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.
Divorce mediation still feels like a new idea in some parts of the country, but it’s increasingly well-known and widely accepted. Mediation means different things to different people. In the form I recommend, you and your spouse would sit down in the same room with each other and with a neutral mediator. With the mediator’s help, you would work through all the issues you need to resolve so the two of you can get through your divorce.
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.

This booklet explains your rights in a Minnesota divorce and includes information on custody, parenting time, child support, maintenance, abuse, and division of property.  This booklet does NOT tell you how to get a divorce without the help of an attorney.  Divorce law is complicated and changes often.  Each case must be handled differently.  Unless your divorce is very simple, it is usually a good idea to have an attorney.


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.
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.
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.

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.
Couples who are headed for a trial date may be ordered by the court to go through mediation before that date is set, however, mediation can also be voluntary. If the couples are unable to resolve their issues through mediation, they are free to pursue any other remedies they choose. Mediation is generally better for the children involved, as it allows the couple to make decisions which are in the best interests of the entire family in a non-contentious manner. Children can be damaged by hearing their parents argue and say things to one another that children should not hear. Many parents who end up litigating their divorce are not hesitant to say ugly things about the other parent in front of the children. Parents who make a conscious decision to mediate their divorce, are also more likely to be aware of ensuring the children are not privy to contentious behavior between the parents.
Taking or hiding a child, or not returning the child after parenting time, can be a serious crime.  Minnesota has a law which makes it a crime to deprive another of their custodial or parental rights.  Under this law, you do not have to have a court order giving you custody or parenting time.  If the other parent is hiding the child, you may be able to show that you have been deprived of your custodial or parental rights.
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.
Financial Early Neutral Evaluations (FENE) allow the parties to meet with an accountant or lawyer neutral expert to assist the parties in preparing a balance sheet and help to negotiate a division of property. These experts can also assist in preparing cash flow summaries to help the parties settle issues of child support and spousal maintenance. As with social early neutral evaluations, the neutral may advise the parties what they believe will occur if the matter is fully litigated. As with Social ENEs, many counties provide rosters of lawyers and accountants certified to assist with FENE's in that county.
Mediation is also confidential. Nothing said in mediation may be used against a person. Many times people tell me they agreed to something in mediation because they were afraid they might be seen as unreasonable. This should not be a concern in mediation, because of the confidentiality rule. (Outside of mediation, your lawyer can advise you as to what positions are reasonable or unreasonable).
Mediation is confidential and private, as opposed to divorce litigation, in which little privacy is afforded. Whatever goes on in mediation remains private, while grievances aired in a courtroom become part of the court record and are public. Any communications between parties during mediation are confidential with certain exceptions. These exceptions include child or elder abuse or one party talking about a crime they committed or one they intend to commit. The confidentiality of the mediation process allows spouses to speak openly and directly to one another without the fear something they say will be used against them.
Once your negotiations are finished and you have found a solution, either the mediator or one of your attorneys will write an agreement and, in many cases, a parenting schedule or parenting plan. These documents will be incorporated with the rest of your divorce paperwork and become part of your divorce judgment, which means that a court could enforce them if one of you doesn't do what the agreements say you'll do.
Like attorneys, most mediators charge by the hour. The average total cost of divorce mediation (with me) is approximately $2,000. In addition to the mediator’s fees you will need to pay a filing fee to your county of approximately $400 and if you choose to hire a professional for legal drafting, you should also expect an additional $1,250-1,500. On average, my clients incur a total combined cost of approximately $4,000.
If child support was ordered but is not being paid, steps to enforce the order can be taken by the custodial parent or the county human services department.  If the children are receiving public assistance, the county can also ask the court for a separate order requiring the other parent to pay back the assistance that has been received by the custodial parent for the past two years.  The county can also ask the court for an order requiring you to pay back Medical Assistance and some other benefits the children received.  The court can order payment whether or not the Judgment and Decree included a child support order.
Divorce mediation is an alternative to court litigation for resolving disputes that arise as two people separate their lives.  A neutral third party called a “mediator” helps the couple to work through the issues of their divorce and reach a mutually agreeable settlement.  Please note that mediation may not be safe or appropriate for individuals with a history or fear of domestic violence.
The only way to force a spouse out of the house where he or she resides is to get a Court Order. If you or your child has been the victim of domestic abuse by your spouse, you can get an Order for Protection immediately, which will bar your spouse from the house. Otherwise, absent an agreement, the soonest you’ll get an order for exclusive occupancy of the home would be with the issuance of an Order for Temporary Relief, which usually takes anywhere from about one to five months to obtain, depending on the county, the judge, and the speed of your attorney.
Typically the SENE will involve both parties, both attorneys, and two court-appointed custody evaluators. Usually three hours is blocked for a session. During the session, each party (and his or her attorney) is given the opportunity to explain what they would like for a custody and parenting time arrangement, and why. Questions from the evaluators are asked and answered. Then there is a break while the evaluators confer. Then the meeting reconvenes and recommendations are given and explained, whereupon the parties discuss settlement.
That said, although the legal impact of the physical custody label is debatable, if you are the primary parent, it is still preferable to have sole physical custody than joint physical custody. Conversely, if you are not the primary parent, it is still preferable to have the joint physical custody label than not to have it. This is because of the uncertainty over how a future court, evaluator, parenting consultant, guardian ad litem or others might interpret that label.

If you have been ordered to pay child support and your situation has changed so that you cannot pay the amount of support ordered, it is important to contact the county child support officer right away.  You can bring a motion to ask the court to lower your child support. If you do not bring a motion, there is little chance the court will forgive back support, even if you were unable to pay.  For more information about child support, see our booklet Child Support Basics. 
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...
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.
Conflict, especially in a divorce or a breakup, need not be inevitable. Exploring mediation as an option means that you want to reach an agreement that serves both of you in a confidential, flexible, and cost effective manner. Mediation starts a process which will enable both of you to continue your lives as whole people, better able to parent together. The Court system assumes that parties cannot get along well enough to reach resolution on their own; the mediation/alternative dispute resolution process assumes that parties can do so.
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.  
Jerry has devoted himself exclusively to the practice of divorce and family law in Minnesota since 1993. He practices in all areas of family law including divorce, custody, child support, paternity, grandparents' rights, mediation, appeals, and same sex cases. Jerry is particularly experienced in representing clients in interstate and international divorce and child custody, and frequently advises other attorneys on these issues. Jerry's practice includes collaborative law and alternative dispute resolution. He is the author of the first Minnesota divorce and family law blog in the state, a recurring author for the Minnesota Association for Justice Magazine, and...

Through a series of joint sessions we work through the three main components of a legal divorce settlement (property division, financial support and parenting plan). Generally speaking we follow these steps: 1) make an action plan and prioritize issues to be addressed; 2) determine what information needs to be gathered and shared; 3) assess if additional professional assistance from appraisers, accountants, therapists, attorneys, etc. is needed; 4) share and document your property (assets and liabilities); 5) make decisions about dividing your property; 6) create budgets for separate living; 7) determine financial support needs (child support and/or spousal maintenance/alimony); and 8) develop a detailed and workable parenting plan. In all cases, your personal and private information is treated confidentially with the same care and concern as in the legal process. The final product of mediation is a Memorandum of Agreement which is a comprehensive document detailing your agreements and which serves as the basis for your legal documents which are filed with the court.
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On average, pre-decree divorce mediation can be completed in 4-10 sessions. Again, how long it takes really depends on what if any communication there is between the divorcing couples and their level of animosity for each other. If either one of the spouses is unwilling to budge from their certain position on a divorce issues, mediation may not be an option for them and they may have to litigate in court. Once this happens, communication is shut down and the fight begins.

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.
The only way to force a spouse out of the house where he or she resides is to get a Court Order. If you or your child has been the victim of domestic abuse by your spouse, you can get an Order for Protection immediately, which will bar your spouse from the house. Otherwise, absent an agreement, the soonest you’ll get an order for exclusive occupancy of the home would be with the issuance of an Order for Temporary Relief, which usually takes anywhere from about one to five months to obtain, depending on the county, the judge, and the speed of your attorney.
If child support was ordered but is not being paid, steps to enforce the order can be taken by the custodial parent or the county human services department.  If the children are receiving public assistance, the county can also ask the court for a separate order requiring the other parent to pay back the assistance that has been received by the custodial parent for the past two years.  The county can also ask the court for an order requiring you to pay back Medical Assistance and some other benefits the children received.  The court can order payment whether or not the Judgment and Decree included a child support order.
Any information disseminated on this website does not constitute legal advice of any kind,and does not form the basis for an attorney-client relationship. As such, the reader of such information is advised to consult directly with a competent legal professional of their own choosing to discuss and answer any substantive legal questions they may have.
Dan is a leader in the field of transformative mediation. He is the author of the chapter on divorce mediation in the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation's ("ISCT") TRANSFORMATIVE MEDIATION SOURCEBOOK. He is a Past Chair of the Minnesota State Bar Association's Alternative Dispute Resolution Section. He served for 6 years on the Mi ... more
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.

Mediation is one of the most frequently used methods of negotiating a divorce settlement. In divorce mediation, you and your spouse—or, in some cases, the two of you and your respective lawyers—hire a neutral third party, called a mediator, to meet with you in an effort to discuss and resolve the issues in your divorce. The mediator doesn't make decisions for you, but serves as a facilitator to help you and your spouse figure out what's best.

I have a great deal of experience with court matters, but I am now concentrating more of my time on Wills and Probate. I have been an arbitrator of Minnesota No Fault Auto Accident Claims. I graduated from Hopkins (MN) High School in 1967; St. Olaf College, Northfield MN in 1971 (BA History and Asian Studies) and William Mitchell College of Law (now Mitchell Hamline Law School) in 1975 (JD), working days and attending classes at night through a four year program. I am married and have two adult children.
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.
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