As a mediator, I have found that custody mediations are frequently transformative. Parties deal with the fact that they'll have an ongoing relationship as parents. And they realize that when it comes to the kids, they can be on the same side. The result? Parties come up with a parenting plan they've jointly agreed on and gain tools to communicate with each other about their children. And research shows that parents who mediate have a better long-term relationship with their children.
“ A thousand kudos to you and your professional staff and excellent service. Without your help I would have spent thousands of dollars for no good reason. The documents were prepared without flaw, and my divorce was granted on the terms that were agreed upon without any problems whatsoever. The time frame from initial filing to final decree was less than a month. ”
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.
The best way to get started is for you and your spouse to attend a free one-hour consultation. During the consultation you will receive detailed information about mediation in general and how my process would work in your unique situation. Perhaps most importantly, during this consultation you will each have the opportunity to meet me and determine whether or not you feel comfortable with me and my professional services. Another benefit is that both you and spouse receive the same information at the same time, are able to hear each other’s questions and concerns, and may experience the neutral role of the mediator. You will also receive instructions about how to prepare for your work in mediation and how to save money. If after the consultation you believe that mediation is the best choice for your situation, the next step is to schedule the first working session and begin preparing the necessary information and documentation.
The mediator will also ask you and your spouse to bring in financial documents such as tax returns and bank and mortgage statements. As you progress, the mediator will summarize the information being assembled. If you agree that additional research is needed or a neutral expert is to be consulted, that will go on a “to do” list. This second stage of the mediation can span two or more sessions, especially if you need to do outside work to obtain additional information or appraisals. If you feel that you already know enough about your situation and have definite ideas on how to work out a settlement, you may find yourself impatient with this stage and anxious to move ahead with the negotiations. Even though you may want to rush on, the mediator’s job is to make sure that both you and your spouse have all the facts and information you need to negotiate an agreement that is legally binding and that you won’t regret having signed.
In mediation, the mediator’s role is not decision maker, but is to act as a neutral support system for both parties equally. The mediator helps the couple identify all the issues that they need to resolve around their divorce, gives them information and education about the law and other facts around those issues, and facilitates their discussion of those issues so that the parties themselves can decide what is the best course of action for them.
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.
Unless your lawyer thinks it's important that you be represented, try the first session without your attorney. (If your spouse is insisting on having an attorney present, you'll want to do the same.) If you're not represented, but you've asked a lawyer to be your consulting attorney just for purposes of mediation, then you'll likely attend the first mediation session on your own. Either way, if you go by yourself and then you find that you can't state your position clearly or stand up for yourself alone, then consider bringing your lawyer to later sessions.
2. Take with you all of the household goods and furnishings, and other items of personal property which you want to have, and inventory what you take. Although it is not a law, the old adage “possession is nine tenths of the law” is very applicable here. The reason boils down to the fact that litigating personal property issues is usually prohibitively expensive, because it normally costs more to litigate than the stuff is worth. So if you ever want to see it again, it is much simpler and easier to take it with you when you leave. [Caveat: don’t get too greedy. If you empty the place out and leave the spouse and children to sleep and eat on a bare concrete floor, you will not look good].
On a related note, it is a useful precaution to close or otherwise terminate additional borrowing authority on any joint credit cards, lines of credit, or other joint debt accounts, when a divorce appears imminent. With respect to joint credit cards and other joint unsecured consumer lines of credit, Minnesota law requires the creditor to close the account upon the written request of either party. [1]
You’ll also want to gather records for all income sources: paystubs, self-employment profit and loss statements, pension disbursements, social security, alimony and child support payments received. As for expenses, you’ll want to list your recurring expenses as well as ongoing liabilities, so that all mortgage payments, car loans, health insurance costs, food, utilities, student loans, credit card payments, etc. are known.
Making the decision to part from your spouse is always difficult – particularly where there is money and support involved. While the alimony laws in Minnesota may be difficult to understand, the good news is that you don’t have to go through this process alone. A good first step in requesting alimony is to contact a Minnesota divorce lawyer, who can advocate on your behalf.

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.
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.
Court cutbacks mean that judges have less time to handle every case; many times, people find themselves stalled for months at a time waiting for a court date or for something to ‘happen’ on their case. Parties can spend tens of thousands of dollars on attorney fees and then one or two years later fire both attorneys and come up with their own agreement. Mediation lets people move forward at their own pace.
You’ll also want to gather records for all income sources: paystubs, self-employment profit and loss statements, pension disbursements, social security, alimony and child support payments received. As for expenses, you’ll want to list your recurring expenses as well as ongoing liabilities, so that all mortgage payments, car loans, health insurance costs, food, utilities, student loans, credit card payments, etc. are known.
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.
If you are represented by an attorney, the question will arise whether your attorney should attend the divorce mediation with you. This is something you'll work out with the mediator, your attorney, your spouse, and your spouse's attorney. Very often, family law mediation sessions involve just the divorcing spouses and the mediator. This keeps costs down and ensures that you and your spouse do the talking and make the decisions (lawyers have a tendency to take over when they are present).
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.
Mediation is confidential and non-binding. Mediators cannot force the parties into a settlement. Rather, mediators keep everyone focused and facilitate the exchange of information. Mediation is not appropriate in all cases, particularly those in which there is a history of domestic abuse among the parties. The actions and concessions of a party during mediation cannot be used against them in court pursuant to the rules of evidence.

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.
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