Divorce in Minnesota

Divorce in Minnesota Shoreline
Minnesota Shoreline

Divorce in Minnesota: The Process

The divorce process in Minnesota can be longer and more drawn out than the outline provided below.  A divorce can be especially difficult if spouses are in strong disagreement and/or there are multiple and complicated issues.  However, the sections below provide a rough outline of the major steps in the divorce process.

The Divorce Starts

A contested divorce in Minnesota starts when one party serves summons and petition.  These are the pleadings.  They are formal legal documents.

The petitioner is the serving spouseThe respondent is the spouse served. “Served” means that these documents have been delivered by someone who is at least 18 years of age and is not the petitioner. Therefore, a divorce officially starts when one spouse is served the divorce pleadings. 

The respondent then has 30 days to serve an answer on the petitioner.  The answer is a formal legal document which tells the Court the respondent’s facts and requests.

Both spouses also need to file their pleadings with the Court.  This tells the Court that there’s a case before it.  As an aside, it’s generally not true that the spouse who files first is at an advantage in the divorce. 

Once Divorce is Filed with the Court

When a divorce is filed, the Court then schedules an Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC). In most cases the ICMC occurs within a month of this first filing.

The ICMC is an informal meeting.  The Judge talks with the parties, encourages settlement and helps the parties plan out the remainder of the case. Also, the Judge can order procedures to help evaluate custody issues or alternative ways to work out disagreements.  These are types of alternative dispute resolution.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

With alternative dispute resolution (ADR) the parties try to resolve whatever disagreements they have. Mediation is a well-known example of ADR.  If the couple can solve all their issues, these can be put into an agreement and submitted to the Judge. A complete stipulation signed by a Judge ends the divorce process.  However, if the couple cannot reach a settlement during mediation, the divorce process continues. 

After trying ADR and perhaps after going through a temporary hearing, the case will move towards a pre-trial conference.

Motion Hearing / Temporary Hearing

In some cases, the couple needs to the Court to decide issues, like parenting time, child support, or temporary spousal maintenance, while the divorce is pending.  

In those situations, the parties request a motion hearing.  However, motion hearings can be expensive and are often avoided for that reason.  Motion hearings are not a necessary part of the divorce process.


The pre-trial conference helps the Judge identify what issues the parties still disagree on, provides another opportunity to settle, and determines the trial logistics.

The parties can still reach an agreement at the pre-trial conference and therefore, avoid a trial.  In addition, after the pre-trial the parties can still work to settle all issues before a trial.


Less than 10% of Minnesota divorces make it this far.  As trials are costly, this is a good thing for spouses.  However if a trial is needed, the Judge will review the case thoroughly and eventually sign off on an order which then becomes the divorce decree. When the Court files the decree, after a stipulation or trial, the couple is divorced.

Typical Issues

The divorce process in Minnesota can be complicated. The following questions are typical issues during that process:

Child Custody, child Support, and Domestic Issues
  • Child Support: Who pays? What amount?
  • College Savings: Who contributes and in what amounts?
  • Child Custody: Where will the children live? Who gets to make decisions about the kids?
  • Taxes: Who claims the children on their tax returns?
  • Parenting Time: Who gets to be with the children and when? What will major holidays look like after the divorce or separation?
  • Domestic Abuse: What happens if there’s domestic violence or threat of domestic violence?
Financial issues
  • Spousal Maintenance: Will one spouse have to pay the other spouse maintenance? If so, how much and for how long?
  • Property: Who gets to stay in the family house? What if the house is underwater? What about a vacation home or condo?  Cabin up north?
  • Marital Assets: How will assets be divided? Who gets what? What if it was a gift or given by a will?
  • Debts: How will debts be split up? Does it matter who took them on or who benefited from them? 
  • Business: How will business interests be divided?
  • Insurance: What kinds and amounts of insurance will protect the interests of the parties, including the children and who pays for it?
  • Retirement Accounts and Pensions: How will retirement assets be divided?  Do pensions count and how are they divided?

For other divorce or family law questions, please consult the list to the left or the FAQ page.  If you’re interested in retaining an attorney to help you, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation using the contact information on the left or the contact form on the Majeski Law home page.