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.
After service, the receiving spouse must file an answer. If the spouses agree on the conditions of their divorce, they may file a Stipulate Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree, which will put them on a proverbial fast track to ending their marriage. However, if the receiving spouse disagrees with the petitioning spouse, then he or she may serve the petitioning spouse an answer that explains why he or she disagrees.
Typically the SENE will involve both parties, both attorneys, and two court-appointed custody evaluators. Usually three hours is blocked for a session. During the session, each party (and his or her attorney) is given the opportunity to explain what they would like for a custody and parenting time arrangement, and why. Questions from the evaluators are asked and answered. Then there is a break while the evaluators confer. Then the meeting reconvenes and recommendations are given and explained, whereupon the parties discuss settlement.
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.
1. Never let your spouse suck you into a fight — even a verbal one. Once it starts getting heated, just withdraw from your spouse’s presence. While this won’t protect you against a spouse who is willing to make up a false abuse allegation out of whole cloth, it will protect you from a spouse who is trying to set you up to do something which will allow him or her to claim s/he was physically harmed or put in fear of imminent bodily harm.
Mediation is confidential, allows you and your spouse to make the decisions, and is less expensive than filing a lawsuit. You can reach a positive agreement that is more customized than the one you might receive from a judge. In mediation, you are responsible for your attorney’s fees, as well as half of the mediator’s fees. In certain states, mediation is required by the court after a lawsuit has been filed; for example, North Carolina requires couples to attend mediation before a child custody trial and equitable distribution trial.
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.
In almost all cases, you will be required to attempt some form of alternative dispute resolution. This will typically take the form of "mediation" which is a process in which a neutral third party, typically an attorney trained in mediation, will attempt to assist the parties in reaching their own compromise settlement of some or all issues between the parties. The mediator does not make decisions, but rather facilitates a discussion between the parties (sometimes alone and sometimes with the assistance of counsel) aimed at reaching settlement of your issues. The mediation process is confidential, and if you are not successful in reaching a mediated settlement, the judicial officer will never learn what positions either party took in mediation. As part of the mediation process, the mediator will request both parties provide an accurate summary of income, assets and liabilities. It is recognized that sometimes, one party controls some or all of this information, and skilled mediators attempt to assure that there is a full and fair disclosure of financial information, and a full and fair discussion of the issues.
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.
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.  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.
To get a no-fault dissolution in Minnesota, you need to state in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage that “there has been an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage relationship.” Also, one of the following must exist: (1) serious marital discord adversely affecting the attitude of one or both of the parties toward the marriage, or (2) the parties have been living separate and apart for 180 days before filing.
Notwithstanding all of the above, mediation can often be the process that helps break an impasse and result in a reasonable settlement of one’s case. But for mediation to work, both parties must be prepared to compromise. If you approach mediation with the attitude that it will be an opportunity to convince the other party to do things your way, mediation will likely fail. That said, be careful not to concede too much. A lawyer can give you an appreciation for where the line is between generous cooperation and foolish capitulation.
Even if you don’t qualify for the summary dissolution, you may be able to proceed with an uncontested dissolution, where you and your spouse reach an agreement about the division of your property, and, if you have any children, what arrangements will be made for them. You begin the procedure by preparing and filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, along with various supporting documents. For an uncontested dissolution, one of these documents you would be a marital settlement agreement outlining the division of assets, and your agreement regarding any children. These documents are filed with the court, and copies of them are provided to your spouse. You will attend a court hearing, at which time the judge will make sure that all of your paperwork is in order, perhaps ask you a few questions, and enter your Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.
If you and your spouse have been unable to resolve issues involving your children, it may be necessary to have a formal custody/parenting-time evaluation. There is generally a monitory cost associated with this evaluation. This evaluation can be conducted by the Court Services workers in the county your action is venued in, if the county has such a department. In most counties this work is contracted out to third parties. Some parties, however, prefer to retain their own neutral expert, typically a child psychologist with expertise in conducting such evaluations. Private evaluations typically are more expensive than those conducted by Court Services. Whoever conducts the evaluation, however, will interview you, your children, and such third parties who have relevant information as are necessary, including other family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, doctors and counselors. They will observe you interacting with your children, and may also administer psychological testing. At the end of this process, some evaluators will first make an oral presentation of their findings in the hope that their summary will facilitate settlement. If not, a formal written report is issued.
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.
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.
I am a Rochester native with over 30 years of experience practicing family law in the Olmsted County and Southeast Minnesota area. I was admitted to practice in 1980. In addition to representing clients in all of the counties in Minnesota’s Third Judicial District, I have represented clients in Goodhue, Blue Earth, and Faribault counties located in the First and Fifth Judicial Districts. I am a graduate of St. Olaf College and Hamline University School of Law. I have taken particular interest in advocating for the best interest of children. I am a volunteer Guardian...
Many people think that when a couple wants to live apart they have to get a "legal separation." This is not true. Often couples live apart for awhile before they decide to get a divorce. This is not "illegal." Legal separations are for people who do not want a divorce (usually for religious reasons). They still need a legal paper to settle custody, support, and property questions. The court makes the same kinds of decisions that it makes in a divorce. However, the couple remains married, and the division of property is not final.