Don’t ignore it! First, you should read the Summons and Petition completely and decide whether you agree with what it says or not. Second, you should make sure you note any hearing dates. This will give you your timeframe for responding the the Petition. If you do not go to the hearing, the case will end in a default decision and your spouse will receive whatever he or she asked for in the Petition. If you have any objections, or if you do not understand what the Summons and Petition say, contact an attorney for guidance.
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.
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.
There is no right to a free lawyer (like a public defender) in a divorce. However, there are nonprofit law firms that provide free legal help or arrange for volunteer attorneys for low income clients. See the back of this booklet for information on legal services. If free legal help is not available, or you do not qualify, you will need to hire an attorney or represent yourself in the divorce.
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.
In order to make informed decisions as to division of marital property, and appropriate amounts of child support and spousal maintenance, it is necessary for each party to be fully informed of identity of each parties' income and assets. This information is typically exchanged through a process known as discovery. This is a process in which the lawyers may utilize numerous techniques for obtaining the financial information necessary to fairly identify and value all income and assets. The lawyers may informally by letter request the information they feel is necessary to identify all marital income and assets, or, in some cases may feel the need to serve "Interrogatories" and "Requests for Production of Documents” which are formal questions and requests for financial information and documents, such as tax returns, bank statements, financial statements and other information, which must be answered and sworn to under oath, within thirty days. In today's practice, some court's control what discovery they will allow, and may not immediately allow for the service of formal discovery, preferring the parties first use informal discovery. The attorneys may also notice the depositions of the parties themselves, or other people who may have relevant information, such as bankers and business associates. At a deposition the witness is sworn under oath, and the attorneys ask questions of the witnesses, which testimony is preserved in writing by a court reporter. The attorneys may also employ experts, such as "vocational evaluators," in the event it is alleged that a spouse who has not been working or who has only been working part time, is able to earn income to contribute to their support. They may also employ accountants or other business valuation experts to appraise family-owned or closely-held businesses. They may also employ other experts to appraise other assets such as real property and personal property, such as furnishings, jewelry and artwork.
The same analysis applies to debts. Debts incurred prior to the valuation date are generally marital, regardless of who incurred them. Debts incurred after the valuation date are generally separate. If your spouse is charging up the credit cards like a drunken sailor, it is in your interest to expedite the divorce proceedings to lock in the default valuation date.
NOTE: There are many ways to divide real estate in a divorce. The court forms for marriage dissolution (divorce) only give you 1 option -- one spouse gets 100% of the house, cabin, or other real estate, and the other spouse gets a lien. But, you can change the court forms. An attorney can explain other options, advise you about the law, and draft terms to meet your situation. If your divorce involves real estate, you should get advice from a lawyer on your legal rights and options.