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.
Mediation is much less formal than courtroom litigation. Rather than being bound by courtroom etiquette and being under the burden of the technical rules of evidence, those involved in the mediation are seated around a table or in an informal office setting. The issues in question are discussed in a non-intimidating, non-threatening manner. Solutions and settlement options which are agreed to by both parties are the hallmarks of successful mediation. Mediation solutions also tend to be much more creative than the solutions which arise from litigation. The mediator will “brainstorm” with both spouses in order to arrive a good solution for each issue. So long as there are no violations of Florida laws, the final mediated agreement can be anything the spouses agree to with the help of their mediator.
To ensure you cover everything, create a master list of all your assets and possessions—regardless of whether an item is thought to be yours or your spouse’s. The master list should include all real property (house, rental properties, vacation homes), personal property (books, DVDs, furniture, artwork, jewelry), vehicles (including boats, motorcycles, ATVs), bank accounts (joint and separate, checking, savings), credit cards, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, annuities, stocks and other financial products. Account for everything you own.
On a related note, it is a useful precaution to close or otherwise terminate additional borrowing authority on any joint credit cards, lines of credit, or other joint debt accounts, when a divorce appears imminent. With respect to joint credit cards and other joint unsecured consumer lines of credit, Minnesota law requires the creditor to close the account upon the written request of either party. 
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.
In Minnesota, there is no particular age at which a child gets to decide which parent he wants to live with. Generally, the older the child, the more weight the child’s preference carries, whether in the initial custody determination or in the context of a motion to modify custody.  Still, the child’s preference alone is an insufficient basis for modification of custody.  There must be a showing of endangerment, at least on an emotional level, in order to modify custody.  The child’s preference is an important factor and often a sine qua non of a showing of endangerment.
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.
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.
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.
The size of the estate doesn’t always correlate with the overall fees incurred. Dividing property is not always a major issue between spouses. Some couples with substantial marital estates manage to divide assets with minimal fighting or attorney’s fees. Once they’re informed of their rights, how the law works, and what a court would likely do, they divide property accordingly. These individuals appreciate the wisdom of avoiding unnecessary legal expenses.
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.
If the non-custodial parent does not pay the child support ordered, there are three main ways of enforcing the order. All of these methods are complicated. You should try to find an attorney to help you. You can hire an attorney, or you can ask for legal help from the child support enforcement office of your county. This office is sometimes called Support and Collections orthe IV-D (4-D) unit. Please see our Child Support booklet for more information.
The law allows parents to make voluntary parenting plans. A parenting plan is a plan voluntarily designed by both parents based on the best interests of the child. A parenting plan must include a schedule of the time each parent spends with the child, who will make specific decisions regarding the child, and a way to settle disputes. An agreed-upon parenting plan may use terms other than “physical” and “legal” custody but it must clearly state if the parents have joint legal custody or joint physical custody or which parent has sole legal custody or sole physical custody.
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.