Ms. Kugler practices exclusively in the area of family law. Karen works toward equitable settlements, but is skilled in trial advocacy. Karen discusses the risks and expense of litigation with her clients. She is a knowledgeable, empathetic, and assertive legal advocate and handles all family law issues: spousal maintenance, child support, property division, and custody at the trial and appellate levels. Karen is past Chair of the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) Family Law Section and is a past Co-Chair of the RCBA Family Law Section. She is a frequent writer and speaker regarding family law, co-authoring the Child Support...
When it comes to divorce in Minnesota, it’s important to know that the state favors “equitable distribution.” This simply means that all assets are divided equally among both parties regardless of either party’s wishes. Sometimes, though, this doesn’t necessarily mean that “equitable” will be equal. Rather, the word fair is more the proper term to be used when dealing with property distribution.
Some spouses are under the impression that they must obtain a legal separation to get divorced. To the contrary, legal separation is an alternative to divorce, but the process is almost identical: you file legal paperwork, deal with all the same issues in a divorce, and ask a judge for an order of legal separation. If you plan to divorce, a legal separation is unnecessary and will only increase the total cost of the divorce.

Some people think it will be easier and safer to have an attorney fight for their legal rights. Unfortunately, maximizing your legal rights often comes at someone else’s expense (for example your spouse or your children). This is referred to as a “win-lose” situation. All too often the transactional costs (both financial and emotional) of a “win” far exceed the value of the victory, especially for children. Although a good lawyer can be helpful, the adversarial legal process is expensive and often seeks to solve problems through opposing positions, and win-lose thinking. In my opinion, this adversarial approach is not only expensive and emotionally challenging; it is also detrimental to the long-term well-being of the people involved, especially the children. It may surprise you to know that most of my clients are unrepresented and successfully reach a complete mediated divorce settlement without retaining an attorney. My standard advice to people considering which divorce process to choose is to start with mediation and see how it goes. You may consult with or retain an attorney at any time and you never give up your right to go to court if mediation is partially or completely unsuccessful. With success rates as high as 80–90% and average savings of 20-50%, it seems the better question to ask may actually be, why wouldn’t you try mediation first?
Infidelity can also be tough, though not impossible, to work through: In one case of Green’s, the husband had been unfaithful and in a rather public way—he was active on social media, on Tinder, and he had an alternative Facebook profile, “so he had not only cheated on her, but there was a public aspect to it, so she felt very angry, and she also felt humiliated.”
I’ve heard of cases in which one spouse is so eager for custody of the children that they will relieve the other spouse of any duty to pay child support—which is not in their or the children’s best interests. Green says, “This is explicitly contrary to New York legislative policy—the kids shouldn’t be bargained for the money. The two things are determined separately by the court, so there’s no reason to take less than you’re entitled to under the formula.”
Almost every state requires mediation of child custody disputes, and many states' court systems provide services such as early conflict intervention, conciliator services, community dispute resolution centers, education seminars for divorcing couples, mediation, and settlement conferences. Today, mediation, either voluntary or court mandated, is the predominant form of dispute resolution for divorcing couples.
But not every couple is a good candidate for mediation—and it can be hard to know in advance who’s going to find the process helpful and who’s going to find it useless—or worse, enraging. To get a better idea of warning signs, I spoke to Rachel Green, the family lawyer in Brooklyn, New York, who handled my own separation ten years ago. Below, the eight signs that mediation might not be right for you.
If your spouse files an Answer that disputes details in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, then the judge will order you and your spouse to trial. There may be a number of hearings and legal proceedings before a trial occurs, so you will probably need an attorney to guide you through the process.  Before the trial, you and your spouse’s attorney may engage in evidence requests, witness interviews and negotiations.  This may be a lengthy and complex process that could cost you a great deal personally and financially.
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.
What the mediator can do, though, is assist the divorcing couple in formulating ideas that can eventually lead to agreements that will stand the test of time. 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.
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.
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.

The small hourly cost for the attorney’s time is well worth the expense as it helps the client to make decisions and thereby move the mediation forward. In addition, at the point in the process when the parties have finalized all their agreements and a draft Separation Agreement is prepared, it is advisable that both parties review that agreement with their own attorney before they sign it. After all, this document will have lasting impact on their finances, their children, and their lives for some time to come, and it is prudent and wise to be sure that they both fully understand the terms in the agreement and that it accurately reflect their wishes.


Very few divorce cases actually go to trial.  Most cases are settled before the trial begins.  Usually the attorneys and the judge have a short meeting before the trial starts.  The purpose of this meeting is to decide what must be addressed during the trial and what has already been settled by the parties. The attorneys also make agreements so that the trial will be easier, faster, and less formal.  For example, they might agree on the order in which witnesses will testify.
As the number of divorces has increased, divorcing couples have frequently become frustrated with the excessive costs and delays associated with an overburdened, adversarial litigation system, and have sought ways to play a greater role in determining the details of their divorces. Likewise, the court system has recognized the importance of developing methods of handling disputes outside of the courtroom, and so court-related mediation programs have increased in popularity around the country.
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.
Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and Decree of Dissolution of Marriage. These are the essential documents needed to start and finalize a dissolution of marriage according to Minnesota law. There are anywhere from ten to twenty other documents that may be required throughout the filing process. A few other documents that are typically filed during the process are: Summons, Form 11, Confidential Information Form, Marital Termination Agreement, Financial Affidavit, and Affidavit of Non-Military Status.
You do not want to put your divorce in the hands of a mediator, mediate an agreement, only to find that the Court will not accept it. Instead, you want to be able to craft your own agreement which meets, as much as possible, your needs and the needs of your spouse while also keeping the Court’s requirements in mind. This ability gives control back to you rather than investing it in an overworked court system.
After the elapse of a period of time, nobody much cares if the reason you only had every other weekend was because the other parent truly wouldn’t “let” you have more time. Although that may very well be the case, and although you may have let your spouse control the situation in order to spare the children the trauma of parental conflict, in my experience the courts are more swayed by the pattern of contact rather than by these “excuses.” The wisdom of Solomon does not apply. [1]

Civil lawsuits- those involving land, inheritance, or services provided, are most often moved to the end of any Court’s calendar. Often, a civil matter will not be heard before a judge for more than two years after the case is filed with the Court. This long delay for justice/resolution, together with the high costs of trial, often make litigation impractical. It is not uncommon for attorney fees, expert witness fees, filing fees, court reporter fees and other related costs to exceed the amount in dispute.


If you can prove that an item of property was "non-marital," the court will not usually award that property to your spouse.  Non-marital property is property owned by one of you before your marriage, or was a gift or inheritance to you alone during your marriage.  Portions of a personal injury or Workers Compensation award might also be non-marital.  The court may award non-marital property to the non-owner spouse only if it would cause unfair hardship or under other limited circumstances. 
The next step will be to assess where you and your spouse agree and where you need some work to get to agreement. Once you have a sense of what needs to be accomplished, you, your spouse, and the mediator will plan how you're going to accomplish it. It's very likely that you will need to gather more information, especially if you're dealing with property issues as well as child custody questions. (For example, if you don't know the value of your house, you can't have an intelligent discussion about a buyout.) The mediator will help you figure out what information you need and ask each of you to commit to bringing certain things for the next session.
A spouse is not liable to (responsible for paying) creditors for debts of the other spouse except for necessary medical expenses and household articles and supplies used by the family while the spouses live together.  A spouse is liable for credit card and other charges by the other spouse if both had agreed to be responsible to the creditor.  A spouse may also be liable for credit card debt if that spouse has used the card in the past.  Either spouse may close a joint credit card account at any time.  In some cases, it may be wise to cancel credit cards immediately.
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