By Jennifer Moore, Family Law Attorney

I’ve heard it said that we are so fascinated by celebrity stories because they serve as modern morality plays. According to Slate, Bristol Palin is seeking sole custody of her daughter, and Levi Johnston is fighting it. Minnesota (as opposed to Alaska) has a statutory presumption in favor of joint custody. However, the presumption seems to be applied inconsistently. In many cases, the presumption is ignored in favor of an analysis of work and school schedules. In others, the parties are discouraged from raising significant issues of neglect and chemical dependency, based upon the experts’ opinion that these issues would not overcome the statutory presumption in favor of joint custody.

No parent is perfect. I advise my clients to be careful to permit the other parent a certain freedom and autonomy to build their independent relationship with their children. That being said, I cannot advise my clients to ignore true dangers to the mental and physical wellbeing of their children.

By Jennifer Moore, Family Law Attorney

The Minnesota Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that could have major implications for poor parents who are sued in child protection cases (See The Star Tribune). The question, interestingly enough, isn’t whether parents parents who can’t afford an attorney in a child protection case are entitled to representation. They are. Instead, the question is whether the Court has the authority to require a county to pay for a private attorney or whether representation must be by a public defender. Public defenders are paid for out of the judiciary budget. In the case to be decided by the state supreme court, a Rice County judge appointed a private attorney to represent the indigent parents in a child protection case, ordering the county to pay for it out of their budget.

Private Attorney v. Public Defender

I cannot say enough about the quality of public defenders we have here in Minnesota. However, it is likely that most people would choose a private attorney over a public defender. I did read an interesting article in The Concurring Opinion that theorized that the experience obtained by public defenders make them a better choice for most defendants than a private lawyer. Another problem is that the pay rate for private attorneys performing public defender services can be very low. In Wisconsin, for example, a private attorney who takes a public defender appointment will earn $40 an hour, when the average hourly pay for attorneys in Wisconsin is $188 an hour. (From All Business.) In fact, that $40 an hour is only $5 an hour higher than was paid for public defender appointments in 1978, when the public defender statute was passed.

Public Defender Overload

With the current economic situation, there is a serious problem with overload in the public defender’s office, especially in out-state Minnesota. (See The LaCrosse Tribune and The Star Tribune). Hiring private attorneys to help with the backlog in time-sensitive child protection cases must be a serious temptation to judges balancing their own overcrowded dockets against the welfare of abused and neglected children.

Of course, if the Courts expect private attorneys to accept appointments to represent indigent clients, there needs to be a mechanism to pay the attorney for their time. The attorney who was appointed in the Rice County case has not yet been paid.

 Cost, Dirty Tricks, Win / Lose and Divorce and Child Custody Attorneys

Several years ago, my lead attorney and I went to an American Bar Association  seminar in Monterey, California.  We met with many interesting and experienced family law attorneys.  One of these lawyers was Mr. Mark Chinn of Jackson, Mississippi.

 

Mark Chinn’s Family Law Web Site

 Yesterday, in the course of preparing some new written and web-based materials for helping our family law clients through divorce proceedings, child custody matters, etc., I realized that our law firm had actually implemented some legal strategies in divorce cases which Mark had discussed with us.  For instance, we are a ‘wrap-around’ firm and, while not strictly speaking practicing collaborative law, we do productively collaborate with other attorneys and with other professionals who can help our family law clients through a difficult time.

 Not only that.  Reading Mark’s blog I soon realized that his approach to law firm billing, ethics, and strategy is quite similar to ours.  I would encourage anyone reading this blog to follow the links to Mark’s family law blog and read there.  Please bear in mind that Mr. Chinn practices in Mississippi, and the firm I work for practices in Minnesota.  The laws are different.  Still, I think Mr. Chinn’s divorce blogs are well worth the read.

 

Mark Chinn’s Divorce Law Blog

  

Capturing Costs and Containing the Bill in a Family Law Case

  

Eliminate Dirty Tricks in a Divorce or Dissolution Case

  

Take the Win / Lose out of Child Custody Battles

 We hope you find these links useful.

 

 Thomas Moore

Office Manager

Thomas.Moore@MooreFamilyLawMN.com

 Moore Family Law, P.A.

Plymouth, MN 

www.MooreFamilyLawMN.com

The economy is affecting everyone in one way or another.  Even if you still have your job, you might be having a hard time making the house payment.  Even if you still have your house, you might be having a hard time buying groceries.  Something is getting cut along the way for everyone, and sometimes this has a greater impact than you might originally expect.

 

Minnesota Court Budgets

In the Court system, the situation is the same.  The budget that the Courts need and the budget that the Courts get are two different things, and the Courts have to make decisions about where to cut back.  Articles in the publications, including http://mnbar.org/benchandbar/2008/dec08/court.html  in “Minnesota Bench & Bar” and http://www.growthandjustice.org/Fewer_clerks_shorter_hours_Budget_cuts_slow_wheels_of_justice.html in “Growth and Justice”, have addressed the problems facing the Courts.  The Court websites themselves have posted bulletins about the budget cuts’ impact http://www.mncourts.gov/district/4/?page=3278  and how funding cuts threaten public safety http://www.courts.state.mn.us/district/0/?page=NewsItemDisplay&item=44518

 

The Impact on Family Law in Minnesota

The impact of the budget cuts on your family law matter could include the following:

  • Delay in filing matters and scheduling hearings and trials.
  • Delay due to lack of law clerks and court administrators to handle the work, and potentially less informed judicial officers.
  • Delay in filing due to courts being closed on Wednesday afternoons.
  • Lack of services such as arbitration and appointments of Guardians ad Litem.

 

Until the economy turns around and more money is available for Court services, you should expect a longer delay in having your family matter resolved.  Consider hiring an attorney help guide you through the process and explain the frustrating delays to help you through this difficult time. 

 

Emily M. Matson, Esq.

www.moorefamilylawMN.com

emily.matson@moorefamilylawmn.com

Death and Divorce are Traumatic

 

OK, here you are seeking a divorce, or planning for the death or disability of yourself or a loved one.  You seek out an attorney to handle the divorce, trust or estate.  This is an emotionally charged time for you and your family.  We understand.  Many family law clients are angry, often but not always justifiably so.  Divorce, child custody, child support, property settlement, and alimony are hard topics.  So are probating a will, drawing up a will, crafting the estate plan you want for yourself or your loved one.  No wonder people get angry!

 

 

Not every good lawyer gets every client mad, but a really good lawyer can actually get you more annoyed, not less!  Why?  Because they’re good, that’s why. How do I know?  Look, I’m only the office manager at a small family law firm.  But I have survived a divorce, I’ve taken people to court over civil matters, and I‘m the fly on the wall when the lawyers in the office make legal decisions. 

 

 

What I notice is a lot of difficult communication.  We have attorneys because the law is complex, changing and can be unpredictable in its outcomes.   The law has been around for centuries — and it shows!

 

There are rules and regulations and laws the ordinary person cannot be expected to know about and who can be expected to have a difficult time grasping.  There are doctrines in the law that are so much a part of everything that lawyers and courts do that it can be a culture shock to you, the client, when you find out about them.  For instance in Minnesota family court fairness – not victory — is the point of the proceedings.  Family courts in Minnesota are a really bad place to get revenge.  You can get justice regarding your divorce, alimony, child support, child custody, the division of marriage property, yes; but these are based upon fairness to all parties concerned, especially the children.  You cannot expect the court to base their decisions solely upon your case and especially not on your feelings.  The courts and the laws are required to balance the needs of all parties concerned.

 

 

What a Real Divorce or Trusts and Estates Lawsuit is NOT!

 

If a lawyer is really good, she or he will do things you never thought possible, necessary, or sufficient for your case.  Let me break this down.  First, here are a few examples of what will not happen:

 

*             A real case is not heard in a courtroom resembling “Judge Judy,”

“Law and Order” or “Boston Legal.”  Emotions don’t win cases. Facts, a winning strategy, and understanding and applying the law wins your case.

*             You won’t see someone on the other side break down and jump up

shouting from the witness chair, “Yes, I did it!  I did it!  I lied, lied about everything and I’m glad do you hear me, glad!!!”  Nope, that’

s not going to happen. 

  

*             A real case, especially one in Minnesota regarding family law

(divorce, alimony, child custody, child support, etc.) or one involving trusts and estate (Trusts, estate planning, probate, legacy planning,

etc.)  – is most probably not a celebrity case.  It will not involve a phalanx of attorneys on either side and it will not involve a barn full of evidence and a courtroom full of perky, quirky and technical expert witnesses who work in those really futuristic crime labs like you see on

CSI:  Miami!.

 

*             Your case, with a good lawyer, will probably involve fewer

witnesses, fewer exhibits and less time and emotion, and quite possibly

more money, than you think necessary.   

 

 What a Competent, Caring Family Law or Trusts and Estates Attorney Will Do

 

How come?  Well, here are some examples of what I think a good lawyer would do.

 

*             A good attorney will bear in mind where he or she is practicing

law.  We practice law in Minnesota.  Not only does that involve knowing Minnesota law, it involves knowing what judges here tend to like, and dislike, what the case law is, what juries like, and dislike, and so on.

 

For instance, Hennepin county juries do not usually award large dollar settlements for anything.  

 

*             A good attorney will charge you what they are worth, because a

good attorney has to pay for research, computers, office staff, think time, writing time, and so on.  You get what you pay for.  This does not mean your bill will be astronomical, but it also does not mean you want to retain the cheapest attorney, or that you can make a decision based on hourly rates alone.

 

 

*             A good attorney will carefully craft a strategy and tactics for

the case that will not only be designed to bring you justice but will also be designed to bring you the justice you can afford.  Let me be clear – you may be able to get a settlement more favorable than might ordinarily be expected, but doing so will almost certainly cost you more time, anguish, money, and work than if you get a good, but not astronomical settlement – one you can afford to pay for.

 

 

*             A good attorney who knows the family law and probate courts here

in Minnesota, will present the most telling argument, the most telling strategy, the most telling evidence, in your case.  She or he will not necessarily present all of the evidence you have helped gather and paid your attorney to gather.  Courts do not necessarily need to hear the same conclusion propped up in all sorts of different ways.  The courts are usually most impressed by a tight, cogent and brief argument which they can assume is your best argument.

 

 *            A good attorney won’t just throw affidavits, evidence, and

arguments at your case.  She or he will work to get the sharpest, most relevant argument winnowed out of the mass of emotions and data and paperwork involved.  

 

I hope you have found this informative.  I’m Tom Moore, the office manager at Moore Family Law.  You can reach us at:

 

 

 

Moore Family Law, P.A.

www.MooreFamilyLawMN.com <http://www.moorefamilylawmn.com/>

 

3350 Annapolis Lane North, Suite C

Plymouth, MN  55447

(763) 951-7330

 

mfl@MooreFamilyLawMN.com <mailto:mfl@MooreFamilyLawMN.com>

 

MN Family Attorneys On Child Custody

 

Child Custody and the People You Will Meet

When you are facing a tough custody battle, either as part of a divorce or not, there are many professionals who may be assigned, appointed, or hired to help you and the other parent figure out what is in the best interest for your children.  The following is a brief overview of some of the professionals who may be involved.  Every case is distinct, and there are many factors that go into whether a particular professional may or even can be involved in your case. 

 

Guardian ad Litem

If the court is concerned about the children based on some allegations of abuse or some other serious factor, it may order a Guardian ad Litem be appointed.  A Guardian ad Litem is someone who works for the county government and is trained to interview, observe, communicate, and make recommendations about the best interest of the children in a case.  They are the ones who speak for the children, and have a lot of influence in how the case will be viewed by the court. 

 

Custody Evaluator

There are many professionals that may be hired as a custody evaluator to help the parties and the court determine the best custody arrangement for the children.  These are often private practice attorneys or psychologists with an expertise in this field.  However, Hennepin County Family Court offers an Early Neutral Evaluation program that is a free service ordered early on in a case to help the parties attempt to work out their differences in a setting similar to a full evaluation.  If parties do not come to an agreement at the end of this process, however, the next step may be to hire a private Custody Evaluator. 

 

Parenting Time Expeditor

The court may order a parenting time expeditor be appointed to help the parties with their parenting time plan or unforeseen circumstances not addressed by earlier agreement.  An expeditor is empowered by the court to make decisions on behalf of the court.  The cost of the expeditor is paid for by the parties. 

 

Parenting Time Consultant

The parties themselves outside of the court may make an agreement to hire a parenting time consultant (although this agreement can be memorialized in a settlement agreement put on the record with the court).  A consultant does not have the legal authority of an expeditor, but is generally given more free rein to deal with the broader scope of situations that may arise in parenting and custody disputes.

 

Emily M. Matson, Esq.

Moore Family Law, P.A.

www.moorefamilylawMN.com

3350 Annapolis Lane North, Suite C

Plymouth

Phone:  763-951-7330

emily.matson@moorefamilylawmn.com

The Annual Family Law Institute in Minnesota

Every year at the end of March, the Minnesota State Bar Association’s Family Law Section (  http://www.mnbar.org/sections/family-law/  ) puts on the conference of the year for family law attorney:  The Annual Family Law Institute.  As we’re getting ready to attend this year’s conference, I am reminded of the excellent opening day speaker from the 2008 conference:  Constance R. Ahrons, Ph.D. ( http://constanceahrons.com/ ), whose topic “Listening to Children About Divorce” confirmed what many of us in family law have been trying to explain to our clients – children are affected by how you and your spouse relate to each other and your children.

 

Family and Children after Divorce

Included in her talk was an overview of her article, “Family Ties after Divorce:  Long-Term Implications for Children,”  Family Process ( http://familyprocess.org/ ), Vol. 46, No. 1, 2007.  Dr. Ahrons’ analysis of the long-term affects of divorce on the well-being of children offers a lesson for all parents now starting the divorce process:

 

“No single factor contributed more to children’s self-reports of well-being after divorce than the continuing relationship between their parents.  Children whose parents were cooperated reported better relationships with their parents, grandparents, stepparents, and siblings.  Most of all, the children said that they wanted to have relationships with both parents.  What the children wanted was not for their parents to be friends as much as they wanted them to be cordial and not badmouth each other.”

 

Id., pp. 58-59.

 

If you are able to maintain a cooperative relationship with your spouse, even if you don’t ever like each other again, your children will have better lives for it. 

 

Plan Now for Happier Milestones

When clients first come into the office and sit down and tell a story of heart ache and sadness and regret, and worse, I try to get them to think about the future, about when the divorce is done and it’s time to have a new start on life.  I ask them to think about their children – when they graduate high school, or college, or get married, picture being at their wedding and getting along with your former spouse for the sake of your child.  If you alienate your children and put them in the middle during the divorce, and subject them to the fighting that is going on between the two of you, then both parents might not be invited to those events.  If you want to make sure your children are going to have happy milestones that include you, make sure you have a relationship that means it can include your former spouse as well.

 

I’m Emily M. Matson:

Emily.matson@moorefamilylawMN.com

 

I’m family law and trusts and estates attorney at Moore Family Law: www.moorefamilylawMN.com

3350 Annapolis Lane North, Suite C

Plymouth, MN  55447

763-951-7330

VISITATION AND PARENTING TIME 


Today we no longer call a father’s time with his children “visitation”.  We call it “parenting time”. 

 

A VERY BRIEF HISTORY OF JOINT CUSTODY

James Cook died on February 21, 2009 at the age of 85.  He is considered to be the founding father of joint custody laws in the United States.  In the 1970’s, Cook was going through a bitter divorce.  He asked for joint custody of his son, but was denied because the law favored giving custody of the children to the mother.  He ultimately lost his battle for custody, but lobbied extensively for the joint custody laws that we enjoy today.  http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-james-cook12-2009mar12,0,1547708.story

 

HOW MINNESOTA FAMILY COURTS TEND TO VIEW JOINT CUSTODY

There is still a strong presumption that the mother is the primary caretaker of young children.  This is not codified in anywhere in the law, but is certainly present in the results of disputed custody cases.  Consider that in disputed custody cases, both parents will typically present themselves as being primary caretakers of the children.  In such cases, Courts routinely rely on the impressions of custody evaluators or guardians ad litem to provide investigative feedback as to which parent served as primary caretaker (along with other factors which may not be as gender-skewed).  Then, if the case does not resolve itself after a custody evaluation, the Court (at least in Minnesota), will accept the custody evaluation as evidence in the case, and will take testimony to determine who is, in fact, the primary caretaker of the children.  Any bias by any professional involved in the case may result in a result that is gender-biased against the father–even though the law is gender neutral.

 

WHAT EXPERIENCE TEACHES US ABOUT CHILD CUSTODY

In my experience, these biases are best resolved by carefully establishing through testimony and documentary evidence that my client performs all or many of all the tasks associated with being a primary caretaker.  It is especially helpful if this evidence is objective.  For example, if my client took the children to every doctor and dentist visit, the care provider notes will indicate it.  If my client attended all student conferences, there will be a record of it.  If my client signs off on all the children’s homework, there is evidence.  If my client does all the transportation to and from daycare or extracurricular activities, there may be no documentary evidence of it, but there is probably some testimonial evidence of it. 

 

I would not risk my client’s relationship with his children based on the ideal of the unbiased judiciary.

 

Jennifer Moore
Moore Family Law, P.A.
3350 Annapolis Lane North, Suite C
Plymouth,  MN 55447
(763) 951-7330
jennifer.moore@moorefamilylawMN.com
 

This week, ABC’s Good Morning America had a feature on couples that are going through the divorce process while still living together.  Here is the link to the story:  http://abcnews.go.com/video/playerIndex?id=6912479

Be Careful About Living Arrangements During Your Divorce

I find this to be a very difficult choice for my clients.  Divorce places you in an adversarial situation with your spouse.  You are often fighting over very limited resources.  And it’s not uncommon for the couple to have diverse views about the future.  If you can work out some ground rules that allow you to continue living together, it is a cost-saving option.  Such ground rules should definitely include issues such as sleeping arrangements, parenting time, financial responsibilities, family time, and when/where/how the divorce will be discussed.  You will have to be more adult than your emotions may want you to be.

Think of Your Children

Other cost-saving options include moving in with family or friends, moving in with a room-mate, and renting a smaller apartment than you might otherwise want.  If you have children, ensure that you obtain living arrangements that will permit parenting time.  Your space doesn’t have to be perfect, but it needs to be safe for your children. 

 Thank you!  You can return to www.MooreFamilyLawMN.com for more information on family law, divorce, alimony, spousal support, custody, and child support.  There you will also find information on our will drafting, legacy planning, trusts and estates and probate practice.

 

 

 

 

Parenting and Divorce

January 21, 2009

A New Parenting Time Guideline for Minnesota
 Jennifer Moore here, from Moore Family Law. 

 

 We are located in Plymouth, MN.  We serve clients throughout Minnesota, with the bulk of our family law practice being in Hennepin County and Wright County including the cities of Plymouth, Maple Grove, and Champlin.

 

This week, I want to address your attention an important Minnesota Supreme Court publication. A Parental Guide to Making Child-Focused Parenting Time Decisions (http://www.mncourts.gov/documents/0/Public/Court_Information_Office/PARENTING_TIME_PAMPHLET.pdf) is used by Courts all over Minnesota to assist it in educating parents about parenting amidst conflict. Many of my clients experience great difficulty in parenting during a divorce. They allow the conflict between the parents to leak into the parent-child relationship.

 

At Moore Family Law, we believe that the best way for you to protect your interests during a custody battle is to follow the guidance of the Courts. Do not discuss adult matters with children. Try to be positive about your children’s relationship with the other parent, even if, on the inside, you believe that the other parent is satan incarnate. Be flexible in the face of the other parent’s crazy behavior. Keep your cool. Think about your children’s needs.