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.
Brian James is a Divorce Mediator with offices in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin. He is the founder and owner of C.E.L. & Associates, a private mediation firm that focuses on pre and post decree divorce issues. His background consists of 10.5 years working with domestic violence and divorcing families in the Criminal Justice System. He is a member of numerous mediation organizations and local chambers of commerce. His goal is to assist his clients in their time of need and help them work out agreements that are best for them and their children. At the same time, he tries to save his divorcing couples time and money that is otherwise wasted in the court system. What would you rather do with your money during a divorce, pay it to an attorney or invest it in your child's college education?
If you are concerned about ongoing earnings continuing to be marital in nature, then it is in your interest to lock in the default valuation date by filing the case as soon as possible and shepherding it along swiftly. For example, if you earn six figures, but your spouse is a stay-at-home unemployed parent, it is to your advantage to file the divorce first, and then work on settlement, rather than to mediate and negotiate for several months prior to filing.
Decisions about spousal maintenance are often emotional and challenging. Unfortunately, MN law does not specify how to calculate a spousal maintenance obligation. Unlike child support, MN divorce laws are discretionary when it comes to spousal maintenance (alimony) stating only that many factors should be considered when determining the need for spousal maintenance as well as the amount and duration of the support. Relevant factors often include: the length of marriage, each spouse’s financially ability to be self-supporting, education and employment history, age, and the marital standard of living. Mediation encourages the use of reasonable budgets and information sharing rather than the traditional adversarial legal approach which often relies on exaggerated budgets and win-lose negotiation tactics. The creation of reasonable budgets allows you and your spouse to understand your individual financial needs as well as the financial realities of your situation. This mutual understanding is vital to the successful discussion and resolution of the spousal maintenance issue. I also utilize a specialized computer program which provides useful information about tax impacts and projected cash flow for each spouse before and after the exchange of financial support.
The respondent may disagree with the relief asked for by the petitioner and want the court to hear his or her side. The respondent then must serve an Answer on the petitioner's attorney within 30 days of the date the respondent was served. An Answer is a legal paper saying what the respondent says back to the Petition. Just calling up the petitioner to say something like "I don't like this" is not an Answer. The Answer may be mailed to the petitioner's lawyer. It does not need to be personally served. The Answer states whether the respondent thinks the petitioner's statements in the petition are true or false. It also tells the court what the respondent wants.
MN law is relatively vague about how to divide marital property (all that you own and owe). There is an assumption that all marital property should be divided equitably. Mediation allows you and your spouse to define your own concept of fairness and to control how you divide your marital property. Through the creation of a master spreadsheet you will fully document and verify all of your assets and liabilities. As you make decisions about who will receive which property, the spreadsheet calculates and reveals the overall monetary value awarded to each spouse. The end result is one comprehensive document which allows each of you to easily determine if your property division is “fair” or not. My experience is that typically the numbers speak for themselves.
1. If custody or parenting time is in issue, don’t move out without first getting an enforceable written stipulation addressing custody and parenting time after the move-out. The key is to have in place at least an interim parenting time schedule which affords you at least as much parenting time as you hope to obtain through the court. Otherwise, the longer you acquiesce to a pattern of parenting time that is less than you desire, the more of an argument the other party will make of it against you. Often arguments like the following are heard:
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.
A mediator’s job is to get you to reach an agreement. Their sense of professional fulfillment is satisfied when an agreement is reached. Unfortunately, all too often, this can result in a person agreeing to things that are contrary to his or her interests, contrary to what the Court would order, and — in the worst case — contrary to the best interests of the children. Therefore, it is critically important to either have an attorney with you at the mediation session, or at least have one on retainer at the time, to consult before you agree to anything.
On a related note, it is a useful precaution to close or otherwise terminate additional borrowing authority on any joint credit cards, lines of credit, or other joint debt accounts, when a divorce appears imminent. With respect to joint credit cards and other joint unsecured consumer lines of credit, Minnesota law requires the creditor to close the account upon the written request of either party. 
During a divorce, either party can petition the court to pay alimony or “spousal maintenance” to the other. Minnesota laws provide for this type of assistance so the lower earning spouses can maintain the same reasonable standard of living as before. Generally speaking, a court will be more inclined to order a longer period of alimony when the marriage was longer in duration.
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.
The mediator will not allow one party to overpower the other in mediation. If one of the parties is unable to be effective during this process, the mediator will stop the mediation. However, many persons who considered themselves to be the "weaker" of the two spouses have been quite effective in mediation. As an unsophisticated spouse of a very powerful business executive once said, "I have the power to say no, and my spouse better listen or we'll wind up in court."
Making the decision to part from your spouse is always difficult – particularly where there is money and support involved. While the alimony laws in Minnesota may be difficult to understand, the good news is that you don’t have to go through this process alone. A good first step in requesting alimony is to contact a Minnesota divorce lawyer, who can advocate on your behalf.
Clients often ask whether they should move out of the marital home prior to or during the commencement of divorce proceedings. The answer is very clear: “it depends”. Generally speaking, if child custody, parenting time, or possession of the home might be an issue in the proceedings, I advise against it. Although no legal precedent is created by moving out, the lawyer for the remaining occupant routinely argues that:
If a person wishes to terminate his or her marriage, he or she may file for a divorce. In a divorce proceeding, the court will terminate the marriage and determine the rights and responsibilities of the divorcing parties regarding child custody, child visitation, child support and spousal support (alimony). The court will also redistribute marital assets.
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.
Stacy Wright Family Law and Mediation, Chtd., is a family law and mediation firm located in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. Stacy Wright, Attorney at Law, is experienced, empathetic, and creative. She takes the time to get to know her clients and understand their goals, so she can help them work towards their goals. Stacy Wright believes that it is important for her clients to understand both the court process and the laws that affect her clients’ cases, so in addition to advocating for her clients, her law firm also focuses on client education.
Another helpful approach for very high-conflict cases can include bringing an additional professional into the mix, such as a marriage and family therapist, who can meet with one or both parties in the mediation session or separately, as appropriate. The goal of the therapist is not to reconcile the parties, but to help them develop a better ability to communicate around the emotional roadblocks that they are facing. In the end, by going through the mediation process together and reaching reasonable solutions to the issues facing them, parties that mediate learn new ways of working together as they go forward into their new future. This is a huge benefit, especially when children and co-parenting are involved.
A business which is the sole source of the couple’s income could end up shut down if the couple is unable to discuss the issues related to the business. This could lead to both parties suffering financially. A divorcing couple with a business can enter divorce mediation and may be able to come up with a compromise which could potentially save the business. Even if every little detail is not agreed upon, the mediator will attempt to get the couple to work together for the good of the business.
If you can afford an attorney, but don't know any, ask a friend who was satisfied with his or her attorney. You can also look in the yellow pages under "Attorneys." You can contact the local bar association's attorney referral service listed below. The Lawyer Referral Service can give you the name and telephone number of an attorney in private practice in your area who may be able to represent you. You may have to pay an initial fee for the first appointment with the attorney. You may be able to negotiate how much you will pay the attorney for representation in a divorce. Many attorneys will ask for payment of some money before the divorce is begun. This is called a retainer.
2. In divorces, there is inevitably a process of “discovery,” where each party requests information and documents from the other party. Sometimes this is informal and limited. Other times it is formal, comprehensive, and terribly time-consuming for the parties themselves (to gather the information), and for their lawyers (who must review the responses and put them together in proper legal form). Because most attorneys are sloppy and lazy with formal discovery, they request much more than is really necessary to settle a case, just to cover their butts and to avoid the work of tailoring the discovery demands to each particular case, or just to make the process more onerous for the other party.
Even if you don’t qualify for the summary dissolution, you may be able to proceed with an uncontested dissolution, where you and your spouse reach an agreement about the division of your property, and, if you have any children, what arrangements will be made for them. You begin the procedure by preparing and filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, along with various supporting documents. For an uncontested dissolution, one of these documents you would be a marital settlement agreement outlining the division of assets, and your agreement regarding any children. These documents are filed with the court, and copies of them are provided to your spouse. You will attend a court hearing, at which time the judge will make sure that all of your paperwork is in order, perhaps ask you a few questions, and enter your Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.
In order to make custody determinations the court evaluates the best interests of the children using 13 key factors which are defined in MN 518.17.In addition to being financially expensive, formal custody evaluations are also often highly adversarial and emotionally damaging for all involved, especially the children. In the end, a “victory” is often bittersweet and both parents will have some amount of court ordered parenting time. Rather than seek to prove that one parent is better than the other, it is critical to recognize that both parents are important in different ways – each providing that which can only be given by a mother or a father. You are the experts about your life and your children. You are the best qualified to make decisions about how to restructure your family and parenting time after divorce. As your mediator, I help you evaluate and discuss parenting time options and make child-focused decisions about how each of you will remain significantly involved with your children.
SUPERIOR SERVICE: All mediators are not created equal! Although mediators are not decision makers, they do have a significant impact on your divorce process. Mediators set the tone and guide you through the rough patches. Therefore, it is wise to interview mediators and select one who respects your sense of fairness, recognizes the importance of self-determination, helps generate creative solutions and facilitates workable agreements.
In person—Minnesota allows anyone who is 18 years of age or older and is not a party to the lawsuit to serve the divorce papers in person. In most cases, the process server is a sheriff or a professional, bonded process server. Once the papers have been delivered to the respondent’s home, person or attorney, the process server must complete the Affidavit of Service and file it with the Clerk of Court.
The law allows parents to make voluntary parenting plans. A parenting plan is a plan voluntarily designed by both parents based on the best interests of the child. A parenting plan must include a schedule of the time each parent spends with the child, who will make specific decisions regarding the child, and a way to settle disputes. An agreed-upon parenting plan may use terms other than “physical” and “legal” custody but it must clearly state if the parents have joint legal custody or joint physical custody or which parent has sole legal custody or sole physical custody.