Filing a divorce in Minnesota can seem overwhelming. There are documents to file, deadlines to consider, and payments to allocate. On top of these issues, there is the emotional component of uncoupling from a former spouse. Other individuals face higher challenges in the form of domestic abuse.
Divorces are difficult affairs. But know that other people undergo the process as well. Minnesota has a divorce rate of 6.1 in 2021. This number is lower than the national rate of 6.9.
The reasons for dissolving marriages vary. One of the common grounds for ending a marriage is adultery. Indeed, some cities in Minnesota stand out in this regard. Minneapolis and St. Paul were ranked sixth and ninth, respectively, by the online dating service Ashley Madison, with the highest incidence of infidelity in the country.
Another reason for ending a marriage is domestic violence. Around 33% of women and 25% of men in Minnesota experience abuse or stalking from their partners in their lifetime. Approximately 13 calls are received by local domestic violence hotlines every minute.
Given these troubling statistics, learning how divorce works in Minnesota is crucial. This article provides an overview of the state’s no-fault system. It also outlines the steps to finalize divorces in uncontested or contested settings. Additionally, the article includes a list of resources one can view to help them recover from the emotional and financial aspects of divorce.
Is Minnesota a No-fault State When It Comes to Divorce?
Yes. Minnesota is one of the 17 states in the country considered a true no-fault state. In other words, the North Star State does not require the spouse to prove that their ex-partner did some wrongdoing to end the marriage. One party or both individuals can claim that their marriage is irretrievably broken to obtain a divorce.
Unlike at-fault states, a divorce in a no-fault state is relatively straightforward to finalize. A person in an at-fault state like South Dakota, for instance, needs to prove that the partner cheated or was convicted of a felony to obtain a divorce.
How to File for Divorce in Minnesota
The process for starting the divorce process in Minnesota depends on whether the parties agree or disagree on marital issues. Couples with the same opinion over areas like child support and alimony face fewer requirements than those who dispute these areas. Knowing these requirements can minimize the stress someone experiences in a process known for its emotionality. A skilled lawyer may also further decrease the obstacles someone faces through advice on accomplishing the steps necessary throughout the divorce process.
Steps in the Uncontested Divorce Process
An uncontested divorce refers to proceedings wherein both parties see eye to eye on all legal issues. Inherently, the steps required to complete an uncontested divorce are fewer than those in contested proceedings.
1. Summons and Petition
One spouse must fill out and file a Summons and Petition for Dissolution of Marriage to the applicable court. The individual, also known as the petitioner, must also serve these documents to their ex-spouse or the respondent. The Summons refers to the document requiring the person served to answer the Petition within 30 days. On the other hand, the Petition is the document that exhibits the issues both parties agreed to resolve.
Minnesota law requires a third party who is at least 18 to serve these documents to the ex-partner. The person delivering these papers must also not be associated with the case. Note that some sheriff’s departments offer these services and charge fees for them. For example, the sheriff’s office in Hennepin County collects an $80 fee for the service. Individuals who served the other party need to sign an Affidavit of Service as proof that the papers were handed.
If both parties agree to all marital issues, they can submit an agreement to the court. The filing costs for these vary per county. Minnesota has a base fee of $365. However, residents in Minneapolis and the rest of Hennepin County must pay $375. The number goes up to $380 for those who reside in the state capital, St. Paul, and other cities or towns in Ramsey County.
3. Final Hearing
A final hearing is held if necessary. These proceedings occur within two to three months of filing the agreement. The purpose of the final hearing is for the judge to determine whether the agreement is in the children's best interests. If the separating couple does not have kids, the judge may only order a hearing if the agreement is against the interests of justice.
4. Judgement and Decree
Finally, the court issues a Judgment and Decree. This document contains the final decision on the issues presented by the divorcing partners. It addresses areas like child custody and support, property division, and spousal maintenance.
Steps in the Contested Divorce Process
In many cases, both parties disagree on multiple issues, including child support obligations, alimony payments, and time-sharing agreements. The process to resolve these, therefore, takes a longer time. Some disputes require additional proceedings to resolve. One example is child custody. If both parents are fighting for the right to make choices regarding the child’s day-to-day activities, a court-ordered custody evaluation needs to occur.
1. Summons, Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage, and Financial Affidavit
One spouse must complete the Summons, Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage, and a Financial Affidavit. These documents need to be filed with the applicable court. They also must be served to the ex-spouse. The Financial Affidavit aims to help courts calculate child support payments through the parents’ income information. This document must include proof of income, including income tax returns and pay stubs.
The fee for filing these documents, similar to uncontested divorces, varies per county.
2. Answer and Counter-Petition
The individual being served can then respond to their ex-spouse through an Answer and Counter-Petition. The Answer refers to the document that shows the respondent's position on the issues in the petition. Meanwhile, the Counter-Petition specifies what issues they want the applicable court to decide on. These documents must be submitted to the petitioner after 30 days of receipt.
3. Initial Case Management Conference or Scheduling Conference
The court may order both parties to appear before an Initial Case Management Conference or ICMC. Essentially, both parties and their lawyers have an informal meeting with the judge. This meeting is an opportunity that allows the parties to speak freely and deal with as many issues as they can. The conference takes place three to four weeks after the divorce papers were filed in court.
In some counties, ICMCs are not used. Instead, courts arrange for a Scheduling Conference. Each party needs to file a Scheduling Statement 60 days after their case has been entered into the court. It will then provide a Scheduling Statement with deadlines for both parties.
4. Alternative Dispute Resolution
Courts can order both parties to attend Alternative Dispute Resolution or ADR programs in cases involving disagreements over parenting time or child custody. These include:
Mediation. Both parties attempt to resolve disputes with the help of a neutral third person or mediator.
Early Neutral Evaluation or ENE. This pertains to the process that takes place outside of formal court settings. Courts may order both parties to undergo a Financial ENE. The ex-spouses can figure out payments related to alimony and child support through the assistance of a neutral third evaluator, like an accountant. For parenting time or child custody cases, courts may require the parties to go through a Social ENE. Two neutral evaluators, including psychologists, aid the ex-spouses in coming to terms with their issues.
Note that the way fees are calculated for these evaluators differs per county. For instance, parties represented by attorneys in Hennepin County need to pay half the hourly rate for legal services to the SENE evaluator. On the other hand, the counties of Chisago, Isanti, Kanabec, and Pine mandate parties to pay $350 for the first three hours in an ENE session to their chosen evaluators.
An individual can choose not to attend ADR programs. They may feel scared of their ex-spouse or anxious that the other party might be dishonest.
5. Motion for Temporary Relief
A motion is defined as the request an individual files with the court, specifying the desired temporary relief. Relief is another term that means a court’s decision. Essentially, a motion for temporary relief is a written request to the court to resolve conflicts over various matters between the time divorce is started and finalized. These disputes are settled through a hearing. A party may file such motions to temporarily:
Restrain the movement of a child out of Minnesota;
Exclude a spouse from the marital property;
Use joint assets like cars.
An individual seeking to file temporary relief motions pays the required filing fees, serves a copy of applicable documents to their ex-partners, and files these with the court for a minimum of 21 days before the hearing. The costs for filing motions differ depending on the nature of the relief requested. To put it differently, it takes $75 to submit a motion for child protection. Minnesota courts, meanwhile, may impose zero fees for motions submitted by petitioners in domestic abuse cases.
6. Custody Evaluation and Discovery and Investigation of Guardian ad Litem
Courts may order both parties to undergo custody evaluations in situations involving disagreements over child custody. This assessment is performed by an evaluator. The individual investigates whether each parent can take care of the child.
The cost of a custody evaluation in Minnesota ranges from $5,000 to over $15,000. It can take at least 120 days for the assessment to be completed.
7. Pre-trial Conference
Courts may set a conference before a trial to help both parties settle their disagreements and avoid litigation proceedings. This meeting is also used by courts to determine the amount of time necessary for the trial. Pre-trial proceedings typically take place as close to the time before the actual trial as possible, given the circumstances.
A week before the conference, each parent must serve and file a Parenting Financial Disclosure Statement. The document must be attached with various information, including the three latest pay stubs for employed parents or receipts and expense statements from self-employed individuals. It should also contain other paperwork that shows the parent’s income.
The court issues a Trial Order before the litigation proceedings. This document provides details to both parties about the trial. The information included in the Trial Order consists of the date of the trial, how long it lasts, and when to exchange exhibits.
Exhibits refer to evidence that supports relief requests. For example, to back the request for higher child support payments, parents can show their monthly income or their child’s medical records.
8. Judgement and Decree
Judges have 90 days to decide on a divorce case. Once they issue the Judgement and Decree, the divorce is finalized. Copies of the decision are sent to both parties.
How Property Is Divided in a Minnesota Divorce
Under Minnesota divorce laws, marital assets are to be divided in a just and equitable way. Properties earned or acquired during the course of a marriage, like retirement investments and pension funds, are what constitute marital assets.
Courts assess multiple factors to determine how property is allocated between spouses. These include:
Prior marriages, if any;
Age of a party;
Sources of income.
Courts will also consider how each spouse contributed to the acquisition, preservation, appreciation, or depreciation of marital properties. How homemakers contribute to the value of joint properties will also be assessed.
Similarly, marital debts may also be divided among the spouses. Judges, though, can decide to order only the debtor to pay their liability if the money from the debt only benefits them.
Note that non-marital properties are separate from marital assets and are not part of the property division process. Assets received as inheritance by one spouse or excluded from a prenuptial agreement are not considered non-marital properties. If the court believes one spouse will work an unfair hardship without financial assistance, non-marital properties may be divided. These are often given to spouses who contributed to the marriage as stay-at-home parents.
Incidentally, Minnesota considers pets property. Owners who brought the animal into the marriage or received it as a gift in their name have a higher likelihood of owning it outright.
Minnesota Divorce FAQs
Here are the common questions Minnesota couples ask as part of the divorce process. These queries help individuals clarify how the state treats certain cases.
Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in Minnesota
Filing for divorce in Minnesota is a daunting task. There are multiple guidelines to follow, deadlines to watch out for, and a range of factors to consider. Fortunately, residents in the North Star State can obtain guidance from government agencies and volunteer organizations. One can find below a list of groups that assist individuals seeking to resolve their divorce-related concerns.
This department provides services that enable residents to live as independently as they can. One of the ways the department helps individuals going through divorce is through various child support services. These include parent location, enforcement of court orders to obtain medical care benefits for the child, and collection of support payments. It has experience assisting various individuals, from alleged fathers of minor children to parents who receive child support payments. One can also request the department provide private information about a child support case to third parties like ex-partners, relatives, or attorneys. The department may be reached at 651-431-4400 or via email at DHS.MNCSEFT@state.mn.us.
The office oversees the Minnesota Crime Victims Reimbursement Program. Victims of kidnapping, domestic abuse, and stalking may obtain compensation for a variety of expenses. These range from childcare services and counseling bills to burial costs and lost wages. Note that the reimbursement program only covers costs not compensated by other sources like insurance policies and charity initiatives. Likewise, no victim can recover reparations for pain and suffering. One can access the brochure online. Besides English, the document is translated and available in Spanish, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong, and Somali. One may also reach the office at 1-888-622-8799 or 651-201-7300. In addition, it can be contacted through email at email@example.com.
This nonprofit organization helps thousands of clients in Minnesota annually on issues related to housing, employment, and immigration. It also advocates for survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence. To help individuals resolve their family law issues, the organization maintains an office in The Family Justice Center at 110 S. Fourth St., Minneapolis. It also has an office at the Hennepin County Government Center at 300 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis. Additionally, one may reach the organization through their intake line at 612-752-6677. The number is open Monday through Thursday, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Another way someone can reach the organization is through an online intake form.
Cornerstone MN provides crisis support and emergency shelters for women and gender non-conforming adults who find themselves victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse. It is accessible to individuals 24/7. Advocates working for the organization assist victims with concerns related to school supplies, transportation, toiletries, and meals. Besides these, the staff helps people through financial planning workshops, therapy sessions, and parenting services for kids. There are staff members who know American Sign Language. One can contact the organization by calling 952-884-0376. Meanwhile, the 24/7 crisis line is 952-884-0330. An individual may also text the organization at 612-399-9995.
This nonprofit organization aims to improve the financial health of low and moderate-income Minnesota residents. Around 550 volunteers help individuals, like those undergoing divorce, in various areas, including tax preparation and credit card management. The organization also provides financial counseling services and helps individuals worried about various issues, from property foreclosures to student loans. Divorced individuals who are self-employed can also access a tax prep clinic that helps organize business expenses. One can reach the organization through a call at 651-287-0187 or an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. An individual may also access educational resources online to learn more about topics like savings bonds.
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