Joe Dillon, MBA is a professional divorce mediator and founder of Equitable Mediation Services. Joe is passionate about helping couples avoid the destruction of attorney-driven litigation and knows first-hand that the right information, combined with the right expertise and the right kind of support can make the challenging process of divorce less expensive, less time-consuming and less stressful for divorcing couples and their families.
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.
The success Fellows of the Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers have had is based in part on the business sophistication and experience of many of our attorneys. That experience carries forward after trial, to the detailed written summations of the evidence and the law, submitted to the trial judge either immediately prior to or after trial, depending on the preferences of the judicial officer assigned to your case.
This can be problematic if a party needs to commence a divorce in Minnesota immediately, but neither party has yet been residing here for the requisite six-month period. In such cases, one should seriously consider a legal separation, which has no length-of-residency requirement, and which can afford much of the relief afforded by divorce, such as determinations of property possession, custody, parenting time, child support, and spousal maintenance.  Later, after the six-month residence requirement is satisfied, the case can be converted to one for divorce.
In today's depressed real estate market, I often encounter the situation where a spouse had a non-marital interest in the marital homestead at the time of marriage; but at the time of divorce, the house is upside down. So the question arises as to whether or not the spouse who formerly had the non-marital interest is entitled to any kind of credit in the overall divorce property settlement.
Applying that rule, however, is far from straightforward. Courts must weigh a wide range of considerations. Generally speaking, children do best when they have ongoing contact with both parents. Yet that doesn't necessarily mean a 50-50 time-sharing arrangement. Instead, it depends on what works best for your family - and what will best serve the needs of the children.
The court can also consider a change if the parent with custody has denied or interfered with the parenting time of the other parent. However, parenting time problems alone are usually not enough to change custody. Denying or interfering with a parenting time schedule is a factor that a court may consider in deciding to change custody. A judge can also change custody based on the “best interests of the child,” if both parents agreed to use that standard in a writing approved by the court.
All property that was acquired during the marriage is called "marital property." It does not matter whose name is on the title. Both parties are assumed to have made an equal contribution. A homemaker's work in the home counts as an equal contribution. This "marital" property is divided fairly. Usually, fairly means equally. The court will decide the value of all the property and try to divide the property so that each spouse gets approximately half of the overall value. If one spouse has misspent the family's income, or misused or taken property, the court may award more property to the other spouse to make up for that. If one spouse has special needs, the court may award more property to the needy spouse.
You can also go to court to get an order to change or set a parenting time schedule or for supervised parenting time. The court may send you to a parenting time expeditor before the court hears your motion for a change in parenting time. The court can order mediation or you can voluntarily agree to use mediation to try to resolve parenting time problems. If one parent denies parenting time, the other parent can go to court to request more parenting time or even to change custody. The court will look at whether or not there was a good reason for denying parenting time. Abuse of the children would likely be a good reason to deny parenting time.
The vast majority of divorcing spouses - 97% according to some research - resolve all issues without going to trial. More and more individuals are resolving their issues on their own. Attorneys have recognized this, and many seek to support divorcing spouses in this do-it-yourself process. For example, some divorcing spouses will meet with attorneys separately for a consultation, and then attend mediation on their own. This way, each spouse can be well-informed about their options, but still maintain control (and keep the costs down) as they move forward to resolve any outstanding issues.
A trickier question is whether you may record the other parent's conversations with the children. Under the doctrine of "vicarious consent," as long as a parent or guardian has "a good faith, objectively reasonable belief that the interception of telephone conversations is necessary for the best interests of the children," then he may consent to the interception (i.e. listening in or recording the call) on behalf of the children.  However, this can be risky, because if there is any dispute about whether your vicarious consent was in good faith or objectively reasonable, you may still end up having to defend against possible criminal charges or a civil lawsuit. The Wagner case I have cited, for example, was a civil lawsuit by a one parent against the other parent who had recorded telephone calls between the children and herself. The Court allowed that lawsuit to proceed because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to the motivations of the parent who had made the recordings. I don't recommend recording any such phone calls without first consulting a lawyer.
NOTE: There are many ways to divide real estate in a divorce. The court forms for marriage dissolution (divorce) only give you 1 option -- one spouse gets 100% of the house, cabin, or other real estate, and the other spouse gets a lien. But, you can change the court forms. An attorney can explain other options, advise you about the law, and draft terms to meet your situation. If your divorce involves real estate, you should get advice from a lawyer on your legal rights and options.