Many metropolitan counties, as well as more and more outstate counties, have developed several innovative tools aimed at facilitating quick resolution of traditionally volatile areas - custody/parenting time and economic disputes. If the court is advised a custody/parenting time is present, the judicial officer will suggest that the parties participate in an "Early Neutral Custody Evaluation," referred to as a Social Early Neutral Evaluation "SENE" or in some counties and in others a Custody and Parenting Time Early Neutral Evaluation "CPENE." In this process the parties and counsel will be quickly scheduled to meet with two experts on child custody matters, one male and one female. Many counties have rosters listing the names of people certified to act as an Early Neutral Custody Evaluator. The parties and counsel will meet for three hours with the evaluators, with each party then afforded the opportunity to explain their role in raising the children, and what type of a parenting schedule they believe to be in their children's best interests. The two evaluators will then briefly adjourn, and then return to advise the parties what recommendation would result from a full custody evaluation. Many parties are able to reach a settlement of most parenting time issues after hearing this informal report.

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.


Sign and file a “Joint Petition for Divorce.” (Divorce court officials sometimes refer to this as the “1A form” and this divorces process as a “1A Marriage Dissolution.”) This is a divorce form that a) states when you were married and last lived together, b) identifies minor or dependent children of the marriage, c) identifies any family law court actions already in process, d) suggests an approximate date when the marriage irretrievably broke down (when it effectively ended), e) requests a divorce, and f) asks the judge to approve your “Separation Agreement” (see below).
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.
Courts may take title into account when determining whether a particular asset has maintained a non-marital component. For example, if one spouse amassed sizable savings before marriage and kept it all in a separate, individual account held in his or her name only, the separate title on the account may prove that spouse intended to preserve the non-marital nature of the savings.
Notwithstanding all of the above, mediation can often be the process that helps break an impasse and result in a reasonable settlement of one’s case. But for mediation to work, both parties must be prepared to compromise. If you approach mediation with the attitude that it will be an opportunity to convince the other party to do things your way, mediation will likely fail. That said, be careful not to concede too much. A lawyer can give you an appreciation for where the line is between generous cooperation and foolish capitulation.
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.
In equal numbers, prospective clients come to me either excited about a perceived ace-in-the-hole because of the other spouse’s adultery, or worried about his or her own adultery. Neither attitude is warranted. The Courts couldn’t care less about anyone’s adultery in and of itself, or the immorality of it. Half the divorces they see involve adultery. In fact, there’s a very real danger that pressing this issue will backfire, making the accuser appear obsessive and jealous.
A legal annulment should not be confused with a religious annulment.  For example, a Catholic may not be permitted to remarry in the church if the church has not determined that the first marriage is null and void.  This type of annulment is granted by the church, and has no legal effect according to Minnesota law.  Likewise, a legal annulment or divorce may not affect how the church looks upon the marriage.
Thomas Tuft, a native of the East Side of Saint Paul, is a shareholder at Tuft, Lach, Jerabek & O'Connell, PLLC practicing in all areas of family law, including complex divorce, child support, paternity, and child custody. He is a Rule 114 Qualified Neutral, a Social Early Neutral Evaluator (SENE) and a Financial Early Neutral Evaluator (FENE). He has been named among the list of Minnesota SuperLawyers® since 2002 and has been named one of the Top 40 Family Law SuperLawyers in Minnesota since 2004. He has been named to the list of Top 100 Superlawyers® in Minnesota and the...

Any offers made during mediation, or any possibilities that are discussed, cannot be disclosed to a court.  This creates a setting where the parties can more freely discuss and explore how far from their “stance” they might be willing to go.  A trial, or any type of litigation is very costly, so money saved by resolving issues in mediation, can often become part of a solution.   It doesn’t mean that you can take something like a bank account balance or a mental health condition, mention it in mediation, and therefore make it non-disclosable.  Facts, such as these, mentioned in mediation, can indeed become part of a court case if the situation is not resolved in mediation.  It is the discussions and offers that remain confidential.
You may be surprised to know that many divorcing couples are fairly respectful of each other and work well together in divorce mediation. There are also many couples who are very emotional about the divorce and as a result, exhibit more conflicted behaviors or believe they can not successfully negotiate face to face. As a mediator, I am trained to assist people in putting their emotions aside and focusing on the relevant issues. My job is to keep you on track and help you through the crisis. Rest assured that you will be accepted as you are; there will be no judgment or criticism and you will receive grounded professional assistance aimed at helping you succeed. My personal and professional experience has taught me that both emotions and conflict tend to diminish through the course of our work together. Professional guidance is often a key factor of success. As you progress through the process, you will likely come to understand why mediation is so successful at alleviating some of the non-monetary transactional costs of divorce.
They had about $700,000 of equity in their house and she wanted to give him about $100,000 to walk away—much less than the law allows. She was not at all willing to consider his perspective. “What I came to understand was from his perspective, he was an abused husband. And his having an affair—which is not the best way to handle difficulties in your primary relationship—was a desperate act, because now that they were going to have a baby together, he felt that he was trapped in this extremely unhealthy relationship, and this was the only way he could think of to get out. So it was very eye-opening for me.”
3. Be prompt. Courts are slow. Many attorneys, sadly, are chronic procrastinators and deadline-driven. Custody evaluators and Guardian ad Litems are slow. If you’re slow too, it compounds the problem. Furthermore, the quicker you can be in responding to whatever your attorney asks of you, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to settle your case sooner and at less expense. By acting quickly, attorneys are able to take charge of a divorce process, rather than being driven by court deadlines and various hearings and other requirements which might be avoided just by staying ahead of the game.
Litigating a divorce results in both parties operating under attack and defend mode. When mediation is used, the process is much more peaceful and conciliatory. Both parties are allowed to explain their position and perspectives on all the issues, leading to a generation of solutions which ultimately benefit both spouses and their children, if any. Parties to divorce mediation have decision-making powers and must agree to each provision in the final agreement. Couples who agree to terms voluntarily are much more likely to comply with those terms in the future, and much less likely to find themselves back in court fighting about perceived violations of the terms.

Judges often tell litigants not to argue over the physical custody “label.” They often say that it is not important. Years ago, the physical custody label had a major impact on the issue of child support and out of state moves. Because of statutory changes, that is no longer the case at all. There is debate in the bar as to what if any legal impact the physical custody label has now that those two considerations have been removed.
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).
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.
×