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Alimony and alternative dispute resolution in Minnesota


Like other states, divorce litigation in Minnesota is built on an adversarial system. This means the two parties hire lawyers who file motions and make arguments, while a court makes the final decisions. If the two spouses were not angry with each other before the litigation began, they almost certainly will be before it is over.

Some of this conflict and a lot of the expense can be avoided through alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation and arbitration. These methods, which are recognized by Minnesota courts, take the divorce out of the courtroom and put more decision-making power in the hands of the parties themselves. This can be especially important for ongoing commitments between the ex-spouses such as child custody arrangements and alimony.

Also called spousal maintenance, alimony is a series of payments, usually temporary, from one ex-spouse to the other, usually for the purpose of helping one spouse until he or she can become financially independent after the divorce. In the past, alimony was almost always paid by an ex-husband to an ex-wife, but as gender roles have changed in work and home life, alimony has changed as well. Still, many Minnesotans feel that the rules of the alimony system do not reflect their personal circumstances, and lead to unfair results. When Minnesotans craft their own alimony arrangements through alternative dispute resolution methods, they often feel that the result is more fair than it would have been through litigation.

In arbitration, a neutral third party is appointed to review the facts of the case and issue a decision. The decision is legally binding and typically not subject to appeal. In some ways arbitration is similar to traditional courtroom litigation, but is less formal, less expensive and usually quicker.

Mediation is less formal still. As with arbitration, mediation involves a neutral third party. However, the mediator's job is not to decide for the parties, but to help them negotiate their own solutions. Thus, the parties themselves may draw up an agreement for alimony, child custody or property division. They then can take this agreement to the court, which can approve it, thus settling the matter without requiring large amounts of time and expense in court.

To some Minnesotans, the thought of negotiating with an ex is uncomfortable. But, when the parties go into alternative dispute resolution with the appropriate mind set, they often find that they can achieve better results at a lower cost.

Source: Huffington Post, "Your Demeanor Can Affect Your Divorce Mediation," Diane L. Danois, July 23, 2013

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