The success Fellows of the Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers have had is based in part on the business sophistication and experience of many of our attorneys. That experience carries forward after trial, to the detailed written summations of the evidence and the law, submitted to the trial judge either immediately prior to or after trial, depending on the preferences of the judicial officer assigned to your case.
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.
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.
When custody is in dispute, a Minnesota court issues a custody order that is in the "best interests of the child." Joint custody will only be awarded if parents have shown the court that they are willing and able to cooperate. A court also examines several factors with the child's welfare in mind. They include (1) the child's preference, (2) each parent's health, (3) the child's health and whether any special needs exist, (4) each parent's relationship with the child, (5) which parent has been the child's primary caretaker, (6) each parent's ability to provide a stable environment for the child, (7) any history of domestic violence or child abuse and (8) any allegations of abuse.
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Jason Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. He is an honors graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato, and the William Mitchell College of Law. Jason has been recognized as a “Super Lawyer” by Thomson Reuters. Media appearances include WCCO Radio, KARE 11 Television, the Star Tribune, USA Today, Time Magazine, Minnesota Monthly and NBC News.
In this first stage, the mediator works with you and your spouse to lay a foundation for the rest of the mediation. You give the mediator background information about your situation, and the mediator explains how the mediation will be conducted. Depending on how well you and your spouse communicate and what the issues are in your case, the mediator suggests an approach that should optimize the chances of reaching an agreement. You'll assess the issues on which you and your spouse agree or disagree, helping you to work together on an agenda for the rest of the mediation.
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.
Mediation preparation is often limited, as there is no formal discovery. Frequently, mediation begins with a "general caucus" where the parties and the mediator meet in the same room. The mediator establishes the ground rules in an "agreement to mediate." In court-mandated mediation, the court order will often contain or refer to the "rules of mediation." One of the most important mediation rules is the requirement for confidentiality.
To file for divorce in Minnesota you must file a Summons and a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage with the Clerk’s Office of the county court. Although the exact filing fee will depend on the county in which you file, Minnesota has some of the highest in the nation with the average around $400. Whether or not you are representing yourself, you must also file a Certificate of Representation.
But not every couple is a good candidate for mediation—and it can be hard to know in advance who’s going to find the process helpful and who’s going to find it useless—or worse, enraging. To get a better idea of warning signs, I spoke to Rachel Green, the family lawyer in Brooklyn, New York, who handled my own separation ten years ago. Below, the eight signs that mediation might not be right for you.
Many metropolitan counties, as well as more and more outstate counties, have developed several innovative tools aimed at facilitating quick resolution of traditionally volatile areas - custody/parenting time and economic disputes. If the court is advised a custody/parenting time is present, the judicial officer will suggest that the parties participate in an "Early Neutral Custody Evaluation," referred to as a Social Early Neutral Evaluation "SENE" or in some counties and in others a Custody and Parenting Time Early Neutral Evaluation "CPENE." In this process the parties and counsel will be quickly scheduled to meet with two experts on child custody matters, one male and one female. Many counties have rosters listing the names of people certified to act as an Early Neutral Custody Evaluator. The parties and counsel will meet for three hours with the evaluators, with each party then afforded the opportunity to explain their role in raising the children, and what type of a parenting schedule they believe to be in their children's best interests. The two evaluators will then briefly adjourn, and then return to advise the parties what recommendation would result from a full custody evaluation. Many parties are able to reach a settlement of most parenting time issues after hearing this informal report.
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.
Once the mediator has helped the spouses frame the issues and interests clearly, it is time to negotiate an acceptable settlement. This usually begins with an exploration of possible options. With the mediator’s help, the spouses discuss and evaluate the options, until eventually they narrow down the options to the ones that work best for both spouses. Getting to the final combination of options will involve compromises and concessions on both sides
If a person wishes to terminate his or her marriage, he or she may file for a divorce. In a divorce proceeding, the court will terminate the marriage and determine the rights and responsibilities of the divorcing parties regarding child custody, child visitation, child support and spousal support (alimony). The court will also redistribute marital assets.
In person—Minnesota allows anyone who is 18 years of age or older and is not a party to the lawsuit to serve the divorce papers in person. In most cases, the process server is a sheriff or a professional, bonded process server. Once the papers have been delivered to the respondent’s home, person or attorney, the process server must complete the Affidavit of Service and file it with the Clerk of Court.
It can be difficult for a client to know whether his or her lawyer is performing well or not. Sometimes even the best of lawyers does not achieve the desired result, and it may be due to a difficult set of facts, a bad judge and/or custody evaluator or guardian ad litem, or unrealistic expectations. There are some clear indications of bad lawyering, however, which are objectively obvious:
If a parent has been convicted of certain crimes, that parent must convince the court that parenting time with the child is in the child's best interest. These crimes include assault, sexual abuse, parental kidnapping, terroristic threats, felony harassment, domestic assault by strangulation, and stalking. Ask your lawyer if these laws apply in your case.
Couples who are headed for a trial date may be ordered by the court to go through mediation before that date is set, however, mediation can also be voluntary. If the couples are unable to resolve their issues through mediation, they are free to pursue any other remedies they choose. Mediation is generally better for the children involved, as it allows the couple to make decisions which are in the best interests of the entire family in a non-contentious manner. Children can be damaged by hearing their parents argue and say things to one another that children should not hear. Many parents who end up litigating their divorce are not hesitant to say ugly things about the other parent in front of the children. Parents who make a conscious decision to mediate their divorce, are also more likely to be aware of ensuring the children are not privy to contentious behavior between the parents.
Emptying the joint bank checking or savings account in anticipation of divorce would ordinarily be frowned upon, unless you had a very justifiable reason. Be warned, however, that your spouse may beat you to it. I’ve seen joint bank accounts cleaned out by the other party many times, and many times there is unapproved spending by the other spouse as the divorce approaches. Although this can be accounted-for and compensated-for in the divorce property settlement, it can still cause great difficulty if you need the money during the pendency of the proceedings and have to litigate to get any of it back.
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.
Like attorneys, most mediators charge by the hour. The average total cost of divorce mediation (with me) is approximately $2,000. In addition to the mediator’s fees you will need to pay a filing fee to your county of approximately $400 and if you choose to hire a professional for legal drafting, you should also expect an additional $1,250-1,500. On average, my clients incur a total combined cost of approximately $4,000.
If the respondent answers the Petition, the parties will try to settle the case by having their attorneys work out an agreement. This is called negotiation. If the couple is able to agree on everything (through negotiation or mediation), a written agreement called a Stipulation or Marital Termination Agreement is prepared and signed by both parties and their attorneys. The parties agree that one of them will present the Stipulation to the court. Just one party needs go to court. The other party usually does not attend. The court usually accepts the agreement made by the parties. A written Stipulation may also be presented to the court without the need for any hearing. This process can only be used if each party had a lawyer.
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.