If you're planning on getting divorced in Minnesota, the legal process can seem daunting. But it doesn't always have to be an ordeal, depending on your circumstances and the choices you make.
There are a number of paths you can take when you file for a Minnesota divorce:
If you're considering a DIY divorce, here's what you need to do to begin the process in Minnesota.
Before you may 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 been a member of the armed services stationed in the state, for at least 180 days immediately before you file your initial divorce paperwork. (Minn. Stat. § 518.07 (2022).)
You must also have a "ground" for divorce, meaning a legally acceptable reason under state law for terminating the marriage. Many states have both "fault" and "no-fault" grounds for divorce. Fault grounds apply when you're accusing your spouse of wrongdoing, such as adultery, mental or physical cruelty, or desertion. With no-fault grounds, neither spouse is blaming the other for the collapse of the marriage.
Minnesota is strictly a no-fault divorce state. The only available ground for divorce is the "irretrievable breakdown of the marriage relationship," meaning there's no reasonable prospect of fixing your broken marriage. (Minn. Stat. § 518.06 (2022).)
To start the divorce process without a lawyer, you'll need to find and complete a number of forms. You can get the forms you need online, go to your local courthouse 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:
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 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:
(Minn. Stat. § 518.195 (2022).)
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. (Minn. Stat. § 518A.28 (2022).) 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.
The Minnesota courts offer a self-help center with a section dedicated to divorce topics, including 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—called Minnesota Guide and File—which will allow you to generate the forms you need for your divorce. When filling out the forms, the spouse initiating the divorce is the "petitioner," while the other spouse is the "respondent."
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. (Minn. Stat. § 518.09 (2022).)
You'll need to pay a fee to file your documents. The basic statewide fee is $365, but county district courts 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.
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.
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. (Minn. Stat. § 518.11; Minn. Rules Civ. Proc., rule 4 (2022).)
Respondents who are served with divorce papers must file an answer within 30 days. (Minn. Stat. § 518.12 (2022).) If they don't, the judge can enter a "default" 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.
While filing for divorce on your own is possible, it might not always be the best idea. There are many situations where you would be better off hiring a lawyer, including when you have significant or complicated assets to divide (like retirement accounts), your spouse already has an attorney, there's been domestic violence in your marriage, or the two of you just can't reach an agreement on all the issues, even after trying mediation. If you can afford it, you might also simply 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.
Remember that you're likely going to have to live with the results of your case 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. So it pays to get it right the first time.