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.
In a very limited number of divorce mediations, one spouse feels the mediator favors the other spouse. In such a case resolution is unlikely to occur. If a spouse is concealing issues during mediation, the mediator cannot compel him or her to reveal such things as accurate assets or income. In contrast, an attorney can depose the spouse, require financial information or even counsel the client to hire a forensic accountant. Divorce mediators don’t have the authority a judge has, meaning the success of the mediation is wholly dependent on the cooperation between the parties.
Julia actually came to my rescue twice. The first time, I was fortunate enough to stumble across her website while looking for divorce mediation. We did not have the time or money for court battles; we just needed someone to insert some sense and sanity into what is already a tricky and painful process. Julia was able to make our divorce process simple and straightforward, and we both felt like we were heard! Four years later, I contacted Julia again to help me with the next intimidating process of amending the divorce agreement. Again, I felt like she did her conscientious best to humanize and streamline the process (and save me money!) with her compassion, quick thinking, and thorough attention to detail. And as a bonus: she answered my panicked emails in a timely and kindly fashion.

In most cases, divorce is a difficult and painful process, both emotionally and financially. The traditional practice of hiring a lawyer and litigating in court to end a marriage is not only expensive, but can lengthen the process, increase contention, and cause additional and unnecessary stress on you, your spouse, and your children. Because of this, more and more couples are looking to mediation to walk them through the intricacies of divorce and help navigate parenting agreements. While divorce is rarely an easy event, the goal of mediation is to encourage and support you in developing the best solutions for your individual situation, in a collaborative way and on your time line, which ultimately lessens the negative impact of divorce on you and your family.
While upwards of 95% of all cases settle short of trial, the most expensive and acrimonious manner of resolving your differences with your spouse is through a formal trial - and perhaps nowhere is the retention of skilled counsel more important. Trial involves extensive study of all facts and evidence relevant to your case, extensive preparation of witnesses for testimony, extensive preparation to conduct examination (questioning) of witnesses, extension preparation of exhibits summarizing your position as to the evidence, hopefully in a form understandable and convincing to the trial judge, strategy as to what witnesses will be called and in what order, as well as the actual trial examination of witnesses, which often, especially when "cross examining" opposing witnesses, requires the lawyer to think on their feet, and prepare questions on the spot as they hear evasive or unexpected answers.
Divorce in Minnesota is called dissolution of marriage. A dissolution for any married couple will accomplish two things: (1) severing the marital relationship, and (2) dividing assets and debts. If they have been married for a significant length of time and one of them will be unable to be self-supporting, the issue of alimony may arise. If there are minor children, the issues of child custody, visitation, and support will need to be resolved.
Although the advantages of mediation generally far outweigh the disadvantages, there are a few potential disadvantages associated with divorce mediation. A divorce mediator may not advise you on the legal aspects regarding the decisions you are making. This could result in an agreement which leads to a loss of important rights. This is why all mediated agreements should be looked at by an experienced divorce attorney prior to giving it to the judge for approval.
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.
The court can appoint a "parenting time expeditor" (previously called a “visitation expeditor”).  This “expeditor” is a neutral person who will help solve problems about parenting time. An “expeditor” may not be available in all counties.  If an agreement is not reached, the expeditor will make the decision. The decision of the parenting time expeditor is "non-binding."  This means that the court can change the decision if either party brings a motion asking the court to resolve the dispute.  Until changed by the court, the parents must follow the expeditor’s decision. 
If the respondent answers the Petition, the parties will try to settle the case by having their attorneys work out an agreement.  This is called negotiation.  If the couple is able to agree on everything (through negotiation or mediation), a written agreement called a Stipulation or Marital Termination Agreement is prepared and signed by both parties and their attorneys.  The parties agree that one of them will present the Stipulation to the court.  Just one party needs go to court.  The other party usually does not attend.  The court usually accepts the agreement made by the parties.  A written Stipulation may also be presented to the court without the need for any hearing.  This process can only be used if each party had a lawyer.
You'll then attend the first meeting—usually held in a conference room or comfortable office—where the mediator will explain what you can expect from the process. For example, the mediator may tell you that everyone will be in the same room for the entire mediation or that you'll meet in separate sessions so that the mediator can get your views or positions in private. The mediator may also take care of some housekeeping business—for example, ask you to sign an agreement that says that you'll keep what's said in the mediation confidential and that you understand that the mediator can't disclose any of what goes on there if there's a court proceeding later on. At the same time, the mediator will try to make you feel comfortable by establishing a rapport with both you and your spouse.
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.
Joe Dillon, MBA is a professional divorce mediator and founder of Equitable Mediation Services. Joe is passionate about helping couples avoid the destruction of attorney-driven litigation and knows first-hand that the right information, combined with the right expertise and the right kind of support can make the challenging process of divorce less expensive, less time-consuming and less stressful for divorcing couples and their families.

1.     You just might settle the case.    The parties involved have the most information about their situation, and therefore are in the best position to craft a creative solution specifically tailored to them.  Judges, on the other hand, are bound by case law, statutes, and rules and must provide a solution for the parties that fits within this framework.

The court may award either party alimony if the party seeking alimony (1) lacks sufficient property to meet his or her own needs, and (2) is unable to be self-supporting through employment, or is not required to seek employment due to being a child custodian. In the absence of an agreement by the parties, Minnesota alimony law provides that the amount and duration of alimony will be determined by the judge, after considering the following factors:
Each divorce mediator will have his or her own approach, however, some of the basics will likely remain the same. You will probably speak to the mediator on the phone, providing information about your marriage your family and the issues at hand. Some mediators will ask you for a great deal of information, while others may prefer to stick with the basics until meeting both parties. During the first meeting, the mediator will explain how the divorce mediation process will proceed. All parties may meet in the same room at all times, or the mediator may meet with each party separately at least one time.
In this stage, the tentative settlement agreement is put into writing and circulated to both spouses for review with their advisers. If the issues in your case are simple, the mediator may prepare a memorandum outlining your settlement and give you an opportunity to sign it before you leave the mediation session in which you finished up your negotiating. The memorandum can summarize the essential points of agreement and can be used as a basis for preparing a formal settlement agreement that will be filed with the court as part of the now-uncontested divorce case.
Brian James is a Divorce Mediator with offices in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin.  He is the founder and owner of C.E.L. & Associates, a private mediation firm that focuses on pre and post decree divorce issues. His background consists of 10.5 years working with domestic violence and divorcing families in the Criminal Justice System. He is a member of numerous mediation organizations and local chambers of commerce. His goal is to assist his clients in their time of need and help them work out agreements that are best for them and their children. At the same time, he tries to save his divorcing couples time and money that is otherwise wasted in the court system. What would you rather do with your money during a divorce, pay it to an attorney or invest it in your child's college education?
Another common complaint is that the system is too soft on child support obligors. Truth be told, there are some self-employed parents that are doing well financially, but whose "inaccurate" tax returns show little income after they’ve written off business expenses (e.g., cars, travel and entertainment). Sometimes, these parents are able to fool the system and pay a lower amount of support.
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.

Like all states, Minnesota requires both parents to support their children, even after a divorce. The amount of child support depends primarily on each parent's income and other resources, and how much time each parent spends with the children. In addition, sometimes the courts will "impute" income to a parent who has the capacity to earn more than he or she actually is earning. To learn more about child support, see Nolo's Child Support area.
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. 

1. Don’t make your attorney justify every single decision, no matter how small. We’re happy to do it, but it takes time, and time costs you money. The point is not for you to acquire a law school education. The point is to represent your interests with excellence and efficiency. If you can’t take your lawyer’s word for something, it’s time to get a new lawyer. Otherwise, it’s much cheaper to give your lawyer a certain amount of “command authority,” at least on matters of procedure and tactics.
As the number of divorces has increased, divorcing couples have frequently become frustrated with the excessive costs and delays associated with an overburdened, adversarial litigation system, and have sought ways to play a greater role in determining the details of their divorces. Likewise, the court system has recognized the importance of developing methods of handling disputes outside of the courtroom, and so court-related mediation programs have increased in popularity around the country.
Court rules now require both sides to try ways other than court to resolve their differences.  There are many other ways to reach agreements called alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods.  Make sure you know all your choices before deciding on a method.  The parties may be asked to pay for the cost of ADR. Most ADR methods let you stop the process at any time without reaching an agreement.
In 2005, the average mediated case cost $3000 and was settled in 90 days. In turn, the average litigated case in the courts cost $15,000 and took 18 months to settle. Keep in mind, the litigated cases led to more spite and frustration between the divorcing couples, usually leading to a lose/lose situation for both. Not many people walk away from a litigated divorce feeling satisfied. On the other hand, couples who went through mediation felt satisfied with the agreements they had reached and both walked away feeling that they had gotten what they had wanted. Who would you rather have decide what happens with your children and assets after a divorce, you during mediation or attorneys and judges during a divorce in the courts? Who knows more about you, attorneys, judges or you? Why have people who know nothing about you tell you how you are going to live the rest of your life.
If you're considering (or already facing) divorce, chances are, you have a million questions. And that's understandable. Your life - and the lives of your spouse and children - will soon be undergoing a seismic shift. That's why it's so important to sit down with a knowledgeable family law attorney and get answers to all of your questions before moving forward.
1. If custody or parenting time is in issue, don’t move out without first getting an enforceable written stipulation addressing custody and parenting time after the move-out. The key is to have in place at least an interim parenting time schedule which affords you at least as much parenting time as you hope to obtain through the court. Otherwise, the longer you acquiesce to a pattern of parenting time that is less than you desire, the more of an argument the other party will make of it against you. Often arguments like the following are heard:
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.
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