If you or your children have been hurt or threatened by your spouse, the court cannot make you mediate. In this circumstance, the court knows that mediation wouldn't be safe or fair. For example, you might just "agree" because you're afraid of what would happen to you or your children if you didn't. Make sure to tell your lawyer, the court or the mediator, if you have been hurt or threatened by your spouse.
If you and your spouse are splitting up, one question you may be asking is, “how will I support myself?” In this era of dual income families, when you get a divorce or legal separation, you often times also lose a portion of the source of your monthly rent, mortgage, bills, and more. This can often be a deterrent for people to get a divorce – even when they desperately need one. Lawmakers in Minnesota, as in all states, have allowed for spouses to petition the court for what is known as “alimony.”
To put this amount into perspective, a typical retainer paid to a divorce attorney (by one spouse) is $2,000 (or more); which means, if you both retain an attorney the starting price will likely be at least $4,000. The sticker shock gets worse when you consider that many sources indicate that when each spouse is represented by an attorney the average US divorce costs around $15,000. This same research indicates that divorce mediation in general is between 20-50% cheaper than the traditional adversarial legal process.
Mediation is confidential and private, as opposed to divorce litigation, in which little privacy is afforded. Whatever goes on in mediation remains private, while grievances aired in a courtroom become part of the court record and are public. Any communications between parties during mediation are confidential with certain exceptions. These exceptions include child or elder abuse or one party talking about a crime they committed or one they intend to commit. The confidentiality of the mediation process allows spouses to speak openly and directly to one another without the fear something they say will be used against them.
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.
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.
Unless a reasonable support amount is agreed to by the parents, the court shall set child support according to the child support guidelines and worksheet. The court may order either or both parents owing a duty of support to a child of the marriage to pay an amount reasonable or necessary for the child's support, without regard to marital misconduct. In addition to the child support guidelines, the court shall take into consideration the following factors in setting or modifying child support or in determining whether to deviate from the guidelines: (1) all earnings, income, and resources of the parents, including real and personal property, but excluding income from excess employment of the obligor or obligee (2) the financial needs and resources, physical and emotional condition, and educational needs of the child or children to be supported; (3) the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved, but recognizing that the parents now have separate households; (4) which parent receives the income taxation dependency exemption and what financial benefit the parent receives from it; (5) the parents' debts; (6) the obligor's receipt of public assistance under the AFDC program. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.551, 518.552)
The maintenance order shall be in amounts and for periods of time, either temporary or permanent, as the court deems just, without regard to marital misconduct, and after considering all relevant factors including: (a) the financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to the party, and the party's ability to meet needs independently, including the extent to which a provision for support of a child living with the party includes a sum for that party as custodian; (b) training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment, and the probability, given the party's age and skills, of completing education or training and becoming fully or partially self-supporting; (c) the standard of living established during the marriage; (d) the duration of the marriage and, in the case of a homemaker, the length of absence from employment and the extent to which any education, skills, or experience have become outmoded and earning capacity has become permanently diminished; (e) the loss of earnings, seniority, retirement benefits, and other employment opportunities forgone by the spouse seeking spousal maintenance; (f) the age, and the physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking maintenance; (g) the ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance; and (h) the contribution of each party in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation, or appreciation in the amount or value of the marital property, as well as the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker or in furtherance of the other party's employment or business. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.551, 518.552)
Negotiating agreements isn't always linear. You may start at what feels like the end, and you may find yourself needing to gather more information at various points. The mediator will help you to stay on track and brainstorm options, will encourage you and your spouse to express your opinions, positions, and what's important to you, and will help you listen to each other in ways that will make a resolution more likely. (You may be able to use some of these communication tools in your ongoing parenting relationship.)
Christine Callahan has completed the certified training and is on the court roster for counties in the southwest metro to conduct Social Early Neutral Evaluations (SENE, for custody and parenting time) and Financial Early Neutral Evaluations (FENE for support and property division). For more information about the Early Neutral process in Minnesota, please see our articles.