Janet L. Goehle, Attorney at Law
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Divorce without an attorney is not necessarily faster or smarter

It is understandable that once a decision is made to divorce, some people want the process to go as fast as possible so to move on with life. However, as the Minnesota Judicial Branch website reports, divorce in Minnesota is "a lot more complicated than getting married," sometimes taking several months to complete.

One misconception is that trying to go through the Minnesota process of divorce without an attorney will be quicker. For one thing, Minnesota law has specific court pleadings and other official documents that must be drafted, filed and served on the other spouse. These procedural requirements normally have required deadlines for taking action.

If a deadline is missed or a document is not properly written, filed or served, there may be seriously negative legal repercussions on the responsible party, who will be lucky if the judge or court clerk will allow it to be done over until it is done correctly.

Most people do not know the legal issues they must resolve in divorce or if they do, whether Minnesota law sets any parameters. Those issues can include:

  • Child custody, legal and physical
  • Visitation or parenting time
  • Child support
  • Alimony or spousal maintenance
  • Division of property
  • Division of debts

It is usually in the best interest of divorcing parties from an emotional standpoint to try to negotiate the terms of their divorce, rather than having the judge who does not know them personally make those decisions in a trial. Assuming the two can hammer out an agreement, it must then be drafted into a legal document for submission to the judge for approval.

If a settlement cannot be reached, the matter goes to trial, something most people are not prepared to handle without legal counsel to help protect their rights, educate them about the law, present evidence and advocate on their behalves. Should the disputed issues turn into a long court battle, not only will the time involved stretch out longer, but also it will be emotionally difficult for the parties and for their children.

An experienced family lawyer will know how to efficiently and correctly handle the procedural and legal responsibilities associated with the divorce proceedings. Many attorneys regularly assist their clients in the divorce negotiation process, including in alternative resolution methods involving neutral third parties like mediation or the use of an Early Neutral Evaluator, Parenting Consultant or Parenting Time Expediter to help with resolution of child custody and parenting time issues.

A divorce lawyer can provide valuable information about applicable Minnesota law and how a judge is likely to rule on a particular issue. These insights are helpful in making decisions in negotiation.

When the parties' property and assets are extensive or complicated, the attorney can bring in experts as needed for valuation purposes. Such assets may include retirement benefits, family businesses, professional practices, stocks and bonds, real estate, mutual funds and other investments, luxury items like boats, antiques and collectibles, and similar assets. Legal counsel will see that titles to such assets are property transferred upon resolution.

For these and many other reasons, a Minnesotan facing divorce should seriously consider consulting with legal counsel before embarking on the process alone.

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