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Unless your lawyer thinks it's important that you be represented, try the first session without your attorney. (If your spouse is insisting on having an attorney present, you'll want to do the same.) If you're not represented, but you've asked a lawyer to be your consulting attorney just for purposes of mediation, then you'll likely attend the first mediation session on your own. Either way, if you go by yourself and then you find that you can't state your position clearly or stand up for yourself alone, then consider bringing your lawyer to later sessions.
Yes; and it is the arrangement that the two of you build together. A divorce only ends the marital relationship. The parenting relationship remains and often requires a significant amount of repair in order to be effective after the divorce is final. As parenting partners you must be able to communicate and cooperate with each other about the children. A custody award cannot possibly address all of the parenting issues which impact your children’s well-being. It is in your and your children’s best interests to create a comprehensive parenting plan that proactively addresses the most common parenting issues which cause parents to continue fighting long after their divorce is final. Examples include: holiday transfer times, transfer logistics, parental communication, first rights of refusal, enrollment in and payment extra-curricular activities, vacations and travel, re-marriage, residential moves, and so on. Save yourself and you family untold frustrations and expense by setting expectations and creating a workable parenting plan in advance.
Brian James is a Divorce Mediator with offices in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin.  He is the founder and owner of C.E.L. & Associates, a private mediation firm that focuses on pre and post decree divorce issues. His background consists of 10.5 years working with domestic violence and divorcing families in the Criminal Justice System. He is a member of numerous mediation organizations and local chambers of commerce. His goal is to assist his clients in their time of need and help them work out agreements that are best for them and their children. At the same time, he tries to save his divorcing couples time and money that is otherwise wasted in the court system. What would you rather do with your money during a divorce, pay it to an attorney or invest it in your child's college education?
When thinking about your divorce, it’s important to understand that when you work with Johnson Mediation, we leverage whatever resources you need that can work with you through the entire process. This means that not only do we offer our mediation services to guide you through any issues that arise when developing your agreement, we can help you negotiate any issues that come up after the divorce is finalized. While mediators cannot provide legal advice, we can offer legal information that can help divorcing couples, or couples that have already divorced, make informed decisions about issues that can impact their lives for many years to come.
All property that was acquired during the marriage is called "marital property."   It does not matter whose name is on the title.  Both parties are assumed to have made an equal contribution.  A homemaker's work in the home counts as an equal contribution.  This "marital" property is divided fairly. Usually, fairly means equally.  The court will decide the value of all the property and try to divide the property so that each spouse gets approximately half of the overall value.  If one spouse has misspent the family's income, or misused or taken property, the court may award more property to the other spouse to make up for that.  If one spouse has special needs, the court may award more property to the needy spouse. 
You may be surprised to know that most MN divorce cases (over 90%) are settled before they ever reach a court room. Mediation is so effective that the State of Minnesota requires you make a good faith effort to settle your divorce through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) before appearing in Court – so why not start with a process which is proven to work as well, if not better, than litigation?
Under both Minnesota law, [1] and federal law, [2] as long as you yourself are a party to the conversation, it is lawful for you to record that conversation, even secretly. Furthermore, such recordings happen often enough in family practice that you are wise to assume that any telephone conversation with your spouse is in fact being recorded, and to temper your speech accordingly — i.e., no anger, name-calling, or spiteful speech of any kind.
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Sometimes the respondent cannot be “served” personally with the Summons and Petition because the petitioner does not know where he or she is and has no way to find out.  In this case the petitioner can apply to the court for permission to “serve” another way—such as mailing the papers to an address where mail will likely be forwarded to the respondent or publishing a notice in a newspaper.  This special service starts the legal proceedings in cases where the respondent cannot be personally served.
Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and Decree of Dissolution of Marriage. These are the essential documents needed to start and finalize a dissolution of marriage according to Minnesota law. There are anywhere from ten to twenty other documents that may be required throughout the filing process. A few other documents that are typically filed during the process are: Summons, Form 11, Confidential Information Form, Marital Termination Agreement, Financial Affidavit, and Affidavit of Non-Military Status.
If the parties can not come to an agreement on how their marital property is to be divided, the court shall base its findings on all relevant factors including the length of the marriage, any prior marriage of a party, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities, needs, opportunity for future acquisition of capital assets, and income of each party. The court shall also consider the contribution of each in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation or appreciation in the amount or value of the marital property, as well as the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker. It shall be conclusively presumed that each spouse made a substantial contribution to the acquisition of income and property while they were living together as husband and wife. If there is a substantial change in value of an asset between the date of valuation and the final distribution, the court may adjust the valuation of that asset as necessary to effect an equitable distribution. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.58)

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.
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.
I have more than 15 years experience with families and churches in conflict management and resolution. Clear thinking and calm presence  is a must in stressful interpersonal situations so I’m balanced between a logical head and caring heart. Skill and experience in crisis counseling, de-escalation and conflict resolution is what I bring to to the table. As a  former ER chaplain, I’m sensitive to diverse faiths and beliefs, and understand many of the differences that age, education, setting and lifestyle can make in dealing with conflict. I know my limits in dealing with different cultures yet have much inter-cultural experience. Immersed in language study in college, I also lived with people from over 20 countries including people from Africa, South America and Asia.

Minnesota orders all couples without a history of spousal abuse to use some type of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) before taking their case to court. One of the most common and generally successful forms of ADR is mediation. In this process, a neutral third party, known as the mediator, helps the couple work out their differences, usually resulting in a 20 to 50 percent reduction in costs over a traditional litigated divorce.
You are not obligated to hire an attorney in order to file for divorce; however, having one greatly improves the likelihood your rights will be protected and that your divorce is done correctly. Otherwise, you may end up spending much more on hiring an attorney after your divorce to seek post-decree modifications to clean up anything done improperly at the outset. Having a lawyer with you during this process also lessens the pressure on you during this difficult time. Further, hiring a lawyer is especially beneficial if there are allegations of abuse — spousal, child, sexual or substance abuse — because in those situations, it may be impossible for the abused spouse to negotiate effectively. A lawyer can help arrange the necessary protection for an abused spouse and the children. There are many other instances where a lawyer will be significantly helpful in a divorce, such as: asserting a non-marital claim, complex finances, divorces involving business ownership, divorces involving one spouse living in a different state, and many more instances.

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:
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.
You do not want to put your divorce in the hands of a mediator, mediate an agreement, only to find that the Court will not accept it. Instead, you want to be able to craft your own agreement which meets, as much as possible, your needs and the needs of your spouse while also keeping the Court’s requirements in mind. This ability gives control back to you rather than investing it in an overworked court system.

Having said that, children naturally wonder and ask questions to resolve their own anxiety at a time when their parents have split up, and their family unit and daily routines have dramatically changed. Simply proceed with sensitivity, and be careful not to place the children in the middle of any disputes. Say nothing that would burden them with any guilt, or put them in the position of having to take sides.


All marriages prohibited by law shall be absolutely void, without any decree of dissolution or other legal proceedings, with the following exception. When a person who's husband or wife has been absent for four successive years, without being known to the person to be living during that time, marries during the lifetime of the absent husband or wife, the marriage shall be void only from the time that its nullity is adjudged. If the absentee is declared dead, the subsequent marriage shall not be void.

What is the difference between legal separation and divorce in Massachusetts? Spouses can live separately, but there is no “legal separation” status in Massachusetts family law. You are either married or divorced. It is, however, possible to be married, live separately, and receive “separate support” for spousal support or child support. This requires filing a Complaint for Separate Support.

Mediation is flexible and confidential. It gives you and your spouse a way to settle the conflict between you in a way that helps you to work together as parents. This is extremely important if you have children and must interact with your ex-spouse after you are divorced. Mediation brings about communication between the couple, which can then be used when they must discuss issues in pertaining to the children. Lack of communication may have been one of the main reasons for their divorce. Mediation has the ability to help the couple learn to communicate again, if only for the sake of the children, and make their post-divorce relationship better than their married one.


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The guidelines use each parent's monthly gross income and consider basic, medical and child care support. A parent's monthly gross income is reduced by the amount of spousal maintenance or child support that the parent is ordered to pay from other support orders. Minnesota law allows a deduction from a parent's monthly gross income for a maximum of two non-joint children in their home.
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.

Although the advantages of mediation generally far outweigh the disadvantages, there are a few potential disadvantages associated with divorce mediation. A divorce mediator may not advise you on the legal aspects regarding the decisions you are making. This could result in an agreement which leads to a loss of important rights. This is why all mediated agreements should be looked at by an experienced divorce attorney prior to giving it to the judge for approval.

As mentioned above, the court is going to ask what Alternative Dispute Resolution you have used prior to coming to court.  In most cases, some type of ADR is required, but there are exceptions, such as some cases involving domestic violence.  In recent years many mediators have developed better protocols for accommodating those circumstances, and so some cases involving domestic violence do proceed with mediation today.  A victim of domestic violence should seek the advice of counsel regarding any ADR process they are considering.


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
What the mediator can do, though, is to point out in open session to both spouses things that each of them should be aware of about what they’re trying to accomplish. That open and free exchange of information frees up both spouses to negotiate with each other in confidence. Because both spouses are working with the same base of information, it usually takes far less time to negotiate a resolution that makes sense to both spouses.
The major difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that if you have a legal separation, you are still married. The wife may not resume using her former name. If you decide you want to end your marriage after a legal separation is complete, you will need to go through the court process to get divorced. Some couples choose legal separation because of religious beliefs or moral values against divorce. In other cases, there may be insurance or other financial reasons for a legal separation.
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.
Jerry has devoted himself exclusively to the practice of divorce and family law in Minnesota since 1993. He practices in all areas of family law including divorce, custody, child support, paternity, grandparents' rights, mediation, appeals, and same sex cases. Jerry is particularly experienced in representing clients in interstate and international divorce and child custody, and frequently advises other attorneys on these issues. Jerry's practice includes collaborative law and alternative dispute resolution. He is the author of the first Minnesota divorce and family law blog in the state, a recurring author for the Minnesota Association for Justice Magazine, and...
I’ve heard of cases in which one spouse is so eager for custody of the children that they will relieve the other spouse of any duty to pay child support—which is not in their or the children’s best interests. Green says, “This is explicitly contrary to New York legislative policy—the kids shouldn’t be bargained for the money. The two things are determined separately by the court, so there’s no reason to take less than you’re entitled to under the formula.”

If you have been ordered to pay child support and your situation has changed so that you cannot pay the amount of support ordered, it is important to contact the county child support officer right away.  You can bring a motion to ask the court to lower your child support. If you do not bring a motion, there is little chance the court will forgive back support, even if you were unable to pay.  For more information about child support, see our booklet Child Support Basics. 
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.

Another common complaint is that the system is too soft on child support obligors. Truth be told, there are some self-employed parents that are doing well financially, but whose "inaccurate" tax returns show little income after they’ve written off business expenses (e.g., cars, travel and entertainment). Sometimes, these parents are able to fool the system and pay a lower amount of support.
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.

Mediation is non-binding. This means that the mediator has no authority to force either party to agree to anything at all. Too often people come to me after the fact, complaining that the mediator forced them to agree to something. Just remember that no matter how much they may try to tell you that your position is unreasonable, or that the Court would never side with you, you do NOT need to agree to whatever it is they are pushing for.


Making the decision to part from your spouse is always difficult – particularly where there is money and support involved. While the alimony laws in Minnesota may be difficult to understand, the good news is that you don’t have to go through this process alone. A good first step in requesting alimony is to contact a Minnesota divorce lawyer, who can advocate on your behalf.
If the parties can not come to an agreement on how their marital property is to be divided, the court shall base its findings on all relevant factors including the length of the marriage, any prior marriage of a party, the age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, liabilities, needs, opportunity for future acquisition of capital assets, and income of each party. The court shall also consider the contribution of each in the acquisition, preservation, depreciation or appreciation in the amount or value of the marital property, as well as the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker. It shall be conclusively presumed that each spouse made a substantial contribution to the acquisition of income and property while they were living together as husband and wife. If there is a substantial change in value of an asset between the date of valuation and the final distribution, the court may adjust the valuation of that asset as necessary to effect an equitable distribution. (Minnesota Statutes - Chapters: 518.58)
Divorce is actually a legal procedure between you and your spouse, so, in order to satisfy legal requirements, you must properly notify your spouse that legal action is being taken against them. In a divorce proceeding, this is called Service of Process, and involves delivering copies of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and Summons along with supporting documents to your spouse in a timely manner.
Yes, with effort and cooperation from both parties, your case could settle out of court. Agreeing (settling) on terms may or may not be the best solution for your interests. You should still have an attorney review the proposed terms of the divorce before you file a joint stipulation with the court to ensure the settlement is in your best interest.
Like all states, Minnesota courts begin with a presumption that it's best for a child to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after a divorce. If possible, judges want to support joint custody arrangements. However, the exact nature of the time-share will be determined by the children's best interests. For more information, see Nolo's article Child Custody FAQ.

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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