There are several important steps that must be taken in order to get a divorce – or what in legal terminology is referred to as “a dissolution of marriage.” The first step in obtaining a divorce in Minnesota is to inform your spouse of your intention to seek a divorce, either formally or informally. To formally notify your spouse of your intentions, you must serve your spouse with a Summons and Petition for a Marriage Dissolution.
Petitioning for a Divorce and Serving a Summons
Petitioning for a divorce and serving a summons are the first formal steps in the divorce process. A petition is a document prepared by the spouse who is petitioning for the divorce (Petitioner) that gives basic facts about the petitioner and his or her family and specifies what the petitioner is seeking from the other spouse (Respondent) through the divorce, such as child support, custody of the children, spousal maintenance, etc.
A summons is served along with the petition and is the formal notice of the beginning of the divorce process. Sometimes a summons will include a 30-day deadline for the other spouse to respond to the petition. The summons will also contain a restraining order that retrains the parties from selling or encumbering assets, or spending down assets other than in the ordinary course of supporting themselves. The restraining order also restrains the parties from terminating or changing the beneficiary on any insurance coverage in effect. In formal circumstances, both the petition and the summons are delivered to your spouse by a process server, while in informal proceedings these can be mailed along with an Admission of Service document. If you have decided upon a divorce or have been served a summons, it is important that you consult with your attorney right away to ensure that you are fairly represented throughout the divorce process.
Filing for Divorce
After a petition and a summons have been served, the next step in the divorce process is for the couple to formally file for divorce. To do so, you must file the summons and petition with the Court Administrator in your county and state of residence. In Minnesota you or your spouse must have resided in Minnesota for at least six months before filing for divorce. You may decide to delay filing for divorce as you attempt to work out the issues of your divorce outside of court, but you must eventually file with the court in order for the court to approve your final divorce papers.
Resolving the Divorce Issues
After filing for divorce, you and your spouse must reach an agreement about issues such as the division of marital property, child custody,visitation, and support (if applicable), and spousal maintenance, among other issues. Working with an attorney who will serve as your advocate throughout this process is vital in obtaining a just and equitable settlement.
The first step to reaching an agreement is going through a process called discovery where you and your spouse gather all of the necessary information to negotiate the issues. The discovery process can be done formally or informally. The informal method involves gathering information with your spouse or through the attorney via letters and phone calls, while the formal process involves asking and answering, under oath, written requests from the other party for information. The parties may also engage experts, either jointly or individually, who help determine divorce issues such as property division and child custody.
After the necessary information has been gathered, you and your spouse, along with your lawyers, will attempt to reach an agreement by determining how best to split your marital assets and arrange custody. The process of reaching an agreement can take a very short amount of time, but can also be quite lengthy depending on the complexity of the case and how willing each party is to compromise.
After negotiating the issues with your spouse and his or her attorney, the divorce will either go to trial or end in an agreement. While it is preferable to reach an agreement with your spouse out of court, it is important that your attorney is not afraid of litigation or you may feel pressured into accepting an agreement that is not equitable or desirable.
If you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement, your case will proceed to a full trial, involving the presentation of witnesses, evidence and testimony. Upon hearing the evidence, a judge will determine the details of your case and issue the final divorce decree.
Temporary agreements are often put in place during the sometimes lengthy process of reaching an agreement while you and your spouse work toward a final agreement. Temporary agreements may be formally drafted into stipulations or court orders, and provide you and your family a sense of normalcy and stability during the divorce process.
Permanent Agreement – the Divorce
A permanent agreement allows you to finally and formally attain your divorce, and is formally referred to as a Marital Termination Agreement. The Marital Termination Agreement describes everything relating to the divorce in detail, including property division, custody, visitation stipulations, and the details of child support and spousal maintenance, etc. The Marital Termination Agreement must be signed by both parties and is not final until the Court approves it with a divorce decree. If the two parties cannot reach an agreement, then the case will go to trial where a judge determines the issues presented at trial, and issues a judgment and decree.
After the Divorce
Sometimes, agreements made during the divorce must be revisited at a later date due to changes in circumstances (such as income levels, relocation of one spouse, untenable visitation agreements, etc.). In these instances, it may be necessary to seek a modification or enforcement of the original agreement.
In addition, if there were legal errors or erroneous omissions of evidence in the original case, you or your spouse may decide to file an appeal. An appeal is not a re-trial of the original case, but is rather a re-examination of the original case to determine if an error was made in the original judgment. However, most divorce cases end after the final divorce decree and allow both parties to move on with their lives – hopefully with a just and equitable divorce behind them.