Uncontested Divorce in Minnesota

Learn the process of uncontested divorce in Minnesota.

Not all separations are high conflict, and divorces don't have to include skyrocketing lawyer’s bills, tearful arguments, emotionally wounded children, and frequent court appearances. In fact, if you and your spouse are on amicable terms and can work together, you can get an uncontested divorce, which will save you time and money.

This article will explain uncontested divorces in Minnesota. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney.

What is an Uncontested Divorce in Minnesota?

In most states, uncontested divorce (called “dissolution” in Minnesota) generally means that both spouses agree on all the key terms of the divorce, including:

  • child custody and visitation (known as "parenting time" in Minnesota), including where your children will live
  • child support, health and dental insurance, and medical expenses for the children
  • tax deductions and exemptions
  • an equitable division of the marital assets, debts, and other property
  • alimony, and
  • any other divorce-related dispute.

If you or your spouse disagree about any of these items, your divorce will be considered "contested" and it will have to go to trial.

There are two kinds of uncontested divorce in Minnesota.

Summary dissolution

The first kind,  “summary dissolution,”  is a streamlined process for very simple cases without children or lots of property. You just prepare and file divorce papers, and a judge signs off on your divorce without you having to set foot in a courtroom. However, you can only get a summary dissolution if  all  of the following statements are true:

  • You and your spouse don’t have any children together, and no one is pregnant.
  • You and your spouse have only been married for eight years or less.
  • Neither spouse owns any real estate.
  • You and your spouse don’t have any unpaid debts in excess of $8000. The only exception is automobile loan debt.
  • The total fair market value of all marital assets is $25,000 or less. Fair market value is the amount a stranger would pay you for the assets.
  • Neither spouse has nonmarital (meaning, premarital, separate, and not subject to a claim by the other spouse) assets of more than $25,000.
  • Neither spouse has been the victim of domestic abuse at the hands of the other spouse.
  • If the spouses have pension or retirement benefits, they must agree not to divide them but simply to keep their individual accounts.
  • If the spouses own a business, they can’t divide it in a summary divorce.
  • The spouses must agree to reserve the issue of alimony. This means that they put the issue on hold, and if they ever decide to pursue it again, they can come to court and make a motion.

Dissolution by joint petition

The second kind of uncontested divorce is  “dissolution by joint petition.”  This is an expedited way to streamline more complicated divorce cases where the spouses have real estate, children, or significant assets, but they agree about everything.

There are separate procedures and forms for joint petitions when spouses have children and when they don’t. Both spouses are considered petitioners. The key is that the spouses must reach a global agreement about all issues in the case before they begin, and then write the petition and other joint paperwork together.

Divorce Requirements in Minnesota

There are two preliminary rules that apply to all divorces in Minnesota. Make sure you’re in compliance with these before you do anything else.

First, you or your spouse must have been a resident of the state for at least 180 days before filing for divorce. However, there‘s a limited exception to this rule that’s meant to protect spouses in same-sex marriages: in those cases, if neither spouse is currently a resident of Minnesota but the marriage was performed in Minnesota and the spouses are currently living in a state that won’t recognize a same-sex marriage, the divorce can still be filed in Minnesota.

Second, you have to give the court a "ground," or legal reason, for the divorce. Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage is the only ground recognized in Minnesota, and it means that the marriage has broken down so badly that it can't be repaired. There's no need to argue about intimate details of your marriage or who’s at fault for what.

The Uncontested Divorce Process

Getting Started

You’re responsible for understanding  Minnesota’s court system  and knowing where to file your papers. If you file in the wrong place, your case could be tossed out or transferred and you might have to start over. The Minnesota Judicial Branch has a  website  you can use to identify all the judicial districts and the counties they serve.

The entry-level trial courts in Minnesota are the district courts. Family law cases, including divorces, start in the district court. There are 289 district courts in Minnesota, and they are broken up into 10 judicial districts. You should file your case in the district court of the county where you or your spouse are currently living.

Prepare your divorce forms

The first thing that you’ll need to do for either of the two types of contested divorce is locate the correct forms and complete them.

There’s only one form set you need for  summary dissolutions. If you’re pursuing a summary dissolution, you and your spouse have to prepare a joint petition for summary dissolution together. Before you start,  read this handbook, because you’re going to have to sign a statement later that says you’ve read it and you understand it.

When it comes to dissolution by joint petition, the Minnesota Judicial Branch offers different packets for  people with children  and for people  without children. Although this article can only hit the highlights, each packet contains detailed instructions that you must follow exactly. Additionally, if you're filing a joint petition, you can use the  I-CAN! web-based, electronic forms tool  at no cost.

The joint petition provides a lot of information about you and your marriage, and it includes a request for the court to issue an order for divorce that reflects your wishes. You and your spouse have to go together to a notary public to sign the joint petition. Don’t sign unless and until you’re in the presence of a notary.

Feel free to talk to the court clerks who work in the courthouse about your forms, but keep in mind that they can’t give you any legal advice. You may be able to find helpful information through the  Minnesota State Law Library: Divorce Topics,  Minnesota Judicial Branch: Self-Help Center (Divorce), and  Law Help Minnesota (legal aid and free divorce information).

If you still have specific questions about your forms or your case, you should consult with a family law attorney in your area.

File your paperwork

Next, you’ll take the joint petition to your courthouse and file it. There will be a filing fee, but if you can’t pay, ask the clerk for a fee waiver form, which you’ll fill out and use to provide the court with financial information. If you meet the income guidelines, a judge will sign an order eliminating all fees for the duration of the case.

The clerk will take the papers, assign a case number, and file them. After about 30 days, you’ll get a Notice of Entry of a Decree of Dissolution in the mail. That means your divorce is official and you’re no longer married.

Attend a hearing

After the judge signs, a court clerk will send you a notice that says your divorce is final. But if the judge has any questions or concerns about the legality or fairness of the agreement, the court may schedule a brief hearing so you and your spouse can come in and explain.

Sources

Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 518 (Divorce)

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