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.
Notwithstanding all of the above, mediation can often be the process that helps break an impasse and result in a reasonable settlement of one’s case. But for mediation to work, both parties must be prepared to compromise. If you approach mediation with the attitude that it will be an opportunity to convince the other party to do things your way, mediation will likely fail. That said, be careful not to concede too much. A lawyer can give you an appreciation for where the line is between generous cooperation and foolish capitulation.
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.
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)
Another important tool for a parent whose child has been taken or hidden is the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS). An attorney must ask the court or county attorney to request FPLS assistance. The court or county attorney can apply to the FPLS for assistance in locating the missing parent. The FPLS is a computer search using the Social Security number of the missing parent to find home and work addresses for that parent. You must have the correct Social Security number in order to use the FPLS.
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.
Once your negotiations are finished and you have found a solution, either the mediator or one of your attorneys will write an agreement and, in many cases, a parenting schedule or parenting plan. These documents will be incorporated with the rest of your divorce paperwork and become part of your divorce judgment, which means that a court could enforce them if one of you doesn't do what the agreements say you'll do.
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.
The attorney representing either the petitioner or the respondent can schedule a temporary relief hearing. The other party must be served with motion papers, including a Motion for Temporary Relief and an Affidavit. Affidavits are written statements signed under oath. The motion papers are legal papers requesting temporary relief from the court and stating the facts on which the request is based. These facts include the income and expenses of each party, who has the children now and why they should be in the custody of the party asking for temporary custody. The motion papers must be mailed or handed to the other party before the hearing. There are certain time periods for giving notice to the other party before the hearing that must be followed when bringing and responding to motions. The petitioner's attorney often has the motion papers served at the same time as the Summons and Petition.
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.
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.
When you have a choice, it is cheaper to cooperate with informal and limited discovery. In cases where the other party is not cooperative or not trustworthy, more formal discovery may be a necessity. Some of the formal discovery demands you receive will be objectionable. In most cases, however, it is much cheaper for you to just get the information and documents, than to pay your lawyer to argue with the other side about it. Also, don’t trickle it in piecemeal to your attorney if at all possible. Get it all together into one package, as complete and as organized as possible.
In conclusion, my advice to fathers is that they should not despair. If the children would be better off in the father’s custody, that is worth fighting for, and is winnable. I have gotten many fathers custody, even in the most dismal of predicaments. For mothers, my advice is to take nothing for granted. Against a determined father, the loss of custody is a very real possibility which you should take very seriously if custody is important to you.
Moreover, even in a simple divorce, you’ll have to make major decisions that will impact your future, including decisions about alimony, what to do with the family home, or retirement benefits. A paralegal service can’t provide the guidance you might need; these divorce decisions should be reached with the help of an experienced family law attorney.
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.
Resolutions emerge from the mediation that are created and accepted by BOTH parties. The resolution will reflect each party's individual values and unique needs. Our experience has shown that settlements created with full participation of the parties, in face-to-face negotiations, are more likely to satisfy the needs of all parties and be honored in the future because they have crafted it themselves.
Negotiating agreements isn't always linear. You may start at what feels like the end, and you may find yourself needing to gather more information at various points. The mediator will help you to stay on track and brainstorm options, will encourage you and your spouse to express your opinions, positions, and what's important to you, and will help you listen to each other in ways that will make a resolution more likely. (You may be able to use some of these communication tools in your ongoing parenting relationship.)
I hired Howard Iken as my attorney to handle my divorce case. Not only did he secure a win for me in the eventual divorce trial, he was also successful in having the post divorce trial petitions (4) filed by my ex-husband dismissed. Mr. Iken is very professional and adept at developing strategies that are favorable to his clients. He is organized, thorough, creative and more than willing to go the extra mile. I would highly recommend Mr. Iken’s law firm to anyone seeking legal services.
In most counties in the Twin Cities Metropolitan area, as well as now many out state counties, after the filing of a summons and petition, the next step in the process will be an appearance at an Initial Case Management Conference ("ICMC"). ICMC’s are aimed at trying to expedite the processing of divorce cases, and minimizing conflict and the expense associated when parties quickly resort to litigating (resorting to the lawyers and the courts to decide disputes) all issues. As soon as a party files the petition or answer with the court, your matter will be assigned to one judge or referee, who in many counties will be responsible for all aspects of your case until its conclusion. Typically within thirty days thereafter, the court will schedule the ICMC. Both lawyers and both parties must appear, and the vast majority of judges and referees (judicial officers) will not allow any motions, including temporary motions, to be filed until the ICMC takes place.
When the respondent is served in another state, a separate child support proceeding can be started with the help of the county support enforcement agency and the county attorney. In this proceeding, the Minnesota court tells the court in the other state that a parent who lives in the other state owes child support. Please see our booklet Child Support Basics for more information.
A custody determination basically comes down to figuring out how the children’s time will be divided between the parents, and how decisions will be made. If you and your spouse can reach an agreement, it will be accepted by the judge unless it is not to be in the child’s best interest. If you cannot reach a custody agreement, Minnesota child custody law provides for the judge to decide the issue, after considering the following factors:
A spouse is not liable to (responsible for paying) creditors for debts of the other spouse except for necessary medical expenses and household articles and supplies used by the family while the spouses live together. A spouse is liable for credit card and other charges by the other spouse if both had agreed to be responsible to the creditor. A spouse may also be liable for credit card debt if that spouse has used the card in the past. Either spouse may close a joint credit card account at any time. In some cases, it may be wise to cancel credit cards immediately.