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 the custodial parent wishes to leave the state, the other parent must agree that the children can move or the custodial parent must get permission from the court.  If the other parent agrees, the agreement should be put in writing.  The court must weigh certain factors when deciding whether to allow the move. The factors are things like the reason for the move and the child’s relationship with the other parent and other family members. The parent requesting the move must convince the court to give permission, except in domestic violence cases.
After service, the receiving spouse must file an answer. If the spouses agree on the conditions of their divorce, they may file a Stipulate Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree, which will put them on a proverbial fast track to ending their marriage. However, if the receiving spouse disagrees with the petitioning spouse, then he or she may serve the petitioning spouse an answer that explains why he or she disagrees.
Although there certainly are several different styles of mediation, there are several things you can depend on no matter what style your mediator uses. Mediation is flexible and confidential. It gives you and your spouse a way to settle the conflict between you, which is natural and inevitable, in a way that helps you to work together as parents after your divorce.
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.

All marriages prohibited by law shall be absolutely void, without any decree of dissolution or other legal proceedings, with the following exception. When a person who's husband or wife has been absent for four successive years, without being known to the person to be living during that time, marries during the lifetime of the absent husband or wife, the marriage shall be void only from the time that its nullity is adjudged. If the absentee is declared dead, the subsequent marriage shall not be void.
When you have a choice, it is cheaper to cooperate with informal and limited discovery. In cases where the other party is not cooperative or not trustworthy, more formal discovery may be a necessity. Some of the formal discovery demands you receive will be objectionable. In most cases, however, it is much cheaper for you to just get the information and documents, than to pay your lawyer to argue with the other side about it. Also, don’t trickle it in piecemeal to your attorney if at all possible. Get it all together into one package, as complete and as organized as possible.
In any case where parties cannot agree about custody or parenting time of the children, the court will require the parties to attend an orientation and education program. Some courts have programs for children to attend. The program covers the impact that divorce and the restructuring of families and legal proceedings have upon children and families. It will also cover methods for preventing parenting time conflicts and options for resolving disputes. 
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.
A six-month review hearing can be scheduled to make sure parents are following court orders for custody, parenting time and child support. The court cannot change orders at this hearing, but it can take steps to make sure the orders are being followed. Either parent can ask for a six-month review hearing after getting a divorce, custody, child support or parenting time order for the first time. The court administrator can give you a form and the steps needed to ask for this hearing.

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As a family law attorney and mediator for almost 30 years, I spend a great deal of time educating prospective clients and the public about the many benefits of choosing to mediate their divorce rather than selecting the more traditional litigation path. Even though divorce mediation is much less costly, less time consuming, and less divisive and stressful than the adversarial model of litigation, I often hear the same three concerns raised about mediation.
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).
In order to maintain the status quo while the divorce is being processed, spouses are allowed to file Motions for Temporary Relief in order to temporarily order child custody, child support, spousal support and any other issues that occur day to day that must be handled while the divorce is being processed. Once the divorce decree is finalized and signed by a judge, the temporary order will expire and the final divorce procedures will go into effect.
All that being said, be aware that contesting the divorce will add to the duration and expense of the case. Contesting the divorce itself can buy you some time during which to pursue reconciliation, and can be the leverage to obtain your spouse’s agreement to therapy or other reconciliation efforts, but at the end of the day, a persistent party will be able to obtain the divorce.

Although many of Ms. Serwat’s clients reach a complete divorce settlement without retaining an attorney; some need and/or want legal representation. If your situation warrants legal representation or if you simply feel better knowing that you are legally represented your lawyer is welcome to participate with you in the mediation process. Starting divorce mediation without attorneys in no way limits your right to retain an attorney in the future and/or appear in court.


A custody determination basically comes down to figuring out how the children’s time will be divided between the parents, and how decisions will be made. If you and your spouse can reach an agreement, it will be accepted by the judge unless it is not to be in the child’s best interest. If you cannot reach a custody agreement, Minnesota child custody law provides for the judge to decide the issue, after considering the following factors:


1. Don’t make your attorney justify every single decision, no matter how small. We’re happy to do it, but it takes time, and time costs you money. The point is not for you to acquire a law school education. The point is to represent your interests with excellence and efficiency. If you can’t take your lawyer’s word for something, it’s time to get a new lawyer. Otherwise, it’s much cheaper to give your lawyer a certain amount of “command authority,” at least on matters of procedure and tactics.
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.
To get a no-fault dissolution in Minnesota, you need to state in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage that “there has been an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage relationship.” Also, one of the following must exist: (1) serious marital discord adversely affecting the attitude of one or both of the parties toward the marriage, or (2) the parties have been living separate and apart for 180 days before filing.
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.
Court rules now require both sides to try ways other than court to resolve their differences.  There are many other ways to reach agreements called alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods.  Make sure you know all your choices before deciding on a method.  The parties may be asked to pay for the cost of ADR. Most ADR methods let you stop the process at any time without reaching an agreement.
You can also go to court to get an order to change or set a parenting time schedule or for supervised parenting time. The court may send you to a parenting time expeditor before the court hears your motion for a change in parenting time.  The court can order mediation or you can voluntarily agree to use mediation to try to resolve parenting time problems.  If one parent denies parenting time, the other parent can go to court to request more parenting time or even to change custody.  The court will look at whether or not there was a good reason for denying parenting time. Abuse of the children would likely be a good reason to deny parenting time.  

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.
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 cost of mediation may be based on Florida Statutes which provide a reduced rate for couples with a combined income of less than $100,000. Both parties will file a financial affidavit in order to establish the exact fees for divorce mediation. A Florida judge may waive mediation requirements but generally will not do so. Costs associated with divorce mediation may include the mediation costs, filing fees, recording fees, and service of process fees if the mediation is court-ordered. These fees may be levied against the non-prevailing parent if the court determines that parent is able to pay.
Courts do not usually deny requests to dissolve a marriage, even if that request is only coming from one spouse. Nevertheless, if your spouse wants a divorce but you don’t, you can argue that the marriage is not “irretrievably broken” at the evidentiary hearing. The district judge will make the determination; however, most divorce attorneys will tell you not to be optimistic about your chances of stopping the divorce by making this argument, assuming one spouse still wants the divorce.
Assets and liabilities can each have different tax consequences and if not properly accounted for, a settlement that might look fair on paper may turn out to be favorable to only one party and not the other. This can happen if one party trades a checking account for a 401k, confusing pre-tax with post-tax dollars, or when there are stocks involved and neither party is aware of the cost basis of a given portfolio.
In all of the states we practice in, both equitable distribution states and community property states, the parties are encouraged to actively participate in, and come to agreement on, the fair division of their marital assets and liabilities. But unless you and your spouse are experts in the financial matters pertaining to divorce, this can be a dangerous path to walk.

The content of this website is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. To establish an attorney-client relationship with Williams Divorce & Family Law requires a retainer agreement signed by you and attorney Gerald O. Williams. Woodbury/St. Paul, Minnesota, attorney, Gerald O. Williams, represents clients in divorce and family law matters throughout the seven county metro area, including the communities of St. Paul, Minneapolis, Eagan, Inver Grove Heights, Cottage Grove, Maplewood, Oakdale, Lake Elmo, and Stillwater. The seven county metro area includes Washington, Ramsey, Hennepin, Dakota, Anoka, Scott, and Carver.
The court decides both legal and physical custody.  Legal custody is the right to make the major decisions about the children.  These include the children's religious upbringing, schooling, and medical care.  Physical custody means where the children live and which parent makes the routine daily decisions.  Physical custody is what most people think of when speaking about custody.
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