In most cases, divorce is a difficult and painful process, both emotionally and financially. The traditional practice of hiring a lawyer and litigating in court to end a marriage is not only expensive, but can lengthen the process, increase contention, and cause additional and unnecessary stress on you, your spouse, and your children. Because of this, more and more couples are looking to mediation to walk them through the intricacies of divorce and help navigate parenting agreements. While divorce is rarely an easy event, the goal of mediation is to encourage and support you in developing the best solutions for your individual situation, in a collaborative way and on your time line, which ultimately lessens the negative impact of divorce on you and your family.
Some find it helpful to make a list of marital events, in the order they occurred, as well as a list of the current disputes and another list of the outcomes you would like to see. Whether you put it on paper or not, have a list in your head of which issues are most important to you and which are the least important. Being prepared and on time is key to the success of the divorce mediation. You must also be prepared to talk to your spouse. If you have had trouble communicating in the past, your mediator will be there to facilitate communication. While it is important that you set goals regarding what it will take to resolve the case or the individual disputes, it is equally important you remain flexible. You may be surprised at some of the things you find out during mediation which change your perception of the entire issue.
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Legally, there can be no discrimination based on the sex of the parent. For a father willing to bear the time and expense of the contest, chances for custody are more or less equal to those of the mother, all else being equal. Having said that, I do think there is some lingering bias, even though judges and custody evaluators and guardians ad litem will always deny it. Often I do not believe it even occurs on a conscious level. Yet there is a gut feeling one gets, representing a father, that the job is just a little more difficult, or representing a mother, that the job is just a little bit easier.
If you represent yourself in the divorce you will be called a “pro se litigant.” In all Minnesota district courts, there are forms that pro se litigants in divorce cases can use. You should check with your local courthouse or law library or the Minnesota State Courts website (www.mncourts.gov/forms) for more information about where to get these forms.
Probably the most common misconception that I hear from people about divorce mediation it that they believe it is only suitable for couples that are very amicable. Their perception is that since they are not getting along very well with their spouse, they can’t sit down together and discuss anything let alone issues regarding their money and children. In fact, mediation is very well suited to helping parties who are high conflict to work through their differences and come to a reasonable solution.
Emptying the joint bank checking or savings account in anticipation of divorce would ordinarily be frowned upon, unless you had a very justifiable reason. Be warned, however, that your spouse may beat you to it. I’ve seen joint bank accounts cleaned out by the other party many times, and many times there is unapproved spending by the other spouse as the divorce approaches. Although this can be accounted-for and compensated-for in the divorce property settlement, it can still cause great difficulty if you need the money during the pendency of the proceedings and have to litigate to get any of it back.
In order to make custody determinations the court evaluates the best interests of the children using 13 key factors which are defined in MN 518.17.In addition to being financially expensive, formal custody evaluations are also often highly adversarial and emotionally damaging for all involved, especially the children. In the end, a “victory” is often bittersweet and both parents will have some amount of court ordered parenting time. Rather than seek to prove that one parent is better than the other, it is critical to recognize that both parents are important in different ways – each providing that which can only be given by a mother or a father. You are the experts about your life and your children. You are the best qualified to make decisions about how to restructure your family and parenting time after divorce. As your mediator, I help you evaluate and discuss parenting time options and make child-focused decisions about how each of you will remain significantly involved with your children.
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.
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.
Brian James is a Divorce Mediator with offices in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin. He is the founder and owner of C.E.L. & Associates, a private mediation firm that focuses on pre and post decree divorce issues. His background consists of 10.5 years working with domestic violence and divorcing families in the Criminal Justice System. He is a member of numerous mediation organizations and local chambers of commerce. His goal is to assist his clients in their time of need and help them work out agreements that are best for them and their children. At the same time, he tries to save his divorcing couples time and money that is otherwise wasted in the court system. What would you rather do with your money during a divorce, pay it to an attorney or invest it in your child's college education?
· Long-term or Permanent: If the marriage lasted over 10 years or if one party is unable to support themselves, the court can order a longer period of alimony or even permanent alimony in certain circumstances. The court may also order this when one spouse cannot work because he or she is a full-time caregiver of a child with significant mental, physical, or medical needs.
The court can also make an order restraining (stopping) an abusive or violent spouse from harassing or harming the other spouse or the children. The court can order one of the spouses to leave and not return to the home. A violation of this part of the order may be a misdemeanor. The party violating it can be ordered to pay a fine or go to jail.
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The number of times you go to court and see a Judge or Referee depends on local court procedures and whether you and your spouse can agree on issues regarding your children, property and other matters. If you do NOT agree, the case usually takes longer to finish. It is a good idea to get legal advice before finalizing an agreement with your spouse.