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Questions persist about Minnesota private divorce plan

It has been a few months since a pair of Minnesota lawmakers announced an idea to take divorce proceedings out of court in most cases. With the 2015 legislative session about to wrap up, the Minneapolis Star Tribune has an update on the proposal, which was not brought before the House or the Senate as a bill this year.

Under the proposal, instead of taking their divorce to court or alternative dispute resolution, couples would mostly handle issues like property division, child custody, parenting time and alimony on their own. They would begin by submitting an “Intent to Divorce” to an as-yet undetermined state agency. After that, they would have 90 days to reach a settlement.

At the end of 90 days, the couple would submit a second document called a “Declaration of Divorce” which would contain their agreements. After that, if one of the spouses challenges the divorce, the case would be appealed to family court.

Supporters say that this proposal would save the judicial system money, and lighten the court docket. But critics question whether it would work, or even whether it would be Constitutional. The U.S. Constitution expressly grants jurisdiction over family law matters to district courts. An attorney interviewed by the Star Tribune said that the Legislature does not have the authority to take away that jurisdiction.

Perhaps more importantly, some wonder if divorcing couples will be able to craft valid settlements both can live with on their own. They predict that many couples will make key mistakes, requiring them to hire attorneys to fix problems after the fact, when they could have had legal help crafting the settlement in the first place.

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