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:

The best way to get started is for you and your spouse to attend a free one-hour consultation. During the consultation you will receive detailed information about mediation in general and how my process would work in your unique situation. Perhaps most importantly, during this consultation you will each have the opportunity to meet me and determine whether or not you feel comfortable with me and my professional services. Another benefit is that both you and spouse receive the same information at the same time, are able to hear each other’s questions and concerns, and may experience the neutral role of the mediator. You will also receive instructions about how to prepare for your work in mediation and how to save money. If after the consultation you believe that mediation is the best choice for your situation, the next step is to schedule the first working session and begin preparing the necessary information and documentation.

Negotiating agreements isn't always linear. You may start at what feels like the end, and you may find yourself needing to gather more information at various points. The mediator will help you to stay on track and brainstorm options, will encourage you and your spouse to express your opinions, positions, and what's important to you, and will help you listen to each other in ways that will make a resolution more likely. (You may be able to use some of these communication tools in your ongoing parenting relationship.)
Mediation in divorce is a process by which a mediator or a trained neutral, often a lawyer or mental health professional, helps divorcing spouses reach agreement. The mediator works as a facilitator to guide the divorcing spouses through the process to resolve the outstanding issues. Some divorcing spouses have reached agreement on certain issues, but need assistance resolving other ones, and they attend mediation to address just those issues. Others need assistance with all of the issues. But those who elect mediation are electing to work together to maintain control of their lives. (When individuals litigate and go to court, the judge makes the decision. Those decisions are often not what either side really wants, but once the judge makes the decision, it is the one that controls.)
Your attorney will have referrals to local mediators. If you're representing yourself, you'll have to locate a divorce mediator on your own. If you can, try to find recommendations from someone whose judgment you trust. You can ask lawyers, financial advisers, therapists, or spiritual advisers for referrals, as well as friends who've been through a divorce. If you can't find direct, personal referrals, here are some other ideas:

Usually the petitioner's attorney calls the petitioner's witnesses first.  Each witness is sworn under oath and answers the attorney's questions.   Then the other attorney may question the witness. Sometimes the court may ask questions. Sometimes the petitioner's attorney will ask additional questions.  When the petitioner's attorney has called all of his or her witnesses, including the petitioner, the attorney tells the court that the petitioner rests his or her case.  Sometimes the attorneys will present their argument in writing. 
The court can also make an order restraining (stopping) an abusive or violent spouse from harassing or harming the other spouse or the children.  The court can order one of the spouses to leave and not return to the home.  A violation of this part of the order may be a misdemeanor.  The party violating it can be ordered to pay a fine or go to jail.
Although many of Ms. Serwat’s clients reach a complete divorce settlement without retaining an attorney; some need and/or want legal representation. If your situation warrants legal representation or if you simply feel better knowing that you are legally represented your lawyer is welcome to participate with you in the mediation process. Starting divorce mediation without attorneys in no way limits your right to retain an attorney in the future and/or appear in court.
In today's depressed real estate market, I often encounter the situation where a spouse had a non-marital interest in the marital homestead at the time of marriage; but at the time of divorce, the house is upside down. So the question arises as to whether or not the spouse who formerly had the non-marital interest is entitled to any kind of credit in the overall divorce property settlement.

Prior to the temporary relief hearing, as indicated above, both parents have custody. One the one hand, it is a disadvantage to agree to a parenting time schedule — even on an interim basis — which is less than what you want on a permanent basis, because even though this is not legally relevant, I have seen judges swayed by arguments about who has had the children prior to the court appearance. On the other hand, children shouldn’t have to witness their parents fighting at the day care center doors about who gets to take them home. Sometimes the best approach is just to share the time 50-50 for the sake of compromise, until the matter is heard by the Court. If for the sake of the children you feel it is best not to fight about it, it is very important to send written notice to your spouse explaining your strong objection to the interim arrangement, e.g.:


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Not exactly; mediated settlements do not become legally binding until they have been submitted to, and accepted by, the Court. The final product of mediation is a Memorandum of Agreement. This document memorializes all of your agreements and is the basis for your Marital Termination Agreement and Judgment and Decree. If unrepresented by attorneys, most of my clients choose to hire a neutral attorney (or scrivener) who completes all of the necessary legal documents and assists with the filing process. If either or both clients are represented, one of the attorneys may be selected for drafting the legal documents and the other attorney reviews everything for accuracy. A few of my clients choose to use the pro se forms available online through the MN District Courts website. At the conclusion of mediation, I will be able to help you determine the best option for your situation. It is important to know that even if your mediator is also an attorney, it is considered professionally unethical for a mediator to draft legal documents for his/her clients.


Divorce is actually a legal procedure between you and your spouse, so, in order to satisfy legal requirements, you must properly notify your spouse that legal action is being taken against them. In a divorce proceeding, this is called Service of Process, and involves delivering copies of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and Summons along with supporting documents to your spouse in a timely manner.
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Police can’t arrest one spouse for visiting the family home unless there’s a restraining order prohibiting that spouse from coming back, or an order granting one spouse exclusive possession. These types of court orders are usually the result of a domestic abuse petition. If you’re the victim of domestic violence, contact your local police department for help.
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.
Mediation is confidential and private, as opposed to divorce litigation, in which little privacy is afforded. Whatever goes on in mediation remains private, while grievances aired in a courtroom become part of the court record and are public. Any communications between parties during mediation are confidential with certain exceptions. These exceptions include child or elder abuse or one party talking about a crime they committed or one they intend to commit. The confidentiality of the mediation process allows spouses to speak openly and directly to one another without the fear something they say will be used against them.
If the court finds, after a hearing, that parenting time with a parent is likely to endanger the child's physical or emotional health or impair the child's emotional development, the court shall restrict parenting time with that parent as to time, place, duration, or supervision and may deny parenting time entirely, as the circumstances warrant. The court shall consider the age of the child and the child's relationship with the parent prior to the commencement of the proceeding.

If you do move out, take steps to guard against destruction of property. Videotape the contents of the home (e.g., furniture, art and other valuables) and make copies of important documents (birth certificates, account statements, deeds and insurance policies) before you leave. You may also consider taking your own family heirlooms and other personal, irreplaceable items with you.


When custody is in dispute, a Minnesota court issues a custody order that is in the "best interests of the child." Joint custody will only be awarded if parents have shown the court that they are willing and able to cooperate. A court also examines several factors with the child's welfare in mind. They include (1) the child's preference, (2) each parent's health, (3) the child's health and whether any special needs exist, (4) each parent's relationship with the child, (5) which parent has been the child's primary caretaker, (6) each parent's ability to provide a stable environment for the child, (7) any history of domestic violence or child abuse and (8) any allegations of abuse.
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.
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)
In order to make informed decisions as to division of marital property, and appropriate amounts of child support and spousal maintenance, it is necessary for each party to be fully informed of identity of each parties' income and assets. This information is typically exchanged through a process known as discovery. This is a process in which the lawyers may utilize numerous techniques for obtaining the financial information necessary to fairly identify and value all income and assets. The lawyers may informally by letter request the information they feel is necessary to identify all marital income and assets, or, in some cases may feel the need to serve "Interrogatories" and "Requests for Production of Documents” which are formal questions and requests for financial information and documents, such as tax returns, bank statements, financial statements and other information, which must be answered and sworn to under oath, within thirty days. In today's practice, some court's control what discovery they will allow, and may not immediately allow for the service of formal discovery, preferring the parties first use informal discovery. The attorneys may also notice the depositions of the parties themselves, or other people who may have relevant information, such as bankers and business associates. At a deposition the witness is sworn under oath, and the attorneys ask questions of the witnesses, which testimony is preserved in writing by a court reporter. The attorneys may also employ experts, such as "vocational evaluators," in the event it is alleged that a spouse who has not been working or who has only been working part time, is able to earn income to contribute to their support. They may also employ accountants or other business valuation experts to appraise family-owned or closely-held businesses. They may also employ other experts to appraise other assets such as real property and personal property, such as furnishings, jewelry and artwork.
In the mediation process, your mediator will provide you with much of the information and legal background that you need to discuss your issues. At times though, because the mediator must remain neutral, they cannot give either party advice specific to their best interests because that would be against the interests of the other party. Here, a consulting attorney, that is accessed on a limited, as-needed basis, can provide that specific legal advice to help a party decide how to best move forward in the negotiations.
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.

Litigating a divorce results in both parties operating under attack and defend mode. When mediation is used, the process is much more peaceful and conciliatory. Both parties are allowed to explain their position and perspectives on all the issues, leading to a generation of solutions which ultimately benefit both spouses and their children, if any. Parties to divorce mediation have decision-making powers and must agree to each provision in the final agreement. Couples who agree to terms voluntarily are much more likely to comply with those terms in the future, and much less likely to find themselves back in court fighting about perceived violations of the terms.
After graduating law school in 2010, Sonja secured a judicial clerkship in Hennepin County Family Court. She worked on high asset divorce cases with complex financial matters as well as high conflict custody disputes. Sonja learned firsthand how judicial officers decide cases and what makes a family law attorney effective inside and outside of the courtroom. After clerking, Sonja worked for a large, national law firm where she gained a tremendous amount of experience. Sonja is empathetic, detailed, and aggressive when necessary.
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.
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