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.
A party who is dissatisfied with the court's decision may ask the trial judge to change his or her decision or set a new trial or appeal to the Court of Appeals. No new evidence or testimony is taken by the Court of Appeals. Appeals are hard to win. Usually when the Court of Appeals overrules a trial judge, it is because the Court of Appeals believes the trial judge made a mistake about the law.
Did you know that there are other ways to dissolve a marriage then to file a traditional divorce? When parties are willing to come to the table to cooperate together, mediation may be a great option. During a divorce mediation a neutral third party serves as a mediator and can help parties decide the terms of their divorce. A Brainerd divorce mediation lawyer will be able to assist you through this process and potentially allow for a more amicable dissolution.
You’ll also want to gather records for all income sources: paystubs, self-employment profit and loss statements, pension disbursements, social security, alimony and child support payments received. As for expenses, you’ll want to list your recurring expenses as well as ongoing liabilities, so that all mortgage payments, car loans, health insurance costs, food, utilities, student loans, credit card payments, etc. are known.
In order to get a divorce in Minnesota, state law requires at least one of the parties to have lived within the state for at least 180 days (with some exceptions), but there is no waiting period after the divorce case has been resolved. However, non-resident parties may get divorced in Minnesota if the civil marriage was performed in the state and their current state of residence does not recognize the marriage because of sexual orientation.
During a divorce, either party can petition the court to pay alimony or “spousal maintenance” to the other. Minnesota laws provide for this type of assistance so the lower earning spouses can maintain the same reasonable standard of living as before. Generally speaking, a court will be more inclined to order a longer period of alimony when the marriage was longer in duration.
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.
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The first opportunity for the Court to decide custody is normally at the temporary relief hearing. In Hennepin County, this can easily be four months or more from the date of filing. In other counties, it can be much speedier, as in Dakota or Scott County, where a temporary relief hearing date is normally available within about 3 weeks. Once the motions for temporary relief are heard, the Court has 90 days to rule, although they normally get temporary orders out within two to four weeks.
Decisions about spousal maintenance are often emotional and challenging. Unfortunately, MN law does not specify how to calculate a spousal maintenance obligation. Unlike child support, MN divorce laws are discretionary when it comes to spousal maintenance (alimony) stating only that many factors should be considered when determining the need for spousal maintenance as well as the amount and duration of the support. Relevant factors often include: the length of marriage, each spouse’s financially ability to be self-supporting, education and employment history, age, and the marital standard of living. Mediation encourages the use of reasonable budgets and information sharing rather than the traditional adversarial legal approach which often relies on exaggerated budgets and win-lose negotiation tactics. The creation of reasonable budgets allows you and your spouse to understand your individual financial needs as well as the financial realities of your situation. This mutual understanding is vital to the successful discussion and resolution of the spousal maintenance issue. I also utilize a specialized computer program which provides useful information about tax impacts and projected cash flow for each spouse before and after the exchange of financial support.
The complexity of the issues and ability of the individuals to be flexible as they negotiate a fair agreement determines the length of the mediation. Every case is different, but the average case usually takes at least three to four two-hour mediation sessions, spread out over at least a month or two. More complex cases can take four to six months to complete.
The Petitioner (filing party) may file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage in the county where either party resides. If neither party resides in the state, and jurisdiction is based on the domicile of either spouse, the proceeding may be commenced in the county where either party is domiciled. If neither party resides or is domiciled in the state and jurisdiction is premised upon one of the parties being a member of the armed forces stationed in Minnesota for at least 180 days before filing, the proceeding may be commenced in the county where the service member is stationed.
Mediation is also confidential. Nothing said in mediation may be used against a person. Many times people tell me they agreed to something in mediation because they were afraid they might be seen as unreasonable. This should not be a concern in mediation, because of the confidentiality rule. (Outside of mediation, your lawyer can advise you as to what positions are reasonable or unreasonable).
Most state courts require you to submit a financial affidavit during the dissolution process. Be sure to check your local rules or consult with an attorney. It’s paramount to complete your financial affidavit accurately, as that information can be held against you later. Creating a rough draft early in the information-gathering process will ensure that your final version will be error-free. It also serves as a roadmap of the financial factors to cover during mediation.
If the court determines that there is probable cause that one of the parties, or a child of a party, has been physically or sexually abused by the other party, the court shall not require or refer the parties to mediation or any other process that requires parties to meet and confer without counsel, if any, present. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.619)
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.
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.
Financial Early Neutral Evaluations (FENE) allow the parties to meet with an accountant or lawyer neutral expert to assist the parties in preparing a balance sheet and help to negotiate a division of property. These experts can also assist in preparing cash flow summaries to help the parties settle issues of child support and spousal maintenance. As with social early neutral evaluations, the neutral may advise the parties what they believe will occur if the matter is fully litigated. As with Social ENEs, many counties provide rosters of lawyers and accountants certified to assist with FENE's in that county.
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.
Mediation is confidential, allows you and your spouse to make the decisions, and is less expensive than filing a lawsuit. You can reach a positive agreement that is more customized than the one you might receive from a judge. In mediation, you are responsible for your attorney’s fees, as well as half of the mediator’s fees. In certain states, mediation is required by the court after a lawsuit has been filed; for example, North Carolina requires couples to attend mediation before a child custody trial and equitable distribution trial.
No marriage shall be adjudged a nullity on the ground that one of the parties was under the age of legal consent if it appears that the parties had voluntarily cohabitated together as husband and wife after having attained the age of legal consent. Nor shall the marriage of any insane person be adjudged void after restoration to reason, if it appears that the parties freely cohabitated together as husband and wife after such restoration.
Just because an asset is titled in one spouse’s name does not mean that asset belongs exclusively to the title-holding spouse. How you acquired the property determines whether property is marital or nonmarital, which determines how (or whether) the property will be divided. Marital property includes assets purchased or paid for during a marriage. Marital property will usually be divided between spouses. Non-marital property is different, however. Nonmarital property includes assets that are acquired by only one spouse, either as a gift or inheritance, as property the individual brought into the marriage, or in some instances, that one party acquired alone during the marriage. An attorney can help you figure out what property is marital and what is not. An attorney can also advise you about how to protect your assets in a divorce.
The reasons for divorce in Minnesota include general and no-fault reasons. Proper grounds for the divorce must be given. No-fault reasons for the divorce include an irreparable breakdown of the marriage for reasons including living separately for 6 months or serious conflict between the couple. General reasons include only one reason, which is the irrevocable disrepair of the marriage with no chance of repair.
You are not obligated to hire an attorney in order to file for divorce; however, having one greatly improves the likelihood your rights will be protected and that your divorce is done correctly. Otherwise, you may end up spending much more on hiring an attorney after your divorce to seek post-decree modifications to clean up anything done improperly at the outset. Having a lawyer with you during this process also lessens the pressure on you during this difficult time. Further, hiring a lawyer is especially beneficial if there are allegations of abuse — spousal, child, sexual or substance abuse — because in those situations, it may be impossible for the abused spouse to negotiate effectively. A lawyer can help arrange the necessary protection for an abused spouse and the children. There are many other instances where a lawyer will be significantly helpful in a divorce, such as: asserting a non-marital claim, complex finances, divorces involving business ownership, divorces involving one spouse living in a different state, and many more instances.
In all of the states we practice in, both equitable distribution states and community property states, the parties are encouraged to actively participate in, and come to agreement on, the fair division of their marital assets and liabilities. But unless you and your spouse are experts in the financial matters pertaining to divorce, this can be a dangerous path to walk.
The belief that the mediator will act as a quasi-judge and tell the people what they are going to do is another very common misunderstanding that I hear about the divorce mediation process. In actual fact, one of the greatest advantages of the mediation process is that the parties themselves retain control over all decisions made and agreements reached. This is very different from the litigation model where a judge, essentially a stranger in a black robe, imposes orders and judgments on the parties.
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.
Stacy Wright Family Law and Mediation, Chtd., is a family law and mediation firm located in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. Stacy Wright, Attorney at Law, is experienced, empathetic, and creative. She takes the time to get to know her clients and understand their goals, so she can help them work towards their goals. Stacy Wright believes that it is important for her clients to understand both the court process and the laws that affect her clients’ cases, so in addition to advocating for her clients, her law firm also focuses on client education.
In any case where parties cannot agree about custody or parenting time of the children, the court will require the parties to attend an orientation and education program. Some courts have programs for children to attend. The program covers the impact that divorce and the restructuring of families and legal proceedings have upon children and families. It will also cover methods for preventing parenting time conflicts and options for resolving disputes.
Cynthia Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. She is an honors graduate of the University of South Dakota and William Mitchell College of Law. Cynthia’s practice focuses almost exclusively on divorce and family law issues. She publishes a monthly family law column for the Minnesota Lawyer newspaper, and has contributed to Divorce Magazine and The Family Law Forum. Cynthia also serves as a panel attorney for the Anoka County Family Law Clinic.
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.
Courts do not usually deny requests to dissolve a marriage, even if that request is only coming from one spouse. Nevertheless, if your spouse wants a divorce but you don’t, you can argue that the marriage is not “irretrievably broken” at the evidentiary hearing. The district judge will make the determination; however, most divorce attorneys will tell you not to be optimistic about your chances of stopping the divorce by making this argument, assuming one spouse still wants the divorce.
You may be surprised to know that many divorcing couples are fairly respectful of each other and work well together in divorce mediation. There are also many couples who are very emotional about the divorce and as a result, exhibit more conflicted behaviors or believe they can not successfully negotiate face to face. As a mediator, I am trained to assist people in putting their emotions aside and focusing on the relevant issues. My job is to keep you on track and help you through the crisis. Rest assured that you will be accepted as you are; there will be no judgment or criticism and you will receive grounded professional assistance aimed at helping you succeed. My personal and professional experience has taught me that both emotions and conflict tend to diminish through the course of our work together. Professional guidance is often a key factor of success. As you progress through the process, you will likely come to understand why mediation is so successful at alleviating some of the non-monetary transactional costs of divorce.
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.