Divorce/Dissolution

Under Minnesota law, a divorce is called a "Dissolution of Marriage."  Getting divorced is a lot more complicated than getting married, and it can take several months before your divorce is final.

Overview

Below is an overview of the divorce process in Minnesota. Read through our Definitions tab for commonly used words in divorce, and our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for more information.

What is Divorce?

Under MN law, a divorce is called a "Dissolution of Marriage." Dissolution of Marriage is the legal process to dissolve the marriage of two parties. To get divorced in MN, at least one of the spouses must be living in MN for a minimum of 180 days (or you or your spouse must be a member of the armed forces and that person must have kept their MN residency), and you must file court forms with the district court in the county where one of the spouses is living.

Affidavit of Service
A document that acts as your proof to the court that the court papers were delivered and says when, where, how, and to whom they were delivered.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Alternative methods of helping people resolve legal problems before going to court using a neutral third party. See the FAQs for more information.
Answer and Counterpetition
The forms used to legally respond to a Summons and Petition for Divorce.
Certificate of Dissolution
A shorter version of your divorce decree that is signed by a judge or referee and can be used to prove that you are divorced and/or that your name was legally changed in the divorce. The Certificate of Dissolution contains less personal information than a divorce decree.
Child Support
Court-ordered payments for the financial support of a child. Child support includes the following three parts:
 
  • Basic support: payments for the costs of a child's housing, food, clothing, transportation, education, and other expenses related to care.
  • Medical support: providing health and dental insurance, payments for the costs of health and dental insurance that the other parent provides, and payments for uninsured or unreimbursed medical and dental expenses.
  • Child care support: payments for child care (day care) costs when parents go to work or school.
Custody
Under Minnesota law, there are two types of child custody:
 
  • "Legal custody" refers to the right to make decisions about how to raise the child, including decisions about education, health care, and religious training.
  • "Physical Custody" refers to the right to make decisions about the routine day-to-day activities of the child and where the child lives.
Divorce Decree
The document showing that you and your spouse are divorced. It lays out all the terms of the divorce. Once this document has been signed by a judge and is entered by court administration, your divorce is considered final.
Early Neutral Evaluation
A voluntary, confidential, evaluative process designed to help parties in a divorce resolve issues related to custody, parenting time, and/or financial matters.
Fee Waiver or In Forma Pauperis
The procedure to ask the court to waive court fees and costs.
Joint Petition
A petition for divorce that can be used when spouses agree on all of the issues in their divorce.
Marital Property
Almost anything that you or your spouse acquired during the marriage, even during the times that you and your spouse were separated. This includes, but is not limited to, items such as money, real estate, boats, cabins, household goods, furniture, and jewelry.
Marital Debt
Debts (money owed) that either spouse owes since the marriage date, either separately or together.
Non-marital Property
Anything that:
  • you or your spouse owned before the marriage;
  • you or your spouse received as a gift, bequest, devise, or inheritance;
  • you or your spouse got in trade or in exchange for your non-marital property;
  • is an increase in the value of non-marital property;
  • you or your spouse received after the valuation date set by the Court; or
  • is included in a valid antenuptial contract.
Parenting Time
The time a parent spends with a child, regardless of the labels used in the custody arrangement. Parenting time is often set according to a schedule as a result of a court order.
Parenting Time Expeditor
A neutral party appointed by the court to listen to both sides of a parenting time disagreement and make a decision outside of court. An agreement of the parties or a decision of the expeditor is binding on the parties unless set aside or changed by the court.
Petitioner
The person filing for divorce.
Respondent
The spouse of the person filing for divorce.
Service by Alternate Means
Delivering the paperwork to the start the divorce (called the Summons and Petition, see below) in some other (alternate) way when one spouse cannot be found. Service by Alternate Means is usually done by mailing the Summons and Petition to a last known address or a relative’s address or by publishing it in a legal newspaper after getting permission from a judge or referee.
Service of Process
Formally delivering documents to another party in a case. Generally, personal service (hand delivery) by someone who is not involved in the case is required to start a divorce.
Spousal Maintenance
Money paid by one spouse to help support the other spouse (formerly called alimony). This can be temporary or permanent.
Summary Dissolution
A streamlined process for getting divorced in Minnesota. You may qualify for a Summary Dissolution if:
 
  • There are no living minor children who have been born to or adopted by the parties before or during the marriage, unless someone other than the husband has been adjudicated the father;
  • Neither spouse is pregnant;
  • Parties have been married for less than eight years as of the date the paperwork was filed;
  • Neither party owns any real estate;
  • There are no unpaid debts in excess of $8,000 incurred by either or both of the parties during the marriage, excluding debt on automobiles;
  • The total fair market value of the marital assets does not exceed $25,000, including net equity on automobiles;
  • Neither party has non-marital assets in excess of $25,000; and
  • Neither party has been a victim of domestic abuse by the other.
Summons and Petition
The forms that are used in Minnesota to start a divorce when both parties are not willing or able to sign a Joint Petition.
Temporary Relief
A motion that allows you to ask the court for a temporary order for issues such as child custody, parenting time, child support, spousal support, and certain property issues while the case is pending.
Can I file for divorce in Minnesota?
To get divorced in Minnesota, at least one of the spouses must be living in Minnesota for a minimum of 180 days before starting the case, OR you or your spouse must be a member of the armed forces and that person must have kept their Minnesota residency.
 
Do I have to be a U.S. citizen to file for divorce in MN?
No. There is no citizenship requirement for getting divorced in Minnesota.  The only requirement is that at least one of the spouses needs to have been living in Minnesota for at least 180 days, OR you or your spouse must be a member of the armed forces and that person must have kept their Minnesota residency.
How long does the divorce process take?
The amount of time it takes to get divorced is going to depend on the county you are filing in and whether you and your spouse agree or disagree on the issues in the divorce.
Do I have to have an attorney to get divorced?
No. The court does not require you to have an attorney to get divorced in Minnesota. You are allowed to represent yourself, and if you do, you will be called a “self-represented litigant.” However, every person who appears in court without an attorney is expected to know and follow the law. See the Help Topic for Representing Yourself in Court for more information.
 
Can I get divorced if I don’t know where my spouse is located?
Yes. Generally, personal service is required to start a divorce. This means having a third party, who is over the age of 18, hand deliver a copy of the paperwork to start a divorce to your spouse.

However, if you do not know where your spouse is or how to contact them, you can ask the judge for permission to have your spouse served some other way. This is called “Service by Alternate Means.” Please note that you must file paperwork with the court to ask for service by alternate means. See the packet of forms and instructions for Service by Alternate Means for more information.
How do I start my divorce?
The first step is deciding which forms are right for your situation. Which set of forms you use depends on two questions:
  • Do you and your spouse have an agreement and are working together to ask for a divorce?
  • Do you have minor children together or is either spouse pregnant or gave birth to a child from another relationship during the marriage?
You can use the forms available on the Minnesota Judicial Branch website or use Guide & File to create your forms. Either option includes the forms you need and step-by-step instructions. Go to the “Forms” tab for more information.
 
Do I have to file for a divorce with children if I have a child from a relationship before my marriage?
No. If there are no joint minor children between you and your spouse (children who were born during or adopted into the marriage) and neither spouse is pregnant you can use the without children forms.
 
If my spouse and I are in agreement on all issues and we do not own anything jointly, do we have to fill out the asset and liability attachments?
Yes. You must include all property owned separately or together, no matter when you purchased the property and regardless of whose name is listed on the property. You must also list all debts, regardless of whether they are in one spouse’s name or in both names together.
 
What is real estate?
Real estate means land and buildings or other improvements that are permanently attached to the land. Real estate can include:
  • A house, condo, or land owned by either one or both spouses, or with other people bought or inherited before or after the marriage.
  • A timeshare;
  • Investment property, like rental apartments;
  • Land and buildings owned by a business which is owned by one or both spouses;
  • Property being purchased or sold on a contract for deed;
  • "Remainder interest" in property (for example, in an estate plan, a parent could leave her house to her children, reserving a "life estate" for herself. The parent has the right to live in the house during her lifetime, and the children have a "remainder interest" during her lifetime. The remainder interest must be included in the divorce papers); or
  • Any other real estate that either spouse has an ownership interest in, no matter when it was purchased or received.
Do I have to list real estate on the forms if I owned it before the marriage?
Yes. In your divorce forms, you must list all real estate owned by:
  • You;
  • Your spouse;
  • You and your spouse together; or
  • You and your spouse with other people (like a friend or relative).
This includes real estate in Minnesota and outside of Minnesota.

If you and/or your spouse have an interest in real estate, you are strongly encouraged to talk to an attorney before signing divorce forms. Real estate is often the most valuable asset to be divided in a divorce. If you or your spouse own real estate, it is critical that you talk to an attorney before you sign paperwork related to how the real estate will be divided.
 
What is a legal description of property and where can I get it?
A legal description of property is a formal, detailed description used to identify pieces of real estate in a very specific format. This is different than your address. You need to use the exact legal description from your deed. You should not use a description from your property tax documents. If you are unsure if you have the correct legal description, call the County Recorder/Examiner of Titles office in the county where your property is located.  
 
Are there other forms needed if there is real estate involved?
Possibly; it depends on your situation. Real estate forms are not published by the Minnesota Judicial Branch. However, you can find most real estate forms on the Minnesota Dept. of Commerce website (also called "Uniform Conveyancing Blanks"), including (but not limited to):
   You are strongly encouraged to talk to an attorney if you have questions on whether you need other real estate forms or how to fill them out.
 
What financial documentation do I have to include with my paperwork?
What financial documents you may need depends on whether you are filing for a divorce with or without children.

With Children: If you are filing for divorce and have minor children with your spouse, or if you are requesting spousal maintenance, you are required to attach financial documentation to show your income. This is true even if you and your spouse agree on everything in the divorce.

What you decide to attach is up to you. Common documents people attach are pay stubs or recent tax returns. When you attach financial documents, you need to file Form 11.2 Confidential Financial Source Documents  to keep your financial documents confidential from the public.   

Without Children: If you are filing for divorce without children and you are not requesting spousal maintenance, you are not required to attach financial documentation. 
 
Do I have to include financial documentation if my spouse and I have agreed to waive child support?
Yes. Even when parties agree that child support should be reserved (to not exchange child support at this time), or that there should be no child support ordered, the court still needs to see proof of income and may still order one party to pay child support. According to Minnesota law, a child has the right to be supported by both parents, and the court has to consider what is in the best interest of the joint child(ren).
 
Can I electronically sign my divorce forms?
Yes. You can sign and file electronically by using the PDF Fillable Smart Forms.  After you have completed the forms, they can be electronically signed by typing your name into the signature box and then clicking on the “Prepare for eFile” button at the top of the form.
 
Do the forms have to be notarized?
No. The divorce forms published by the Minnesota Judicial Branch do not have to be notarized. Instead, you are signing under penalty of perjury that everything you stated is true and correct.
 
How can I file my forms?
After your forms are completed you can file electronically or you can mail or bring your paper forms to the courthouse. You can find more information on electronic filing on the File a Case page. 
 
Do both spouses have to come to the courthouse to file the paperwork?
No. If you are your spouse have an agreement and have both signed the forms, they can be filed by one or both spouses, or even be dropped off by a third party, along with the filing fee or fee waiver forms.
How much does it cost to get divorced?
The filing fee for divorce depends on the county you are filing in. See Fees to learn about divorce filing fees in your county. Choose the county in the drop-down menu and click on “Search.”

If you have a low income or cannot afford the court filing fees, you can ask the judge for a waiver of the filing fee. See the Fee Waiver Help Topic to learn how to ask for a fee waiver.
 
When do I have to pay the filing fee?
You will be expected to either pay the filing fee or file a fee waiver at the time you file your paperwork with the court. 
 
What forms of payment are accepted by the court?
The court will accept cash, a personal check, a money order, or most types of credit cards. If you are paying by check, it should be made out to “District Court Administrator.”
How many court hearings will there be?
The number of times you go to court and see a judge or referee depends on many factors. If you and your spouse do not agree on all the terms of the divorce, the case usually takes longer.  
 
What is Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE)?
Most courts give parties the opportunity to work with independent evaluators soon after the case is filed to see if they can reach an agreement about any contested issues in the case. These issues could include custody, parenting time, and the division of money and property.

There are two types of ENEs. Financial ENE (FENE) helps the parties settle financial disputes, and Social ENE (SENE) helps the parties settle custody and parenting time issues involving their children. To learn more about this process, read the ENE Fact Sheet or visit the ENE Help Topic page.   
 
What if my spouse and I want to settle?
A divorce can get complicated if the parties have property (real estate, automobiles, vacation property, pensions, jewelry, etc.) or minor children. Usually, the divorce can be done more quickly if the spouses agree on how to divide the property and handle custody and parenting time with the children. Many cases start with a lot of disputes, but then the parties are able to reach an agreement. Parties often reach agreement after using Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) or alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services outside of court. 

For more information, visit the Settle Out of Court Help Topic page.

NOTE: If you feel threatened by or unsafe with the other party, you may want to get legal advice or help from an advocate before using ADR.
 
Can I legally change my name through a divorce?
Yes. You can ask to change your first, middle, and/or last name in your divorce paperwork. If the judge orders your name changed in your divorce decree, your name will be legally changed. 
 
Am I required to take a parenting education class as part of the divorce?
It depends. When parents do not agree on custody or parenting time, Minnesota law requires that the parents attend a parenting education class (see Minn. Stat. § 518.157). Depending on the circumstances, the judicial officer may also order that the children attend a class.
 
What is a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)?
A QDRO is used when the parties in a divorce need to split a retirement plan (such as a 401(k), 403(b), or pension plan) as part of a property settlement. It is a court order that gives the retirement plan administrator the authority to give money from the account to someone other than the named owner.
 
The MN Judicial Branch does not publish a QDRO form because the language needed to split a retirement account is unique to each plan. If you need a QDRO, you can start by reaching out to the plan administrator to ask whether they have sample language or forms they can send you that will work for your plan. If they do not, you can get help from an attorney with drafting a QDRO.

Forms to Use to File for Divorce or Before the Divorce is Final

Forms to Use After the Divorce is Final

Rules & LawsIf you are representing yourself in a divorce in Minnesota, you are responsible for following the same laws and rules as an attorney. Read Rights and Duties of Self-Represented Parties.


Laws & Rules on Divorce

The following is a list of some of the laws and rules that deal with divorce (marriage dissolution) in Minnesota. See also Laws, Rules & Legal Research. You may be able to get more help with legal research at your local public law library. You may also be able to get help with legal research from the State Law Library. Talk with an attorney to get advice on how the rules and laws may affect your case.
 
Divorce
Spousal Maintenance (alimony)
Mediation / Settle Your Case
  • Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE) in Family Court Cases - For parents who are getting divorced, this statewide program connects them with judges and evaluators early in the court process to give them an opportunity to settle their legal issues. Parties can choose to participate in one or both types of ENE: a Financial ENE (FENE) to settle financial disputes; and Social ENE (SENE) to settle custody and parenting time issues involving their children.
Parenting Education Class
Get Help with a Divorce
Some courts and law libraries have a Self-Help Center, advice clinic, or other help for people doing their own divorce. Visit Legal Advice Clinics & Self-Help Centers to see what is available in your area.