Minnesota family law provides several forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that let you keep your divorce out of the regular court system. In divorce mediation, a neutral third party works with both of you to help you reach agreements on the important issues. Collaborative divorce involves a team of professionals, based on your needs, from multiple fields who can help you resolve your disputes and plan for your new lives in two homes. An experienced family law attorney can help you decide whether mediation or collaborative divorce would work for you.

Resolving Disputes with Divorce Mediation

Mediation is a type of ADR in which a neutral third party, known as the mediator, helps the spouses reach an agreement that settles all of the issues in the divorce. This includes questions over property division, child support, child custody, and other issues. A mediator can not provide legal advice to either spouse because they are not hired as an attorney for either of them, but as a neutral.

A person does not have to be a lawyer to serve as a mediator in Minnesota, but choosing a mediator with family law experience has significant advantages. Mediators should be a Rule 114 Qualified Neutral. They can identify important issues and help the parties come to a fair and equitable settlement. Many family lawyers provide mediation services in divorce cases.

The mediation takes place at scheduled sessions online or in person. Everything that occurs during mediation is considered confidential under state law, so that everyone may speak freely. Many people complete mediation without attorneys or consult as needed.

Both spouses can also choose to attend mediation with their attorneys together in one room to negotiate, or the mediator can act as a go-between while the spouses remain in separate rooms. The mediator’s goal is to keep the discussion focused on resolving the conflict and reaching a settlement.

Once the parties reach an agreement, the mediator can summarize the agreements into a document for everyone to sign. The parties or their attorneys then incorporate this agreement into a final decree of divorce to be submitted to court. If you have minor children, Minnesota will require one court appearance unless each spouse has an attorney signing off on the final decree.

Planning for the Future with Collaborative Divorce

The collaborative divorce process differs from divorce mediation in several important ways. Instead of a neutral mediator who works to facilitate discussion between the spouses, collaborative divorce uses a team of professionals, based on the spouses’ needs, working towards several common goals:

  • Reaching a complete agreement that both spouses can live with in a respectful manner;
  • Preparing the spouses for life after divorce; and
  • Equipping them with strategies to help them address future disputes, particularly if you have children.

The spouses work with neutral professionals or the attorneys based on the skill set of the professional that is most applicable to the issue at hand, which can be cost effective. At the center of the team are the spouses and their attorneys. The team often includes a mental health professional to assist the spouses and their children, if any, and a financial professional to help with the division of property and related issues. A divorce coach can help manage the emotional and relational dynamics that can get in the way of reaching agreements. The team is built based on the needs of the family. It is a holistic process that tends to the relational, financial and legal needs of the whole family in a cost effective way.

The collaborative team holds meetings to address important issues and help the spouses move forward towards a settlement in various configurations. Each spouse may meet separately with members of the team as needed. The goal is to be cost effective by working with the professional that can best help. So, attorneys are not at every meeting and the team works together to help your family transition to a new configuration.

Settling the divorce case is not the only goal of the collaborative process. It also looks towards the future. People who go through a collaborative divorce often find that the experience helps them better deal with possible future disputes with a former spouse, such as a disagreement related to their children. Rather than turn to the courts to resolve a dispute, they are able to use their collaborative tools to work through their differences, and the team professionals can be a resource in the future as well. Clients have confidence that they will be ok on the other side of the process because the team has provided care and attention to what the family needs.

Choosing Collaborative Divorce vs. Mediation

Both mediation and collaborative divorce allow spouses to keep the divorce process civil and put spouses in charge of the decision making, with the necessary support and resources you need. Both include professionals trained in guiding people through a difficult transition with respect and dignity. Spouses can work through the details of their divorce at their pace, without needing to follow a schedule set by a court. Your settlement will be tailored to your family’s needs and goals.

How can you decide which method would work best for you? Each method has its own advantages, depending on your circumstances.

Mediation can be fairly informal when compared to most legal proceedings. The mediator facilitates a discussion with the goal of reaching a settlement. In cases where both spouses are willing to come to the table and work something out, but need a bit of help, mediation can be very effective. It works best when there is a basic level of trust and both people feel they can speak to their needs and interests.

Collaborative divorce requires a commitment from everyone involved to work out a settlement and plan for the future by agreeing to not go to court to leverage an outcome. It works well for spouses who are willing to negotiate but want an advisor with them along the way or have more complicated issues involving their marital property, their children, or both. Many people don’t know what they don’t know and want someone to help them understand and weigh their options for settlement. The collaborative team can work with them to sort through those issues. They are working with professionals who will listen, ask thoughtful questions, and problem-solve with them to manage conflict.

Louise Livesay is a family attorney who has helped families in the Twin Cities area resolve disputes for over twenty years. She is dedicated to using Minnesota’s family laws to assist her clients in transforming their relationships. If you have questions about divorce mediation or collaborative law, please contact us today online or at (651) 964-3887.