There are several key advantages to mediation of divorce and other family law related disputes. First, you know what is best for you and your family. You live your life. You understand your financial circumstances. You know your children. You are best equipped to make decisions about your future. If you place your dispute in the hands of the court, a judge who knows very little about the details of your life will make decisions for you and, in most cases, you will have no choice but to live with that decision.
Jerry has devoted himself exclusively to the practice of divorce and family law in Minnesota since 1993. He practices in all areas of family law including divorce, custody, child support, paternity, grandparents' rights, mediation, appeals, and same sex cases. Jerry is particularly experienced in representing clients in interstate and international divorce and child custody, and frequently advises other attorneys on these issues. Jerry's practice includes collaborative law and alternative dispute resolution. He is the author of the first Minnesota divorce and family law blog in the state, a recurring author for the Minnesota Association for Justice Magazine, and...
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In the framing stage, the mediator helps each spouse outline that person’s reasons for wanting certain outcomes in the settlement. These reasons consist of individual concerns, priorities, goals, and values. They are often referred to by mediators as “needs and interests.” Here, we use the broader term “interests.” Identifying interests helps to frame the core goal of the mediation: finding a resolution of the issues that successfully addresses each spouse’s most important interests. In most divorces, many issues need to be examined in light of each spouse’s interest. These include property and debt division, child custody, child support, and alimony.
Fees may be charged on an hourly basis, or by the day or half-day. In general, mediators help the parties meet, explore options, and negotiate a mutual settlement to resolve their dispute. Mediators do not determine who is right or wrong. Instead, they help the parties reach a solution on their own that works for them. Parties should seek mediators with mediation training, experience, and specific knowledge of family law. It's also important to consider the mediator's style and mediation philosophy.
A mediator’s job is to get you to reach an agreement. Their sense of professional fulfillment is satisfied when an agreement is reached. Unfortunately, all too often, this can result in a person agreeing to things that are contrary to his or her interests, contrary to what the Court would order, and — in the worst case — contrary to the best interests of the children. Therefore, it is critically important to either have an attorney with you at the mediation session, or at least have one on retainer at the time, to consult before you agree to anything.
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.
After the mediator has gone over the basics, you'll get a chance to make a short statement about your situation, as will your spouse. After you've each had a chance to speak, the mediator is likely to ask some questions to clarify or get more information. The mediator may also reflect back what you've said, to be sure that both the mediator and your spouse have understood all of your points. The same will go for your spouse.
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.
For example, if there are two automobiles, each spouse is usually given one of them. This is especially true if the cars are nearly equal in value. If there is only one automobile, the court often awards it to the spouse who has the greater need for transportation. Extra items of personal property may be awarded to the other spouse so that the overall value of each share remains the same. Retirement accounts and whole life insurance policies are property too.
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.
During a divorce, either party can petition the court to pay alimony or “spousal maintenance” to the other. Minnesota laws provide for this type of assistance so the lower earning spouses can maintain the same reasonable standard of living as before. Generally speaking, a court will be more inclined to order a longer period of alimony when the marriage was longer in duration.
Civil lawsuits- those involving land, inheritance, or services provided, are most often moved to the end of any Court’s calendar. Often, a civil matter will not be heard before a judge for more than two years after the case is filed with the Court. This long delay for justice/resolution, together with the high costs of trial, often make litigation impractical. It is not uncommon for attorney fees, expert witness fees, filing fees, court reporter fees and other related costs to exceed the amount in dispute.
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.
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.
This is based on the outdated belief that women know less about the marital finances than their husbands, therefore will not be left with a favorable outcome in the divorce. It is important to remember divorce mediators are neutral and have no interest in either spouse “winning.” Finally, most people believe couples who are barely speaking could not possibly benefit from divorce mediation. Divorce mediators are highly trained in alternative dispute resolution and are skilled at working with those who have significant levels of anger between them. Obviously, both parties will be required to speak at some point, but the divorce mediator may be able to help that happen.
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.
For most consumer legal issues, the size of the practice is much less important than the experience, competence, and reputation of the attorney(s) handling your case. Among the most important factors when choosing an attorney are your comfort level with the attorney or practice and the attorney's track record in bringing about quick, successful resolutions to cases similar to yours.
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.
Decisions about spousal maintenance are often emotional and challenging. Unfortunately, MN law does not specify how to calculate a spousal maintenance obligation. Unlike child support, MN divorce laws are discretionary when it comes to spousal maintenance (alimony) stating only that many factors should be considered when determining the need for spousal maintenance as well as the amount and duration of the support. Relevant factors often include: the length of marriage, each spouse’s financially ability to be self-supporting, education and employment history, age, and the marital standard of living. Mediation encourages the use of reasonable budgets and information sharing rather than the traditional adversarial legal approach which often relies on exaggerated budgets and win-lose negotiation tactics. The creation of reasonable budgets allows you and your spouse to understand your individual financial needs as well as the financial realities of your situation. This mutual understanding is vital to the successful discussion and resolution of the spousal maintenance issue. I also utilize a specialized computer program which provides useful information about tax impacts and projected cash flow for each spouse before and after the exchange of financial support.
Most mediators will emphasize the problem-solving aspect of negotiation at this stage. The problem to be solved is finding settlement options that address each spouse’s most important interests as fully as possible. With this focus, you’ll be able to negotiate by trading off acceptable options instead of getting locked into zero-sum bargaining, where one spouse’s gain is the other spouse’s loss.
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.
Like attorneys, most mediators charge by the hour. The average total cost of divorce mediation (with me) is approximately $2,000. In addition to the mediator’s fees you will need to pay a filing fee to your county of approximately $400 and if you choose to hire a professional for legal drafting, you should also expect an additional $1,250-1,500. On average, my clients incur a total combined cost of approximately $4,000.
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).
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A business which is the sole source of the couple’s income could end up shut down if the couple is unable to discuss the issues related to the business. This could lead to both parties suffering financially. A divorcing couple with a business can enter divorce mediation and may be able to come up with a compromise which could potentially save the business. Even if every little detail is not agreed upon, the mediator will attempt to get the couple to work together for the good of the business.
No dissolution shall be granted unless (1) One of the parties has resided in this state, or has been a member of the armed services stationed in this state, for not less than 180 days immediately preceding the commencement of the proceeding; or (2) One of the parties has been a domiciliary of this state for not less than 180 days immediately preceding commencement of the proceeding. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.07, 518.09)
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.
The court may also require that medical insurance for an ex-spouse continues. For example, group medical insurance rates may not be available to one spouse or may not cover as many medical costs as the insurance available through the other spouse's employer. The court may order that the insurance through one spouse's employer continue. Either party may be ordered to pay the cost. This kind of insurance coverage is part of spousal maintenance.