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.
A mediator is a neutral professional specially trained to help you and your spouse reach agreement about all the important legal issues relating to your divorce. A mediator is not a decision maker. As your mediator, I guide you through the divorce process. I answer your questions and help you understand the court system. I facilitate a productive discussion of the issues while maintaining a safe and respectful environment. I assist you in understanding each other’s needs, wants and concerns. I help you generate and consider creative options. If you have minor children, I help you create a comprehensive Parenting Plan which will increase your likelihood of parenting success after your divorce is final. And finally, I document your agreements in a Memorandum of Agreement.
Financial Early Neutral Evaluations (FENE) allow the parties to meet with an accountant or lawyer neutral expert to assist the parties in preparing a balance sheet and help to negotiate a division of property. These experts can also assist in preparing cash flow summaries to help the parties settle issues of child support and spousal maintenance. As with social early neutral evaluations, the neutral may advise the parties what they believe will occur if the matter is fully litigated. As with Social ENEs, many counties provide rosters of lawyers and accountants certified to assist with FENE's in that county.
Sign and file a “Joint Petition for Divorce.” (Divorce court officials sometimes refer to this as the “1A form” and this divorces process as a “1A Marriage Dissolution.”) This is a divorce form that a) states when you were married and last lived together, b) identifies minor or dependent children of the marriage, c) identifies any family law court actions already in process, d) suggests an approximate date when the marriage irretrievably broke down (when it effectively ended), e) requests a divorce, and f) asks the judge to approve your “Separation Agreement” (see below).
As the number of divorces has increased, divorcing couples have frequently become frustrated with the excessive costs and delays associated with an overburdened, adversarial litigation system, and have sought ways to play a greater role in determining the details of their divorces. Likewise, the court system has recognized the importance of developing methods of handling disputes outside of the courtroom, and so court-related mediation programs have increased in popularity around the country.
If the parents can not agree on an appropriate custody arrangement, the court will examine what is in "the best interests of the child" by considering and evaluating the following factors: (1) the wishes of the child's parent or parents as to custody; (2) the reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express preference; (3) the child's primary caretaker; (4) the intimacy of the relationship between each parent and the child; (5) the interaction and interrelationship of the child with a parent or parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interests; (6) the child's adjustment to home, school, and community; (7) the length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity; (8) the permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home; (9) the mental and physical health of all individuals involved; (10) the capacity and disposition of the parties to give the child love, affection, and guidance, and to continue educating and raising the child in the child's culture and religion or creed, if any; (11) the child's cultural background; (12) the effect on the child of the actions of an abuser; (13) except in cases in which a finding of domestic abuse, the disposition of each parent to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact by the other parent with the child. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.17)
Mediation is a confidential discussion of the issues that need to be resolved in a divorce or custody situation. The divorce mediator, or child custody mediator, facilitates the different possibilities for resolving those issues. The mediator doesn’t have any decision making authority, so the process isn’t inherently risky; you can only serve to benefit if you can resolve your issues out of court.
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.
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.
In any case where parties cannot agree about custody or parenting time of the children, the court will require the parties to attend an orientation and education program. Some courts have programs for children to attend. The program covers the impact that divorce and the restructuring of families and legal proceedings have upon children and families. It will also cover methods for preventing parenting time conflicts and options for resolving disputes.
If child support was ordered but is not being paid, steps to enforce the order can be taken by the custodial parent or the county human services department. If the children are receiving public assistance, the county can also ask the court for a separate order requiring the other parent to pay back the assistance that has been received by the custodial parent for the past two years. The county can also ask the court for an order requiring you to pay back Medical Assistance and some other benefits the children received. The court can order payment whether or not the Judgment and Decree included a child support order.
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.
If you are trying to obtain your dissolution on your own and there are children involved, you will be required to have at least one hearing in front of the judge. You will have to use the generic documents provided by the courts such as the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and Judgment and Decree. These documents will not be specific to your needs or specific fact situation.
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.