In Minnesota, divorce is formally known as "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, support, and custodial disputes.
In order 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. That 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 at that site, or you can go to your local courthouse or law library to request a packet of divorce papers. You can also use the I-CAN! Divorce Forms generator, which asks you questions and based on your answers, prepares the correct forms. The service is free.
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've been served with 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 the courthouse, but the summons, petition, verification, and certificate of representation will always be required. Check with the clerk of court at your county courthouse to make sure the forms you're planning to submit are sufficient and that they'll be accepted by the judges.
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 the other spouse and keep the other for yourself. The original will be filed with the court.
Go to your local courthouse and ask to file the documents. It's very important that you file in the right courthouse. You can file for divorce in the county where you live or the county where your spouse lives.
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 can be obtained from the clerk of court and will be reviewed by the court. If the court agrees that the fee should be waived 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, they will be dated, stamped, and a file will be created 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 very important in the American legal system because it ensures that everyone has notice about what’s going on and an opportunity to “appear,” or argue, their point of view. Service of process ensures 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 directly at the location at your spouse’s 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 who is hard to locate, in the military, or in jail. Check with the clerk of court for more information about these unusual situations.
Both the petitioner and the respondent have to complete a Parenting/Financial Disclosure Statement. This document details each spouse’s financial picture, from employment to assets to liabilities and monthly expenses. Certain supplemental documents, like pay stubs and tax returns, may have to be attached. This helps everyone to understand more about, for example, how much child support should be paid, how the property and debts should be divided, and whether one spouse should receive alimony. Make sure you are clear, detailed, and candid when you complete this form. File it with the court and serve it upon your spouse as well.
For more information on the divorce process and related legal issues, see Minnesota Divorce and Family Law.
The Self-Service Center hosts a divorce topic page that offers information and resources 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.
Finally, the Minnesota Judicial Branch has written a public education brochure called "What to Expect: Divorce in Minnesota," which contains some important legal and procedural principles you might find helpful.