Almost every state requires mediation of child custody disputes, and many states' court systems provide services such as early conflict intervention, conciliator services, community dispute resolution centers, education seminars for divorcing couples, mediation, and settlement conferences. Today, mediation, either voluntary or court mandated, is the predominant form of dispute resolution for divorcing couples.
In some cases, there will be a temporary relief hearing. This hearing can take place after the Summons and Petition have been served. At the hearing the court makes an order that sets the rules for the parties until the divorce is final. A temporary relief hearing is especially important if children are involved and there is disagreement over custody, or if child support needs to be decided right away.
Although many mediating couples are amicable and work well in mediation, there are also many couples who are very emotional about the divorce and don't think they can negotiate face to face. Part of every qualified mediator's training is in assisting couples who have high emotions but who still would like to work things out peacefully. People do calm down and become effective mediation participants when they see that the process can work without adding to the high emotional and financial cost of divorce.
The court decides both legal and physical custody. Legal custody is the right to make the major decisions about the children. These include the children's religious upbringing, schooling, and medical care. Physical custody means where the children live and which parent makes the routine daily decisions. Physical custody is what most people think of when speaking about custody.
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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.
Legally, there can be no discrimination based on the sex of the parent. For a father willing to bear the time and expense of the contest, chances for custody are more or less equal to those of the mother, all else being equal. Having said that, I do think there is some lingering bias, even though judges and custody evaluators and guardians ad litem will always deny it. Often I do not believe it even occurs on a conscious level. Yet there is a gut feeling one gets, representing a father, that the job is just a little more difficult, or representing a mother, that the job is just a little bit easier.
1. If custody or parenting time is in issue, don’t move out without first getting an enforceable written stipulation addressing custody and parenting time after the move-out. The key is to have in place at least an interim parenting time schedule which affords you at least as much parenting time as you hope to obtain through the court. Otherwise, the longer you acquiesce to a pattern of parenting time that is less than you desire, the more of an argument the other party will make of it against you. Often arguments like the following are heard:
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.
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.  Later, after the six-month residence requirement is satisfied, the case can be converted to one for divorce.
1. You just might settle the case. The parties involved have the most information about their situation, and therefore are in the best position to craft a creative solution specifically tailored to them. Judges, on the other hand, are bound by case law, statutes, and rules and must provide a solution for the parties that fits within this framework.
A “2018 Child Support Guidelines Worksheet.” This form is used to calculate child support according to Massachusetts child support laws. You can calculate your child support right now with the free 2018 Massachusetts Child Support Calculator on this site and then click a button to download the results into a court-ready Child Support Guidelines Worksheet.
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.
Consultation: Attorneys are available to meet (or telephone or Skype with) individuals to discuss the issues, provide information, and provide guidance. These consultations can often take place prior to the first mediation, after mediation sessions, and then once a final agreement is reached. The cost of these sessions are $125 (telephone) or $155 (Skype) per hour. (Minimum scheduled time for first session is one hour.)
It depends on how bad it is. Half of the divorce cases out there involve one or the other party being on anti-depressant medications, so that in and of itself won’t matter much. It really depends on how severe the mental illness is, and how it affects your parenting. If the mental illness negatively affects your parenting, or poses a danger of harm to the children, that will obviously be more relevant. And unless your mental health records are already sufficient for a custody evaluator to assess your mental health, you can expect that a custody evaluation will include a psychological evaluation as well.
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.
“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.”
If a parent has been convicted of certain crimes, that parent must convince the court that parenting time with the child is in the child's best interest. These crimes include assault, sexual abuse, parental kidnapping, terroristic threats, felony harassment, domestic assault by strangulation, and stalking. Ask your lawyer if these laws apply in your case.
When deciding which party to award a marital pet, a compelling argument is the pet’s attachment to the children. If there are minor children involved, who are very attached to the pet, the Court will likely award the pet to whichever parent has primary residence of the children. Another compelling argument is which party cares most for the pet. If you can prove that you were the one primarily responsible for feeding the pet, taking it to the vet, walking it, etcetera, then you will be much more likely to be awarded the pet.
As mentioned above, the court is going to ask what Alternative Dispute Resolution you have used prior to coming to court. In most cases, some type of ADR is required, but there are exceptions, such as some cases involving domestic violence. In recent years many mediators have developed better protocols for accommodating those circumstances, and so some cases involving domestic violence do proceed with mediation today. A victim of domestic violence should seek the advice of counsel regarding any ADR process they are considering.
The first opportunity for the Court to decide custody is normally at the temporary relief hearing. In Hennepin County, this can easily be four months or more from the date of filing. In other counties, it can be much speedier, as in Dakota or Scott County, where a temporary relief hearing date is normally available within about 3 weeks. Once the motions for temporary relief are heard, the Court has 90 days to rule, although they normally get temporary orders out within two to four weeks.
Minnesota is an equitable division state. In an equitable division state, each spouse owns the income he or she earns during the marriage, and also has the right to manage any property that's in his or her name alone. But at divorce, whose name is on what property isn't the only deciding factor. Instead, the judge will divide marital property in a way that the judge considers fair, but won't necessarily be exactly equal.
If you do move out, take steps to guard against destruction of property. Videotape the contents of the home (e.g., furniture, art and other valuables) and make copies of important documents (birth certificates, account statements, deeds and insurance policies) before you leave. You may also consider taking your own family heirlooms and other personal, irreplaceable items with you.
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?
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.
Mediation is a confidential discussion of the issues that need to be resolved in a divorce or custody situation. The divorce mediator, or child custody mediator, facilitates the different possibilities for resolving those issues. The mediator doesn’t have any decision making authority, so the process isn’t inherently risky; you can only serve to benefit if you can resolve your issues out of court.
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.
In most cases, divorce is a difficult and painful process, both emotionally and financially. The traditional practice of hiring a lawyer and litigating in court to end a marriage is not only expensive, but can lengthen the process, increase contention, and cause additional and unnecessary stress on you, your spouse, and your children. Because of this, more and more couples are looking to mediation to walk them through the intricacies of divorce and help navigate parenting agreements. While divorce is rarely an easy event, the goal of mediation is to encourage and support you in developing the best solutions for your individual situation, in a collaborative way and on your time line, which ultimately lessens the negative impact of divorce on you and your family.
This shortsighted approach overlooks many things, the first of which is the obvious waste of money. It’s important to ask yourself if the asset is really worth the fight. Divorce leaves most people with fewer assets than they had during marriage – why spend what you have left on attorney’s fees? It also overlooks the possibility that with more property on hand, the other spouse will be able to contribute to college costs and other child-related expenses. Finally, property allocated to your spouse may also reduce the need for alimony.
All that being said, be aware that contesting the divorce will add to the duration and expense of the case. Contesting the divorce itself can buy you some time during which to pursue reconciliation, and can be the leverage to obtain your spouse’s agreement to therapy or other reconciliation efforts, but at the end of the day, a persistent party will be able to obtain the divorce.
In the mediation process, your mediator will provide you with much of the information and legal background that you need to discuss your issues. At times though, because the mediator must remain neutral, they cannot give either party advice specific to their best interests because that would be against the interests of the other party. Here, a consulting attorney, that is accessed on a limited, as-needed basis, can provide that specific legal advice to help a party decide how to best move forward in the negotiations.
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.
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?
Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Joe Dillon, MBA is a professional divorce mediator and founder of Equitable Mediation Services. Joe is passionate about helping couples avoid the destruction of attorney-driven litigation and knows first-hand that the right information, combined with the right expertise and the right kind of support can make the challenging process of divorce less expensive, less time-consuming and less stressful for divorcing couples and their families.
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If the parties are hostile or overly emotional, the mediator will separate the parties and shuttle back and forth between them in "private caucuses." A private caucus is a conference between the mediator and one party, without the other party being present. The mediator passes offers and demands between the parties. Conversations between a party and the mediator during private caucus are confidential unless a party authorizes the mediator to disclose information to the other side.
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."
Basic support is for the child's expenses, such as food, clothing and transportation, and does not include payments on arrears. It is calculated by multiplying the paying parent's percentage of the combined Parental Income for Determining Child Support (PICS) by the combined basic support amount. If a court orders parenting time to the paying parent of ten percent or more, he/she may receive a deduction from basic support, based on the percentage of court-ordered parenting time.
This can be a very complex situation. A spouse can hide a lot of income through a business, which can greatly affect what you may be entitled to in the divorce. Further, it may not be for the best interest of both spouses if a profitable business is split up. There are many issues and pitfalls that arise when a business is involved in a divorce. You should consult with an attorney who understands both the divorce and the business issues.
Without taking sides, a divorce mediator works with you and your partner to negotiate a settlement that is in the best interest of you and your family. Typically, a divorce mediator helps you better understand and communicate your individual and common interests so that you can explore reasonable options, make good decisions and reach solid agreements that benefit your family.