Your divorce doesn’t have to be full of conflict and sky-high attorney’s fees. Couples who are able to work together to resolve their divorce-related issues can seek an uncontested divorce which will save both time and money.
This article explains the uncontested divorce process in Minnesota. If you still have questions after reading this article, consult a local family law attorney for advice.
In most states, an uncontested divorce (called “dissolution of marriage” in Minnesota) is one where both spouses agree on all the key terms of the divorce, including:
If you or your spouse disagree about any of these items, your divorce will be considered "contested," and a judge will have to decide any remaining issues at trial.
There are two ways to obtain an uncontested divorce in Minnesota:
Couples without children and who own little property can seek a summary dissolution. A “summary dissolution” is a streamlined process that allows couples to have their divorce granted without ever appearing in a courtroom.
You and your spouse prepare and file divorce papers, and a judge will sign off on your divorce agreement as long as your agreement is fair. However, you can only get a summary dissolution if all of the following statements are true:
Alternatively, a couple can seek a different kind of divorce called “dissolution by joint petition.” This type of divorce expedites 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.
There are two preliminary rules that apply to all divorces in Minnesota regarding residency requirements and divorce grounds. You must comply with these requirements before your case can proceed.
Either 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. See Minn. Stat. § 518.07 (2020).
Second, you have to identify the ground (or legal reason) for your divorce. Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage is the only ground for divorced recognized in Minnesota, and it means that the marriage has broken down so badly that it can't be repaired. You’ll cite your grounds for divorce in your petition for dissolution. There's no need to argue about any misconduct that may have occurred during your marriage or who’s at fault for what.
The Minnesota Judicial Branch publishes the online forms you need for summary dissolutions. If you’re pursuing a summary dissolution, you and your spouse will need to prepare your joint petition for summary dissolution together.
The Minnesota Judicial Branch offers different joint dissolution packets for people with children and for people without children. Although this article can only touches on the highlights, each packet contains detailed instructions that you must follow exactly. Additionally, if you're filing a joint petition, you can read more about the pro se divorce process on Minnesota’s self-help section of the Minnesota Judicial Branch website.
The joint petition for dissolution 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 must sign the petition in front of a notary public. Don’t sign unless and until you’re in the presence of a notary.
You can 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.
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 295 district courts in Minnesota (as of 2020), 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.
Once you’ve completed your paperwork, you’ll take the summary dissolution paperwork or 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. You’ll need to provide the court with your financial information when you submit your fee waiver request. 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 approximately 30 days, you’ll receive a Notice of Entry of a Decree of Dissolution in the mail. That means your divorce is official and you’re no longer married.
Although uncontested divorces are typically much cheaper than a traditional divorces, they won’t necessarily be free. Unless the judge waives fees in your case, you’ll be responsible for paying your local court’s filing fee at the time your submit your paperwork. Still, the amount of time and stress you save by keeping your divorce out of a courtroom battleground is priceless.