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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.
If the parties cannot agree on custody, the court will usually order county, court or social services or a guardian ad litem to investigate the ability of each parent to care for and raise the children.  The social worker, court services worker or guardian ad litem will usually interview each parent.  They will contact friends and family, teachers, counselors, doctors, and other professionals who have seen the family.  The investigator then writes a report to the court and makes a recommendation about custody.  Your attorney may be given a copy of the report.  The parties are usually required to pay the costs of a custody investigation based on their ability to pay. The court does not have to accept the recommendation of the investigator, but considers it very seriously.
Negotiating agreements isn't always linear. You may start at what feels like the end, and you may find yourself needing to gather more information at various points. The mediator will help you to stay on track and brainstorm options, will encourage you and your spouse to express your opinions, positions, and what's important to you, and will help you listen to each other in ways that will make a resolution more likely. (You may be able to use some of these communication tools in your ongoing parenting relationship.)

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.

Mediation also allows couples to avoid the risks of trial, protects confidentiality, and decreases stressful conflict. Mediation may also protect the children of a marriage from the pain of parental conflict. Because the parties work to create their own agreements, couples who mediate their divorce settlement often find greater satisfaction than those who go to trial. Moreover, the couples learn skills to help them resolve future conflicts.
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.
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.
Jason Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. He is an honors graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato, and the William Mitchell College of Law. Jason has been recognized as a “Super Lawyer” by Thomson Reuters. Media appearances include WCCO Radio, KARE 11 Television, the Star Tribune, USA Today, Time Magazine, Minnesota Monthly and NBC News. 
Any information disseminated on this website does not constitute legal advice of any kind,and does not form the basis for an attorney-client relationship. As such, the reader of such information is advised to consult directly with a competent legal professional of their own choosing to discuss and answer any substantive legal questions they may have.
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.
This booklet explains your rights in a Minnesota divorce and includes information on custody, parenting time, child support, maintenance, abuse, and division of property.  This booklet does NOT tell you how to get a divorce without the help of an attorney.  Divorce law is complicated and changes often.  Each case must be handled differently.  Unless your divorce is very simple, it is usually a good idea to have an attorney.
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