Finally, mediation can be substantially less expensive than the court process. When parties hire a mediator from Bloch & Whitehouse, P.A., they typically split our reasonable hourly rate equally between them. By contrast, if both parties hire lawyers, the cost for each party could be double or triple the cost for each party’s attorney. Moreover, significant court costs and other fees are minimized as a result of choosing mediation.
The next step will be to assess where you and your spouse agree and where you need some work to get to agreement. Once you have a sense of what needs to be accomplished, you, your spouse, and the mediator will plan how you're going to accomplish it. It's very likely that you will need to gather more information, especially if you're dealing with property issues as well as child custody questions. (For example, if you don't know the value of your house, you can't have an intelligent discussion about a buyout.) The mediator will help you figure out what information you need and ask each of you to commit to bringing certain things for the next session.
In some cases, the Judgment and Decree spells out how the property will be exchanged, or sets a time limit (such as 30 days) in which the transfer must take place. If the Judgment and Decree does not spell it out, the parties must make their own arrangements. The party who is ordered to give the property to the other party must let him or her get the property within a reasonable time after the Judgment and Decree is entered, in a way that is convenient for both parties. If you are afraid of your ex-spouse, you may ask a local law enforcement officer to assist you in obtaining the personal property awarded to you.
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.
After the mediator covers the rules of mediation and insures that any necessary agreements to mediate are signed, the mediator explains the mediation process. The parties or their representative may then make opening statements to identify issues and clarify perceptions. Many mediators will encourage the parties to begin a conversation during general caucus.
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.
If you represent yourself in the divorce you will be called a “pro se litigant.” In all Minnesota district courts, there are forms that pro se litigants in divorce cases can use. You should check with your local courthouse or law library or the Minnesota State Courts website (www.mncourts.gov/forms) for more information about where to get these forms.
I use only processes—mediation, collaborative law divorce, and out-of-court negotiation—that emphasize open, respectful communication. I am currently not taking "contested" cases, in which each spouse hires a lawyer and fights in court. If you have been served with divorce papers or need legal representation in court, you should contact a different attorney.
Grandparents may seek visitation with their grandchildren. Minnesota law also allows a person who is not a parent but who previously lived with the child for two years to ask the court for the right to visit the child. A court will grant visitation if it is in the child's best interests and if visitation will not interfere with the parent-child relationship.
Then there are the parties who fall into the trap of thinking the best way to divide up assets and liabilities is by splitting each item down the middle. That can lead to thousands of dollars in additional fees that wouldn’t have been necessary if they had waited for an expert mediator skilled in the finances of divorce to offer alternative more efficient options.
Some people think it will be easier and safer to have an attorney fight for their legal rights. Unfortunately, maximizing your legal rights often comes at someone else’s expense (for example your spouse or your children). This is referred to as a “win-lose” situation. All too often the transactional costs (both financial and emotional) of a “win” far exceed the value of the victory, especially for children. Although a good lawyer can be helpful, the adversarial legal process is expensive and often seeks to solve problems through opposing positions, and win-lose thinking. In my opinion, this adversarial approach is not only expensive and emotionally challenging; it is also detrimental to the long-term well-being of the people involved, especially the children. It may surprise you to know that most of my clients are unrepresented and successfully reach a complete mediated divorce settlement without retaining an attorney. My standard advice to people considering which divorce process to choose is to start with mediation and see how it goes. You may consult with or retain an attorney at any time and you never give up your right to go to court if mediation is partially or completely unsuccessful. With success rates as high as 80–90% and average savings of 20-50%, it seems the better question to ask may actually be, why wouldn’t you try mediation first?
Many people think that when a couple wants to live apart they have to get a "legal separation." This is not true. Often couples live apart for awhile before they decide to get a divorce. This is not "illegal." Legal separations are for people who do not want a divorce (usually for religious reasons). They still need a legal paper to settle custody, support, and property questions. The court makes the same kinds of decisions that it makes in a divorce. However, the couple remains married, and the division of property is not final.