Minnesota orders all couples without a history of spousal abuse to use some type of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) before taking their case to court. One of the most common and generally successful forms of ADR is mediation. In this process, a neutral third party, known as the mediator, helps the couple work out their differences, usually resulting in a 20 to 50 percent reduction in costs over a traditional litigated divorce.
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.
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.
The mediator will also ask you and your spouse to bring in financial documents such as tax returns and bank and mortgage statements. As you progress, the mediator will summarize the information being assembled. If you agree that additional research is needed or a neutral expert is to be consulted, that will go on a “to do” list. This second stage of the mediation can span two or more sessions, especially if you need to do outside work to obtain additional information or appraisals. If you feel that you already know enough about your situation and have definite ideas on how to work out a settlement, you may find yourself impatient with this stage and anxious to move ahead with the negotiations. Even though you may want to rush on, the mediator’s job is to make sure that both you and your spouse have all the facts and information you need to negotiate an agreement that is legally binding and that you won’t regret having signed.
3. Be prompt. Courts are slow. Many attorneys, sadly, are chronic procrastinators and deadline-driven. Custody evaluators and Guardian ad Litems are slow. If you’re slow too, it compounds the problem. Furthermore, the quicker you can be in responding to whatever your attorney asks of you, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to settle your case sooner and at less expense. By acting quickly, attorneys are able to take charge of a divorce process, rather than being driven by court deadlines and various hearings and other requirements which might be avoided just by staying ahead of the game.
In this stage, the tentative settlement agreement is put into writing and circulated to both spouses for review with their advisers. If the issues in your case are simple, the mediator may prepare a memorandum outlining your settlement and give you an opportunity to sign it before you leave the mediation session in which you finished up your negotiating. The memorandum can summarize the essential points of agreement and can be used as a basis for preparing a formal settlement agreement that will be filed with the court as part of the now-uncontested divorce case.
A family law mediator is a neutral party specially trained to help couples resolve the issues in their divorce. The mediator facilitates the communication between the parties by making sure each party is given an uninterrupted time to speak, asking a party to restate or explain a point when necessary, and asking questions to make communication clear. The mediator also provides information about the legal system, how issues may be viewed by lawyers or judges, and what alternatives there are for solving issues. When necessary, the mediator will refer the couple to third party experts for services such as appraisals.
5. Use an attorney who specializes exclusively in family law, so that you’re not paying so much for the attorney to “learn”. No lawyer has perfect and complete knowledge, but a specialist is not going to have to do nearly as much legal research as a more general practitioner. (Not to mention, a specialist will be more qualified to represent you in the best way possible, because of his experience).
Divorce can be a difficult and stressful process, even in amicable situations. Navigating the maze of legal issues is confusing for many separating couples. To make matters more complicated, there few hard-and-fast rules and rarely any black-or-white answers. Instead, the outcome of important matters such as property division, alimony and child custody hinges on the unique circumstances of your family.
In Minnesota, alimony or spousal maintenance is available as temporary, short-term or long-term. Temporary alimony includes payments made during the course of the divorce proceedings, while short-term involves a limited period following the divorce. Long-term spousal maintenance is essentially permanent. In most cases, alimony is short-term and allows the dependent spouse to obtain skills to sustain themselves. The court will consider the following when awarding alimony:
If one of the parties is awarded ownership of the home or other real estate, the Judgment and Decree will describe exactly how the transfer is to happen. Many times, the Judgment and Decree orders the other party to sign a Quit Claim Deed. A Quit Claim Deed transfers his or her rights in the real estate to the party who was given the property. The Quit Claim Deed and the Judgment and Decree are filed with the County Recorder or Registrar of Titles. If the property is registered (called Torrens) property, the owner's duplicate certificate of title is needed. The Quit Claim Deed and the Judgment and Decree are then "memorialized" by the Registrar of Titles and a new title issued. If the Quit Claim Deed is not signed and provided, you should check with an attorney and/or the County Recorder or Registrar of Titles to find out what to do.
Mediation sessions are typically 2 – 3 hours long and scheduled approximately 2 weeks apart. Most of my clients reach a complete settlement in between 6 – 8 hours of mediation occurring over a 6 – 8 week period of time. Depending on the county in which you live and the time of year, processing of your legal documents can take the court another 1 – 8 weeks.
Usually the petitioner's attorney calls the petitioner's witnesses first. Each witness is sworn under oath and answers the attorney's questions. Then the other attorney may question the witness. Sometimes the court may ask questions. Sometimes the petitioner's attorney will ask additional questions. When the petitioner's attorney has called all of his or her witnesses, including the petitioner, the attorney tells the court that the petitioner rests his or her case. Sometimes the attorneys will present their argument in writing.
If you and your ex-spouse agree to change custody of the children, you should make a motion to the court to change custody and support orders. Otherwise, you are still responsible for paying support to the other parent, even if you actually have custody of the children. Custody is sometimes changed if the custodial parent allows the children to live with the non-custodial parent for a much longer time than was ordered for parenting time.
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?
The length of time to complete a divorce depends upon several things. If both sides reach an agreement or if one spouse never responds to divorce papers, a divorce doesn't take much time. If both sides can't agree, then the judge has to decide. In this case it will take much longer because the court will need to gather information and schedule time in order to make a fair decision. Gathering information might mean having a custody evaluation done or getting financial information.
The complexity of the issues and ability of the individuals to be flexible as they negotiate a fair agreement determines the length of the mediation. Every case is different, but the average case usually takes at least three to four two-hour mediation sessions, spread out over at least a month or two. More complex cases can take four to six months to complete.
This booklet explains your rights in a Minnesota divorce and includes information on custody, parenting time, child support, maintenance, abuse, and division of property. This booklet does NOT tell you how to get a divorce without the help of an attorney. Divorce law is complicated and changes often. Each case must be handled differently. Unless your divorce is very simple, it is usually a good idea to have an attorney.