, including matters of children and property, an overview of the fees involved in the process, paperwork, and what to expect when you go to court. The site also has a guided flowchart to help you determine which forms you'll need. Also, see FindLaw's article on same-sex divorce.
Luke J Blahnik is the founder of Law Firm of Luke J Blahnik. Mr. Blahnik was born in the city of Rochester, Minnesota and graduated from Caledonia High School, in Caledonia, Minnesota. In 1998 he received his Bachelor of Science in History from Winona State University, in Winona, Minnesota. He then went on to receive his Juris Doctor degree from Hamline University School of Law in 2001 and was admitted to practice law in the State of Minnesota in 2002. From 2001 through 2004 Mr. Blahnik was a Judicial Law Clerk for the Koochiching County Courthouse, where he...
In Minnesota, Marriage Dissolution proceedings, or divorces, are viewed as "no fault" proceedings. This means that a spouse does not have to prove the other spouse was at fault or did something wrong to cause the breakdown of the marriage to obtain a divorce. Either spouse may commence a divorce action by simply alleging that there has been "an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage relationship" - in other words, that in their opinion, the marriage is dead and there is no chance of reconciliation. If one spouse feels this way, even if the other disagrees, the court will ultimately grant the dissolution of marriage. Early in the process, if you do not believe that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, the option of marriage counseling is possible. Unfortunately, if a spouse has set their mind to divorcing the other, it is unlikely that counseling can repair the marital relationship.

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.
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.
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