Minnesota law sets up the divorce process to be fluid and versatile. This means the specific divorce process ultimately depends on how the parties want to approach it. There are a few stops, though, that are common in every divorce.
Never Having to Go to Court
Some divorces never see the inside of the Courtroom. Minnesota law states that the divorce process is commenced when one party serves a Summons and Petition for Dissolution. The law does not require that you immediately go to Court after this occurs. Rather, once the Summons and Petition for Dissolution are served, you are officially in the divorce process without ever filing your paperwork with the Court. The law is presumably set up this way to allow parties to work out the final terms of their divorce on their own and without the Court’s intervention.
If you can work out the terms of your divorce, the terms must be set forth in a Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment, and Judgment and Decree. In other words, the terms have to be placed in a Court Order for the Court to approve and sign. The Court can approve of the Order without you ever showing up to Court IF certain conditions are met. The common conditions where this occurs are:
- There are no minor children of the marriage AND the parties have entered into a written agreement; OR
- If there are minor children of the marriage, the parties have signed and acknowledged an agreement, and all parties are represented by attorneys.
If your divorce does not meet either of those conditions, you are guaranteed to head to Court at least once. The Court may still want to hold a hearing even if you meet the conditions above.
If you can’t agree or opt to get the Court involved before attempting to negotiate a settlement, you will be called into Court for the first hearing.
The First Hearing: Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC)
If you file your Summons and Petition for Dissolution with the Court, the Court will schedule an ICMC. In some Minnesota counties, the Courts hold a Scheduling Hearing or Scheduling Conference instead of an ICMC. The point of these hearings is the same. You will tell the Court where your case is heading.
Ultimately, the first hearing is the opportunity to give the Court a roadmap of how you want the case to move forward. The Court does not make any decisions of substance (determining custody for example) at this hearing. Once the Court understands the roadmap, the Court will issue an Order solidifying the roadmap and sending you on your way. This roadmap can include requiring the parties to exchange documents or to attend mediation.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
The Courts will expect you to make an effort to settle your case or at least part of it. Your divorce will likely head to one of the several ADR processes. The most common are: mediation, Social Early Neutral Evaluation (SENE), or Financial Early Neutral Evaluation (FENE). Those processes are discussed more fully here (mediation)and here (ENE Processes).
If you cannot settle the case, you will head to trial.
Trial is a long and arduous process. Typically, you will go to trial one (year) after your divorce begins. You will be required to prove your case at the trial, meaning you will have to convince the Court your position is right. In doing this, you will be required to submit evidence (e.g., bank records, emails, etc.). You will also testify before the Court. You have the option to call witnesses to provide testimony to the Court too. The length of the trial depends on the complexity of the issues before the Court. In some cases, trial lasts only one (1) full day and, in other cases, trial can last one (1) full week. After the Judge hears all the evidence/testimony and the trial ends, the Judge has ninety (90) days to make a decision.
Trial is the last stop for your case and all cases that do not settle end at trial.
There are other hearings that your case may pass through, but that depends on your specific case. Every case plays out differently. You, your spouse, the attorneys, and the judge all have a role in guiding the direction of your case. The process can easily become overwhelming, and each stop has specific rules that you must follow. It helps to have an attorney guide you through these processes.