Divorce Basics: What to Expect

Here’s a heads-up on the basic steps in a divorce in Minnesota.  Tomorrow I’ll post on  how to speed up a divorce (and save money) and what might slow a divorce down (and cost money).

The Petition:

In Minnesota, lawsuits are generally initiated by serving the other party with a Summons and a Complaint.  In a divorce a “Complaint” is called a “Petition.”  Minnesota is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that your Petition will state that there has been an “irretrievable breakdown in the marriage” but not otherwise address who did what to whom.  The Petition will state the spouses’ names, that you have lived in Minnesota for the requisite amount of time to divorce here, that you’re not currently getting divorced somewhere else, and as many details about how you foresee the outcome of the divorce as you wish to address at that time.  The issues that are often addressed, in more or less detail, are money (including real estate and future payments such as child support or maintenance) and children (including custody and parenting time).

The Answer:

Once the spouse has been served, he or she has 30 days to serve an Answer. The Answer can state the statutory basics (names, residence, “irretrievable breakdown”) or it can dispute any or all of the Petition’s allegations of how custody should be determined and money distributed.

Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC):

Shortly after a party files the divorce papers with the court, the judge will hold an ICMC to determine how many issues there are, how complicated they are, what the parties can agree on, and how long the whole matter is likely to take.  ICMCs usually take place between three and four weeks after a divorce is filed with the court.  The judge will also likely “strongly suggest” some sort of ENE (Early Neutral Evaluation), whether that’s financial (FENE) or “social” (SENE), the latter being about custody and parenting time.

Temporary Order:

At any point after filing, either party can file a motion for a Temporary Order which will temporarily determine how custody / parenting time, child support, maintenance, and other issues will be handled throughout the pendency of the divorce action.  This gives the spouses direction for carrying on with their lives while the divorce works its way through the court.

Discovery [there be monsters here]:

If you need to engage in full-blown discovery, this can take forever (months, even years) and include oral depositions under oath and with a court reporter, demands that documents be produced, and demands that questions be answered in writing, also under oath.  How long this takes depends entirely on how confident you are that the other party is or is not hiding things (including assets, debts, wrong-doing that affects the finances or children). If the spouses have fully shared all such information, discovery can be handled informally and merely require an exchange of letters.


At any point any or all of these issues can be settled by agreement.  You and your spouse can agree over coffee then tell the attorneys about it.  Or you, your spouse, and the two attorneys can hammer out an agreement in a conference room setting.  Either way, the attorneys write up any agreement as a “Stipulation” which the parties and the judge sign.    This can be done piecemeal if you come to an agreement about the disposition of the house immediately and work out maintenance later, for example, or the parties can enter into a stipulation that resolves all issues and precludes the need for any trial.


Any issues that have not been resolved by agreement will be tried before a judge. The possible issues are, writ large, custody, property (including money), child support, and maintenance.  Each side will present their arguments in front of a judge with witnesses and exhibits as necessary to prove, for example, that the other spouse is really earning more than his or her 1099s reveal and so he or she can afford to pay more child support.

Before you hire an attorney, know what the broad outlines of a divorce look like.  Be prepared to discuss how the attorney can save time and money while not cutting corners.  Litigation (as opposed to stipulation and agreement) transfers a family’s wealth not to each other or to the children, but to the attorneys.

Call the Barry S. Edwards Law Office at 612-310-7398

to talk about the options for your divorce.


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