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How to File for Divorce in Minnesota

Illustration of divorcing couple splitting their home in half.

As difficult as the process can be, sometimes divorce is unavoidable. Preparing yourself to fully understand the divorce process in Minnesota can help take away some of the stress and anxiety.

The process you will use to file for divorce in Minnesota depends on the type of divorce you are seeking: a traditional contested divorce, or an uncontested divorce, either as a “summary dissolution" or “dissolution by joint petition." This article will explain the basics of Minnesota divorce law as well as the steps involved with each type of divorce.

Divorce Basics

First, let's talk about Minnesota divorce basics. Is your divorce contested or uncontested? What are the rules for where and when you can file? Can you get more if your spouse did something wrong?

Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce

A divorce can be either contested or uncontested. Contested means that there are issues that the spouses do not agree on, such as division of property, child-related issues, or spousal maintenance (alimony) issues. These issues have to be resolved either through out-of-court settlement options like mediation or by letting a judge decide, which is called litigation.

An uncontested divorce means that the parties agree on everything and are merely asking the court to sign off on their divorce agreement.

Some cases start out as contested and end up being uncontested, while others start out as uncontested and end up being contested.

Residency Requirements

Before you can file for divorce in Minnesota, you have to meet the state's residency requirements.

You or your soon-to-be ex-spouse must have been a resident of Minnesota for at least 180 days before filing for divorce. There are limited exceptions to this rule, but you should speak with a family law attorney before proceeding if neither of you have lived in Minnesota for the required time period.

No-Fault Divorce State

Minnesota is a no-fault divorce state, which means that you don't need to prove that your spouse did anything wrong in order to file for divorce. Divorces can be granted even if just one spouse wants to end the marriage and says that the marriage is "irretrievably broken."

However, issues such as domestic abuse, substance abuse, or misuse of marital funds can be considered in contested cases involving child custody and parenting time, or property settlement issues.

Types of Divorce

In order to figure out which steps to take to file for divorce, you'll need to decide which type of divorce applies to your situation. There are three ways to get a Minnesota divorce:

Summary Dissolution of Marriage

A summary dissolution of marriage is a type of uncontested divorce in which there are no children or property involved. If you meet all of the criteria listed below, you will simply file the paperwork and wait for the judge to sign the papers – all without ever going to court. For this reason, summary dissolution saves time and money.

Summary dissolution is only available if:

  • There are no minor children and no pregnancy
  • You have been married eight years or less
  • You don't own joint property
  • The marital assets are worth $25,000 or less
  • Neither person has been the victim of domestic violence
  • Neither person has debt in excess of $8,000 (except for automobile loans)
  • Neither spouse has $25,000 or more in separate property

Keep in mind that you cannot split pensions or retirement benefits in a summary dissolution. Each spouse must keep their own retirement accounts. Additionally, businesses cannot be divided in a summary dissolution, so if you and your spouse have a business together, this is not a good option for you.

Finally, spousal maintenance cannot be awarded in a summary dissolution decree. It also cannot be permanently waived by either spouse. Instead the issue of spousal maintenance is "reserved" in a summary dissolution, meaning that a spouse can petition the court for maintenance down the road.

Filing for a Summary Dissolution of Marriage

To file for a summary dissolution, you will complete the Summary Dissolution Forms Packet, which includes the Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution of a Marriage.

You do not need an attorney's help to file for summary dissolution, but speaking with an attorney is recommended. An attorney can help determine if this is a good divorce option for your situation, and can review your divorce forms to make sure you aren't missing anything.

There are also self-help resources available through the Minnesota Judicial Branch, but keep in mind that they cannot provide you with legal advice and can only advise you on the process.

When the paperwork is complete and signed, file it with the district court in the county where you or your spouse lives. You will need to pay a filing fee, which varies depending on your county, unless you qualify for a fee waiver.

Dissolution by Joint Petition

A dissolution by joint petition is an uncontested divorce in which both parties agree to all terms, but you have children, marital assets, or otherwise don't qualify for or don't want a summary dissolution.

In this case, you'll agree to all terms and file a joint petition to the court. If you have minor children, a short court hearing will be required to finalize the divorce.

The petition for dissolution of marriage is called a joint petition because both spouses are asking for the divorce together, instead of one spouse filing the lawsuit on their own to start the divorce.

If you have issues that need to be figured out in your case but you want to file for dissolution by joint petition, you can work with a mediator or attorneys to settle the issues before filing for divorce.

Filing for Dissolution by Joint Petition

To file for a dissolution by joint petition, you will complete the Joint Petition without Children forms or the Joint Petition With Children forms.

Note: You don't complete these forms until you and your spouse have reached an agreement on all issues. If there are still issues that you do not agree on, a mediator or lawyer can help you.

A divorce lawyer is not required to file for dissolution by joint petition, though it is highly recommended that you at least meet with a lawyer, especially if you have children or any property such as real estate or retirement assets. You can simply hire a lawyer to review your completed forms or advise you on whether you are getting what you are entitled to in the divorce agreement instead of full representation.

Once the paperwork is complete and signed, you will file it with the district court in the county where you or your spouse lives. You will be required to pay a divorce filing fee that varies depending on your county unless you qualify for a reduced fee or fee waiver.

Contested Divorce

In a traditional, contested divorce, there are issues you and your spouse don't agree on such as property, debt, child or spousal support, and custodial disputes, and you need the court to intervene. You and your spouse will have the opportunity to make your case in front of a judge, who will then issue a decision based on state divorce and child custody laws.

It is important to work with a family law attorney if there are contested issues in your case that need to be resolved through litigation. It's not required to have an attorney's help, but the court process is formal and complex, and non-lawyers often struggle with it. Additionally, working with a lawyer will help protect your legal rights.

Filing for Contested Divorce

To file for a contested divorce in the state of Minnesota, you will complete a Summons and Petition and file it will the appropriate courthouse. In the Petition, you will ask the court for what you want out of the divorce.

The Summons is used to inform your spouse about the divorce case and what they need to do to respond, and sets temporary restraining provisions. You will then need to serve your spouse with the paperwork by using the appropriate means, and prove that this was done with an Affidavit of Service, which is also filed with the court.

Then, you will file financial disclosures and get a court date for your initial court hearing. You may ask the court for temporary child support, spousal maintenance, restraining order, or other remedies at this time.

From there, the court will likely encourage you to make efforts to settle the case, either through mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution. Discovery may take place in order to exchange information and evidence between the parties. If a settlement cannot be reached, a pre-trial hearing will be set, and eventually, a trial date will be set.

After the trial, the presiding judge will order a divorce Judgment and Decree.

How to File for Legal Separation in Minnesota

legal separation is an alternative to divorce. It is not required under Minnesota law to be legally separated before getting divorced.

The process to get a legal separation in Minnesota is similar to the process required to get a divorce, but the outcome is different. A legal separation doesn't actually end the marriage. Instead, it changes the status of the marriage. That means when you are legally separated, you cannot marry a different person. It also means that you may still qualify for benefits such as insurance that you qualified for when you were married.

To file for a legal separation in Minnesota, you will need unique forms. You cannot use the divorce forms to file for legal separation. Your county law library might have the required forms available. Otherwise, it is a good idea to work with a family law attorney who can draft the pleadings for you.

All of the same issues such as child custody and support, property division, and spousal maintenance can be addressed and decided in a legal separation just like they are in a divorce.

Some people prefer to be legally separated instead of divorced for religious purposes, while some choose this options to retain benefits. For others, it provides them the option to end the separation and continue their marriage if they decide to get back together.

An experienced family law attorney can help you decide if a legal separation makes sense for you.

Minnesota Divorce and Legal Separation Laws Overview

The basics of divorce laws in Minnesota, including information about summary dissolution and dissolution by joint petition, are listed in the table below.

Statute (Law)

Minnesota Code section 518 et seq.

Summary Dissolution Eligibility Highlights

  • No children and no pregnancy
  • You have been married eight years or less
  • You don't own joint property
  • Marital assets are $25,000 or less
  • Neither person has been the victim of domestic violence
  • Neither person has debt in excess of $8,000 unless an automobile loan
  • Each spouse must agree to keep their individual retirement plans
  • Neither spouse has $25,000 or more in separate property

Grounds for Divorce

Irretrievable breakdown (only recognized ground)

Defenses

None

Filing Fee for Divorce

Yes, fees can be waived in limited circumstances

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Minnesota Legal Separation Laws: Related Resources

Learn About the Minnesota Divorce Process From a Legal Professional

Deciding to end your marriage is never an easy decision. Going through a divorce proceeding in Minnesota isn't any easier. But you can make it more manageable by understanding the laws and your legal obligations. The best way to do this is to have an experienced Minnesota divorce attorney assist you in the process. Find a local attorney by searching our directory, or clicking on one of these links:

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