Minnesota is a purely "no-fault" divorce state, meaning that you can't allege that your spouse's wrongdoing was the cause of the divorce. Instead, most divorces are based on the grounds that the parties have irreconcilable differences that have led to the breakdown of the marriage. However, fault may be considered by the court as a factor in dividing property or awarding alimony. To learn more about whether Minnesota uses fault as a determining factor in alimony and property issues, see Nolo's Essential Guide to Divorce, by Emily Doskow.
If one party denies under oath that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the Court may not grant the divorce without finding irretrievable breakdown, after a hearing and consideration of all relevant factors, including but not limited to: 1) the circumstances that gave rise to the commencement of the proceedings; and 2) the prospect of reconciliation.  The Court may not find irretrievable breakdown as long as a reasonable prospect of reconciliation exists. 
For unmarried parents, the mother has sole legal and physical custody unless and until the Court orders otherwise, pursuant to Minnesota Statute section 257.75, subdivision 3. Nevertheless, a mother should be careful before denying parenting time, because one of the many factors which the court considers in determining permanent custody is “the disposition of each parent to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact by the other parent with the child.” Minn. Stat. § 518.17, Subd. 1(13).
James Rainwater has provided professional neutrality for court-ordered and private mediations since 2002. He is qualified to conduct both General and Family Law mediations. Mr. Rainwater is experienced in mediating matters involving Family Law, Child Abuse and Neglect, Insurance, Contract Disputes, Personal Injury, Real Estate, Probate, Property ... more
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.
The court may appoint a “guardian ad litem” if it believes one party has hurt the child or that having someone to represent what's best for the child would be helpful. A guardian ad litem advises the court about custody, parenting time and support during the case. A guardian ad litem is different from other kinds of guardians. The guardian ad litem does not have custody. A guardian ad litem makes an independent investigation about what's best for the child and writes a report for the court. The parties may be asked to pay the costs of a guardian ad litem.
You may be surprised to know that most MN divorce cases (over 90%) are settled before they ever reach a court room. Mediation is so effective that the State of Minnesota requires you make a good faith effort to settle your divorce through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) before appearing in Court – so why not start with a process which is proven to work as well, if not better, than litigation?
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.
Christine Callahan has completed the certified training and is on the court roster for counties in the southwest metro to conduct Social Early Neutral Evaluations (SENE, for custody and parenting time) and Financial Early Neutral Evaluations (FENE for support and property division). For more information about the Early Neutral process in Minnesota, please see our articles.
The attorney representing either the petitioner or the respondent can schedule a temporary relief hearing. The other party must be served with motion papers, including a Motion for Temporary Relief and an Affidavit. Affidavits are written statements signed under oath. The motion papers are legal papers requesting temporary relief from the court and stating the facts on which the request is based. These facts include the income and expenses of each party, who has the children now and why they should be in the custody of the party asking for temporary custody. The motion papers must be mailed or handed to the other party before the hearing. There are certain time periods for giving notice to the other party before the hearing that must be followed when bringing and responding to motions. The petitioner's attorney often has the motion papers served at the same time as the Summons and Petition.
Minnesota is a “no-fault” divorce state. What this means is that neither spouse has to prove marital misconduct (such as infidelity) to obtain a divorce. Instead, the parties can simply acknowledge that there has been an “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. In Minnesota, either spouse can get a divorce if they wish to have one. A spouse does not need to “give” the other spouse a divorce; rather, it can be obtained with or without the other spouse’s cooperation.
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.
Mediation sessions are typically 2 – 3 hours long and scheduled approximately 2 weeks apart. Most of my clients reach a complete settlement in between 6 – 8 hours of mediation occurring over a 6 – 8 week period of time. Depending on the county in which you live and the time of year, processing of your legal documents can take the court another 1 – 8 weeks.
If the case does settle, the mediator will urge the parties to sign a settlement to memorialize the agreement. A written settlement agreement is a contract between the parties, which is generally enforceable in the same manner as any other written contract. Generally, there's no record of the mediation session, and the only document produced is the settlement (or mediation) agreement.
Finally, the parties in mediation are often surprised to hear their mediator suggest that they consider retaining consulting attorneys. The thought is that they chose to mediate to avoid fighting their case out with attorneys and they don’t want that extraordinary expense. However, the role of a consulting attorney in mediation is very different than the role of a litigation advocate and is a very helpful assistance when mediating.
Another rare exception to the general rule on termination of child support is in the case of emancipated children. An emancipated child is not entitled to child support.  Whether or not a child is “emancipated” is an issue that must be decided by the Court on a case by case basis, but will normally require proof that the child is living away from home and is self-supporting. Termination of child support by reason of emancipation requires a motion in Court.
Once the decision to mediate is made, it is necessary to find a mediator. Many counties have community-based or court-annexed mediation centers. If the mediation is court-ordered, the court may appoint a mediator, or will allow the parties to agree upon a qualified mediator. Both lawyers and non-lawyers serve as mediators. The fees charged vary from mediator to mediator and from case to case.
“Legal Separation” is a major change in the status of your marriage. To get a legal separation you must serve and file a petition in Family Court in the county where you or your spouse lives. It is a separate process from divorce. In Minnesota, you don’t need to get a legal separation before you get divorced. Legal separation takes as long as a divorce, and costs just as much if not more. In many ways, a legal separation is the same as a divorce. Both include custody, parenting time, child support, and, if appropriate, spousal maintenance (alimony) orders. All the family assets and debts are permanently divided.
The short answer is “no.” There may be instances in which a Judge requires parties who are represented by an attorney to attend mediation or another ADR process with those attorneys. There are also mediators who will not allow one party to have an attorney present unless the other party also has an attorney present. Generally, however, parties will be able to make this decision on their own, as long as they both agree.
It is important to remember that the child support obligation terminates automatically at this time.  The obligor doesn’t need to return to Court to stop it. He just needs to stop paying. That said, if payment is through automatic income withholding, it is a good idea to alert your child support case worker in advance of the termination date, to be sure they don’t overlook it and continue withholding the money from your paycheck.
The court may award either party alimony if the party seeking alimony (1) lacks sufficient property to meet his or her own needs, and (2) is unable to be self-supporting through employment, or is not required to seek employment due to being a child custodian. In the absence of an agreement by the parties, Minnesota alimony law provides that the amount and duration of alimony will be determined by the judge, after considering the following factors:
In mediation, the couple, with the help of the mediator, works out agreements on the above issues. Sometimes agreements come easy, sometimes they take time and a lot of work. When agreements are hard to reach, that is when the mediator intervenes. It is the mediators job to keep the lines of communication open, brainstorm ideas, reality test the couple, teach empathy and assist the couple in their decision making process. Mediators help keep the couple focused on the issues at hand, trying not to get them off track. When divorcing couples get off track and away from the above issues during mediation, arguing, name-calling and bad prior memories are brought up.
In Minnesota, alimony or spousal maintenance is available as temporary, short-term or long-term. Temporary alimony includes payments made during the course of the divorce proceedings, while short-term involves a limited period following the divorce. Long-term spousal maintenance is essentially permanent. In most cases, alimony is short-term and allows the dependent spouse to obtain skills to sustain themselves. The court will consider the following when awarding alimony:
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.
If you and your spouse are splitting up, one question you may be asking is, “how will I support myself?” In this era of dual income families, when you get a divorce or legal separation, you often times also lose a portion of the source of your monthly rent, mortgage, bills, and more. This can often be a deterrent for people to get a divorce – even when they desperately need one. Lawmakers in Minnesota, as in all states, have allowed for spouses to petition the court for what is known as “alimony.”
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.
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. 
If the respondent answers the Petition, the parties will try to settle the case by having their attorneys work out an agreement. This is called negotiation. If the couple is able to agree on everything (through negotiation or mediation), a written agreement called a Stipulation or Marital Termination Agreement is prepared and signed by both parties and their attorneys. The parties agree that one of them will present the Stipulation to the court. Just one party needs go to court. The other party usually does not attend. The court usually accepts the agreement made by the parties. A written Stipulation may also be presented to the court without the need for any hearing. This process can only be used if each party had a lawyer.
Although many mediating couples are amicable and work well in mediation, there are also many couples who are very emotional about the divorce and don't think they can negotiate face to face. Part of every qualified mediator's training is in assisting couples who have high emotions but who still would like to work things out peacefully. People do calm down and become effective mediation participants when they see that the process can work without adding to the high emotional and financial cost of divorce.
Each divorce mediator will have his or her own approach, however, some of the basics will likely remain the same. You will probably speak to the mediator on the phone, providing information about your marriage your family and the issues at hand. Some mediators will ask you for a great deal of information, while others may prefer to stick with the basics until meeting both parties. During the first meeting, the mediator will explain how the divorce mediation process will proceed. All parties may meet in the same room at all times, or the mediator may meet with each party separately at least one time.
To ensure you cover everything, create a master list of all your assets and possessions—regardless of whether an item is thought to be yours or your spouse’s. The master list should include all real property (house, rental properties, vacation homes), personal property (books, DVDs, furniture, artwork, jewelry), vehicles (including boats, motorcycles, ATVs), bank accounts (joint and separate, checking, savings), credit cards, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, annuities, stocks and other financial products. Account for everything you own.
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.
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.
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.
I have more than 15 years experience with families and churches in conflict management and resolution. Clear thinking and calm presence is a must in stressful interpersonal situations so I’m balanced between a logical head and caring heart. Skill and experience in crisis counseling, de-escalation and conflict resolution is what I bring to to the table. As a former ER chaplain, I’m sensitive to diverse faiths and beliefs, and understand many of the differences that age, education, setting and lifestyle can make in dealing with conflict. I know my limits in dealing with different cultures yet have much inter-cultural experience. Immersed in language study in college, I also lived with people from over 20 countries including people from Africa, South America and Asia.
Some mediators prefer to conduct the framing stage in separate sessions, as they believe it better prepares each of you for the next stage: negotiating. Other mediators favor joint sessions because they believe that hearing your spouse work with the mediator to formulate interests lays a better foundation for the give and take of the negotiation stage. Either way can work, although separate sessions make the mediation cost a little more and take a little longer, because anything important that is said in the separate session will have to be repeated to the other spouse.
In Minnesota, Marriage Dissolution proceedings, or divorces, are viewed as "no fault" proceedings. This means that a spouse does not have to prove the other spouse was at fault or did something wrong to cause the breakdown of the marriage to obtain a divorce. Either spouse may commence a divorce action by simply alleging that there has been "an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage relationship" - in other words, that in their opinion, the marriage is dead and there is no chance of reconciliation. If one spouse feels this way, even if the other disagrees, the court will ultimately grant the dissolution of marriage. Early in the process, if you do not believe that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, the option of marriage counseling is possible. Unfortunately, if a spouse has set their mind to divorcing the other, it is unlikely that counseling can repair the marital relationship.
A Motion is a paper asking the Judge or Referee to decide an issue in a case. In a divorce matter, a Motion for Temporary Relief allows you to ask the court to issue a temporary order for child custody, child support, spousal support, and certain property issues. The Temporary Order allows you to get needed financial support while your case is pending in court. The Temporary order will expire when the final divorce decree is signed by the Judge and "entered" by court administration.