There is a growing movement toward using alternatives to traditional litigation to resolve divorce cases. One of the most popular options is mediation, which involves both spouses, and their attorneys, meeting with a neutral person trained to help them come to an agreement that is mutually acceptable. Our family law lawyers have often served as divorce mediators in Minnesota and represented hundreds of clients as such.
It should come as no surprise that it is difficult for parties to a divorce or other family law dispute to reach agreements on important issues on their own. However, oftentimes, disputes related to divorce and other family law matters can be resolved with the assistance of a neutral third party through mediation. The job of the Minnesota divorce mediators at Bloch & Whitehouse, P.A., is to facilitate communication between parties to promote an agreement.
For example, if there are two automobiles, each spouse is usually given one of them. This is especially true if the cars are nearly equal in value. If there is only one automobile, the court often awards it to the spouse who has the greater need for transportation. Extra items of personal property may be awarded to the other spouse so that the overall value of each share remains the same. Retirement accounts and whole life insurance policies are property too.
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.
You may be surprised to know that most MN divorce cases (over 90%) are settled before they ever reach a court room. Mediation is so effective that the State of Minnesota requires you make a good faith effort to settle your divorce through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) before appearing in Court – so why not start with a process which is proven to work as well, if not better, than litigation?
Finally, mediation can be substantially less expensive than the court process. When parties hire a mediator from Bloch & Whitehouse, P.A., they typically split our reasonable hourly rate equally between them. By contrast, if both parties hire lawyers, the cost for each party could be double or triple the cost for each party’s attorney. Moreover, significant court costs and other fees are minimized as a result of choosing mediation.
3) Contact the New York State Unified Court System's Collaborative Family Law Center. The Center offers free divorce mediation to qualifying couples living in New York City. If you and your spouse are eligible, you may get up to four, 90-minute sessions with program mediators (or six sessions, if you have children). Both spouses must agree to participate. Note: Referrals to divorce mediation will not be made in cases involving domestic violence or child abuse or where one spouse cannot locate the other.
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.” 
Being open to compromise means that you aren't attached to one particular solution—you can't just put your idea on the table and expect your spouse to accept it. A compromise that works is one that takes both of your interests into account. Consider the possibility that your spouse might have valid ideas as well, and take the time to think them through instead of rejecting them out of hand.
The date on which earnings (including retirement contributions and other income) becomes separate property again, is the so-called “valuation date.”  The valuation date is the date of the initially scheduled prehearing settlement conference, unless the parties agree to a different date, or the court finds that a different date is fair and equitable.  In my experience, the Court seldom exercises its discretion to use a different date. One situation warranting a different date is where the parties have been separated for years prior to commencement of the divorce, and have been living separately, with separate accounts, insurance, bills, etc., during the separation period.
James W. McGill holds a Master’s Degree in Guidance and Counseling and is an honors graduate of Drake University Law School. Licensed to practice law in the State of Minnesota and the Federal Courts, McGill maintains a general practice with special emphasis in the areas of Mediation, Bankruptcy Law, Employment Law, and Alternative Dispute Resoluti ... more
If the parents can not agree on an appropriate custody arrangement, the court will examine what is in "the best interests of the child" by considering and evaluating the following factors: (1) the wishes of the child's parent or parents as to custody; (2) the reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express preference; (3) the child's primary caretaker; (4) the intimacy of the relationship between each parent and the child; (5) the interaction and interrelationship of the child with a parent or parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interests; (6) the child's adjustment to home, school, and community; (7) the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity; (8) the permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home; (9) the mental and physical health of all individuals involved; (10) the capacity and disposition of the parties to give the child love, affection, and guidance, and to continue educating and raising the child in the child's culture and religion or creed, if any; (11) the child's cultural background; (12) the effect on the child of the actions of an abuser; (13) except in cases in which a finding of domestic abuse, the disposition of each parent to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact by the other parent with the child. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.17)
The parties may expressly preclude or limit later modification of maintenance through a stipulation, if the court makes specific findings that the stipulation is fair and equitable, is supported by consideration described in the court's findings, and that full disclosure of each party's financial circumstances has occurred. The stipulation must be made a part of the judgment and decree.
This is usually a very smart thing to do, to prevent the other spouse from racking up debt in your name. I’ve seen it happen countless times. And while this can be accounted for, it’s much easier to just avoid the issue in the first place. Also, remember that even if the Court orders your spouse to assume this or that joint credit card debt, the Court has no authority to absolve you of your contractual liability to the creditor. So the joint debt will remain on your credit history, and will still be your problem to deal with if your spouse ever stops paying or pays late.
In cases where the child is approaching the start of kindergarten, or will be transitioning to middle school, junior high, or high school, this can be a closer call. Obviously the quality of the school will matter. Fortunately school statistics are readily available, including standardized test scores. The Minnesota Department of Education provides School Report Cards on their website.
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.
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.
Mediating parents have a number of options available for determining how to provide for their children’s needs after divorce. As a starting point, we will calculate MN guideline child support using the MN Child Support Calculator which as of January 1, 2007 uses an income shares model for determining child support obligations. My process includes a complete explanation of how to properly input the information and how to read the calculator’s result. While many parents choose to follow the State guidelines; some parents decide to deviate from guideline support based on a variety of reasons. Still others adopt a less traditional (and more flexible) plan for sharing all expenses relating to the children, such as a joint checking account or monthly accounting and reimbursement method. Mediation allows you to be creative about how best to provide financial support for your children’s needs after the divorce.
To sum up, these misconceptions about divorce mediation really highlight some of the many advantages of mediating your divorce. Because the format is highly adaptable and collaborative, the parties will be supported and assisted in working cooperatively to resolve their issues. Through the process, they will make agreements that they choose to live by and will be best prepared to go forward in a productive and positive manner. Best of all, they will have avoided the expense and stress of a long, protracted court battle. In the end, almost every divorce case is suitable for mediation despite these common misconceptions.
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.
It is understandable that when people reach agreements together based upon what they think is right and fair, their agreements are much more sustainable going forward than court orders that tell the parties what they must do or not do, pay or give to the other party. In fact, a great advantage of mediating your divorce settlement is that you will make all the decisions together about what is best for you both and for your children as you go forward.
These court actions add delays, thousands or tens of thousands of dollars of costs, and interpersonal stress to the process of reaching a separation agreement. As the chart illustrates, the only way to guarantee an uncontested divorce, with no expensive, antagonistic, and time-consuming court actions, is through divorce mediation, a collaborative law divorce process, or out-of-court divorce negotiations. Attorney Julia Rueschemeyer specializes in these forms of divorce, which avoid high costs, delays, and court legal battles. You can learn more about mediation, collaborative law divorce, and differences between fault, no-fault, contested, and uncontested divorce on other pages of this website.
I want to get divorced, but my spouse doesn’t. Can my spouse prevent us from getting divorced? No. Your spouse can, however, refuse to work together on the terms of the divorce. If that happens, you would have to file for divorce and have your spouse served. Unfortunately, this would mean a contested divorce process, which is long and expensive and tends to generate new animosity between you. Faced with that prospect, many spouses eventually cooperate to develop a separation agreement and file an uncontested divorce.
Through a series of joint sessions we work through the three main components of a legal divorce settlement (property division, financial support and parenting plan). Generally speaking we follow these steps: 1) make an action plan and prioritize issues to be addressed; 2) determine what information needs to be gathered and shared; 3) assess if additional professional assistance from appraisers, accountants, therapists, attorneys, etc. is needed; 4) share and document your property (assets and liabilities); 5) make decisions about dividing your property; 6) create budgets for separate living; 7) determine financial support needs (child support and/or spousal maintenance/alimony); and 8) develop a detailed and workable parenting plan. In all cases, your personal and private information is treated confidentially with the same care and concern as in the legal process. The final product of mediation is a Memorandum of Agreement which is a comprehensive document detailing your agreements and which serves as the basis for your legal documents which are filed with the court.
Thereafter, if either party is still dissatisfied with the result, they may "appeal" the lower court ruling to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Such appeals are of right, and take place before a three judge panel, after extensive briefing and oral argument to the Court of Appeals. However, once the appeal is filed, the Court of Appeals will automatically put the appeal on hold, and requires it's own attempt at alternative dispute resolution known as appellate mediation. If mediation is not successful, the entire appeal process may take upwards of a year after the trial court's final decision. The Court of Appeals may affirm all decisions outright, reverse all decisions outright, or may affirm some parts of the decree while reversing others. If a party thereafter is dissatisfied with a ruling of the Court of Appeals, they may seek discretionary review by the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Supreme Court however, denies review of most cases, and only chooses to hear a few family law cases each year. Those cases selected for review typically involve novel factual or legal issues.
Mediation is a confidential discussion of the issues that need to be resolved in a divorce or custody situation. The divorce mediator, or child custody mediator, facilitates the different possibilities for resolving those issues. The mediator doesn’t have any decision making authority, so the process isn’t inherently risky; you can only serve to benefit if you can resolve your issues out of court.
If you can prove that an item of property was "non-marital," the court will not usually award that property to your spouse. Non-marital property is property owned by one of you before your marriage, or was a gift or inheritance to you alone during your marriage. Portions of a personal injury or Workers Compensation award might also be non-marital. The court may award non-marital property to the non-owner spouse only if it would cause unfair hardship or under other limited circumstances.
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.
“ A thousand kudos to you and your professional staff and excellent service. Without your help I would have spent thousands of dollars for no good reason. The documents were prepared without flaw, and my divorce was granted on the terms that were agreed upon without any problems whatsoever. The time frame from initial filing to final decree was less than a month. ”
A trickier question is whether you may record the other parent's conversations with the children. Under the doctrine of "vicarious consent," as long as a parent or guardian has "a good faith, objectively reasonable belief that the interception of telephone conversations is necessary for the best interests of the children," then he may consent to the interception (i.e. listening in or recording the call) on behalf of the children.  However, this can be risky, because if there is any dispute about whether your vicarious consent was in good faith or objectively reasonable, you may still end up having to defend against possible criminal charges or a civil lawsuit. The Wagner case I have cited, for example, was a civil lawsuit by a one parent against the other parent who had recorded telephone calls between the children and herself. The Court allowed that lawsuit to proceed because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to the motivations of the parent who had made the recordings. I don't recommend recording any such phone calls without first consulting a lawyer.
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.
Greene says, “Mediation averages between $4,000 and $10,000,” but litigation lawyers (at least in New York City), start with a $25,000 retainer. “Most people will end up somewhere $20,000 and $200,000, but there certainly are those $300,000 divorces as well. I like to joke that divorce is one area of life in which having money is a disadvantage, because you may find [an attorney] who’s going to fan the flames and give you false hope about how you’re going find the kindly judge that is the father you never had who will see that you’re right, and that your ex is completely wrong. That’s a fantasy that is still held by many people.”
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.
The short answer is “no.” There may be instances in which a Judge requires parties who are represented by an attorney to attend mediation or another ADR process with those attorneys. There are also mediators who will not allow one party to have an attorney present unless the other party also has an attorney present. Generally, however, parties will be able to make this decision on their own, as long as they both agree.
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.
If you were served with a "Summons and Petition" (you are the Respondent), you should talk to an attorney before you sign the "Answer and Counterpetition," and before you sign a "Stipulated Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree" (which is an agreement with your spouse on how to divide all assets and debts).