In Minnesota, the law calls divorce a dissolution of marriage. That's the term you'll see on most forms, but as a practical matter, "divorce" and "dissolution of marriage" are identical—both end a marriage and resolve all property, debt, spousal support, and custodial disputes.
To start the divorce process without a lawyer, you'll need to complete some forms. The Minnesota Judicial Branch offers a Self-Help Center with a section dedicated to divorce topics. The government website also has links to videos you can watch to assist you in understanding Minnesota divorce law and how to complete the forms. You can get the forms you need online, or you can go to your local courthouse or law library to request a packet of divorce papers.
In Minnesota, the "petitioner" is the party who initiates the divorce, and the "respondent" is the party who receives the petitioner's divorce papers. The documents that the petitioner always needs to begin the divorce process are:
If you are the respondent and you received the petitioner's summons and petition, you should prepare an "answer and verification" if you disagree with anything the petitioner said or if you don't agree about all the terms of the divorce.
The petitioner may need to submit additional paperwork depending on local court rules, but all courts require the summons, petition, certificate of dissolution, and certificate of representation. Check with the clerk of court at your county courthouse to make sure the forms you're planning to submit are sufficient and that the judge will accept them.
Don't sign any affidavits, oaths, or sworn statements unless and until you're in the presence of a notary. When you work on the forms, be thorough and complete in responding to the questions. Fill out the forms on a computer if you can. If not, write or print neatly and legibly.
When you're ready, make two copies of all documents. Eventually, you will give one to your spouse and keep the other for yourself. You will file the original with the court.
Go to your local courthouse and ask to file the documents. It's imperative that you file in the right courthouse. You must file for divorce in the county where you live or the county where your spouse lives. (MN Stat § 518.09 (2018).)
You'll need to pay a fee to file your documents unless you complete a fee waiver (also known as an Affidavit to Proceed In Forma Pauperis), which you can obtain from the clerk of court. You will need to submit the form to the court for review. If the court agrees to waive the filing fees because you can't afford it, you won't have to pay to file documents in your case.
When you give your documents to the clerk of court, the clerk will stamp each form with the date, and create a file for you in the courthouse. Serve your spouse with a set of the signed, stamped photocopies as soon as possible after leaving.
When you've prepared and filed your forms, you should immediately serve your spouse with the documents. Service of process is vital in the American legal system because it ensures that everyone involved knows about what's going on and has an opportunity to appear, or argue, their point of view. Service of process provides that no one is ever ambushed in a courtroom.
If your spouse is an adult who is pro se (meaning, has not hired a lawyer), then you should serve your spouse at the most recent home address. If your spouse has retained a lawyer, serve the lawyer at the lawyer's office and don't send copies to your spouse.
If you are the petitioner and you will be serving your spouse within the State of Minnesota, special service rules apply. You have two basic options:
Different rules may apply if you are trying to serve someone hard to locate, in the military, or in jail. Check with the clerk of court for more information about these unusual situations. (MN Stat § 518.11 (2018).)
Both the petitioner and the respondent have to complete a financial disclosure statement. These disclosure statements detail each spouse's financial picture, from assets and debts to income and monthly expenses.
You may have to attach certain supplemental documents, like pay stubs and tax returns. Financial disclosure statements help judges determine how much child support is appropriate, how the court should divide marital property and debts, and whether one spouse should receive alimony. Make sure you are clear, detailed, and candid when you complete this form.
The Minnesota Judicial Branch Self-Service Center hosts a divorce topic page that offers information on divorce laws, rules, and resources.
Law Help MN, a website sponsored by a group of Minnesota nonprofit legal aid and bar associations, contains a directory to legal aid organizations that provide free or low-cost help to qualifying elderly and low-income Minnesotans with legal problems. The site also has an extensive divorce resources page.
The Minnesota Judicial Branch maintains a listing of self-help centers and clinics for each of Minnesota's judicial districts. Most locations offer hours where you can meet with someone, one on one, for help.
If you have specific questions, you should speak to a local family law attorney for advice.