Most courts give parents the opportunity to work with independent evaluators soon after the case is filed to see if they can reach an agreement about custody, parenting time, money and property. The two types of ENE are: Financial ENE (FENE) to settle financial disputes and Social ENE (SENE) to settle custody and parenting time issues involving their children.
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The number of times you go to court and see a Judge or Referee depends on local court procedures and whether you and your spouse can agree on issues regarding your children, property and other matters. If you do NOT agree, the case usually takes longer to finish. It is a good idea to get legal advice before finalizing an agreement with your spouse.
Mediation is a forum in which a neutral mediator facilitates communication between parties to promote reconciliation, understanding, and settlement. Mediation is particularly suited to divorces and other family law proceedings because there is likely to be a continuing relationship between the parties, especially if minor children are involved. Many divorcing couples find mediation allows them to avoid the high financial and emotional costs of a litigated divorce. Because settlement is generally quicker, costs are reduced.
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.
If your child has been taken by the other parent, you should contact friends, neighbors, and relatives to get information about the other parent's location. Schools should also be checked to see if the child's records have been transferred. You can also check the State Bureau of Motor Vehicles to see whether a new car license or a new driver's license has been issued to the parent who has hidden or taken the child.
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If the case does settle, the mediator will urge the parties to sign a settlement to memorialize the agreement. A written settlement agreement is a contract between the parties, which is generally enforceable in the same manner as any other written contract. Generally, there's no record of the mediation session, and the only document produced is the settlement (or mediation) agreement.
People often ask, “Does mediation really work?” In a word, yes. We know from years of research that when you compare couples who have mediated their divorce with couples who go through an adversarial divorce, mediating couples are more likely to be satisfied with the process and the results, likely to take less time and spend less money, and are less likely to go back to court later to fight about something.
“Dear Spouse: I very much regret that we have been unable to agree to a suitable interim parenting time schedule for the children pending the temporary relief hearing scheduled for xx/xx/xx. In order to spare the children the experience of our conflict over this issue, I will abide by the schedule you have unilaterally dictated while we await court action. Nevertheless, I want to make clear my strong objection to this interim schedule, which we both know is not in the children’s best interests.”
The court can also consider a change if the parent with custody has denied or interfered with the parenting time of the other parent. However, parenting time problems alone are usually not enough to change custody. Denying or interfering with a parenting time schedule is a factor that a court may consider in deciding to change custody. A judge can also change custody based on the “best interests of the child,” if both parents agreed to use that standard in a writing approved by the court.
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.
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.
After discovery is completed, the attorneys will typically work with you to formulate a settlement proposal which is presented to the other side, either as part of a settlement meeting at one of the attorney's offices, or simply through a letter sent to the other lawyer. The attorneys will prepare a balance sheet summarizing your assets and liabilities. In Minnesota, the law requires an "Equitable Division of Property," which typically, but not always indicates an equal division of property. Parenting time proposals may also suggest the future use of a "Visitation Expeditor" or "Parenting Consultant" who are neutral third parties retained to assist in resolving future parenting and parenting time disputes. When the parties have children, settlement discussions will also involve "child support", which is currently set pursuant to "child support guidelines" based on a comparison of the gross incomes of both parties, and the amount of time the children will spend with each party. If one of the parties lacks the resources to support themselves, settlement discussions will also involve requests for either temporary or permanent "spousal maintenance." Pursuant to Minnesota Law, spousal maintenance while based on a consideration of several factors, ultimately will be based upon a consideration of the marital standard of living, the needs of the spouse requesting maintenance and the ability of that spouse to meet those needs as compared to the needs of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought, and their ability to meet their own needs and still contribute to the support of the requesting spouse. Maintenance may be temporary or permanent, depending on the facts of the case, including length of marriage whether there is any uncertainty as to if the spouse requesting maintenance will ever be able to become fully self supporting.
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.
Many of those who have successfully gone through divorce mediation note it is a much less expensive alternative to litigation. The costs of litigation are generally an unknown until the case settles. At that time the spouses may be shocked at the level of fees they have incurred through attorney’s fees, expert witnesses, depositions, preparation of the case for trial, filing motions back and forth and many other things associated with divorce litigation. Mediation, on the other hand, allows couples to have a good estimate of the number of hours it will take to resolve the issues at hand. The ultimate goal of mediation is to resolve the issues quickly, and this translates to financial savings.
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.
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.
Divorce mediation is an alternative to court litigation for resolving disputes that arise as two people separate their lives. A neutral third party called a “mediator” helps the couple to work through the issues of their divorce and reach a mutually agreeable settlement. Please note that mediation may not be safe or appropriate for individuals with a history or fear of domestic violence.
The belief that the mediator will act as a quasi-judge and tell the people what they are going to do is another very common misunderstanding that I hear about the divorce mediation process. In actual fact, one of the greatest advantages of the mediation process is that the parties themselves retain control over all decisions made and agreements reached. This is very different from the litigation model where a judge, essentially a stranger in a black robe, imposes orders and judgments on the parties.
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...
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.
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.
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.” 
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.
Couples who are headed for a trial date may be ordered by the court to go through mediation before that date is set, however, mediation can also be voluntary. If the couples are unable to resolve their issues through mediation, they are free to pursue any other remedies they choose. Mediation is generally better for the children involved, as it allows the couple to make decisions which are in the best interests of the entire family in a non-contentious manner. Children can be damaged by hearing their parents argue and say things to one another that children should not hear. Many parents who end up litigating their divorce are not hesitant to say ugly things about the other parent in front of the children. Parents who make a conscious decision to mediate their divorce, are also more likely to be aware of ensuring the children are not privy to contentious behavior between the parents.
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.
The court may appoint a “guardian ad litem” if it believes one party has hurt the child or that having someone to represent what's best for the child would be helpful. A guardian ad litem advises the court about custody, parenting time and support during the case. A guardian ad litem is different from other kinds of guardians. The guardian ad litem does not have custody. A guardian ad litem makes an independent investigation about what's best for the child and writes a report for the court. The parties may be asked to pay the costs of a guardian ad litem.
This is a common fear which is rooted in the adversarial legal system. The reality is that many parents who are mediating their divorce separate before the divorce is final, some even purchase a second home. Living together after a decision has been made to divorce is extremely difficult. Separation provides many people the distance they need to more successfully manage the challenges and difficulties of divorce. During mediation you have many opportunities to be creative and solve problems in a cooperative and mutually beneficial manner.
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Unless your lawyer thinks it's important that you be represented, try the first session without your attorney. (If your spouse is insisting on having an attorney present, you'll want to do the same.) If you're not represented, but you've asked a lawyer to be your consulting attorney just for purposes of mediation, then you'll likely attend the first mediation session on your own. Either way, if you go by yourself and then you find that you can't state your position clearly or stand up for yourself alone, then consider bringing your lawyer to later sessions.
Tera is one of the founding members and the managing partner at Minnesota Divorce and Family Mediation. She has over 15 years of combined education, training, and professional experience in facilitation, team building, negotiating, and mediating resolutions of all matters. She uses a strengths-based, client-driven approach to develop thorough parenting plans for children tailored to their unique circumstances and future needs. She has experience with complicated parenting issues, children with special needs, mental health issues, domestic partnerships, and other non-traditional relationships. Tera's goal is to develop a comprehensive divorce agreement while minimizing stress and cost.
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.
Divorce is actually a legal procedure between you and your spouse, so, in order to satisfy legal requirements, you must properly notify your spouse that legal action is being taken against them. In a divorce proceeding, this is called Service of Process, and involves delivering copies of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and Summons along with supporting documents to your spouse in a timely manner.
3. Even if we don’t settle the case, it’s great preparation and knowledge for purposes of going into court. Even though it’s confidential, and therefore an offer the other party made cannot be used in court against them, if you discuss the case in mediation and reach an impass, it does give us a better idea how best to present the dispute to the court.
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.
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.
Jay has been a licensed attorney since 1980. He began his career as a public defender before transitioning into insurance defense work where he gained valuable experience and knowledge of the insurance industry and insurance practices. After founding Tentinger Law Firm in 1997, Jay practiced in family law as well as continuing his insurance defense work. Today, Jay focuses his time to working with small businesses and their litigation needs. Jay is a member of the Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska State Bar Associations and a no-fault arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association. He is admitted to practice before the...
When a couple has made the decision to enter into divorce mediation, there are preparations which can be made which will ensure the mediation is more beneficial to both parties. Having an experienced divorce attorney in your corner is important before you attend mediation. Because a mediator is unable to give legal advice to either party, your legal questions can then be answered by your attorney. Before attending mediation, it is a good idea to make sure you are organized. This means having all documents pertaining to the issues you will be discussed together in a cohesive manner and bringing those documents to mediation.
Divorce mediation still feels like a new idea in some parts of the country, but it’s increasingly well-known and widely accepted. Mediation means different things to different people. In the form I recommend, you and your spouse would sit down in the same room with each other and with a neutral mediator. With the mediator’s help, you would work through all the issues you need to resolve so the two of you can get through your divorce.
A divorce can get complicated if the parties have property (real estate, automobiles, vacation property, pensions, jewelry, etc.) or minor children. Usually, the divorce can be done more quickly if the spouses agree on how to divide the property and handle custody and parenting time with the children. Many cases start out with a lot of disputes, but then the parties are able to reach an agreement. Parties often reach agreement after using alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services outside of court. NOTE: If you feel threatened by or unsafe with the other party, you may want to get legal advice or help from an advocate before using ADR.