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When is a Divorce Action Commenced in Minnesota?

Posted by Tonda Mattie | Mar 30, 2015 | 0 Comments

I recently met with a man (I'll call him John) whose wife wanted to divorce.  He was very much against ending the marriage.  He went to the office of his wife's attorney presumably to discuss settlement, but instead received his Wife's proposal for settlement set forth in a Summons and Petition.  Over the next six months, he attempted to meet with his wife to discuss her proposal or alternatively what could be done to save the marriage.

Though the couple was “getting along” while continuing to live together, no meeting took place to discuss the divorce or the possibility of reconciliation.  When John came to meet with me, a collaborative divorce attorney, he handed me two un-opened letters he recently received from the District Court.

The first was a notice for an Initial Case Management Conference (ICMC) court appearance which he had missed.  The second, was a notice for a default hearing the next day to grant the divorce!  At issue, was up to $50,000.00 that John would lose if the divorce was granted based on his wife's proposal in the Petition.  Obviously, I advised John to appear at the default hearing and throw himself on the mercy of the court to delay the default hearing so he could participate in the divorce proceeding.

Regardless of whether or not John's version of the facts are completely accurate, it can be confusing to know if and when a legal proceeding is commenced.  In Minnesota, a divorce action is commenced when you are personally “served” with a Summons and Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.  “Service” is most frequently accomplished when a person over the age of 18 years old—who is not your spouse—delivers you a copy of a Summons and Petition signed by your spouse, now called the Petitioner.  If the Petitioner is represented by an attorney, the documents are also signed by the attorney.

“Service” does not need to be done by the sheriff or police.  It is frequently performed by private process servers.  It can also be performed by your neighbor or a relative.  The documents simply needs to be handed to you by a person over the age of 18 (but not your spouse) who later files an Affidavit with the Court swearing on that date he or she delivered to you a Summons and Petition.  Once service on you has been made, the clock starts ticking as to when you must respond to the Petition.  If you fail to respond appropriately, the Court can grant the Petitioner a divorce based on the proposal set forth in the Petition.

This is what happened to John.  He did not realize he was officially served when the legal assistant at the attorney's office handed him a Summons and Petition.  It was more confusing because the documents were not signed by the wife's attorney.  Instead, the wife signed the documents “pro se”, meaning she was representing herself.  It became even more confusing because the parties continued to live together and the wife made no mention that an ICMC court appearance was scheduled.

The wife appeared at the court hearing, but never mentioned to John that he had failed to show up, nor did she mention the default hearing date.  Nevertheless, John was at risk of having the divorce granted by the court.  Lesson learned: Consult with an attorney if you are not sure a legal action has been commenced and open your mail!

By contrast, this could not happen if John and his wife had agreed to use a collaborative process for their divorce.  In a collaborative process, the parties agree to commence the divorce together by signing a Joint Petition.  No service is necessary.  Everybody knows what is going on.  Everybody participates equally in reaching a settlement before the legal documents are drafted and filed with the court.

I have since learned that John appeared in Court at the default hearing.  As a result, the Court continued the hearing so that John could participate in the divorce. Whew!  That was a close one.

About the Author

Tonda Mattie

What I do I represent clients going through a divorce or other family dispute who want a resolution process that addresses their highest goals and aspirations and is positive, future-oriented, and cost-effective.  I listen to find out what is truly important to my client.  I offer wise counsel and legal advice that is creative but practical, realistic, and far-sighted.  I support and challenge my client to bring his or her best self to the problem-solving and decision-making table.  I educate my client to empower him or her to make informed decisions and to gain the most from the collaborative process.  I work hard to transform conflict resolution into a healing process. What you get a holistic approach to conflict and dispute resolution empowerment to find creative solutions that meet the legal, relational (emotional), parenting, and financial needs of all family members honesty, trustworthiness, and respect to maximize benefits and minimize harm to all who are involved advocacy to ensure that your legitimate needs and interests are met the most useful, neutral, specialized advice from an interdisciplinary team of collaborative professionals and experts cost-effective and value-added use of professionals and experts a legal and financial plan, a relational plan, and a parenting plan no court involvement other than processing the final legal documents Who I am My name is Tonda Mattie, and my law firm is Tonda L. Mattie, P.A.  In my own small way I hope to contribute to world peace one family at a time.  This is a notion I could not have had before I met Stu Webb, my Minnesota colleague who is the founder of Collaborative Divorce and the Collaborative Process.  His profound concept of avoiding the adversarial court process altogether and focusing solely on settlement changed the way I viewed the practice of family law and my own career.  Now, my efforts on behalf of my clients have a positive impact not only on the short-term circumstances of their divorce or dispute but on their lives as well.  I am at last in a career where I can truly make a difference. Admitted to practice law 1983, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota 1979, Minnesota 1978, Illinois Education Southern Illinois University, J.D., 1978 University of Iowa, B.A. Psychology and Political Science, 1974 Practice history 2004 – present        : Collaborative Family Law 1992 – 2004: Family Law and Collaborative Family Law 1979 – 1992: Family Law and Employment Discrimination Memberships and awards Member, 1992 – present, President, 2005, and Board Member, Collaborative Law Institute, Minnesota Co-Chair, Training Committee, 2004 – present, Collaborative Law Institute, Minnesota Stu Webb Award, 2008, In Recognition of Outstanding Contribution to Collaborative Practice Minnesota Super Lawyer, Collaborative Law, 2006 – present Minnesota State Bar Association Hennepin County Bar Association (Member, Family Law Section) Chrysalis Women's Center Advisory Board Tubman/Chrysalis Women's Center, Volunteer Collaborative and related training The NEW Collaborative Experience, Tonda Mattie/CLI, 2011 Why Collaborative Practice Works: Neuroscience Tools & Techniques, Kimberly Fauss, Dr. Jan Hembree, 2010 Financial Intelligence, Financial Planning Assn., 2010 CLI Annual Conference, 2010 The NEW Collaborative Experience, Tonda Mattie/CLI, 2010 Point Counter-Point: Collaborative & Cooperative Law, Linda Wray/Nancy Zalusky Berg, 2010 Advanced Mediation Skills, Nina Meierding, 2010 Addressing Domestic Violence, Dave Matthews, 2010 IACP Conference "Reflections & Visions," Minneapolis, 2009 The NEW Collaborative Experience, Tonda Mattie/CLI, 2009 CLI Annual Conference, 2009 The Strategic Negotiator, Nina Meierding, 2008 IACP Conference "The Collaborative Community: Stepping Up and Reaching Out," New Orleans, 2008 "One Coach Model" of Collaborative Practice, Linda Solomon, 2008 2nd European Conference on Collaborative Practice, Cork, Ireland, 2008 The Collaborative Experience, Tonda Mattie/CLI, 2008 Generating Collaboration with Empathy, Emily Gould, 2008 Deepening Your Skills in the Neutral Coach Model, Linda Solomon, 2008 Parenting Plans: Empowering Your Clients to Effective Co-Parenting, Deb Clemmensen/CLI, 2008 Cooperative Practice: A New Technique for Successful Case Negotiations, Prof. John Lande, 2008 CLI Annual Conference, 2007 "Pathways to a Good Divorce" The Children's Perspective, Dr. Constance Ahrons, 2007 Child Specialist Protocol Training, CLI, 2007 IACP Conference "The Collaborative Mosaic," Toronto, 2007 The Collaborative Experience, Tonda Mattie/CLI, 2007 "Taking the War Out of Words," Sharon Ellison, 2007 Appreciative Inquiry for Team Building, Dr. Peggy Thompson, 2007 CLI Annual Conference "From Shallow Peace to Deep Resolution," Pauline Tessler, 2007 How to Calculate Child Support Under the New Law, MSBA, 2007 IACP Conference "The Care & Feeding of a Revolution," San Diego, CA, 2006 The Craft of Collaborative Law, Chip Rose video replay/Tonda Mattie, 2006 The Calling of Collaborative Practice, Dr. Susan Gamache, 2006 Effective Collaborative Communications, Dr. Susan Gamache, 2006 Basic Skills for Financial Professionals in the Collaborative Law Process, Tonda Mattie, Amy Wolff/CLI, 2006 Basic Skills for Coaches and Child Specialists in the Collaborative Law Process, Tonda Mattie, Deb Clemmensen, Terry Romonoff-Newman/CLI, 2006 The Craft of Collaborative Law, Chip Rose video replay/Tonda Mattie, 2006 The Collaborative Experience, Tonda Mattie/CLI, 2006 Interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice, Victoria Smith/Dr. Susan Gamach, Toronto, 2006 Advanced Collaborative Law, Chip Rose video replay/Tonda Mattie, 2005 Advanced Collaborative Law, Chip Rose, 2005 The Craft of Collaborative Law, Chip Rose video replay/Tonda Mattie, 2005 IACP Annual Conference "Coming of Age of Collaborative Practice," Atlanta, 2005 Mediation Training, Chris Leick, 2005 The Craft of Collaborative Law, Chip Rose, 2005 The Collaborative Experience, Tonda Mattie/CLI, 2005 Build Your Skills-Develop Your Practice, Tonda Mattie/CLI, 2004 The Nuts & Bolts of Collaborative Practice, Tonda Mattie/CLI, 2004 Collaborative Practice Workshop, 2004 IACP Networking Forum, Boston, 2004 Intermediate Collaborative Law Training, CLI, 2004 IACP Networking Forum, Vancouver, 2003 Advanced Collaborative Law Training, Tonda Mattie/CLI, 2003 Intermediate Collaborative Law Training, Stu Webb/CLI, 2002 Basic Interdisciplinary Training, Pauline Tessler, Milwaukee, 2002 Interdisciplinary Divorce Team Training, 2000 Eliminating Bias in Collaborative Practice, CLI, 1999 Basic Collaborative Law Training, Tonda Mattie/CLI, 1998 Basic Interdisciplinary Training, Tonda Mattie/CLI, 1998 Basic Collaborative Law Training, Tonda Mattie/CLI, 1997 Basic Collaborative Law Training, Stu Webb/CLI, 1995 Mediation Training, Hamline Law School, 1995 Trainee and Presenter, Collaborative Law Training: Basic Collaborative Law Training, Stu Webb/CLI, 1993 Personal interests Movies, movies, movies Long distance bike touring Avid reader of everything Contact information Phone: 612-866-9066 Fax: 612-866-9379 Email Us The law office of Tonda L. Mattie, P.A. welcomes clients from Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the surrounding Twin Cities area.


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Collaborative Practice

Tonda L. Mattie is a collaborative divorce attorney who abandoned the adversarial divorce process in favor of the collaborative approach more than 15 years ago. She brings more than 36 years of experience with divorce and family law to the settlement table.

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The law office of Tonda L. Mattie, P.C. welcomes clients from Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the surrounding Twin Cities area. Contact Us Today!