Minnesota courts require couples seeking a divorce (and without a history of domestic violence) to use a mediation service prior to finalizing the divorce. Mediators are conflict resolution experts, often with legal training, who attempt to help couples come to an agreement on ongoing issues. Mediation is not legally binding, but it may help shorten the divorce process or make it unnecessary. On average, mediation is 20-50 percent cheaper than a traditional divorce.
The best mediators have both a high level of experience and knowledge about divorce and family law and a calm and diplomatic approach to the situation and towards each of the parties. Mediators who have spent many years as attorneys, representing clients in mediations and litigations, have had the opportunity to see many situations and many types of resolutions. As mediators, they are often able to help clients think outside the box and craft creative solutions. They can also offer perspective on how similar cases have been perceived by the courts. But the mediators approach in presenting this information is also critical. Mediators need to be able to rise above the emotion and conflict that is often present, and help the parties see what is and isn’t relevant to resolving their case.
Case in point: I had a client once who — contrary to my advice — chose to engage in settlement negotiations for several months prior to commencement and filing of the divorce, rather than filing first and then working on settlement. The pre-filing settlement negotiations did not bear fruit, and because of the delay, the valuation date did not occur until much later than it otherwise would have, with the result that a $180,000 dividend payment received by my client was treated as martial property, when it otherwise would not have been.
Although many mediating couples are amicable and work well in mediation, there are also many couples who are very emotional about the divorce and don't think they can negotiate face to face. Part of every qualified mediator's training is in assisting couples who have high emotions but who still would like to work things out peacefully. People do calm down and become effective mediation participants when they see that the process can work without adding to the high emotional and financial cost of divorce.
The first opportunity for the Court to decide custody is normally at the temporary relief hearing. In Hennepin County, this can easily be four months or more from the date of filing. In other counties, it can be much speedier, as in Dakota or Scott County, where a temporary relief hearing date is normally available within about 3 weeks. Once the motions for temporary relief are heard, the Court has 90 days to rule, although they normally get temporary orders out within two to four weeks.
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.