Learn about the forms and steps you must take to start the divorce process in Minnesota–Including how to qualify for a quicker and easier “agreed to divorce” or “summary dissolution.”
By Mikki McGill, Family Mediator, Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) and Certified Divorce & Transitions Coach
If you’re planning on getting divorced in Minnesota, the legal process can be overwhelming and seem daunting. But it doesn’t always have to be an ordeal, depending on your circumstances and the choices the two of you make particularly if you can find ways to agree together.
Different Routes to Filing for Divorce
There are a number of paths you can take when you file for a Minnesota divorce:
DIY (Do It Yourself divorce). You can opt for the do-it-yourself divorce by handling the divorce all on your own. This ‘may’ be the cheapest route to divorce, but it requires a certain amount of time and attention to detail. You’ll need to understand and follow Minnesota’s requirements, including which forms you’ll need, how to fill them out properly, where to file the documents, and what steps to take afterwards. This option is more likely to work for you when you have an uncontested, or “agreed,” divorce, meaning that you and your spouse agree about all of the issues involved in ending your marriage and your finances are incredibly simple (more on that below).
Mediated divorce. A second option, growing in popularity and success, is the use of a family mediator specially trained in divorce and difficult family conversations. For a fee, a family mediator will help the two of you prepare and discuss your divorce, help you make the decisions you need to make and avoid the drama that exists when you try to have the conversations on your own. You might not even be sure what decisions need to be made or what choices you have—especially if this is your first divorce in Minnesota. A good family mediator will help the two of you explore and walk through the things you haven’t thought of and the information you need to consider. This can help you make decisions that you feel informed about–decisions that are right for you and your family. This will save you the time and the anxiety of doing it all yourself and knowing it all on your own.
Using attorneys. You could take the traditional route and hire a lawyer to handle your divorce. A lawyer could be necessary, or at least strongly advised, under certain circumstances (discussed later in this article).
If you’re considering a DIY (Do It Yourself) divorce, here’s what you need to do to begin the process in Minnesota.
Qualifying for a Minnesota Divorce
Before you file for divorce (also known as “dissolution of marriage”) in Minnesota, you must meet the state’s residency requirements. To qualify, you or your spouse must have resided in the state (or have been a member of the armed services stationed in the state), for at least 180 days immediately before you file your initial divorce paperwork. (See Minn. Stat. § 518.07 2023).
You must also have a “ground” for divorce. A ‘ground for divorce’ is a legally acceptable reason under state law for terminating the marriage but since MN divorce is a strictly no-fault divorce state—the courts aren’t concerned with which reason why you are divorcing. With no-fault grounds, neither spouse is blaming the other for the collapse of the marriage. In Minnesota divorce, the only choice available as grounds for a divorce is the “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship.” This means that at least one of you believes that there is no reasonable prospect of fixing your broken marriage. (See Minn. Stat. § 518.06 2023).
Preparing Minnesota Divorce Forms
To start the divorce process without a paralegal/scrivener or lawyer, you will need to find and complete a number of forms. You can get the forms you need online at mncourts.gov, go to your local courthouse for your county or law library to request a packet of divorce papers, or use an online divorce service to get the forms and have them completed for you.
There are different sets of forms, depending on whether you and your spouse:
a) have minor children together (under age 18 or 18 and still in high school),
b) are working together on the divorce and have agreed to all of the issues involved in ending your marriage, including child custody, parenting time, child support, alimony (or spousal maintenance also called spousal support), and dividing your property and debts).
If you have an agreement, you and your spouse may file a “Joint Petition for Dissolution of Marriage” (with children or without children). Filing for a joint divorce in Minnesota streamlines the process and saves money on filing fees (more on that below).
There are also separate forms for the even simpler divorce process in Minnesota known as “Summary Dissolution” but there are strict requirements. In order to qualify, you must show that:
a) you and your spouse have no living minor children together, and neither spouse is pregnant
b) you’ve been married for less than eight years as of when you file for divorce
c) neither of you owns any real estate
d) you don’t have more than $8,000 in unpaid debts (incurred by either or both of you during the marriage), not counting car loans
e) the total fair market value of your marital assets isn’t more than $25,000, including net equity on automobiles
f) neither of you has separate property worth more than $25,000, and
g) neither of you has been a victim of domestic abuse or violence by the other spouse. (See Minn. Stat. § 518.195 2023).
If you have children but haven’t agreed about child support, you’ll need to include a Parenting/Financial Disclosure Statement with the other paperwork. (See Minn. Stat. § 518A.28 2023). You may need to attach certain supplemental documents, like pay stubs and tax returns. It’s important to be completely honest when you fill out this form, because failing to disclose all of your assets and debts could lead to fines and possible jail time.
Minnesota courts offer a self-help center with a section dedicated to divorce topics. This includes links to videos that will help you understand Minnesota divorce law and how to complete the forms. The court’s website also offers a step-by-step online interview process—called Minnesota Guide and File—which will allow you to generate the forms you need for your divorce. It’s important to know when filling out the forms, the spouse initiating the divorce is the “petitioner,” while the other spouse is the “respondent.”
Where to File Your Divorce Papers
When you’re ready to file your divorce papers, make at least two copies of all the documents, and file them with the clerk of the district court in the county where either you or your spouse lives. (See Minn. Stat. § 518.09 2023).
You’ll need to pay a fee to file your documents. The basic statewide fee is $365, but county district courts can add on their own small fees. (You can calculate the filing fee for your county here.) If you can’t afford to pay, you can ask the court to waive the fee. You’ll file a form known as an Affidavit to Proceed In Forma Pauperis, which you can get from the court clerk or online. After the court has reviewed it, they’ll let you know whether you qualify.
When you deliver the petition for dissolution and your other divorce documents to the court, the clerk will stamp each form with the date, create a file for you, and give you stamped copies for you and your spouse.
Note that Minnesota Guide and File allows you to file your forms electronically. Once you do that, however, you have to use e-filing for any other documents that you have to file in the rest of your divorce.
Next Steps in Your Minnesota Divorce
If you’ve filed a joint divorce petition in Minnesota, you might not have to do anything else to finalize your divorce. A judge will review your paperwork, including your settlement agreement. If there’s no problem, the judge will sign the final divorce decree, and you’ll receive a notice in the mail that your divorce is final. Otherwise, you’ll get a notice that you need to come to the court for a hearing. One common exception is that you will have a court date set to go over your agreement if you have joint underage children—this can be a matter of formality with the court to ensure your children are taken care of/provided for and the two of you are in agreement.
If you have filed for a contested divorce, you must promptly serve your spouse with the divorce papers, including the petition and a summons. The easiest way to do this is to send the papers to your spouse (or your spouse’s attorney), along with a request to waive formal service. Your spouse will have to sign and return a Waiver of Service of Summons. Respondents who refuse to waive service will have to pay the cost of having the sheriff’s office or another qualified process server deliver the documents. Either way, the waiver or affidavit of service must be filed with the court.
There are occasions where personal service isn’t possible, such as when you can’t find your spouse. In those situations, ask the court clerk about the methods for “alternate” service. (See Minn. Stat. § 518.11; Minn. Rules Civ. Proc., rule 4 2023).
Respondents who are served with divorce papers must file an answer within 30 days. (See Minn. Stat. § 518.12 2023). If they don’t, the judge can enter a “default” judgment against them, which could ultimately result in the judge awarding the petitioner spouse everything requested in the petition. In addition to answering the petition, the respondent spouse can file a counter-petition, requesting certain “relief” from the court, such as asking for custody or alimony.
The Minnesota court website also has forms for respondents.
A Word of Caution
While filing for divorce on your own is possible, it might not always be the best idea.
If you can afford it, you might prefer the peace of mind that comes from turning your divorce over to a professional who knows the ins and outs of Minnesota’s laws and court procedures such as a family mediator or family law attorney.
A family mediator can be specially trained in not only the legal process of divorce but also the emotional process so that you aren’t handled as just a client number which can result in a kinder, gentler divorce. It’s good to know that while a family mediator may be able to provide you with legal information they won’t be able to advise you on what you should or shouldn’t do-that’s where an attorney consult can come in. Whenever you need an opinion on what you should or shouldn’t do it’s time to consult with a legal professional. It’s common for people to have an attorney they can go to who will provide a consult for a fee on an as needed basis to gain further understanding on your particular circumstances and what might be recommended or options you may want to consider.
Also, when there are significant or complicated assets to divide (like retirement accounts) it may be wise to hire a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) who knows the ins and out of how monies in divorce work. Unfortunately divorce money doesn’t work like regular money—many people have found this out too late. If you are facing an adversarial divorce, your spouse already has an aggressive attorney (and plans to fight tooth and nail), there’s been domestic violence in your marriage, you suspect he/she may be hiding assets, or the two of you just can’t reach an agreement on all the issues even after trying mediation, you may decide to hire an attorney to battle things out.
Having peace of mind in your divorce can be valuable during an already disruptive time in your life and for your kids.
Remember, you’re likely going to have to live with the results of your divorce decree well after the divorce is over. If, down the road, you realize you made a mistake, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to correct it. It pays to get it right the first time so that you can move on with life and not be continually haunted by your divorce.