Divorce in Hennepin County differs substantially from other counties throughout Minnesota. Because of a relatively large tax base, Hennepin County has a Family Court Services division that employs a number of social workers, mediators, early neutral evaluators, chemical use assessors and custody evaluators. In addition, Hennepin County leads the way in terms of alternative dispute resolution, offering social early neutral evaluation, financial early neutral evaluation, mediation and moderated settlement conferences.
Hennepin County is often viewed as a “forward thinking” county, generally disposed to treating fathers in a more favorable manner than competing counties around Minnesota. The judges in Hennepin County are used to dealing with large marital estates and substantial claims for spousal maintenance.
All said, if you are facing a divorce in Hennepin County, you deserve to work a team of family law attorneys who understand the system inside and out. Our divorce attorneys have handled countless cases in Hennepin County. We know the judges very well, and understand what is expected from them. Our attorneys are also very familiar with the professionals that work in Court Services, along with the top mediators in Minneapolis.
ICMC and Early Neutral Evaluation
In Hennepin county, the initial step involved in a divorce involves attending an initial case management conference. The judge meets with the litigants, and their lawyers, on an informal basis, to determine what the case is all about and offer a referral to early neutral evaluation, if appropriate.
Early neutral evaluation is a process that started in Hennepin County in the early 2000’s. Most family court litigants, aside from those who are the victims of domestic abuse, participate in the program. An early neutral evaluation affords the parties an opportunity to meet with qualified professional to discuss the facts of their case. Once everyone has presented the relevant information, the evaluator will offer their opinion about the likely outcome if the divorce were to proceed to trial. Then, the parties and lawyers try to negotiate a settlement.
About 80% of the time, an early resolution is reached. For that reason, our divorce attorneys strongly encourage our clients to participate in the FENE (financial early neutral evaluation) and SENE (social early neutral evaluation) process.
If the parties are unable to reach an agreement concerning physical custody, legal custody and parenting time during the social early neutral evaluation, a referral is often made to Hennepin County Court Services for a full blown custody evaluation. The custody evaluators employed by Hennepin County typically have a counseling, mental health or social work background. Over the courts of several months, the evaluator assigned to your divorce will meet with you, meet with your spouse, meet with the children, interview your family, friends and neighbors, and review all sorts of written information (such as medical records or school records) concerning the children. Once they have taken an opportunity to digest the relevant information, the custody evaluator will offer a written report that contains a very specific set of recommendations on the issues of custody and parenting time. About 95% of the time, we find, the judge will issue an order that is consistent with the recommendations of the custody study.
Some marital dissolution actions in Hennepin County do not involve minor children. In those situations, naturally, custody evaluations are avoided. Still, there is a need to exchange financial information. The same is true even if the divorce does involve children. Such an exchange is called “discovery.” During the discovery phase of the case, requests are made of each side for things like bank records, credit card statements, tax returns, pay stubs, budgets, home appraisals and retirement account documentation. The parties, and lawyers, can then rely upon that information to formulate a balance sheet designed to divide assets and debts, or to calculate the appropriate level of spousal maintenance.
The pre-trial conference occurs following receipt of the custody evaluation, or conclusion of discovery. The pre-trial conference, in Hennepin County, is the last hearing to occur prior to a divorce trial. The lawyers will make one last attempt to resolve the case, and speak with the court about any remaining “to do” items short of the trial itself. In some situations, the judges in Hennepin County will facilitate settlement discussions directly. Others, however, take a more distant approach, and refer to parties for a moderated settlement conference.
Moderated Settlement Conference
A moderated settlement conference is yet another creature of Hennepin County that has gained traction throughout other Twin Cities counties. A moderated settlement conference involves the appointment of a qualified neutral (often a retired judge) to meet with the parties for the very last attempt to broker a settlement. The moderator will usually offer their evaluative opinion as to the range of possible outcomes, aiding the parties in narrowing settlement discussions. Such a conference usually takes place at the Hennepin County Family Justice Center, allowing the parties to put their divorce agreement on the record as soon as it is reached.
If the litigants are unable to settle their divorce through a moderated settlement conference, the matter proceeds to trial. Our divorce attorneys have tried numerous cases in Hennepin County, with excellent results. Some of these divorces have involved controversy concerning custody issues, while others have involved substantial alimony awards and property allocation. Most divorce trials in Hennepin County are scheduled to last between one and two days. Typically, if the case involves financial issues, alone, one day is sufficient. Custody trials often take two days – or more. The judge will issue a written decision within 90 days of the trial.
Answers to your Important Questions
We invite you to contact us to speak with our attorneys. Given our experience in Hennepin County family law cases, we can, hopefully, alleviate the stress and raw emotion involved with your divorce. Call (763) 323-6555 to schedule a confidential case evaluation.