Court cutbacks mean that judges have less time to handle every case; many times, people find themselves stalled for months at a time waiting for a court date or for something to ‘happen’ on their case. Parties can spend tens of thousands of dollars on attorney fees and then one or two years later fire both attorneys and come up with their own agreement. Mediation lets people move forward at their own pace.


Under both Minnesota law, [1] and federal law, [2] as long as you yourself are a party to the conversation, it is lawful for you to record that conversation, even secretly. Furthermore, such recordings happen often enough in family practice that you are wise to assume that any telephone conversation with your spouse is in fact being recorded, and to temper your speech accordingly — i.e., no anger, name-calling, or spiteful speech of any kind.
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.
The main advantage of mediation is that it keeps you and your spouse in control of your own divorce. That can make all the difference in your recovering from your divorce and moving on with your life. Mediation allows the two of you to get through your divorce with less conflict than you would experience in an adversarial divorce. Because mediation is all about working with shared knowledge, mediation also often allows you and your spouse to work together to lower your tax bill . . . and that can often translate to more money for you.

Many lawyers charge a retainer fee of between $2,500 and $5,000 for average cases, and bill the client for services in addition to the time covered by the retainer. The retainer amount will be substantially more in complex cases, so the cost of mediation from beginning to end can be less than the combined retainer fees would be if the parties hired lawyers to handle the divorce.


Minnesota orders all couples without a history of spousal abuse to use some type of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) before taking their case to court. One of the most common and generally successful forms of ADR is mediation. In this process, a neutral third party, known as the mediator, helps the couple work out their differences, usually resulting in a 20 to 50 percent reduction in costs over a traditional litigated divorce.
This shortsighted approach overlooks many things, the first of which is the obvious waste of money. It’s important to ask yourself if the asset is really worth the fight. Divorce leaves most people with fewer assets than they had during marriage – why spend what you have left on attorney’s fees? It also overlooks the possibility that with more property on hand, the other spouse will be able to contribute to college costs and other child-related expenses. Finally, property allocated to your spouse may also reduce the need for alimony.

5.    Neither party absolutely needs a personal attorney to handle this process. A neutral lawyer can complete your paperwork and file relevant court documents. Some parties even opt to use pro se forms and submit all paperwork themselves. However, even if your divorce appears simple and amicable, you can benefit from speaking with an experienced Minnesota family lawyer about your case.
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.
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.”
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.
But there's another way. Increasingly couples are turning to divorce mediation as a realistic and healthier alternative. A couple meets with a mediator to hammer out an agreement covering all the terms of their divorce, including finances and child custody. This usually takes six to 10 sessions and costs roughly $5,000. As a litigator and mediator I prefer to mediate, if appropriate. It's faster, cheaper and, most importantly, less acrimonious, which is less damaging, not just for a couple, but also their children.

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.
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.
There are alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods other than mediation.  Arbitration is an ADR where both sides agree that the neutral third person will decide the dispute.  In arbitration, both parties can agree whether or not the arbitration decision will be enforced by the court.  Arbitration might be used when you can't agree about the value of something and you're willing to let someone else, other than a judge, decide.
A family law mediator is a neutral party specially trained to help couples resolve the issues in their divorce. The mediator facilitates the communication between the parties by making sure each party is given an uninterrupted time to speak, asking a party to restate or explain a point when necessary, and asking questions to make communication clear. The mediator also provides information about the legal system, how issues may be viewed by lawyers or judges, and what alternatives there are for solving issues. When necessary, the mediator will refer the couple to third party experts for services such as appraisals.
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
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.

If you and your spouse agree on the terms of the divorce and filed the Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution of a Marriage, then you will probably need to attend a court hearing so that the judge may issue the final divorce decree.  If you have minor children but still have an uncontested divorce you may file a Joint Petition for Dissolution of a Marriage, after which the judge may schedule a short hearing to discuss details of child custody before issuing the final decree.

To file for divorce in Minnesota you must file a Summons and a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the Clerk’s Office of the county court. Although the exact filing fee will depend on the county in which you file, Minnesota has some of the highest in the nation with the average around $400. Whether or not you are representing yourself, you must also file a Certificate of Representation.
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 Petition for Dissolution of Marriage must declare the appropriate Minnesota grounds upon which the dissolution of marriage is being sought. The appropriate lawful ground will be that which the parties agree upon and can substantiate, or that which the filing spouse desires to prove to the court. The dissolution of marriage grounds are as follows:
If your ex-spouse was ordered to provide medical or life insurance, but does not buy insurance or cancels the insurance, the court can order your ex-spouse to reinstate the insurance policy or get a new policy.  The court may also order your ex-spouse to pay medical or hospital bills which should have been paid by the insurance.  If cash was received for the policy that was canceled, the court can award you all or part of the money.  You can also ask the court to find your ex-­spouse in contempt of court.
If any issue pertinent to a custody or parenting time determination, including parenting time rights, is unresolved, the matter may be set for mediation of the contested issue prior to, concurrent with, or subsequent to the setting of the matter for hearing. The purpose of the mediation proceeding is to reduce acrimony which may exist between the parties and to develop an agreement that is supportive of the child's best interests. The mediator shall use best efforts to effect a settlement of the custody or parenting time dispute, but shall have no coercive authority.
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)
Your agreement can include all parts of a divorce or focus on only financial or child-based issues. Again, this is up to you. The mediation process is confidential. Aside from agreements reached in writing, everything said in mediation is confidential. Like a psychologist’s office, your mediator cannot be called as a witness to anything said in mediation. This confidentiality lets couples discuss matters more freely than before a judge and lets them move past and resolve issues.

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.
The court can also consider a change if the parent with custody has denied or interfered with the parenting time of the other parent.  However, parenting time problems alone are usually not enough to change custody.  Denying or interfering with a parenting time schedule is a factor that a court may consider in deciding to change custody.  A judge can also change custody based on the “best interests of the child,” if both parents agreed to use that standard in a writing approved by the court.

If the parties are hostile or overly emotional, the mediator will separate the parties and shuttle back and forth between them in "private caucuses." A private caucus is a conference between the mediator and one party, without the other party being present. The mediator passes offers and demands between the parties. Conversations between a party and the mediator during private caucus are confidential unless a party authorizes the mediator to disclose information to the other side.


Unless a reasonable support amount is agreed to by the parents, the court shall set child support according to the child support guidelines and worksheet. The court may order either or both parents owing a duty of support to a child of the marriage to pay an amount reasonable or necessary for the child's support, without regard to marital misconduct. In addition to the child support guidelines, the court shall take into consideration the following factors in setting or modifying child support or in determining whether to deviate from the guidelines: (1) all earnings, income, and resources of the parents, including real and personal property, but excluding income from excess employment of the obligor or obligee (2) the financial needs and resources, physical and emotional condition, and educational needs of the child or children to be supported; (3) the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved, but recognizing that the parents now have separate households; (4) which parent receives the income taxation dependency exemption and what financial benefit the parent receives from it; (5) the parents' debts; (6) the obligor's receipt of public assistance under the AFDC program. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.551, 518.552)
At Johnson Mediation, we focus on you, your family and your future by assisting you throughout the entire divorce process. We look at your unique situation to provide you the tools, expertise and resources so you can make fully informed decisions.  Whether you agree on most of the issues and want to make sure you haven’t missed anything, or you can’t agree on anything and need ideas and potential solutions to consider, we can help you by providing the guidance to avoid a long and expensive divorce.

Many people think that when a couple wants to live apart they have to get a "legal separation." This is not true.  Often couples live apart for awhile before they decide to get a divorce.  This is not "illegal."  Legal separations are for people who do not want a divorce (usually for religious reasons).  They still need a legal paper to settle custody, support, and property questions.  The court makes the same kinds of decisions that it makes in a divorce.  However, the couple remains married, and the division of property is not final.
×