There are several key advantages to mediation of divorce and other family law related disputes. First, you know what is best for you and your family. You live your life. You understand your financial circumstances. You know your children. You are best equipped to make decisions about your future. If you place your dispute in the hands of the court, a judge who knows very little about the details of your life will make decisions for you and, in most cases, you will have no choice but to live with that decision.
In Minnesota, there is no particular age at which a child gets to decide which parent he wants to live with. Generally, the older the child, the more weight the child’s preference carries, whether in the initial custody determination or in the context of a motion to modify custody.  Still, the child’s preference alone is an insufficient basis for modification of custody.  There must be a showing of endangerment, at least on an emotional level, in order to modify custody.  The child’s preference is an important factor and often a sine qua non of a showing of endangerment.
The same analysis applies to debts. Debts incurred prior to the valuation date are generally marital, regardless of who incurred them. Debts incurred after the valuation date are generally separate. If your spouse is charging up the credit cards like a drunken sailor, it is in your interest to expedite the divorce proceedings to lock in the default valuation date.
Divorce mediation still feels like a new idea in some parts of the country, but it’s increasingly well-known and widely accepted. Mediation means different things to different people. In the form I recommend, you and your spouse would sit down in the same room with each other and with a neutral mediator. With the mediator’s help, you would work through all the issues you need to resolve so the two of you can get through your divorce.
The court can appoint a "parenting time expeditor" (previously called a “visitation expeditor”). This “expeditor” is a neutral person who will help solve problems about parenting time. An “expeditor” may not be available in all counties. If an agreement is not reached, the expeditor will make the decision. The decision of the parenting time expeditor is "non-binding." This means that the court can change the decision if either party brings a motion asking the court to resolve the dispute. Until changed by the court, the parents must follow the expeditor’s decision.
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.
In almost all cases, you will be required to attempt some form of alternative dispute resolution. This will typically take the form of "mediation" which is a process in which a neutral third party, typically an attorney trained in mediation, will attempt to assist the parties in reaching their own compromise settlement of some or all issues between the parties. The mediator does not make decisions, but rather facilitates a discussion between the parties (sometimes alone and sometimes with the assistance of counsel) aimed at reaching settlement of your issues. The mediation process is confidential, and if you are not successful in reaching a mediated settlement, the judicial officer will never learn what positions either party took in mediation. As part of the mediation process, the mediator will request both parties provide an accurate summary of income, assets and liabilities. It is recognized that sometimes, one party controls some or all of this information, and skilled mediators attempt to assure that there is a full and fair disclosure of financial information, and a full and fair discussion of the issues.
2. In divorces, there is inevitably a process of “discovery,” where each party requests information and documents from the other party. Sometimes this is informal and limited. Other times it is formal, comprehensive, and terribly time-consuming for the parties themselves (to gather the information), and for their lawyers (who must review the responses and put them together in proper legal form). Because most attorneys are sloppy and lazy with formal discovery, they request much more than is really necessary to settle a case, just to cover their butts and to avoid the work of tailoring the discovery demands to each particular case, or just to make the process more onerous for the other party.
1. Never let your spouse suck you into a fight — even a verbal one. Once it starts getting heated, just withdraw from your spouse’s presence. While this won’t protect you against a spouse who is willing to make up a false abuse allegation out of whole cloth, it will protect you from a spouse who is trying to set you up to do something which will allow him or her to claim s/he was physically harmed or put in fear of imminent bodily harm.
Assets and liabilities can each have different tax consequences and if not properly accounted for, a settlement that might look fair on paper may turn out to be favorable to only one party and not the other. This can happen if one party trades a checking account for a 401k, confusing pre-tax with post-tax dollars, or when there are stocks involved and neither party is aware of the cost basis of a given portfolio.
Fill out and file Financial Statements. These statements document a) income, b) assets (house, cars, pensions, etc.), c) living expenses, and d) debts. There is a Long Form version if your annual income is over $75,000, and a Short Form version if your annual income is below $75,000. These forms disclose financial information that is necessary for coming to an agreement on Division of Marital Assets, Child Support, and Alimony (see Separation Agreement, below).
If you were served with a "Summons and Petition" (you are the Respondent), you should talk to an attorney before you sign the "Answer and Counterpetition," and before you sign a "Stipulated Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree" (which is an agreement with your spouse on how to divide all assets and debts).