Take A Tour Of The Process

Consulting with an attorney and providing pertinent documentation.

If you are contemplating a divorce, it is a good idea to consult with an experienced family law attorney as this is an opportunity to tell your story and obtain advice about your legal options.  If you decide to retain an attorney, you will be asked to provide a comprehensive picture of your marital estate, such as a list of assets (homes, retirement, etc.), with current values, a list of debts (both individual and joint), your income and that of your spouse as well as a list of current monthly living expenses. It is important to know this information and have access to it as you will be required to provide supporting documentation to the opposing attorney as well as the court.   Even if you end up in mediation and never go to court, you will still need to have this information readily available.  It is a good idea to have monthly statements for all of your joint and individual accounts and ideally you will have these statements for several years as there may be issues regarding premarital property or property owned by one or both of the parties before marriage.

How is a divorce initiated?

In Minnesota a divorce is commenced by service of a Summons and Petition for Dissolution of Marriage from the Petitioner (the spouse initiating the divorce) to the Respondent (the spouse responding).  For purposes of the actual case, it does not matter to the court who is who.

Once the Summons and Petition have been served, the Respondent has 30 days to respond.  It is during this time that most responding parties will retain an attorney and the attorney is then responsible for ensuring that the response is timely.  However, it is not required that a Respondent have an attorney.  Some people attempt to represent themselves or if the issues are not too complicated and can be easily resolved, it is possible to use one attorney to draft the divorce papers, although it is very important for the Respondent too understand that the Petitioner’s attorney cannot represent both parties. Therefore, if you are in that position and have any doubt as to whether the agreement that has been reached is truly in your best interests, you should consult your own attorney as only that person will fully advocate for your rights.

If you are not already separated from your spouse at the time the Summons is served, this can be a very difficult time.  At some point, the decision will have to be made who will move out and what will happen when they do move out.  Couples are understandably very concerned about how the bills will get paid and what will happen to the children, if there are any.

What if my spouse has moved out and refuses to pay support or help with any of the bills?

If the parties are unable to work out a resolution while the divorce is pending, either through the exchange of information and negotiation between attorneys, mediation or some other alternative, there is the option of filing a temporary motion.  In a temporary motion, the court can order temporary custody, parenting time, child support, spousal maintenance and any other related matters.  Although this is an option, it is always best to try and resolve these matters without the need for court intervention as filing a temporary motion in the midst of a divorce adds substantial cost to the overall expense.

What if my spouse and I cannot agree about custody?

Custody is one of the most litigated issues in a divorce.  Whereas, bank accounts and retirement accounts can easily be divided, children cannot. Parents will have to learn to deal with the fact that there will be many times and holidays when children are in the care of the other parent and children will have to deal with the fact that their family will never be the same again.  Despite the fact that the first response in a custody dispute is often to fight to the end, that is not necessarily what is in the best interests of the children or the parents.  Any judge will tell you that the best people to make decisions about the future living arrangements for children are the parents, not someone who knows little to nothing about your family.

If you find yourself at an impasse, there are several good tools available to assist you.  In most of the metro area counties, there is now a program called the Social Early Neutral Evaluation (SENE).  This program is completely voluntary and is offered early on in the divorce process.  For example, in Hennepin County the parties sit down with two evaluators, one male and one female, along with their attorneys and try and reach an agreement.  The evaluators listen to each parent’s side, ask questions and after several hours, offer a recommendation.   Neither party is required to accept the recommendation but it is based on the facts that have been presented and how those facts would be applied to the best interests of the child if the case went on to a full custody evaluation or a court trial. The program has a high success rate and is worth participating in as it gives both parties a better perspective on what is entailed in making a custody determination.

If you cannot come to an agreement at the SENE then you are possibly looking at a full custody evaluation which can take up to four months and if you still don’t agree after getting an evaluator’s recommendation, the next step is trial.

What if I need financial and/or income information and documents from my spouse and he/she will not give it to me?

Through a process called “discovery” both parties are required to turn over all documents pertaining to anything relevant in the divorce process.  These documents can be anything from income information, tax returns, credit card statements, banks statements and retirement account statements.  It is only through a thorough review and analysis of this information from both parties that a fair and accurate settlement can be reached.  While most discovery can be exchanged informally between attorneys, if information is not disclosed, there are  ways of ensuring that the information is obtained such as formal discovery exchange, depositions, and subpoenas.

What happens after we reach an agreement?

Your attorney or the attorney for your spouse will draft a Stipulated Decree or Marital Termination Agreement which will have to be approved and signed by both parties and their attorneys.  This agreement will then be submitted to the court and will need to be approved by a judge before it can be filed and entered.  Once that happens, you are officially divorced.  On average, the time from beginning to end is between six and twelve months.