The Basics of Divorce in Minnesota

What happens in a Minnesota divorce?

Technically, all a divorce does is end the marital relationship between two people. It separates them in the eyes of the law, allowing each to remarry in the future. Usually, though, much more takes place during a divorce proceeding than just separation.

Minnesota divorce law requires the court to address property, debts, alimony, child support, and all other issues existing between the parties. Whether any (or all) of these things occurs depends on the needs of the particular people involved. Decisions in Minnesota divorce cases are made on a case by case basis.

What’s the difference between a divorce and a legal separation?

Night and day. A divorce ends a marital relationship. A legal separation does not. A divorce permanently divides marital property and debt. A legal separation does not. A divorce allows people to remarry in the future. A legal separation does not. And, at the request of either party, an ongoing legal separation can be turned into a divorce.

Typically, I advise against a legal separation. They are relatively rare and can have unpredictable results. Today, the primary reason a person would get legally separated is due to religious concerns.

In Minnesota, there is no “waiting period” for a divorce. People are not required to live apart for any specific period of time before divorcing. Also, a person does not have to get legally separated before getting divorced.

What does it mean when people say Minnesota is a “no fault” state?

It means that a person’s “conduct” (i.e., having an affair, being abusive, drinking too much, etc.) will not be considered by the court when it divides marital property or awards alimony. In other words, the court will not punish a spouse because they were responsible for ending the marriage.

This is not to say, however, that a person’s conduct is never relevant to a case’s outcome.  Frequently, it is. For example, if a parent were an abusive alcoholic, it would make sense to think about how that parent’s substance abuse might impact his/her ability to care for a 5 month old baby.

Can anyone get divorced in Minnesota?

No. The laws of Minnesota are reserved for residents – or at least those who claim to be residents. To get divorced in Minnesota, a person must have resided here for the last 180 days (6 months). Special rules apply for military servicemembers.

If only one party lives in Minnesota, you will also need to think about whether the court has “personal jurisdiction” over the nonresident spouse. These issues can be very complicated.

Do I need a lawyer to get divorced in Minnesota?

No. People have the right to represent themselves. However, all people must follow the same court rules and procedures. Remember the old quote from Abraham Lincoln: “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” I recommend that you consider talking to a few lawyers before going that way. If you find the right lawyer, you will probably be thankful you did.

Stay strong,