By Jennifer Moore, Family Law Attorney.

The New York Times has compiled a list of big-picture financial considerations you should make during your divorce. Our experience suggests that these are mostly good suggestions, although we do believe that the best way to proceed is with the advice of a lawyer or an attorney, who will be experienced in structuring financial settlements with these concerns in mind.

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.

Your Divorce and Your Handicapped Child

 

 

 

When a child or adolescent needs special help managing behavior and / or coping with the symptoms of mental health disorders, families usually have to maneuver painstakingly through a maze of county, state, and federal regulations, agencies, and the individuals who represent them; in order to learn how to best advocate for their handicapped or special needs child. Combine these with a divorce, child custody battle; or with a death in the family and a probate court case; and the difficulty of everything, especially for your child, is multiplied. 

 

Divorce Law and Disability Law

If you are the parent of a handicapped child and are undergoing divorce you will have to learn about not only family law but also the fundamental principles and procedures involved in disability law, special education, civil rights legislation including human rights legislation, IDEA legislation, The Minnesota Children’s Mental Health Act, county services, and quite possibly juvenile justice proceedings and other laws.

 

You will need to understand the structure of the courts and the various bodies involved in your child’s well being.  You’ll need to decide the best way to proceed when you and / or your child are called before an administrator, when you have to fill out what can seem an endless sea of paper forms, and you’ll need to decide what to do when you must appear in court.  The more the courts are involved, the more likely it is you will need to retain a family law attorney or a disability lawyer.

 

You will have to understand the differences between these laws and be able to decide what is most appropriate to used for meeting your child’s needs.

 

Appeals Court and Administrative Appeals

You may not get what you need for your child at the outset.  You may need to learn the procedures and forms and contacts needed to file an appeal or a complaint regarding an administrative decision or court ruling.  While in many cases, especially regarding your disagreement with a rule or an administrative decision, you may not need an attorney; you may be served best by at least hiring a knowledgeable lawyer to review the paperwork involved in caring for your child.  This costs less than retaining a lawyer to become your advocate, and if possible it will provide you some basic legal advice.

 

You Will Learn to be Your Child’s Most Powerful Advocate

Finally, you will have to become expert in advocating for your special needs child; and learn also how to avoid and resolve disputes regarding your children.

 

It sounds like a lot and it is.  We don’t know of any attorney or advocate who can do all this for you, even when you can afford to hire such an expert.  Unfortunately, in extreme cases you may need to retain one attorney for your divorce, and another for your handicapped child. 

 

Advocating for your child in Minnesota

There are several organizations that can help.    

 

The Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health is a statewide education and advocacy organization and a primary resource for children’s mental health. MACMH produces more than nine children’s mental health publications and organizes the annual Child and Adolescent Mental Health Conference in Duluth, MN.

 

MACMH  can be reached at The Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health

 

Another resource for parents of handicapped or special needs children is The Arc of Minnesota. The Arc of Minnesota is a private, non-profit, statewide voluntary organization. The mission of The Arc of Minnesota is to support and advocate for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities and their families as they choose how they live, learn, work and play. The Arc of Minnesota fight for persons with developmental disabilities so they can reach for a brighter, more inclusive future. 

 

The ARC of Minnesota can be reached at The ARC  of Minnesota  

 

Thanks to the Minnesota Association of Children’s Mental Health for supplying the information used in this blog. 

 

Thomas Moore

Office Manager

Moore Family Law, P.A.

Plymouth, MN 

www.MooreFamilyLawMN.com

Thomas.Moore@MooreFamilyLawMN.com

Mothers Who Choose To Give Up Child Custody

This morning on the   Today show  they had a brief spot highlighting an article in Marie Claire focusing on mothers who choose to give up custody of their children.

Non Traditional Child Custody and Parenting Time

More and more often, I see non-traditional custody and parenting time arrangements in divorces.  Often, I talk to fathers who are afraid they won’t be able to have any kind of parenting time beyond every other weekend, and I have to do a lot of talking to convince them that 50/50 arrangements are not only possible, but common, and can even be healthy for children. 

Mothers Who Give Up Child Custody and Parenting Time

Perhaps more difficult to comprehend, however, is the situation where a mother chooses to accept a custody arrangement that gives the father more than her.  There are social expectations that a mother will be caring and nurturing, and that while the father goes off to work and visits the kids every other weekend, the mother will stay at home no matter what. 

Fathers Who Have Primary Child Custody

Sometimes, however, the best interest of the children is to give the father primary custody, with the mother exercising the “over other weekend” – or even every summer – parenting time.  The Marie Claire article looks at the families of three women, and why it was the right choice for them.

Child Custody, Parenting Time, Alimony, Child Support – What is Best for You?

The underlying message behind the idea that it’s ok for mother’s to not have primary custody?  It’s that there is NEVER one right solution for every family.  What is right for YOUR family is not necessarily what is right for the Joneses down the street or the Gosselins on the television.  It is more important to figure out what is right for your family and best for YOUR children, than it is to worry about what people not in your family are going to think about it. 

Emily Matson

Emily.Matson@MooreFamilyLawMN.com

Moore Family Law

www.moorefamilylawMN.com

 World of Warcraft, Life Balance and Your Divorce Lawyers

Stress:  Something You Can Do with your Divorce Lawyer

As office manager in a family law firm, I must acknowledge that, from time to time, things get stressful indeed.  Two days this week were just that:  two court appearances, several cases of unexpected illness in the office, deadlines looming in a very ‘paper intensive’ matter, rescheduled court dates and on and on.

 That’s when I was reminded, again, of the necessity of a meaningful life – work balance, especially if you are doing something life changing such as retaining a divorce attorney, child support lawyer, etc.  So, I talked with some professionals I know and a number of them it turns out are enthusiasts of   World of Warcraft (WOW)    They socialize both with online friends and with ‘real time’ friends through this game.  They get great satisfaction from raiding in the different dungeons in the game.  I also know at least one divorce attorney who just loves Judge Judy  Not for me, and possibly not for you either, I know, but still everybody needs something!  For me, it may be just firing up the lawn mower and attacking the lawn – again.  Or, it may be a quiet afternoon chatting with my son while he cleans up his apartment.  You will have your own way of achieving that balance I am sure. 

 The point here is when you are dealing with divorce, a last will and testament, drawing up a trust, estate planning, child support or child custody – work with the professionals in your life to manage rationally the stress, time, and intensity you put into the various areas of your life – work, sleep, family, relaxation, and the family law or other legal matter you are involved in.

 Stress:  Resources Your Divorce Attorneys Probably Can’t Provide

I realize I write so many blogs about stress in relation to family law, divorce lawsuits, and so on – but it is true that we need that life – work balance.  We hope you can find yours.  It helps when you have help.  Here are some links to resources I hope you’ll find useful:

 Volunteer Lawyers and Attorneys in Minnesota

 

Parents without Partners

 

Twin Cities Men’s’ Center, MN

 

Self Advocacy in Minnesota

 Thomas Moore

Office Manager

Moore Family Law, P.A.

Plymouth, Minnesota

www.MooreFamilyLawMN.com

Thankful Things in Divorce Law

Family Law and Peace and Quiet

It’s Friday, we have been very rushed all week and we have a firm retreat this weekend. Tonight we plan to have a summer cookout with friends. Hopefully today will be a quiet one! As it is I have a few minutes here to count our blessings. It may sound odd to think of being thankful in a law practice consisting of divorce cases, child custody cases and – more and more, recently – child support actions. Still, looking at the bright side really isn’t a luxury but a necessity; and it struck me earlier this week that I was really being inordinately grouchy!

The Bright Side of Working With Divorce, Child Custody, and Probate

Here are a few bright sides to our family law practice here in Minnesota.

1. Helping a client through a difficult divorce, custody dispute, etc.

The old saying that what does not break us makes us stronger can sound smug, I know, but I think it is, for me at least, true. Takes work!

2. Helping a client – and myself — grow to learn to apply the AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) prayer

“God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.” No matter what your belief, or disbelief, in God, I think this works and I am thankful that I have the opportunity at least to try to apply this to myself.

3. Making things go more smoothly in my daily tasks

Which result in more timely and economical delivery of our product – legal opinions – to our clients; with less friction along the way. 4. Hearing that what I do has actually helped someone in their divorce, probate, estate plan, child custody case.

5. Collaborating in the office with our family law and probate attorneys

To provide the best service we can to our clients.

6. In a divorce or probate legal case, successfully balancing

The emotional needs of our clients to the very practical matters of deadlines, paperwork, fees, billing, and so on.

7. Helping mesh everyone’s different styles, strengths, and emotions

In a productive way, whether they be lawyers, opposing counsel, client, vendor, or just me.

8. At the end of the day, knowing I have done my duty

To the firm and to our clients to the best of my ability.

Thank You

 And, to you who are reading this – thank you!

Thomas Moore

Office Manager

Moore Family Law

www.moorefamilylawMN.com

Plymouth, Minnesota

Thomas.Moore@MooreFamilyLawMN.com

MySpace, Facebook and Divorce 

Social Networking and Child Custody

When parents divorce, they often have to find new ways to communicate with each other about their children.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to pass a notebook along with the children when they go for parenting time.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to set up an account at   ourfamilywizard   to keep track of important dates on a shared schedule. 

 MySpace and Facebook

One thing that is NOT a good idea, however, is to use online social networking services, such as Facebook or MySpace     as a soap box to talk about your former spouse in a negative way. 

 Social networking sites allow you to share content with family, friends, colleagues, strangers, anyone with access to the internet.  There is great potential to help you keep in touch with people, but it also has great potential to help you alienate people and look like the worst possible parent. 

 I urge you to resist the temptation to find out where your former spouse is posting online, and even more, I urge you to resist the temptation to respond to anything he or she posts.  Do not start a passive aggressive flame war by posting on YOUR site in reaction to something posted on his or her site.  There is no good that can come of this. 

 Take the High Road during your Divorce or Child Custody Case

If you need to vent, do so over the telephone or a cup of coffee to a friend or trusted family member.  Do not post it publicly and permanently on a website where people will see and judge you for it.  People do not know your whole history, and posting a one-word essay on the unfitness of your former spouse is not likely to make anyone agree with you – they are more likely to turn against you.

 Social networking gives you the opportunity to practice taking the high road, and to make choices that are concerned with the best interest of your children.  That includes refraining from fighting or vilifying the other parent in a way that will only vilify yourself.

Should You Avoid Divorce For Sake of the Children?

  

Marriage, Divorce… and the Effect on the Children

People fall in love, get married, have kids, and then…  they’re out of love, but they still have the marriage and the kids.  You can get a divorce.  The marriage can be dissolved so that the legal ties that bind are no longer there to hold unhappy and unwilling partners together.  However, your children will always be a connection the two of you will share. 

 It’s a tricky question of whether to avoid divorce or separation just for the sake of the children, however.  Recently on the “Today”  show website http://today.msnbc.msn.com a contributor, Dr. Ruth Peters, wrote an article titled “Should you stay together for the kids?” www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13924018/  It’s a good look at the complicated issues that can affect your decision. 

Marriage, Divorce… and the Effect on the Rest of the Family

Myself, I think that if you’re unhappy and engaging in an unhealthy relationship, you are teaching your children that it’s ok to be unhappy and to have unhealthy relationships.  How you live your life will affect your children more than giving them an occasional talk that includes “Do as I say, not as I do.”  

One Good Co-Parenting Link

Every county in Minnesota requires that divorcing parents take a class on co-parenting after divorce.  Hennepin County lists its on its website the www.courts.state.mn.us/district/4/?page=647 Divorce Education Requirements page .  www.courts.state.mn.us/district/4/?page=647

 This education requirement is not about teaching you how to parent:  you obviously have figured that out by this point.  The class will teach you how to effectively co-parent with someone you are no longer married to, which is far more important than people often anticipate.  The class is more than worth the time you will spend in it.  My clients often come back and tell me that they wish they could make their former spouse attend the class three more times.  

Emily Matson

Emily.Matson@MooreFamilyLawMN.com

 Moore Family Law, P.A.

www.MooreFamilyLawMN.com

 Plymouth, MN

 

Meeting Your Attorney 

The Initial Consultation

When you are dealing with any legal matter, — divorce, child custody, estate planning, or something else; you will of course have to meet your lawyer.  While every attorney handles this meeting in his or her own way, here is one take on how that meeting would proceed.  

First, you’ll have to find their office!  Be sure to ask, or to map it, or to get directions on the phone.  You do not want to be late to this meeting or arrive flustered by a frustrating chase around unfamiliar streets looking for an office.  Some attorneys do make house calls or visit you at some spot convenient for you, but most prefer to meet you in their office.  That this is “their turf” and not yours may be part of their approach, in order to ensure that you are capable of making some commitment to what can be an exhausting, long-term, and expensive relationship – hopefully resulting in you prevailing in your lawsuit, obtaining your divorce, drawing up and instituting your estate plan.  Your prospective attorney may want to see if you’re up to at least some inconvenience and effort on your own part. 

First Impressions Matter to You – And to Your Lawyer

OK, you’re in their office.  Pay attention.  Are you greeted immediately and courteously?  Are you expected?  Is this place like the offices on “Boston Legal” or “L.A. Law?”  Probably not!  So, being realistic, you’ll want to assess this first impression when you decide to employ this attorney – or not. 

The first person you meet may be your attorney, a paralegal, or an office staffer.  You may be handed a form to fill out, offered coffee, tea, or bottled water.  You may be asked if you have brought any paperwork relating to your matter.  Eventually – hopefully soon! – You will be invited into your prospective attorney’s office.  

Bear in mind that the law is not just about statute, litigation, and precedent.  It is also a very psychological matter – so you’d be advised to be aware not only of your intellectual, mental interaction with this person; but also of how you feel about him or her.  Do you have a battle ahead over, say, child support?  If so, do you want a lawyer who is a compromiser / nice guy; a battleaxe / bulldog; or something unique you can’t quite put your finger on yet?    

How Your Family Law Attorney Might Proceed

She would ask what brought you to her, giving you a chance to expand upon your motivation; and asking more directed questions to bring out what might be important to your cause.  It’s a back and forth question and answer format.  The law can be abstruse and non-common-sensical at times, so by all means ask questions back.  The point is to build some trust between you now, if possible. 

She will talk about the attorney – client relationship and confidentiality. 

She will outline what she sees your case to be and give some generic raw legal advice.  You cannot expect her to lay out her entire role for you here – especially since the initial client interview is often free to you.  This is an interview in both directions, actually:  you are trying to see if she is the attorney for you; and so is she. 

She will talk about the legal process you face.  In some jurisdictions and for some types of law this can be very standardized; in others, not. 

She will talk about two basic strategies in almost any case:  settlement (no trial) or trial.  Neither one is perfect and both typically involve both some work and some compromise.  

The attorney will explain the business of the law.  You have to pay the fee to get the advocacy you need.  

Finally, the lawyer and you will end the interview.  He or she will let you know what follow up you can expect – usually a letter or email. 

Is This the Lawyer for You?

That’s it!  Now, it’s time for you to make a choice – this attorney?  Another?  Drop the whole plan?  Good luck! 

Thomas Moore

Office Manager

www.MooreFamilyLawMN.com

Plymouth, Minnesota

Thomas.Moore@MooreFamilyLawMN.com