A custody determination basically comes down to figuring out how the children’s time will be divided between the parents, and how decisions will be made. If you and your spouse can reach an agreement, it will be accepted by the judge unless it is not to be in the child’s best interest. If you cannot reach a custody agreement, Minnesota child custody law provides for the judge to decide the issue, after considering the following factors:

In order to begin a divorce in the state of Minnesota, one spouse must fill out or write a Summons and Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. Within the petition, the petitioning spouse must include information about the marriage like income, debts, children, and any property owned. After he or she fills out the petition it must then be served to the receiving spouse and filed with the District Court. Service must be done by a third party who can be a friend, the sheriff or a professional server.


Resolutions emerge from the mediation that are created and accepted by BOTH parties. The resolution will reflect each party's individual values and unique needs. Our experience has shown that settlements created with full participation of the parties, in face-to-face negotiations, are more likely to satisfy the needs of all parties and be honored in the future because they have crafted it themselves.
Denying or interfering with an established parenting time schedule can result in more time being awarded by the court to the parent who was denied their regular parenting time. The court will look at the reasons why the parenting time schedule was not followed.  If the court determines that denying or interfering parenting time happens more than once and is on purpose, the court will award more time to the parent who was denied their regular parenting time.  The only exception is if the denial of parenting time was to protect the child’s physical or emotional health.  The court could also give a penalty to the parent who denied or interfered with the other parent’s regular time, or consider it a factor when deciding on a change of custody. 
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.
The other party is often awarded a lien or a mortgage for a share of what the property is worth.  A lien is a claim on the property.  The party awarded the real estate owes the other party the amount of the lien or mortgage.  The Judgment and Decree usually sets a date by which the payment must be paid.  If the lien is not paid when due, the party owed the money can ask the court to order the other to pay the lien, or to change division of the property in the Judgment and Decree.  In the case of a mortgage, the holder of the mortgage could foreclose.

The length of mediation depends on what issues have been agreed to prior to mediation and those issues that need to be addressed during mediation. Also, the amount of time spent in mediation is contingent upon you and your spouse's willingness to come to agreements that are equitable for the both of you and your willingness to do what is in the best interests of your children. The time spent in mediation can be reduced if you and your spouse are able to come to agreements prior to mediation, or at the least, narrow down your options to a few workable ones. However, if you and your spouse are not able to discuss your divorce outside of mediation, it is strongly recommended that you avoid it at all costs. When couples try to work out issues on their own and it leads to arguments and "drawing lines in the sand", it makes mediation more difficult and time consuming.


Such arguments are made both in support of temporary as well as permanent relief. Such arguments do not always carry the day, but it is often a consideration that influences judges, even if they deny it. If custody is in issue or you really want to keep the house, try to stay put until the temporary relief hearing, which is your first opportunity to legally compel the other party to move out.
In reality, every divorce requires both formal legal procedures as well as some kind of settlement negotiations. In Minnesota, even if you prefer to litigate and leave every decision up to the judge, the rules require that before the Court will decide your case, parties must attempt resolution through some form of Alternative Dispute Resolution, of which mediation is still the most common. [1]
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:
When deciding which party to award a marital pet, a compelling argument is the pet’s attachment to the children. If there are minor children involved, who are very attached to the pet, the Court will likely award the pet to whichever parent has primary residence of the children. Another compelling argument is which party cares most for the pet. If you can prove that you were the one primarily responsible for feeding the pet, taking it to the vet, walking it, etcetera, then you will be much more likely to be awarded the pet.

That said, although the legal impact of the physical custody label is debatable, if you are the primary parent, it is still preferable to have sole physical custody than joint physical custody. Conversely, if you are not the primary parent, it is still preferable to have the joint physical custody label than not to have it. This is because of the uncertainty over how a future court, evaluator, parenting consultant, guardian ad litem or others might interpret that label.


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.
Spousal maintenance is money paid to support an ex-spouse.  Either spouse can ask for spousal maintenance, but the court will not award spousal maintenance unless there is a need for it.  Spousal maintenance may be granted for several reasons.  These include disability or illness or not having worked outside the home for a number of years.  If there is a large difference between your income and that of your spouse, you may be in need of spousal maintenance.
If the respondent does not answer the Petition within 30 days after it was served, the respondent is in default.  The petitioner's attorney tells the court and a default hearing is scheduled.  Default hearings are also scheduled when all of the relief to be ordered by the court has been agreed to by the parties in a written agreement called a Stipulation or Marital Termination Agreement. If both parties are represented by lawyers, the divorce may be finalized without a hearing. If both parties did not have lawyers or if the respondent never answered, there is a default hearing. At a default hearing only the petitioner and his or her attorney need to attend.  The petitioner is sworn under oath and testifies to all the facts necessary for the court to order the relief requested in the Petition or Stipulation.
Like all states, Minnesota courts begin with a presumption that it's best for a child to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after a divorce. If possible, judges want to support joint custody arrangements. However, the exact nature of the time-share will be determined by the children's best interests. For more information, see Nolo's article Child Custody FAQ.
Resolutions emerge from the mediation that are created and accepted by BOTH parties. The resolution will reflect each party's individual values and unique needs. Our experience has shown that settlements created with full participation of the parties, in face-to-face negotiations, are more likely to satisfy the needs of all parties and be honored in the future because they have crafted it themselves.
MN law is relatively vague about how to divide marital property (all that you own and owe). There is an assumption that all marital property should be divided equitably. Mediation allows you and your spouse to define your own concept of fairness and to control how you divide your marital property. Through the creation of a master spreadsheet you will fully document and verify all of your assets and liabilities. As you make decisions about who will receive which property, the spreadsheet calculates and reveals the overall monetary value awarded to each spouse. The end result is one comprehensive document which allows each of you to easily determine if your property division is “fair” or not. My experience is that typically the numbers speak for themselves.

I treat all parties in negotiations with respect. My goal is not to create winners and losers but to use my creativity, my empathy, and my knowledge of the law to create win-win solutions to the practical problems posed by divorce in a cost-effective way. This approach to reaching divorce agreements avoids the high costs, delays, and interpersonal conflict and stress that are inevitable in litigation through family law courts. As a Springfield divorce attorney mediator, I prepare the legal papers and Massachusetts divorce forms reflecting your decisions so that a judge can approve the separation agreement and issue the divorce decree.

Any offers made during mediation, or any possibilities that are discussed, cannot be disclosed to a court.  This creates a setting where the parties can more freely discuss and explore how far from their “stance” they might be willing to go.  A trial, or any type of litigation is very costly, so money saved by resolving issues in mediation, can often become part of a solution.   It doesn’t mean that you can take something like a bank account balance or a mental health condition, mention it in mediation, and therefore make it non-disclosable.  Facts, such as these, mentioned in mediation, can indeed become part of a court case if the situation is not resolved in mediation.  It is the discussions and offers that remain confidential.


Christine Callahan has completed the certified training and is on the court roster for counties in the southwest metro to conduct Social Early Neutral Evaluations (SENE, for custody and parenting time) and Financial Early Neutral Evaluations (FENE for support and property division). For more information about the Early Neutral process in Minnesota, please see our articles.
The mediator will also ask you and your spouse to bring in financial documents such as tax returns and bank and mortgage statements. As you progress, the mediator will summarize the information being assembled. If you agree that additional research is needed or a neutral expert is to be consulted, that will go on a “to do” list. This second stage of the mediation can span two or more sessions, especially if you need to do outside work to obtain additional information or appraisals. If you feel that you already know enough about your situation and have definite ideas on how to work out a settlement, you may find yourself impatient with this stage and anxious to move ahead with the negotiations. Even though you may want to rush on, the mediator’s job is to make sure that both you and your spouse have all the facts and information you need to negotiate an agreement that is legally binding and that you won’t regret having signed.

If the respondent does not answer the Petition within 30 days after it was served, the respondent is in default.  The petitioner's attorney tells the court and a default hearing is scheduled.  Default hearings are also scheduled when all of the relief to be ordered by the court has been agreed to by the parties in a written agreement called a Stipulation or Marital Termination Agreement. If both parties are represented by lawyers, the divorce may be finalized without a hearing. If both parties did not have lawyers or if the respondent never answered, there is a default hearing. At a default hearing only the petitioner and his or her attorney need to attend.  The petitioner is sworn under oath and testifies to all the facts necessary for the court to order the relief requested in the Petition or Stipulation.


The same analysis applies to debts. Debts incurred prior to the valuation date are generally marital, regardless of who incurred them. Debts incurred after the valuation date are generally separate. If your spouse is charging up the credit cards like a drunken sailor, it is in your interest to expedite the divorce proceedings to lock in the default valuation date.
If the parties are hostile or overly emotional, the mediator will separate the parties and shuttle back and forth between them in "private caucuses." A private caucus is a conference between the mediator and one party, without the other party being present. The mediator passes offers and demands between the parties. Conversations between a party and the mediator during private caucus are confidential unless a party authorizes the mediator to disclose information to the other side.

Some find it helpful to make a list of marital events, in the order they occurred, as well as a list of the current disputes and another list of the outcomes you would like to see. Whether you put it on paper or not, have a list in your head of which issues are most important to you and which are the least important. Being prepared and on time is key to the success of the divorce mediation. You must also be prepared to talk to your spouse. If you have had trouble communicating in the past, your mediator will be there to facilitate communication. While it is important that you set goals regarding what it will take to resolve the case or the individual disputes, it is equally important you remain flexible. You may be surprised at some of the things you find out during mediation which change your perception of the entire issue.


If your ex-spouse was ordered to provide medical or life insurance, but does not buy insurance or cancels the insurance, the court can order your ex-spouse to reinstate the insurance policy or get a new policy.  The court may also order your ex-spouse to pay medical or hospital bills which should have been paid by the insurance.  If cash was received for the policy that was canceled, the court can award you all or part of the money.  You can also ask the court to find your ex-­spouse in contempt of court.


Minnesota has a "no-fault" divorce law.  This means it is not necessary to prove your spouse is at fault for the breakup of the marriage.  It is only necessary to prove that there has been "an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship."  This means that there is no hope that the spouses will want to live together again as husband and wife.
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