After the mediator covers the rules of mediation and insures that any necessary agreements to mediate are signed, the mediator explains the mediation process. The parties or their representative may then make opening statements to identify issues and clarify perceptions. Many mediators will encourage the parties to begin a conversation during general caucus.
The divorce becomes final when the court clerk "enters" the Judgment and Decree, which means the clerk writes it down on a court list of all judgments. The Judgment and Decree contains the final decisions of the court. Sometimes it is a week or more after the default hearing before the Judgment and Decree is entered. The court clerk may send a copy of the Judgment and Decree to the petitioner's attorney. This attorney serves the respondent with the final Judgment and Decree and gives a copy to the petitioner. There is no waiting period in Minnesota—the divorce is completely final when entered.
Many of those who have successfully gone through divorce mediation note it is a much less expensive alternative to litigation. The costs of litigation are generally an unknown until the case settles. At that time the spouses may be shocked at the level of fees they have incurred through attorney’s fees, expert witnesses, depositions, preparation of the case for trial, filing motions back and forth and many other things associated with divorce litigation. Mediation, on the other hand, allows couples to have a good estimate of the number of hours it will take to resolve the issues at hand. The ultimate goal of mediation is to resolve the issues quickly, and this translates to financial savings.
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.
In most counties in the Twin Cities Metropolitan area, as well as now many out state counties, after the filing of a summons and petition, the next step in the process will be an appearance at an Initial Case Management Conference ("ICMC"). ICMC’s are aimed at trying to expedite the processing of divorce cases, and minimizing conflict and the expense associated when parties quickly resort to litigating (resorting to the lawyers and the courts to decide disputes) all issues. As soon as a party files the petition or answer with the court, your matter will be assigned to one judge or referee, who in many counties will be responsible for all aspects of your case until its conclusion. Typically within thirty days thereafter, the court will schedule the ICMC. Both lawyers and both parties must appear, and the vast majority of judges and referees (judicial officers) will not allow any motions, including temporary motions, to be filed until the ICMC takes place.
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 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.
Marital property is defined as property, real or personal, including vested public or private pension plan benefits or rights, acquired by the parties, or either of them, to a dissolution, legal separation, or annulment proceeding at any time during the existence of the marriage, or at any time during which the parties were living together as husband and wife under a purported marriage relationship which is annulled in an annulment proceeding, but prior to the date of valuation.
They had about $700,000 of equity in their house and she wanted to give him about $100,000 to walk away—much less than the law allows. She was not at all willing to consider his perspective. “What I came to understand was from his perspective, he was an abused husband. And his having an affair—which is not the best way to handle difficulties in your primary relationship—was a desperate act, because now that they were going to have a baby together, he felt that he was trapped in this extremely unhealthy relationship, and this was the only way he could think of to get out. So it was very eye-opening for me.”
It is important to understand that each case is unique; however, a number of key factors influence the length (and cost) of your process. The first factor is preparation. Completing the requested preparations in advance and supplying the necessary documentation allows us to move more quickly. The second factor is complexity. Certain situations are simply more complicated to work through than others. That said, even the most complicated cases can be settled through mediation. During your free consultation, I am typically able to identify potentially complicating factors. Third is emotional readiness and conflict. Often times divorcing spouses are in a different stage of readiness; these differences can lead to conflict which may lengthen the time needed to resolve the issues. When you both feel ready to move forward and you are able to discuss the issues without a lot of conflict the process tends to move more quickly. Regardless of your particular situation, I am committed to helping all of my clients complete mediation as efficiently and cost effectively as possible, and believe that taking a divorce education class prior to beginning any divorce process can greatly increase your likelihood of success and efficiency.
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.
Mediation is a forum in which a neutral mediator facilitates communication between parties to promote reconciliation, understanding, and settlement. Mediation is particularly suited to divorces and other family law proceedings because there is likely to be a continuing relationship between the parties, especially if minor children are involved. Many divorcing couples find mediation allows them to avoid the high financial and emotional costs of a litigated divorce. Because settlement is generally quicker, costs are reduced.
Once a marriage is far enough gone, the only remaining question is “How hard is it going to be to untangle our legal and financial lives and (if relevant) sort out custody?” For some couples, separating via mediation rather than litigated divorce has its appeal: Many people don’t want to cast their former spouses in the role of enemy, and mediation is a cheaper, more cooperative, and less adversarial process than a War of the Roses-type brawl.
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.
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.
Meditation during divorce is a way of finding solutions to issues such as child custody and spousal support. It is an alternative to formal process of divorce court. During mediation, both parties to the divorce and their attorneys meet with a court appointed third party. This third party, the “mediator” assists the parties in negotiating a resolution to their divorce.
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.
The number of times you go to court and see a Judge or Referee depends on local court procedures and whether you and your spouse can agree on issues regarding your children, property and other matters. If you do NOT agree, the case usually takes longer to finish. It is a good idea to get legal advice before finalizing an agreement with your spouse.