Mediation preparation is often limited, as there is no formal discovery. Frequently, mediation begins with a "general caucus" where the parties and the mediator meet in the same room. The mediator establishes the ground rules in an "agreement to mediate." In court-mandated mediation, the court order will often contain or refer to the "rules of mediation." One of the most important mediation rules is the requirement for confidentiality.
NOTE: There are many ways to divide real estate in a divorce. The court forms for marriage dissolution (divorce) only give you 1 option -- one spouse gets 100% of the house, cabin, or other real estate, and the other spouse gets a lien. But, you can change the court forms. An attorney can explain other options, advise you about the law, and draft terms to meet your situation. If your divorce involves real estate, you should get advice from a lawyer on your legal rights and options.
Minnesota is an equitable division state. In an equitable division state, each spouse owns the income he or she earns during the marriage, and also has the right to manage any property that's in his or her name alone. But at divorce, whose name is on what property isn't the only deciding factor. Instead, the judge will divide marital property in a way that the judge considers fair, but won't necessarily be exactly equal.
Court cutbacks mean that judges have less time to handle every case; many times, people find themselves stalled for months at a time waiting for a court date or for something to ‘happen’ on their case. Parties can spend tens of thousands of dollars on attorney fees and then one or two years later fire both attorneys and come up with their own agreement. Mediation lets people move forward at their own pace.
The parties in a mediation are not required to reach an agreement, and sometimes they don't. Whether the case settles or reaches an impasse, the mediator usually meets with the parties together at the end of the session. If the case has neither settled nor reached an impasse, the mediator will likely encourage the parties to attend another mediation session.
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.
All people have power in different ways. It is my job as mediator to balance power and ensure that both clients have an equal voice and ability to impact outcomes. In mediation, power comes from knowledge and information. Documented information about assets and liabilities and a broad understanding of each other’s needs are what make you successful in mediation.
If there are children of the marriage, each spouse has the right to decide where the children live or go to school, whether they should see a doctor, and can make other arrangements that need to be made. These decisions are left to the parents, as long as the children are not being hurt. If the children are being hurt, other people might become involved —doctors or nurses, school personnel, community workers or the police. If you do not want your spouse to take or visit the children because you are afraid the children will not be returned or will be harmed, you do not have to let the children go. However, if there is not a threat that your spouse will kidnap the children, you should think about the children's best interests and whether it would be good for them to see their other parent. If you are concerned about your spouse's visits, consider getting a custody order. If there are children who were born before the marriage and there has been no adoption or custody order, the mother has sole custody in Minnesota until there is a court order to the contrary.
If you and your spouse agree on the terms of the divorce and filed the Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution of a Marriage, then you will probably need to attend a court hearing so that the judge may issue the final divorce decree. If you have minor children but still have an uncontested divorce you may file a Joint Petition for Dissolution of a Marriage, after which the judge may schedule a short hearing to discuss details of child custody before issuing the final decree.
Mediation sessions are typically 2 – 3 hours long and scheduled approximately 2 weeks apart. Most of my clients reach a complete settlement in between 6 – 8 hours of mediation occurring over a 6 – 8 week period of time. Depending on the county in which you live and the time of year, processing of your legal documents can take the court another 1 – 8 weeks.
Under both Minnesota law,  and federal law,  as long as you yourself are a party to the conversation, it is lawful for you to record that conversation, even secretly. Furthermore, such recordings happen often enough in family practice that you are wise to assume that any telephone conversation with your spouse is in fact being recorded, and to temper your speech accordingly — i.e., no anger, name-calling, or spiteful speech of any kind.
But there's another way. Increasingly couples are turning to divorce mediation as a realistic and healthier alternative. A couple meets with a mediator to hammer out an agreement covering all the terms of their divorce, including finances and child custody. This usually takes six to 10 sessions and costs roughly $5,000. As a litigator and mediator I prefer to mediate, if appropriate. It's faster, cheaper and, most importantly, less acrimonious, which is less damaging, not just for a couple, but also their children.
Remember that even though your children may be small today, as they grow up your roles as parents will change. You may have to consult with each other on important life decisions such as medical needs, or see each other at milestones like graduations, weddings, and the birth of your grandchildren. Learning to effectively co-parent early on will help you years down the road.
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.
There is no specific Massachusetts form for your separation agreement, but several probate courts have made available templates that a committed person could use for a do-it-yourself divorce or pro se divorce. You can download a Massachusetts separation agreement form, or template, for divorce with no children here, created by Worcester County probate court, or a Massachusetts separation agreement with minor children form, or template, here.
The maintenance order shall be in amounts and for periods of time, either temporary or permanent, as the court deems just, without regard to marital misconduct, and after considering all relevant factors including: (a) the financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to the party, and the party's ability to meet needs independently, including the extent to which a provision for support of a child living with the party includes a sum for that party as custodian; (b) training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment, and the probability, given the party's age and skills, of completing education or training and becoming fully or partially self-supporting; (c) the standard of living established during the marriage; (d) the duration of the marriage and, in the case of a homemaker, the length of absence from employment and the extent to which any education, skills, or experience have become outmoded and earning capacity has become permanently diminished; (e) the loss of earnings, seniority, retirement benefits, and other employment opportunities forgone by the spouse seeking spousal maintenance; (f) the age, and the physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance; (g) the ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance; and (h) the contribution of each party in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation, or appreciation in the amount or value of the marital property, as well as the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker or in furtherance of the other party's employment or business. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.551, 518.552)
The mediator will not allow one party to overpower the other in mediation. If one of the parties is unable to be effective during this process, the mediator will stop the mediation. However, many persons who considered themselves to be the "weaker" of the two spouses have been quite effective in mediation. As an unsophisticated spouse of a very powerful business executive once said, "I have the power to say no, and my spouse better listen or we'll wind up in court."
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.
Often, spouses’ interests will overlap. This is especially likely if the interests involve a concern for other people, such as children. When an overlap like this occurs, it increases the likelihood of finding settlement options that address their common concerns. Of course, it’s not always possible to negotiate an agreement that satisfies fully all of the interests of the disputing parties. Some interests may have to be compromised, especially in divorce, where limited resources must be divided between two households. But if the focus is on identifying and addressing each person’s most important needs and interests, the resulting compromises will be ones that both spouses can live with.
After service, the receiving spouse must file an answer. If the spouses agree on the conditions of their divorce, they may file a Stipulate Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree, which will put them on a proverbial fast track to ending their marriage. However, if the receiving spouse disagrees with the petitioning spouse, then he or she may serve the petitioning spouse an answer that explains why he or she disagrees.
Second, you and the other party are more likely to adhere to the terms of your agreement if you have some ownership of it. It is not uncommon for parties to a divorce or other family law dispute to return to court after their initial proceeding to address problems with a party who is not abiding by a parenting time schedule or failing to pay child support. Parties who make their own decisions about those issues through mediation are more likely to feel responsible for the terms of their agreement and to abide by it.
Notwithstanding all of the above, mediation can often be the process that helps break an impasse and result in a reasonable settlement of one’s case. But for mediation to work, both parties must be prepared to compromise. If you approach mediation with the attitude that it will be an opportunity to convince the other party to do things your way, mediation will likely fail. That said, be careful not to concede too much. A lawyer can give you an appreciation of where the line is between generous cooperation and foolish capitulation.
In reality, because mediation is such an adaptable and holistic approach to divorce, these common concerns are all well handled in the mediation setting. In fact, almost any divorce case, or really any family law matter, is suitable for mediation and the parties can successfully resolve their issues without the great expense and emotional costs of litigating.