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Could a new type of divorce be coming to Minnesota?

While the Minnesota State Capitol is currently abuzz with discussions over what to do with the state's budget surplus, there are other issues generating significant conversation among lawmakers, including a proposal that some are saying would introduce the most dramatic changes to the state's divorce process since the advent of no-fault divorce over 40 years ago.

Senator Sandy Pappas (D-St. Paul) and Representative John Lesch (D-St. Paul) have drafted a proposal that would allow separating couples to pursue an option known as "cooperative private divorce."

The legislation, which the two lawmakers have decided not to request a hearing for during the current session, would essentially allow a divorce to run its course entirely outside of the court system.

Specifically, couples looking to divorce would complete some sort of orientation course online and complete "Intent to Divorce" documentation that would be kept confidential and submitted to a state agency such as the Bureau of Mediation Services.  

After the passage of 90 days, the couple would submit a "Declaration of Divorce" outlining the agreements they'd reached. This would then essentially be treated as a binding document, meaning no review would take place by a judge or even a third party. In the event some argument arose, the divorce agreement would be brought before a family court.

Supporters of this proposal argue that it would reduce the caseloads of the family court system, would not have an impact on any of the other divorce processes in Minnesota, enable couples to keep matters entirely within their control and prevent any animosity from forming between divorcing couples.     

However, opponents, including many family law attorneys, have already been critical of the proposal, arguing the following:

  • It would be potentially unconstitutional given that the U.S. Constitution expressly delegates jurisdiction over family law issues to the district courts.
  • It would be redundant given that there are processes in place that already allow divorces to end amicably and with minimal judicial involvement.
  • It would actually use more family court resources in the long run, as divorce agreements crafted without any sort of legal input are highly likely to end up back in court given oversights by the parties.

For now, we are going to have to wait to see how this matter plays out. Rest assured, however, it won't be without some degree of controversy.

Source: The Duluth News Tribune, "'Private divorce' measure aims to take split-ups out of Minnesota courtrooms," Abby Simmons, March 5, 2015

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