Deciding that you need to file for divorce is one thing; actually starting a divorce takes the decision from the realm of intention into the real world. Having to navigate the legal process would be intimidating, even without the painful and difficult circumstances. Knowing what you're likely to face can make the process a little bit easier.
In Minnesota, a divorce is typically commenced with service of a Summons and Petition for Dissolution of Marriage upon the other spouse. The document sets forth the basic terms that you are seeking in the proceeding. It can be served on your spouse by any adult person other than you. The person who serves your spouse will sign an Affidavit of Service indicating when and where your spouse was served. If you do not wish to have your spouse served, he or she can instead sign an Acknowledgment of Service before a notary public, recognizing that he or she received the Summons and Petition. One final option is to execute a Joint Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. A Joint Petition is signed by both parties and does not have to be served on either person. Joint Petitions are typically used in Collaborative Divorce cases.
If your spouse is served or signs an Acknowledgment of Service, he or she will have 30 days to respond to the Summons and Petition. If your spouse does not respond within the time allowed, you may ask the Court to proceed by default against him or her and grant each of your requests in your Petition. If your spouse does respond, he or she will answer your allegations and can ask for the relief he or she is seeking.
Once your spouse is served, you may choose to file your case with the Court. In that event, the court will send out a Notice of Court Assignment and set an Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC). The ICMC is a meeting with your judge to identify the disputed issues in your case, and what you are going to do to resolve them. Options for resolving your case include direct negotiations, mediation, SENE / FENE and similar processes. If you and your spouse are not able to reach agreements on all the issues of your divorce despite concerted efforts, the court will issue a scheduling order setting forth deadlines and other important dates for the remainder of your case.
At this point you will also conduct what is called, “discovery.” Discovery gives you access to information needed to settle your case or prepare for trial. It used to be that parties would serve each other with formal requests for information and documentation. Now, it is more common to make discovery requests via written letter and to respond to the requests informally.
Very few Minnesota divorce cases — perhaps less than 5% — actually end in a trial. Most settle earlier in the process or leading up to trial. This is in part because trials are expensive and it is often not in a couple's best financial interest to engage in a lengthy court battle. It is also because parties who settle their cases prior to trial are much less likely to engage in ongoing litigation post-divorce.
Divorce involves legal and financial components, but it is also a highly emotional process. After all, your life will be changed significantly and it can be hard to remain objective and negotiate effectively. Stress can generate hostility, which leads to fights and mistrust between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse. This creates more stress, making resolution difficult. This is just one of the reasons it is important to have a good attorney help you navigate your divorce. An experienced Minnesota family law attorney will be familiar with the courts and legal process, making sure things get done right the first time. An attorney knows Minnesota law, and can advise you of your rights and whether a proposed settlement is a good one.
To learn more about the Minnesota divorce process, and how having the support of a family law attorney can help you, we invite you to contact Bloch and Whitehouse, P.A. at (952) 224-9977 to schedule a free initial consultation.