While mediation is absolutely worth trying for most couples, not every couple belongs in mediation. For example, if there is domestic violence in your relationship, you should consider carefully before you agree to participate—but don't it out of hand. Some people who have experienced abuse in their marriages find it empowering to meet on the level playing field of a mediation session; others find there's too great a chance of replicating the dynamics of the marriage and choose to have a lawyer do their negotiating for them. Also, because the mediator can't order either of you to do anything, a person who wants to delay the proceedings or avoid paying support can abuse the process by agreeing to mediation and then stalling the process. If you need decisions about support or other issues made early in your divorce, you may need to go to court. This doesn't mean you won't be able to use mediation at a later point to resolve the rest of the issues in your divorce, though. (To learn more about who can benefit from divorce mediation, read Nolo's article Will Divorce Mediation Work For You?)

If there is a chance your spouse may seek an Order for Protection or Harassment Restraining Order against you — whether legitimately or fraudulently — it is important to have a plan in case you are suddenly served with one and are barred from your home, with no court hearing set for two weeks. If that happens, do you have a place to stay? Cash and important documents? A spare change of clothing?
I have been an attorney for 23 years, working exclusively in the area of Family Law. After an initial start handling workers compensation cases, I spent nine years as an assistant county attorney handling child protection, child support, juvenile delinquencies/truancies, guardianships/conservatorships and mental commitments in Southern Minnesota. In the late 90's I headed up a special grant to develop and teach battered women's advocates in basic housing laws along with handling housing and divorce cases. In 2000 I spent 7 months handling bankruptcy cases for families in financial crises. Since 2001, I have worked exclusively on family law matters involving...
You do not want to put your divorce in the hands of a mediator, mediate an agreement, only to find that the Court will not accept it. Instead, you want to be able to craft your own agreement which meets, as much as possible, your needs and the needs of your spouse while also keeping the Court’s requirements in mind. This ability gives control back to you rather than investing it in an overworked court system.

“ Your service was wonderful! It was so helpful during a difficult time. The site was intelligent, easy to navigate and the divorce went through flawlessly and easily. The information supplied was well thought out, easy to understand and thorough! The forms supplied were quick and easy to fill out....very stress and anxiety free. Any questions that I had during the process were easily answered by visiting the site. Thank you so much for your wonderful service! I would recommend it to anyone who would find themselves in that difficult situation. ”


Mediation offers a quite different approach to resolving conflicts between the parties. A neutral third party-the mediator- assists the parties in sorting out their affairs and comes to a mutual agreement in a confidential private format. Mediation is a solid option even for those that are having trouble with communication. It is a cost-effective process and it avoids the legal war of going to court.

Thomas Tuft, a native of the East Side of Saint Paul, is a shareholder at Tuft, Lach, Jerabek & O'Connell, PLLC practicing in all areas of family law, including complex divorce, child support, paternity, and child custody. He is a Rule 114 Qualified Neutral, a Social Early Neutral Evaluator (SENE) and a Financial Early Neutral Evaluator (FENE). He has been named among the list of Minnesota SuperLawyers® since 2002 and has been named one of the Top 40 Family Law SuperLawyers in Minnesota since 2004. He has been named to the list of Top 100 Superlawyers® in Minnesota and the...
During marriage, we kept our paychecks, bank accounts, and credit cards separate. How does this affect the division of assets and property if we get divorced? In Massachusetts, all of your assets and debts are considered marital and belong to both of you. It doesn’t matter whose name is on the accounts or credit cards or who paid which bills during the marriage.
You do not want to put your divorce in the hands of a mediator, mediate an agreement, only to find that the Court will not accept it. Instead, you want to be able to craft your own agreement which meets, as much as possible, your needs and the needs of your spouse while also keeping the Court’s requirements in mind. This ability gives control back to you rather than investing it in an overworked court system.
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. 
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.

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.
Mediating parents have a number of options available for determining how to provide for their children’s needs after divorce. As a starting point, we will calculate MN guideline child support using the MN Child Support Calculator which as of January 1, 2007 uses an income shares model for determining child support obligations. My process includes a complete explanation of how to properly input the information and how to read the calculator’s result. While many parents choose to follow the State guidelines; some parents decide to deviate from guideline support based on a variety of reasons. Still others adopt a less traditional (and more flexible) plan for sharing all expenses relating to the children, such as a joint checking account or monthly accounting and reimbursement method. Mediation allows you to be creative about how best to provide financial support for your children’s needs after the divorce.
The complexity of the issues and ability of the individuals to be flexible as they negotiate a fair agreement determines the length of the mediation. Every case is different, but the average case usually takes at least three to four two-hour mediation sessions, spread out over at least a month or two. More complex cases can take four to six months to complete.
Attorney fees vary from hundreds of dollars if the case is easy to thousands of dollars for cases with custody and/or property disputes.  It is important that you understand your payment arrangement with your attorney.  Many attorneys charge an hourly fee for their services.  You will be charged each time the attorney works on your file.  Ask your attorney for a written “Retainer Agreement” or letter which explains in detail how you will be charged for legal services.

If your spouse files an Answer that disputes details in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, then the judge will order you and your spouse to trial. There may be a number of hearings and legal proceedings before a trial occurs, so you will probably need an attorney to guide you through the process.  Before the trial, you and your spouse’s attorney may engage in evidence requests, witness interviews and negotiations.  This may be a lengthy and complex process that could cost you a great deal personally and financially.


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After the elapse of a period of time, nobody much cares if the reason you only had every other weekend was because the other parent truly wouldn’t “let” you have more time. Although that may very well be the case, and although you may have let your spouse control the situation in order to spare the children the trauma of parental conflict, in my experience the courts are more swayed by the pattern of contact rather than by these “excuses.” The wisdom of Solomon does not apply. [1]
In conclusion, my advice to fathers is that they should not despair. If the children would be better off in the father’s custody, that is worth fighting for, and is winnable. I have gotten many fathers custody, even in the most dismal of predicaments. For mothers, my advice is to take nothing for granted. Against a determined father, the loss of custody is a very real possibility which you should take very seriously if custody is important to you.
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.
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 married parties with children born during the marriage, both parties have joint legal and physical custody until the Court orders otherwise. Thus, either parent has the right to take the children, and the other parent has the right to take them back, and so forth. This can lead to a lot of game-playing and tugs-o-war which are obviously harmful to the children.
If you represent yourself in the divorce you will be called a “pro se litigant.” In all Minnesota district courts, there are forms that pro se litigants in divorce cases can use. You should check with your local courthouse or law library or the Minnesota State Courts website (www.mncourts.gov/forms) for more information about where to get these forms.

Following trial and final written submissions, the judicial officer is allowed up to ninety days to issue written "Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree" which is the legal document dissolving your marriage and deciding all issues involving your children, property division, child support, spousal maintenance and attorney fees. After the issuance of the Judgment and Decree, Minnesota Law has a set procedure and time limit to allow either party to ask the court to correct any perceived or actual errors; to argue to the court to change its' decision; or, to argue that based on alleged errors, a new trial should take place. Although a new trial is rarely granted, it is not uncommon, especially when presented with complex issues, for the Court is slightly amend its' decision following the original judgment and decree.


In addition, a finding of irretrievable breakdown must be supported by evidence that either a) the parties have lived separate and apart for a period of not less than 180 days immediately preceding the date of service of the divorce petition; OR b) there is “serious marital discord adversely affecting the attitude of one or both of the parties toward the marriage.” [5]

“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.”
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.
After the mediator has gone over the basics, you'll get a chance to make a short statement about your situation, as will your spouse. After you've each had a chance to speak, the mediator is likely to ask some questions to clarify or get more information. The mediator may also reflect back what you've said, to be sure that both the mediator and your spouse have understood all of your points. The same will go for your spouse.
There are alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods other than mediation.  Arbitration is an ADR where both sides agree that the neutral third person will decide the dispute.  In arbitration, both parties can agree whether or not the arbitration decision will be enforced by the court.  Arbitration might be used when you can't agree about the value of something and you're willing to let someone else, other than a judge, decide.
The Summons is a separate legal paper telling the respondent to answer the Petition within 30 days.  If the respondent does not, he or she is in default and the divorce is uncontested.  This means the petitioner (the spouse who wanted the divorce) may be granted the divorce and other relief requested.  The Summons also forbids both parties from selling or getting rid of any property or harassing one another.  It requires each party to maintain any insurance for the family.  If one spouse spends money belonging to both parties after receiving the Summons, he or she will have to explain to the court why the money was spent.
It also possible, as part of settlement agreements to contractually limit the amount and duration of spousal maintenance, and limit or prevent altogether any future modification of maintenance, though what is known as a "Karon waiver". Benefits of such waivers involve certainty to both parties as to amount and duration of maintenance. Risks also are possible, if a party contracts to a set term and amount of maintenance, and either through illness or job loss, either cannot meet their obligation or may need an extension of their award, as most waivers require the court to give up jurisdiction to make such a change. Importantly, Karon waivers may only be agreed upon by both parties. If there is no such agreement, a court may never order such limitations and waivers of rights to future "modification" of the amount or duration of maintenance.
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.

Once the mediator has helped the spouses frame the issues and interests clearly, it is time to negotiate an acceptable settlement. This usually begins with an exploration of possible options. With the mediator’s help, the spouses discuss and evaluate the options, until eventually they narrow down the options to the ones that work best for both spouses. Getting to the final combination of options will involve compromises and concessions on both sides

In order to begin a divorce in the state of Minnesota, one spouse must fill out or write a Summons and Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. Within the petition, the petitioning spouse must include information about the marriage like income, debts, children, and any property owned. After he or she fills out the petition it must then be served to the receiving spouse and filed with the District Court. Service must be done by a third party who can be a friend, the sheriff or a professional server.


Most state courts require you to submit a financial affidavit during the dissolution process. Be sure to check your local rules or consult with an attorney. It’s paramount to complete your financial affidavit accurately, as that information can be held against you later. Creating a rough draft early in the information-gathering process will ensure that your final version will be error-free. It also serves as a roadmap of the financial factors to cover during mediation.

Mediation is confidential and private, as opposed to divorce litigation, in which little privacy is afforded. Whatever goes on in mediation remains private, while grievances aired in a courtroom become part of the court record and are public. Any communications between parties during mediation are confidential with certain exceptions. These exceptions include child or elder abuse or one party talking about a crime they committed or one they intend to commit. The confidentiality of the mediation process allows spouses to speak openly and directly to one another without the fear something they say will be used against them.
When the respondent is served in another state, a separate child support  proceeding  can  be  started with the help of the county support enforcement agency and the county attorney.  In this proceeding, the Minnesota court tells the court in the other state that a parent who lives in the other state owes child support.  Please see our booklet Child Support Basics for more information.
The traditional divorce process can be extremely expensive and can create an adversarial climate that can require lengthy litigation, which is often unnecessary. With divorce mediation, our goal is to create an environment that is more collaborative by working together toward solutions to ensure divorcing couples end up with an arrangement that works for them, their kids if applicable, and their budgets.
If any issue pertinent to a custody or parenting time determination, including parenting time rights, is unresolved, the matter may be set for mediation of the contested issue prior to, concurrent with, or subsequent to the setting of the matter for hearing. The purpose of the mediation proceeding is to reduce acrimony which may exist between the parties and to develop an agreement that is supportive of the child's best interests. The mediator shall use best efforts to effect a settlement of the custody or parenting time dispute, but shall have no coercive authority.
Some spouses are under the impression that they must obtain a legal separation to get divorced. To the contrary, legal separation is an alternative to divorce, but the process is almost identical: you file legal paperwork, deal with all the same issues in a divorce, and ask a judge for an order of legal separation. If you plan to divorce, a legal separation is unnecessary and will only increase the total cost of the divorce.

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.

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.
The American College of Civil Trial Mediators® is a non-profit organization of dispute resolution professionals who are distinguished by their skill and professional commitment to civil trial mediation. Membership is limited to active mediators, program administrators, and academics who have achieved substantial experience in their field a ... more

In this first stage, the mediator works with you and your spouse to lay a foundation for the rest of the mediation. You give the mediator background information about your situation, and the mediator explains how the mediation will be conducted. Depending on how well you and your spouse communicate and what the issues are in your case, the mediator suggests an approach that should optimize the chances of reaching an agreement. You'll assess the issues on which you and your spouse agree or disagree, helping you to work together on an agenda for the rest of the mediation.


The court can also make an order restraining (stopping) an abusive or violent spouse from harassing or harming the other spouse or the children.  The court can order one of the spouses to leave and not return to the home.  A violation of this part of the order may be a misdemeanor.  The party violating it can be ordered to pay a fine or go to jail.
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