What the mediator can do, though, is to point out in open session to both spouses things that each of them should be aware of about what they’re trying to accomplish. That open and free exchange of information frees up both spouses to negotiate with each other in confidence. Because both spouses are working with the same base of information, it usually takes far less time to negotiate a resolution that makes sense to both spouses.
Although there certainly are several different styles of mediation, there are several things you can depend on no matter what style your mediator uses. Mediation is flexible and confidential. It gives you and your spouse a way to settle the conflict between you, which is natural and inevitable, in a way that helps you to work together as parents after your divorce.
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 for where the line is between generous cooperation and foolish capitulation.
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.
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In almost all cases, you will be required to attempt some form of alternative dispute resolution. This will typically take the form of "mediation" which is a process in which a neutral third party, typically an attorney trained in mediation, will attempt to assist the parties in reaching their own compromise settlement of some or all issues between the parties. The mediator does not make decisions, but rather facilitates a discussion between the parties (sometimes alone and sometimes with the assistance of counsel) aimed at reaching settlement of your issues. The mediation process is confidential, and if you are not successful in reaching a mediated settlement, the judicial officer will never learn what positions either party took in mediation. As part of the mediation process, the mediator will request both parties provide an accurate summary of income, assets and liabilities. It is recognized that sometimes, one party controls some or all of this information, and skilled mediators attempt to assure that there is a full and fair disclosure of financial information, and a full and fair discussion of the issues.
If you are trying to obtain your dissolution on your own and there are children involved, you will be required to have at least one hearing in front of the judge. You will have to use the generic documents provided by the courts such as the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and Judgment and Decree. These documents will not be specific to your needs or specific fact situation.
Divorce mediation is a voluntary settlement process used frequently and successfully by married couples who want to divorce, and by domestic partners who want to separate. Divorce mediation gives couples the option to plan their futures rationally, and in an atmosphere of cooperation and mutual respect. With the assistance of a trained divorce mediator, you can reach an agreement that is custom-made for your family, your finances and your future. To learn the answers to frequently asked questions about divorce mediation, please review our FAQs.
The big warning I have is this: years ago, when the program started, the idea was that the evaluators would give their opinion of how they would likely decide the case in a full-blown custody evaluation, based on the facts learned in the SENE. This honest appraisal of how a months-long custody evaluation would likely turn out is what helped parties to settle their cases.
The petition itself typically follows a simple format, which is not designed to argue your case in detail, but rather only provides "notice" to the other side of the very basic facts ultimately necessary for the court to decide the case. The petition will list the two party's names, addresses and ages. It will identify the names and ages of the party's children, if any, together with a general allegation of what “custody” or "parenting time” arrangement the petitioner believes to be in the best interest of the children. In Minnesota, over the years the family law bar has come up with innumerable labels and terms for "child custody”/”parenting time". It will identify to the best of the petitioner's knowledge the parties "real property" (land and building) ownership, including the homestead, and any vacation or investment real property the parties have. It will identify to the best of the petitioner's knowledge the party's other assets and liabilities.
If you represent yourself in the divorce you will be called a “pro se litigant.” In all Minnesota district courts, there are forms that pro se litigants in divorce cases can use. You should check with your local courthouse or law library or the Minnesota State Courts website (www.mncourts.gov/forms) for more information about where to get these forms.
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.
Even under the best of circumstances, going through a divorce is one of life’s most difficult challenges – both emotionally and financially. Although using mediation may alleviate some of the most extreme negative impacts; divorce in Minnesota is never easy. I believe, the divorce process you choose (for example, mediation vs. litigation) is the most significant factor in determining the degree of suffering you are likely to endure…the more adversarial the process, the more difficult the challenge.
More recently, however, I have noted a shift to where, in my opinion, the evaluators make assessments of how the case will most likely settle, and tailor their recommendations to that assessment. This results in more settlements overall, but at the cost of many which are not in the best interests of the children. In light of this, it is very important not to give the impression that you are willing to settle for something that is contrary to the children’s best interests. In your pitch to the evaluators, tell them what you consider to be the arrangement that is in the children’s best interests, and why — not just what you would be willing to settle for; because if that’s your approach, that’s very likely what they'll treat as your starting point, and your children will be the ones to suffer for it, by having to live with an arrangement that is not in their best interests.
Go over the pros and cons of mediation, as opposed to other methods. Whether it’s in person at a coffee shop, over the phone, via text messages, or through email, the first step is to agree to participate wholeheartedly. Strong-arming your spouse might get him or her to the table, but the mediation won’t be effective and you’ll end up wasting time and money.
All divorce mediators will work hard to put everyone at ease, allowing the process to proceed in an informal, comfortable atmosphere. Most divorce mediations last from two to five sessions. While these sessions are structured to address specific issues in a specific order, one party or the other may need to gather additional information or consult with their attorney. In this case the specific issue may be skipped, and readdressed later. If both spouses agree, other professionals such as child psychologist, accountants or attorneys may be allowed to attend the mediation in order to clarify specific issues. If both parties agree, a relative or trusted friend may attend mediation, however their participation in the process is extremely limited. Children may be present during later sessions if the parents agree, but rarely during the first session.
But after a couple of years passed, the wife was no longer so angry, and they re-started mediation. Green says, “I don’t know what her personal journey was, but they were parenting well together, they both could acknowledge that the kids loved both parents and needed both parents. And then they were ready and did their property settlement pretty quickly and we finished up the divorce. She was able to forgive him, and he was able, in some ways, to apologize for his bad handling of problems that were in their marriage.
Also, divorce in the court system is public domain. Anybody can sit in court and hear the specifics of your divorce. On the other hand, mediation is confidential, private and conducted behind closed doors. In mediation, there are no attorneys putting up walls between you and your spouse. Mediation is about working together, doing things in the best interests of your children and focusing on being able to be parents for your children for years to come. Unfortunately, divorce in the court system is designed to put up that wall and limit communication, which inevitably leads to many post divorce problems and many more hours and thousands of dollars in court.
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.
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.
Once the decision to mediate is made, it is necessary to find a mediator. Many counties have community-based or court-annexed mediation centers. If the mediation is court-ordered, the court may appoint a mediator, or will allow the parties to agree upon a qualified mediator. Both lawyers and non-lawyers serve as mediators. The fees charged vary from mediator to mediator and from case to case.
The court will order a reasonable amount of child support to be paid by the non-custodial parent. Minnesota law has guidelines that say how much support should be paid. The court can also order either parent to pay medical insurance premiums or expenses and to pay part of child care costs. The court considers the parent's income or ability to earn income and the number of children supported.