That said, although the legal impact of the physical custody label is debatable, if you are the primary parent, it is still preferable to have sole physical custody than joint physical custody. Conversely, if you are not the primary parent, it is still preferable to have the joint physical custody label than not to have it. This is because of the uncertainty over how a future court, evaluator, parenting consultant, guardian ad litem or others might interpret that label.
The belief that the mediator will act as a quasi-judge and tell the people what they are going to do is another very common misunderstanding that I hear about the divorce mediation process. In actual fact, one of the greatest advantages of the mediation process is that the parties themselves retain control over all decisions made and agreements reached. This is very different from the litigation model where a judge, essentially a stranger in a black robe, imposes orders and judgments on the parties.
You may be surprised to know that many divorcing couples are fairly respectful of each other and work well together in divorce mediation. There are also many couples who are very emotional about the divorce and as a result, exhibit more conflicted behaviors or believe they can not successfully negotiate face to face. As a mediator, I am trained to assist people in putting their emotions aside and focusing on the relevant issues. My job is to keep you on track and help you through the crisis. Rest assured that you will be accepted as you are; there will be no judgment or criticism and you will receive grounded professional assistance aimed at helping you succeed. My personal and professional experience has taught me that both emotions and conflict tend to diminish through the course of our work together. Professional guidance is often a key factor of success. As you progress through the process, you will likely come to understand why mediation is so successful at alleviating some of the non-monetary transactional costs of divorce.
Greene says, “Mediation averages between $4,000 and $10,000,” but litigation lawyers (at least in New York City), start with a $25,000 retainer. “Most people will end up somewhere $20,000 and $200,000, but there certainly are those $300,000 divorces as well. I like to joke that divorce is one area of life in which having money is a disadvantage, because you may find [an attorney] who’s going to fan the flames and give you false hope about how you’re going find the kindly judge that is the father you never had who will see that you’re right, and that your ex is completely wrong. That’s a fantasy that is still held by many people.”
Without taking sides, a divorce mediator works with you and your partner to negotiate a settlement that is in the best interest of you and your family. Typically, a divorce mediator helps you better understand and communicate your individual and common interests so that you can explore reasonable options, make good decisions and reach solid agreements that benefit your family.
Each divorce mediator will have his or her own approach, however, some of the basics will likely remain the same. You will probably speak to the mediator on the phone, providing information about your marriage your family and the issues at hand. Some mediators will ask you for a great deal of information, while others may prefer to stick with the basics until meeting both parties. During the first meeting, the mediator will explain how the divorce mediation process will proceed. All parties may meet in the same room at all times, or the mediator may meet with each party separately at least one time.
Court cutbacks mean that judges have less time to handle every case; many times, people find themselves stalled for months at a time waiting for a court date or for something to ‘happen’ on their case. Parties can spend tens of thousands of dollars on attorney fees and then one or two years later fire both attorneys and come up with their own agreement. Mediation lets people move forward at their own pace.
If alternative dispute resolution is not able or available to resolve temporary issues, many counties will allow formal hearings to decide temporary issues, including who will have temporary possession of the homestead during the proceeding, who will pay the mortgage, taxes, insurance and utilities on the homestead, what type of temporary custody/parenting arrangement is in the children's best interest, what amount of temporary “child support” is appropriate, what amount of temporary “spousal maintenance”, if any, is appropriate, who should pay other debt on a temporary basis, and whether there should be an award of temporary attorney fees. These requests are traditionally based upon written “motions” which is a written request for relief, with the “testimony” reflecting your position being summarized in a sworn, written affidavit. Sometimes you will also submit affidavits from other people in support of your position. The attorneys will then argue your position before a judge, who thereafter will issue a written order deciding the temporary issues.
The guidelines use each parent's monthly gross income and consider basic, medical and child care support. A parent's monthly gross income is reduced by the amount of spousal maintenance or child support that the parent is ordered to pay from other support orders. Minnesota law allows a deduction from a parent's monthly gross income for a maximum of two non-joint children in their home.
The divorce becomes final when the court clerk "enters" the Judgment and Decree, which means the clerk writes it down on a court list of all judgments. The Judgment and Decree contains the final decisions of the court. Sometimes it is a week or more after the default hearing before the Judgment and Decree is entered. The court clerk may send a copy of the Judgment and Decree to the petitioner's attorney. This attorney serves the respondent with the final Judgment and Decree and gives a copy to the petitioner. There is no waiting period in Minnesota—the divorce is completely final when entered.
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.
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.
If the court finds that either spouse's resources or property, including the spouse's portion of the marital property, are so inadequate as to work an unfair hardship, considering all relevant circumstances, the court may, in addition to the marital property, apportion up to one-half of the non-marital property, which is otherwise excluded, to prevent the unfair hardship.
If the parties are hostile or overly emotional, the mediator will separate the parties and shuttle back and forth between them in "private caucuses." A private caucus is a conference between the mediator and one party, without the other party being present. The mediator passes offers and demands between the parties. Conversations between a party and the mediator during private caucus are confidential unless a party authorizes the mediator to disclose information to the other side.
Prior to the temporary relief hearing, as indicated above, both parents have custody. One the one hand, it is a disadvantage to agree to a parenting time schedule — even on an interim basis — which is less than what you want on a permanent basis, because even though this is not legally relevant, I have seen judges swayed by arguments about who has had the children prior to the court appearance. On the other hand, children shouldn’t have to witness their parents fighting at the day care center doors about who gets to take them home. Sometimes the best approach is just to share the time 50-50 for the sake of compromise, until the matter is heard by the Court. If for the sake of the children you feel it is best not to fight about it, it is very important to send written notice to your spouse explaining your strong objection to the interim arrangement, e.g.:
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.