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Minnesota legislators propose all-private 'cooperative divorce'

Readers may recall out Feb. 19 blog post, in which we discussed a bill before the Minnesota Legislature this session that, if passed, would impact many divorce proceedings in the state. That bill would require most divorcing parents of minors to attend a four-hour divorce class before they can finalize the dissolution of their marriage.

That would be a big change, but it would be nothing compared to the proposal two lawmakers are making: take nearly all divorces out of the courtroom.

The sponsors of the bill, state Sen. Sandy Pappas and Rep. John Lesch, both of St. Paul, say that the current system is too adversarial. Lesch said too many divorces become “a toxic situation for everyone involved,” even when the spouses initially promised to collaborate.

Instead, he and Pappas are proposing a less formal process that would largely take place online. Their “Cooperative Private Divorce” would begin with an online orientation and the filing of an “intent to Divorce,” perhaps to the state Bureau of Mediation, where the divorce records would be kept private.

The couple would then spend 90 days working out settlements for issues like division of property, alimony and child custody. At the end of 90 days, they would submit a “Declaration of Divorce” that contains their agreements. Unlike the current system, no third party or judge would review or approve the settlement.

The sponsors say they will not introduce the bill this session. Instead, they have brought up the proposal to spark discussion before the next legislative term. And the traditional court-based divorce system would not disappear entirely, Pappas said. She said it is important to keep it for “the few who need protection,” victims of spousal abuse in particular.

Making alternative dispute resolution and out-of-court negotiation the norm, rather than common but alternative options, certainly would be a radical change in divorce law. We will keep our eye on this proposal, to see how the discussion proceeds in the coming months.

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