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?
Legally, there can be no discrimination based on the sex of the parent. For a father willing to bear the time and expense of the contest, chances for custody are more or less equal to those of the mother, all else being equal. Having said that, I do think there is some lingering bias, even though judges and custody evaluators and guardians ad litem will always deny it. Often I do not believe it even occurs on a conscious level. Yet there is a gut feeling one gets, representing a father, that the job is just a little more difficult, or representing a mother, that the job is just a little bit easier.
With respect to financial issues, this same rule applies, as modified by the additional consideration of attorney’s fees. For example, it might be very likely that the court would award you $10,000 more in assets than your spouse is proposing, but if it will cost you $20,000 in attorney’s fees to litigate over it, it doesn’t make much sense from a purely practical, financial standpoint to do so.

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).
Minnesota has a "no-fault" divorce law.  This means it is not necessary to prove your spouse is at fault for the breakup of the marriage.  It is only necessary to prove that there has been "an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship."  This means that there is no hope that the spouses will want to live together again as husband and wife.
In Minnesota, Marriage Dissolution proceedings, or divorces, are viewed as "no fault" proceedings. This means that a spouse does not have to prove the other spouse was at fault or did something wrong to cause the breakdown of the marriage to obtain a divorce. Either spouse may commence a divorce action by simply alleging that there has been "an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage relationship" - in other words, that in their opinion, the marriage is dead and there is no chance of reconciliation. If one spouse feels this way, even if the other disagrees, the court will ultimately grant the dissolution of marriage. Early in the process, if you do not believe that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, the option of marriage counseling is possible. Unfortunately, if a spouse has set their mind to divorcing the other, it is unlikely that counseling can repair the marital relationship.
What the mediator can do, though, is assist the divorcing couple in formulating ideas that can eventually lead to agreements that will stand the test of time. 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.
I have practiced family law my entire 24-year career as a litigator and a mediator. I am licensed in Minnesota, California and Colorado. After spending time in courts in 3 states, nothing surprises me anymore. I enjoy being an advocate for my clients and guiding them successfully through the legal process be it a divorce, child custody, spousal maintenance or property matters.
A question is often asked as to whether there is an advantage to being a petitioner versus a respondent. There is no real difference, except that the petitioner can obviously effect when the action is started, and sometimes, in what county. If you and your spouse separate, and your spouse moves to a different county before the action is commenced, the petitioning spouse can commence the action either in the county you reside in or the new county they have moved to. There are some perceived and actual differences as to how matters proceed, depending on which county they are "venued" (commenced) in. A second implication of being a petitioner versus a respondent is that ultimately, if the matter does proceed to trial, the petitioner is required to present his/her case first. This may have some minor implications relative to the cost of preparing for trial, especially it the matter settles before the respondent presents her/his case.
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.
This can be a very complex situation. A spouse can hide a lot of income through a business, which can greatly affect what you may be entitled to in the divorce. Further, it may not be for the best interest of both spouses if a profitable business is split up. There are many issues and pitfalls that arise when a business is involved in a divorce. You should consult with an attorney who understands both the divorce and the business issues.
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.
Decisions about spousal maintenance are often emotional and challenging. Unfortunately, MN law does not specify how to calculate a spousal maintenance obligation. Unlike child support, MN divorce laws are discretionary when it comes to spousal maintenance (alimony) stating only that many factors should be considered when determining the need for spousal maintenance as well as the amount and duration of the support. Relevant factors often include: the length of marriage, each spouse’s financially ability to be self-supporting, education and employment history, age, and the marital standard of living. Mediation encourages the use of reasonable budgets and information sharing rather than the traditional adversarial legal approach which often relies on exaggerated budgets and win-lose negotiation tactics. The creation of reasonable budgets allows you and your spouse to understand your individual financial needs as well as the financial realities of your situation. This mutual understanding is vital to the successful discussion and resolution of the spousal maintenance issue. I also utilize a specialized computer program which provides useful information about tax impacts and projected cash flow for each spouse before and after the exchange of financial support.
If you cannot afford to pay an attorney, you may be able to get assistance from the legal services office in your area. A list of the legal aid offices in Minnesota begins on the next page. You must meet low-income guidelines to be eligible for legal services (legal aid).  You may be referred to a volunteer attorney program by the legal services office.
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.
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.
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.
I have practiced family law my entire 24-year career as a litigator and a mediator. I am licensed in Minnesota, California and Colorado. After spending time in courts in 3 states, nothing surprises me anymore. I enjoy being an advocate for my clients and guiding them successfully through the legal process be it a divorce, child custody, spousal maintenance or property matters.

Mediation is confidential, allows you and your spouse to make the decisions, and is less expensive than filing a lawsuit. You can reach a positive agreement that is more customized than the one you might receive from a judge. In mediation, you are responsible for your attorney’s fees, as well as half of the mediator’s fees. In certain states, mediation is required by the court after a lawsuit has been filed; for example, North Carolina requires couples to attend mediation before a child custody trial and equitable distribution trial.
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.
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