February 18, 2010
October 30, 2009
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.
August 17, 2009
New Court Filing Fees in Minnesota
As of July 1, 2009, new filing fees have gone into effect. While I knew “they” (The courts in Minnesota) were talking about raising rates, I had no idea by how much. Wow.
Court Filing Fees in Hennepin County, MN
Filing for dissolution (divorce) in Hennepin County has gone from $332 to $402. Filing a motion of any kind such as for child custody or in regard to a trust or estate planning legal matter has gone from $55 to $100. A complete list of Hennepin County filing fees is available online at the Hennepin County website
Court Fees in All Minnesota Counties
Filing fees vary by county and by type of matter (Family law, divorce, trust and estate, etc). Check the State of Minnesota website for the fee for your particular county and matter.
Emily M. Matson, Esq.
August 16, 2009
When You Can’t Afford to Hire Attorneys
When You Can’t Afford to Hire Lawyers
Typically family attorneys do their fair share of pro bono work, as do lawyers in other areas of practice. However, from what we can see, some attorneys can only accept a very small number of pro bono legal cases, which meet their specific income and subject matter requirements. Chances are, you will have better luck going through one of the other pro bono services for your divorce, child custody case, or other family law matter.
Free Legal Advice from a Divorce Lawyer
Every family law litigant should have the right to compensated, competent legal representation in court, regardless of income. However, in these days of reduced court funding, this may not be an attainable goal. The Star Tribune in Minneapolis, Minnesota published an article this week on where to go if your circumstances require you to go into court without an attorney. Click Here for the link The article is not exclusively about family law but it does apply to someone seeking divorce attorneys or child custody lawyers as well as other areas of the law in Minnesota
Hire an Attorney for an Hour or Two
Even if you can’t afford an attorney to represent you in Court, get some legal advice to make sure you are on the right track, even if it means paying for an hour of an attorney’s time to look at your documents. We hope you find these links useful.
May 30, 2009
Minnesota Budget Cuts Will Impact Courts and Consumers
Budget Cuts for Minnesota Courts
The news from the Governor’s Desk is quite mixed for the judicial system. The budget signed into law from Governor Pawlenty did contain some minor budget cuts for the Minnesota Courts. The Courts were already operating on a very slim budget, so the cuts will affect services. To minimize the impact on consumers of judicial services, the Courts intend to implement some fairly significant increases in filing fees.
No Sales Tax on Legal Services
Also on the legislative radar this year was the imposition of a sales tax on legal services. It did not pass. Such a tax would have presented a great hardship to individuals seeking legal representation. Not only would the tax have increased every legal bill in Minnesota by the sales tax percentage, but it would have increased overhead for attorneys who are unaccustomed to sales tax reporting and collections. Overhead is the primary determinant of the price of legal services.
Minnesota Court Funding
Full coverage of the court funding issues in Minnesota is at http://www.1000supporters.org/
Moore Family Law, P.A.
May 7, 2009
Divorce, Valuation Dates, and Finances
Consider for a moment that you and your spouse decided to divorce in May of 2007, separated your households and began living apart, but you did not file for divorce until May of 2009. You know that your house is worth less than it was worth two years ago. You may even be under water on the house now, whereas two years ago, you may have had $20,000 or $30,000 worth of equity in your home. What date is used to value the house in a divorce?
Under Minnesota law, the valuation date is presumed to be the date of the first regularly scheduled pretrial hearing. However, parties to a divorce can agree to use a different valuation date. More importantly, a different valuation date can be used by the Court if it finds that the alternative valuation date is more fair and equitable under the circumstances. This used to be an issue that was rarely litigated, but with the global economic crisis affecting the value of houses and retirement assets so dramatically, it is now a topic of divorce litigation in almost all of my cases here in Minnesota.
There are ways around the issue. For example, with retirement and investment assets, parties can agree to simply split the asset equally without placing a value on the asset. Or, parties can trade similar assets that have been affected equally by the economy without placing a value on either asset. What you can work out depends of course on how much cooperation you can get from the opposing party.
Moore Family Law, P.A.