While upwards of 95% of all cases settle short of trial, the most expensive and acrimonious manner of resolving your differences with your spouse is through a formal trial - and perhaps nowhere is the retention of skilled counsel more important. Trial involves extensive study of all facts and evidence relevant to your case, extensive preparation of witnesses for testimony, extensive preparation to conduct examination (questioning) of witnesses, extension preparation of exhibits summarizing your position as to the evidence, hopefully in a form understandable and convincing to the trial judge, strategy as to what witnesses will be called and in what order, as well as the actual trial examination of witnesses, which often, especially when "cross examining" opposing witnesses, requires the lawyer to think on their feet, and prepare questions on the spot as they hear evasive or unexpected answers.
If the court determines that there is probable cause that one of the parties, or a child of a party, has been physically or sexually abused by the other party, the court shall not require or refer the parties to mediation or any other process that requires parties to meet and confer without counsel, if any, present. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.619)
Each spouse has the right to sell, give away, or dispose of any property the couple owns.  For example, either person can withdraw money from a joint bank account.  Either can charge on a joint credit card.  There are some exceptions to this general rule.  Neither spouse has the right to cash checks made out to the other spouse.  Neither spouse can withdraw money from a bank account if it is in the name of the other spouse only.  Neither spouse can sell a motor vehicle that is in the name of the other spouse.  Neither can sell real estate that is in both names or in the name of one spouse.
The court can also make an order restraining (stopping) an abusive or violent spouse from harassing or harming the other spouse or the children.  The court can order one of the spouses to leave and not return to the home.  A violation of this part of the order may be a misdemeanor.  The party violating it can be ordered to pay a fine or go to jail.
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.
Minnesota Divorce and Family Mediation is committed to helping clients determine their own divorce settlement, customized to their specific situation and standards of fairness. Mediation is an option that allows divorcing couples to maintain control over their decisions at a lower cost. Mediation is also an effective choice for never-married couples and for those experiencing post-decree conflicts.

Each spouse has the right to sell, give away, or dispose of any property the couple owns.  For example, either person can withdraw money from a joint bank account.  Either can charge on a joint credit card.  There are some exceptions to this general rule.  Neither spouse has the right to cash checks made out to the other spouse.  Neither spouse can withdraw money from a bank account if it is in the name of the other spouse only.  Neither spouse can sell a motor vehicle that is in the name of the other spouse.  Neither can sell real estate that is in both names or in the name of one spouse.
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.

The parties may expressly preclude or limit later modification of maintenance through a stipulation, if the court makes specific findings that the stipulation is fair and equitable, is supported by consideration described in the court's findings, and that full disclosure of each party's financial circumstances has occurred. The stipulation must be made a part of the judgment and decree.
1. If custody or parenting time is in issue, don’t move out without first getting an enforceable written stipulation addressing custody and parenting time after the move-out. The key is to have in place at least an interim parenting time schedule which affords you at least as much parenting time as you hope to obtain through the court. Otherwise, the longer you acquiesce to a pattern of parenting time that is less than you desire, the more of an argument the other party will make of it against you. Often arguments like the following are heard:
If you are represented by an attorney, the question will arise whether your attorney should attend the divorce mediation with you. This is something you'll work out with the mediator, your attorney, your spouse, and your spouse's attorney. Very often, family law mediation sessions involve just the divorcing spouses and the mediator. This keeps costs down and ensures that you and your spouse do the talking and make the decisions (lawyers have a tendency to take over when they are present).

If the parties cannot agree on custody, the court will usually order county, court or social services or a guardian ad litem to investigate the ability of each parent to care for and raise the children.  The social worker, court services worker or guardian ad litem will usually interview each parent.  They will contact friends and family, teachers, counselors, doctors, and other professionals who have seen the family.  The investigator then writes a report to the court and makes a recommendation about custody.  Your attorney may be given a copy of the report.  The parties are usually required to pay the costs of a custody investigation based on their ability to pay. The court does not have to accept the recommendation of the investigator, but considers it very seriously.
The court can also consider a change if the parent with custody has denied or interfered with the parenting time of the other parent.  However, parenting time problems alone are usually not enough to change custody.  Denying or interfering with a parenting time schedule is a factor that a court may consider in deciding to change custody.  A judge can also change custody based on the “best interests of the child,” if both parents agreed to use that standard in a writing approved by the court.
Even if you and your partner do not agree on much, divorce mediation could still be for you. Check out The Divorce Mediation Quiz for typical issues to think about when considering divorce mediation. If you and your partner think that divorce mediation could be a sensible solution for your family, you should learn more by meeting with a divorce mediator who can answer questions specific to your situation.

Once a marriage is far enough gone, the only remaining question is “How hard is it going to be to untangle our legal and financial lives and (if relevant) sort out custody?” For some couples, separating via mediation rather than litigated divorce has its appeal: Many people don’t want to cast their former spouses in the role of enemy, and mediation is a cheaper, more cooperative, and less adversarial process than a War of the Roses-type brawl.

Finally, parties may agree to continue child support past the statutory termination date. When this occurs, it is usually based on a mutual desire to support a child through college. Although the Court lacks jurisdiction to order child support beyond the statutory termination date, the Court does have jurisdiction to enforce a binding stipulation of the parties which provides for that. [4] If I am representing the obligor, I normally advise against this, because one can always support the children through college if one so desires. There’s no reason to get the Court involved.


The only way to force a spouse out of the house where he or she resides is to get a Court Order. If you or your child has been the victim of domestic abuse by your spouse, you can get an Order for Protection immediately, which will bar your spouse from the house. Otherwise, absent an agreement, the soonest you’ll get an order for exclusive occupancy of the home would be with the issuance of an Order for Temporary Relief, which usually takes anywhere from about one to five months to obtain, depending on the county, the judge, and the speed of your attorney.
Minnesota law allows a parent, legal, guardian, teacher, or other caretaker of a child or student to use "reasonable force" to "restrain or correct the child." [1] That said, in the context of a pending divorce or child custody case, it is inadvisable to use any kind of corporal punishment at all. Many of the guardian ad litems, custody evaluators, psychologists, and others involved in the family court system have strong feelings against the use of any kind of corporal punishment or physical correction of a child at all; and a parent's use of corporal punishment might become a reason why one of these professionals makes custody, parenting time, or other recommendations that are contrary to your wishes. Also, the use of any physical force at all can be exaggerated by the other parent, who may do so in order to gain an advantage in a custody and parenting time contest, even to the point of bringing a petition for an order for protection against you on behalf of the child. It is far safer, therefore, to use alternative disciplinary techniques, such as time-outs, verbal reprimands, withholding of privileges, etc.
Clients often ask whether they should move out of the marital home prior to or during the commencement of divorce proceedings. The answer is very clear: “it depends”. Generally speaking, if child custody, parenting time, or possession of the home might be an issue in the proceedings, I advise against it. Although no legal precedent is created by moving out, the lawyer for the remaining occupant routinely argues that:
Finding a divorce lawyer who is experienced and reliable can reduce your stress and help you make the best choices possible. A good divorce lawyer should be a problem solver who is skilled at negotiation and possesses a solid trial background. If both parties are open to alternative dispute resolution, such as arbitration or mediation, finding a lawyer experienced in collaborative divorce or divorce mediation would be beneficial.
To get a no-fault dissolution in Minnesota, you need to state in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage that “there has been an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage relationship.” Also, one of the following must exist: (1) serious marital discord adversely affecting the attitude of one or both of the parties toward the marriage, or (2) the parties have been living separate and apart for 180 days before filing.
Joe Dillon, MBA is a professional divorce mediator and founder of Equitable Mediation Services. Joe is passionate about helping couples avoid the destruction of attorney-driven litigation and knows first-hand that the right information, combined with the right expertise and the right kind of support can make the challenging process of divorce less expensive, less time-consuming and less stressful for divorcing couples and their families.
Many individuals mistakenly believe that they’ve abandoned their equity in the family home by moving out. While the court may award the family home to the spouse living in it at the time the divorce is heard, the spouse that moved out will typically be awarded other property or a cash settlement equal to his or her equity in the home. The bottom line here is that you don’t give up your equity in the marital home by moving out.
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.
The Petition for Dissolution of Marriage must declare the appropriate Minnesota grounds upon which the dissolution of marriage is being sought. The appropriate lawful ground will be that which the parties agree upon and can substantiate, or that which the filing spouse desires to prove to the court. The dissolution of marriage grounds are as follows:
Mediation offers a quite different approach to resolving conflicts between the parties. A neutral third party-the mediator- assists the parties in sorting out their affairs and comes to a mutual agreement in a confidential private format. Mediation is a solid option even for those that are having trouble with communication. It is a cost-effective process and it avoids the legal war of going to court.
In reality, because mediation is such an adaptable and holistic approach to divorce, these common concerns are all well handled in the mediation setting. In fact, almost any divorce case, or really any family law matter, is suitable for mediation and the parties can successfully resolve their issues without the great expense and emotional costs of litigating.
On a related note, it is a useful precaution to close or otherwise terminate additional borrowing authority on any joint credit cards, lines of credit, or other joint debt accounts, when a divorce appears imminent. With respect to joint credit cards and other joint unsecured consumer lines of credit, Minnesota law requires the creditor to close the account upon the written request of either party. [1]

The first opportunity for the Court to decide custody is normally at the temporary relief hearing. In Hennepin County, this can easily be four months or more from the date of filing. In other counties, it can be much speedier, as in Dakota or Scott County, where a temporary relief hearing date is normally available within about 3 weeks. Once the motions for temporary relief are heard, the Court has 90 days to rule, although they normally get temporary orders out within two to four weeks.

Like legal custody, physical custody can be “sole” [2] or “joint”. “Joint physical custody” means that "the routine daily care and control and the residence of the child is structured between the parties." [3] Unlike joint legal custody, joint physical custody is the exception rather than the norm, and is usually only granted if both parties agree to it.


A six-month review hearing can be scheduled to make sure parents are following court orders for custody, parenting time and child support. The court cannot change orders at this hearing, but it can take steps to make sure the orders are being followed. Either parent can ask for a six-month review hearing after getting a divorce, custody, child support or parenting time order for the first time. The court administrator can give you a form and the steps needed to ask for this hearing.

The Summons is a separate legal paper telling the respondent to answer the Petition within 30 days.  If the respondent does not, he or she is in default and the divorce is uncontested.  This means the petitioner (the spouse who wanted the divorce) may be granted the divorce and other relief requested.  The Summons also forbids both parties from selling or getting rid of any property or harassing one another.  It requires each party to maintain any insurance for the family.  If one spouse spends money belonging to both parties after receiving the Summons, he or she will have to explain to the court why the money was spent.
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?

Most mediators will emphasize the problem-solving aspect of negotiation at this stage. The problem to be solved is finding settlement options that address each spouse’s most important interests as fully as possible. With this focus, you’ll be able to negotiate by trading off acceptable options instead of getting locked into zero-sum bargaining, where one spouse’s gain is the other spouse’s loss.
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.”
Most mediators will emphasize the problem-solving aspect of negotiation at this stage. The problem to be solved is finding settlement options that address each spouse’s most important interests as fully as possible. With this focus, you’ll be able to negotiate by trading off acceptable options instead of getting locked into zero-sum bargaining, where one spouse’s gain is the other spouse’s loss.

The main advantage of mediation is that it keeps you and your spouse in control of your own divorce. That can make all the difference in your recovering from your divorce and moving on with your life. Mediation allows the two of you to get through your divorce with less conflict than you would experience in an adversarial divorce. Because mediation is all about working with shared knowledge, mediation also often allows you and your spouse to work together to lower your tax bill . . . and that can often translate to more money for you.
During this stage, the mediator may first begin to discuss the general legal rules that might apply to your case. This can include the laws of your state dictating how a judge would divide your assets and debts, how child custody and child support would be decided, when and how alimony can be ordered, and laws dealing with related issues like taxes and life and health insurance. This general legal information will help you decide how to approach the issues in your case.
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.
More recently, however, I have noted a shift to where, in my opinion, the evaluators make assessments of how the case will most likely settle, and tailor their recommendations to that assessment. This results in more settlements overall, but at the cost of many which are not in the best interests of the children. In light of this, it is very important not to give the impression that you are willing to settle for something that is contrary to the children’s best interests. In your pitch to the evaluators, tell them what you consider to be the arrangement that is in the children’s best interests, and why — not just what you would be willing to settle for; because if that’s your approach, that’s very likely what they'll treat as your starting point, and your children will be the ones to suffer for it, by having to live with an arrangement that is not in their best interests.
The Minnesota Judicial Branch maintains a helpful section on divorce at its website, including matters of children and property, an overview of the fees involved in the process, paperwork, and what to expect when you go to court. The site also has a guided flowchart to help you determine which forms you'll need. Also, see FindLaw's article on same-sex divorce.

Jeff has been a lawyer for 34 years, practicing family law exclusively for 28 years. For the first six years of his career he was a staff attorney at the Minnesota Court of Appeals. He has handled hundreds of cases and has the experience dealing with substantial marital estates in the millions and has tried and litigated many cases, including lengthy custody matters. He is also a trained mediator and ADR neutral on the Minnesota State Roster and is a FENE and SENE neutral in Ramsey County, Anoka County, Washington County, Scott County, Carver County, Pine County, Chisago County, Isanti...
The Minnesota Judicial Branch maintains a helpful section on divorce at its website, including matters of children and property, an overview of the fees involved in the process, paperwork, and what to expect when you go to court. The site also has a guided flowchart to help you determine which forms you'll need. Also, see FindLaw's article on same-sex divorce.
Although many of Ms. Serwat’s clients reach a complete divorce settlement without retaining an attorney; some need and/or want legal representation. If your situation warrants legal representation or if you simply feel better knowing that you are legally represented your lawyer is welcome to participate with you in the mediation process. Starting divorce mediation without attorneys in no way limits your right to retain an attorney in the future and/or appear in court.
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.
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).
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.
5. Use an attorney who specializes exclusively in family law, so that you’re not paying so much for the attorney to “learn”. No lawyer has perfect and complete knowledge, but a specialist is not going to have to do nearly as much legal research as a more general practitioner. (Not to mention, a specialist will be more qualified to represent you in the best way possible, because of his experience).
If your spouse files an Answer that disputes details in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, then the judge will order you and your spouse to trial. There may be a number of hearings and legal proceedings before a trial occurs, so you will probably need an attorney to guide you through the process.  Before the trial, you and your spouse’s attorney may engage in evidence requests, witness interviews and negotiations.  This may be a lengthy and complex process that could cost you a great deal personally and financially.

They had about $700,000 of equity in their house and she wanted to give him about $100,000 to walk away—much less than the law allows. She was not at all willing to consider his perspective. “What I came to understand was from his perspective, he was an abused husband. And his having an affair—which is not the best way to handle difficulties in your primary relationship—was a desperate act, because now that they were going to have a baby together, he felt that he was trapped in this extremely unhealthy relationship, and this was the only way he could think of to get out. So it was very eye-opening for me.”
A common problem for many families is a dispute over where the minor child(ren) will attend school. If you have sole legal custody, you may decide this on your own. But if like most parents you have joint legal custody, then the choice of school is something that must be agreed upon, or otherwise submitted to the Court or Alternative Dispute Resolution for a determination.
Attorney fees vary from hundreds of dollars if the case is easy to thousands of dollars for cases with custody and/or property disputes.  It is important that you understand your payment arrangement with your attorney.  Many attorneys charge an hourly fee for their services.  You will be charged each time the attorney works on your file.  Ask your attorney for a written “Retainer Agreement” or letter which explains in detail how you will be charged for legal services.
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