If there is a chance your spouse may seek an Order for Protection or Harassment Restraining Order against you — whether legitimately or fraudulently — it is important to have a plan in case you are suddenly served with one and are barred from your home, with no court hearing set for two weeks. If that happens, do you have a place to stay? Cash and important documents? A spare change of clothing?
Conflict, especially in a divorce or a breakup, need not be inevitable. Exploring mediation as an option means that you want to reach an agreement that serves both of you in a confidential, flexible, and cost effective manner. Mediation starts a process which will enable both of you to continue your lives as whole people, better able to parent together. The Court system assumes that parties cannot get along well enough to reach resolution on their own; the mediation/alternative dispute resolution process assumes that parties can do so.
Judges, evaluators, and guardians will often pontificate about the virtue of compromise and settlement, as if this were the ultimate objective of any reasonable person, rather than as a means to an end. They speak as if both parties are equally to blame for a failure to settle, when in fact such failure is often the result of only one of the parties, who is being excessively greedy, obnoxious, stubborn, or selfish.
Any offers made during mediation, or any possibilities that are discussed, cannot be disclosed to a court. This creates a setting where the parties can more freely discuss and explore how far from their “stance” they might be willing to go. A trial, or any type of litigation is very costly, so money saved by resolving issues in mediation, can often become part of a solution. It doesn’t mean that you can take something like a bank account balance or a mental health condition, mention it in mediation, and therefore make it non-disclosable. Facts, such as these, mentioned in mediation, can indeed become part of a court case if the situation is not resolved in mediation. It is the discussions and offers that remain confidential.
Mediation in divorce is a process by which a mediator or a trained neutral, often a lawyer or mental health professional, helps divorcing spouses reach agreement. The mediator works as a facilitator to guide the divorcing spouses through the process to resolve the outstanding issues. Some divorcing spouses have reached agreement on certain issues, but need assistance resolving other ones, and they attend mediation to address just those issues. Others need assistance with all of the issues. But those who elect mediation are electing to work together to maintain control of their lives. (When individuals litigate and go to court, the judge makes the decision. Those decisions are often not what either side really wants, but once the judge makes the decision, it is the one that controls.)
Mediation is a forum in which a neutral mediator facilitates communication between parties to promote reconciliation, understanding, and settlement. Mediation is particularly suited to divorces and other family law proceedings because there is likely to be a continuing relationship between the parties, especially if minor children are involved. Many divorcing couples find mediation allows them to avoid the high financial and emotional costs of a litigated divorce. Because settlement is generally quicker, costs are reduced.
This is a common fear which is rooted in the adversarial legal system. The reality is that many parents who are mediating their divorce separate before the divorce is final, some even purchase a second home. Living together after a decision has been made to divorce is extremely difficult. Separation provides many people the distance they need to more successfully manage the challenges and difficulties of divorce. During mediation you have many opportunities to be creative and solve problems in a cooperative and mutually beneficial manner.
In order to make custody determinations the court evaluates the best interests of the children using 13 key factors which are defined in MN 518.17.In addition to being financially expensive, formal custody evaluations are also often highly adversarial and emotionally damaging for all involved, especially the children. In the end, a “victory” is often bittersweet and both parents will have some amount of court ordered parenting time. Rather than seek to prove that one parent is better than the other, it is critical to recognize that both parents are important in different ways – each providing that which can only be given by a mother or a father. You are the experts about your life and your children. You are the best qualified to make decisions about how to restructure your family and parenting time after divorce. As your mediator, I help you evaluate and discuss parenting time options and make child-focused decisions about how each of you will remain significantly involved with your children.
Remember that even though your children may be small today, as they grow up your roles as parents will change. You may have to consult with each other on important life decisions such as medical needs, or see each other at milestones like graduations, weddings, and the birth of your grandchildren. Learning to effectively co-parent early on will help you years down the road.
Unless your lawyer thinks it's important that you be represented, try the first session without your attorney. (If your spouse is insisting on having an attorney present, you'll want to do the same.) If you're not represented, but you've asked a lawyer to be your consulting attorney just for purposes of mediation, then you'll likely attend the first mediation session on your own. Either way, if you go by yourself and then you find that you can't state your position clearly or stand up for yourself alone, then consider bringing your lawyer to later sessions.
Divorce in Minnesota is called dissolution of marriage. A dissolution for any married couple will accomplish two things: (1) severing the marital relationship, and (2) dividing assets and debts. If they have been married for a significant length of time and one of them will be unable to be self-supporting, the issue of alimony may arise. If there are minor children, the issues of child custody, visitation, and support will need to be resolved.
But there's another way. Increasingly couples are turning to divorce mediation as a realistic and healthier alternative. A couple meets with a mediator to hammer out an agreement covering all the terms of their divorce, including finances and child custody. This usually takes six to 10 sessions and costs roughly $5,000. As a litigator and mediator I prefer to mediate, if appropriate. It's faster, cheaper and, most importantly, less acrimonious, which is less damaging, not just for a couple, but also their children.
For example, if there are two automobiles, each spouse is usually given one of them. This is especially true if the cars are nearly equal in value. If there is only one automobile, the court often awards it to the spouse who has the greater need for transportation. Extra items of personal property may be awarded to the other spouse so that the overall value of each share remains the same. Retirement accounts and whole life insurance policies are property too.
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.
When the respondent is served in another state, a separate child support proceeding can be started with the help of the county support enforcement agency and the county attorney. In this proceeding, the Minnesota court tells the court in the other state that a parent who lives in the other state owes child support. Please see our booklet Child Support Basics for more information.
Moreover, even in a simple divorce, you’ll have to make major decisions that will impact your future, including decisions about alimony, what to do with the family home, or retirement benefits. A paralegal service can’t provide the guidance you might need; these divorce decisions should be reached with the help of an experienced family law attorney.
When it comes to divorce in Minnesota, it’s important to know that the state favors “equitable distribution.” This simply means that all assets are divided equally among both parties regardless of either party’s wishes. Sometimes, though, this doesn’t necessarily mean that “equitable” will be equal. Rather, the word fair is more the proper term to be used when dealing with property distribution.
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.
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.
Denying or interfering with an established parenting time schedule can result in more time being awarded by the court to the parent who was denied their regular parenting time. The court will look at the reasons why the parenting time schedule was not followed. If the court determines that denying or interfering parenting time happens more than once and is on purpose, the court will award more time to the parent who was denied their regular parenting time. The only exception is if the denial of parenting time was to protect the child’s physical or emotional health. The court could also give a penalty to the parent who denied or interfered with the other parent’s regular time, or consider it a factor when deciding on a change of custody.