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.
A question is often asked as to whether there is an advantage to being a petitioner versus a respondent. There is no real difference, except that the petitioner can obviously effect when the action is started, and sometimes, in what county. If you and your spouse separate, and your spouse moves to a different county before the action is commenced, the petitioning spouse can commence the action either in the county you reside in or the new county they have moved to. There are some perceived and actual differences as to how matters proceed, depending on which county they are "venued" (commenced) in. A second implication of being a petitioner versus a respondent is that ultimately, if the matter does proceed to trial, the petitioner is required to present his/her case first. This may have some minor implications relative to the cost of preparing for trial, especially it the matter settles before the respondent presents her/his case.
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.
1. Don’t make your attorney justify every single decision, no matter how small. We’re happy to do it, but it takes time, and time costs you money. The point is not for you to acquire a law school education. The point is to represent your interests with excellence and efficiency. If you can’t take your lawyer’s word for something, it’s time to get a new lawyer. Otherwise, it’s much cheaper to give your lawyer a certain amount of “command authority,” at least on matters of procedure and tactics.
Some mediators prefer to conduct the framing stage in separate sessions, as they believe it better prepares each of you for the next stage: negotiating. Other mediators favor joint sessions because they believe that hearing your spouse work with the mediator to formulate interests lays a better foundation for the give and take of the negotiation stage. Either way can work, although separate sessions make the mediation cost a little more and take a little longer, because anything important that is said in the separate session will have to be repeated to the other spouse.
At the end of the petition is a section referred to as a prayer for relief, where the petitioner will indicate in general their desire that the marriage be dissolved, as well as their desires as to custody/parenting time, child support, spousal maintenance, property and debt division, and allocation of attorney fees. In Minnesota, the court may order one party to pay part of the other's attorney fees, based on consideration of two factors, the first being need, and the second being whether one party's conduct has unnecessarily increased the attorney fees of the other party.
There is no right to a free lawyer (like a public defender) in a divorce.  However, there are nonprofit law firms that provide free legal help or arrange for volunteer attorneys for low income clients. See the back of this booklet for information on legal services.  If free legal help is not available, or you do not qualify, you will need to hire an attorney or represent yourself in the divorce. 

If you are concerned about ongoing earnings continuing to be marital in nature, then it is in your interest to lock in the default valuation date by filing the case as soon as possible and shepherding it along swiftly. For example, if you earn six figures, but your spouse is a stay-at-home unemployed parent, it is to your advantage to file the divorce first, and then work on settlement, rather than to mediate and negotiate for several months prior to filing.

Mediation preparation is often limited, as there is no formal discovery. Frequently, mediation begins with a "general caucus" where the parties and the mediator meet in the same room. The mediator establishes the ground rules in an "agreement to mediate." In court-mandated mediation, the court order will often contain or refer to the "rules of mediation." One of the most important mediation rules is the requirement for confidentiality.
The summons is a simple legal notice that a divorce action has been commenced by the petitioner and advising how long the respondent has to serve an "answer" to the petition. It also contains a preliminary restraining order, preventing changes in insurance coverage and the disposition of property, except for the necessities of life or in the ordinary course of business. In Minnesota, unless the petitioner agrees to an extension the answer must be served within thirty days. If you ignore the service of a summons and petition for a longer period of time, the petitioner may serve a motion with the court requesting that default judgment be entered. This judgment will not only immediately dissolve the marriage terminating certain rights you have as a married person to rights such as health insurance. It may also result in the moving party being awarded rights and interests in property, as well as the loss by the respondent to certain rights, such as spousal maintenance (alimony) without the respondent having the opportunity to respond and defend their rights. While there are cases in which the court will subsequently set aside a default judgment, it is very important that you retain a lawyer to respond to a summons and petition within thirty days. Sometimes that response may be as simply as an agreement from the petitioner's attorney to extend the thirty day period to answer the petition.
If the parties can not come to an agreement on how their marital property is to be divided, the court shall base its findings on all relevant factors including the length of the marriage, any prior marriage of a party, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities, needs, opportunity for future acquisition of capital assets, and income of each party. The court shall also consider the contribution of each 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. It shall be conclusively presumed that each spouse made a substantial contribution to the acquisition of income and property while they were living together as husband and wife. If there is a substantial change in value of an asset between the date of valuation and the final distribution, the court may adjust the valuation of that asset as necessary to effect an equitable distribution. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.58)
Thereafter, if either party is still dissatisfied with the result, they may "appeal" the lower court ruling to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Such appeals are of right, and take place before a three judge panel, after extensive briefing and oral argument to the Court of Appeals. However, once the appeal is filed, the Court of Appeals will automatically put the appeal on hold, and requires it's own attempt at alternative dispute resolution known as appellate mediation. If mediation is not successful, the entire appeal process may take upwards of a year after the trial court's final decision. The Court of Appeals may affirm all decisions outright, reverse all decisions outright, or may affirm some parts of the decree while reversing others. If a party thereafter is dissatisfied with a ruling of the Court of Appeals, they may seek discretionary review by the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Supreme Court however, denies review of most cases, and only chooses to hear a few family law cases each year. Those cases selected for review typically involve novel factual or legal issues.
A custody determination basically comes down to figuring out how the children’s time will be divided between the parents, and how decisions will be made. If you and your spouse can reach an agreement, it will be accepted by the judge unless it is not to be in the child’s best interest. If you cannot reach a custody agreement, Minnesota child custody law provides for the judge to decide the issue, after considering the following factors:
SUPERIOR SERVICE: All mediators are not created equal! Although mediators are not decision makers, they do have a significant impact on your divorce process. Mediators set the tone and guide you through the rough patches. Therefore, it is wise to interview mediators and select one who respects your sense of fairness, recognizes the importance of self-determination, helps generate creative solutions and facilitates workable agreements.

I hired Howard Iken as my attorney to handle my divorce case. Not only did he secure a win for me in the eventual divorce trial, he was also successful in having the post divorce trial petitions (4) filed by my ex-husband dismissed. Mr. Iken is very professional and adept at developing strategies that are favorable to his clients. He is organized, thorough, creative and more than willing to go the extra mile. I would highly recommend Mr. Iken’s law firm to anyone seeking legal services.
1. If custody or parenting time is in issue, don’t move out without first getting an enforceable written stipulation addressing custody and parenting time after the move-out. The key is to have in place at least an interim parenting time schedule which affords you at least as much parenting time as you hope to obtain through the court. Otherwise, the longer you acquiesce to a pattern of parenting time that is less than you desire, the more of an argument the other party will make of it against you. Often arguments like the following are heard:
At Johnson Mediation, we focus on you, your family and your future by assisting you throughout the entire divorce process. We look at your unique situation to provide you the tools, expertise and resources so you can make fully informed decisions.  Whether you agree on most of the issues and want to make sure you haven’t missed anything, or you can’t agree on anything and need ideas and potential solutions to consider, we can help you by providing the guidance to avoid a long and expensive divorce.

Once a marriage is far enough gone, the only remaining question is “How hard is it going to be to untangle our legal and financial lives and (if relevant) sort out custody?” For some couples, separating via mediation rather than litigated divorce has its appeal: Many people don’t want to cast their former spouses in the role of enemy, and mediation is a cheaper, more cooperative, and less adversarial process than a War of the Roses-type brawl.


In conclusion, my advice to fathers is that they should not despair. If the children would be better off in the father’s custody, that is worth fighting for, and is winnable. I have gotten many fathers custody, even in the most dismal of predicaments. For mothers, my advice is to take nothing for granted. Against a determined father, the loss of custody is a very real possibility which you should take very seriously if custody is important to you.


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.


I have practiced family law my entire 24-year career as a litigator and a mediator. I am licensed in Minnesota, California and Colorado. After spending time in courts in 3 states, nothing surprises me anymore. I enjoy being an advocate for my clients and guiding them successfully through the legal process be it a divorce, child custody, spousal maintenance or property matters.
John grew up in Bloomington, MN and graduated from Jefferson High School in 1985. He attended Mankato State University on a football scholarship before attending Indiana University School of Law and receiving his JD with honors in 1992. He moved his office to Burnsville, MN in 1994 and has remained in the same location for over 20 years. At Burns Law Office our practice is limited to family law matters such as divorce/separation, child custody, child support, father's rights, alimony/spousal maintenance, prenuptials and related matters. John is one of the most respected and experienced attorneys in...
Judges frequently say that if both people are unhappy with the judgment, it’s a good one. In the context of divorce this philosophy is even more appropriate as there are no winners when a marriage ends. Whether in court or in the mediation room, 100% mutual satisfaction with decisions and agreements is rare. As a mediator I believe that my clients are best qualified to determine what is “fair” regarding the restructuring of their lives. I encourage my clients not to define success by happiness or victory; but rather by the effectiveness of the process.
The Minnesota Judicial Branch maintains a helpful section on divorce at its website, including matters of children and property, an overview of the fees involved in the process, paperwork, and what to expect when you go to court. The site also has a guided flowchart to help you determine which forms you'll need. Also, see FindLaw's article on same-sex divorce.
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 the non-custodial parent does not pay the child support ordered, there are three main ways of enforcing the order.  All of these methods are complicated.  You should try to find an attorney to help you.  You can hire an attorney, or you can ask for legal help from the child support enforcement office of your county.  This office is sometimes called Support and Collections orthe IV-D (4-D) unit.  Please see our Child Support booklet for more information.
With collaborative law, you and your spouse each hire specially-trained collaborative attorneys who advise and assist you in resolving your divorce-related issues and reaching a settlement agreement. You will meet separately with your own attorney and then the four of you meet together on a regular basis, in "four-way" meetings. A collaborative divorce usually involves other professionals, such as child custody specialists or neutral accountants, who are committed to helping you and your spouse settle your case without litigation. Ordinarily, both spouses and their attorneys sign a "no court" agreement that requires the attorneys to withdraw from the case if a settlement is not reached and the case goes to court.
If the respondent does not answer the Petition within 30 days after it was served, the respondent is in default.  The petitioner's attorney tells the court and a default hearing is scheduled.  Default hearings are also scheduled when all of the relief to be ordered by the court has been agreed to by the parties in a written agreement called a Stipulation or Marital Termination Agreement. If both parties are represented by lawyers, the divorce may be finalized without a hearing. If both parties did not have lawyers or if the respondent never answered, there is a default hearing. At a default hearing only the petitioner and his or her attorney need to attend.  The petitioner is sworn under oath and testifies to all the facts necessary for the court to order the relief requested in the Petition or Stipulation.
Not exactly; mediated settlements do not become legally binding until they have been submitted to, and accepted by, the Court. The final product of mediation is a Memorandum of Agreement. This document memorializes all of your agreements and is the basis for your Marital Termination Agreement and Judgment and Decree. If unrepresented by attorneys, most of my clients choose to hire a neutral attorney (or scrivener) who completes all of the necessary legal documents and assists with the filing process. If either or both clients are represented, one of the attorneys may be selected for drafting the legal documents and the other attorney reviews everything for accuracy. A few of my clients choose to use the pro se forms available online through the MN District Courts website. At the conclusion of mediation, I will be able to help you determine the best option for your situation. It is important to know that even if your mediator is also an attorney, it is considered professionally unethical for a mediator to draft legal documents for his/her clients.

The cost of mediation may be based on Florida Statutes which provide a reduced rate for couples with a combined income of less than $100,000. Both parties will file a financial affidavit in order to establish the exact fees for divorce mediation. A Florida judge may waive mediation requirements but generally will not do so. Costs associated with divorce mediation may include the mediation costs, filing fees, recording fees, and service of process fees if the mediation is court-ordered. These fees may be levied against the non-prevailing parent if the court determines that parent is able to pay.
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.
It is important to understand that each case is unique; however, a number of key factors influence the length (and cost) of your process. The first factor is preparation. Completing the requested preparations in advance and supplying the necessary documentation allows us to move more quickly. The second factor is complexity. Certain situations are simply more complicated to work through than others. That said, even the most complicated cases can be settled through mediation. During your free consultation, I am typically able to identify potentially complicating factors. Third is emotional readiness and conflict. Often times divorcing spouses are in a different stage of readiness; these differences can lead to conflict which may lengthen the time needed to resolve the issues. When you both feel ready to move forward and you are able to discuss the issues without a lot of conflict the process tends to move more quickly. Regardless of your particular situation, I am committed to helping all of my clients complete mediation as efficiently and cost effectively as possible, and believe that taking a divorce education class prior to beginning any divorce process can greatly increase your likelihood of success and efficiency.

The best way to get started is for you and your spouse to attend a free one-hour consultation. During the consultation you will receive detailed information about mediation in general and how my process would work in your unique situation. Perhaps most importantly, during this consultation you will each have the opportunity to meet me and determine whether or not you feel comfortable with me and my professional services. Another benefit is that both you and spouse receive the same information at the same time, are able to hear each other’s questions and concerns, and may experience the neutral role of the mediator. You will also receive instructions about how to prepare for your work in mediation and how to save money. If after the consultation you believe that mediation is the best choice for your situation, the next step is to schedule the first working session and begin preparing the necessary information and documentation.
Almost every state requires mediation of child custody disputes, and many states' court systems provide services such as early conflict intervention, conciliator services, community dispute resolution centers, education seminars for divorcing couples, mediation, and settlement conferences. Today, mediation, either voluntary or court mandated, is the predominant form of dispute resolution for divorcing couples.
Thomas Tuft, a native of the East Side of Saint Paul, is a shareholder at Tuft, Lach, Jerabek & O'Connell, PLLC practicing in all areas of family law, including complex divorce, child support, paternity, and child custody. He is a Rule 114 Qualified Neutral, a Social Early Neutral Evaluator (SENE) and a Financial Early Neutral Evaluator (FENE). He has been named among the list of Minnesota SuperLawyers® since 2002 and has been named one of the Top 40 Family Law SuperLawyers in Minnesota since 2004. He has been named to the list of Top 100 Superlawyers® in Minnesota and the...
Courts may take title into account when determining whether a particular asset has maintained a non-marital component. For example, if one spouse amassed sizable savings before marriage and kept it all in a separate, individual account held in his or her name only, the separate title on the account may prove that spouse intended to preserve the non-marital nature of the savings.

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.
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