Recent MN Court Opinions

March 25, 2010

Each Thursday, the Minnesota Appellate Courts and the Minnesota Supreme Court publish their most recent opinions. Below are the newest ones for this week.

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By Jennifer Moore, Family Law Attorney

Hennepin County Court Judge Jay Quam told a local businessman that if he couldn’t prove that he was broke, he would go to jail for failing to pay support to his ex-wives.

This is part of the support enforcement process. If a payor fails to make child support or spousal maintenance payments, the payee (recipient of support) can ask the Court to issue an Order to Show Cause which will require the payor to appear in Court and prove why they should not be held in contempt. If the Court finds that there is no good reason why they didn’t pay support (i.e. they were unemployed through no fault of their own), it may order incarceration until such time as the payments are made.

Usually, jail is a last resort, since it is very difficult to obtain compliance with a support order from jail. Before a person is ordered to jail, they may be required to make some small token payments of support and participate in a job search program. However, the threat of going to jail can be a useful tool in enforcing support judgments.

Each Thursday, the Minnesota Appellate Courts and the Minnesota Supreme Court publish their most recent opinions. Below are the newest ones for this week.

By Emily Matson, Family Law Attorney

Well, at least Minnesota isn’t alone when it comes to cutting back funding for the justice system. According to a new article titled “Sorry, Justice Isn’t in the Budget” in Vanity Fair, it’s a problem in nearly every state in the country.

I particularly liked the reminder in the concluding paragraph:

Like everything else in life, you get what you pay for out of a court system. So don’t complain to your lawyer or your judge the next time you go to court seeking redress of a grievance and finding yourself on interminable hold. It’s your legislator’s fault. It’s your governor’s fault. It’s your own fault, too.

So, next time you have a problem with the Court system…. Please take a deep breath. You may be waiting awhile.

By Emily Matson, Family Law Attorney

It’s no secret a big fan of the Today Show. This morning’s show included a segment on finding more time in the day for busy working parents. A lot of the show’s suggestions were about organizing your life.

What is Organizing?

Organizing is about anticipating your needs and preparing to have what you need to fulfill those needs. It means having a place to put your plates and dishes. It means having the things you use most at the front of the cupboards. It means putting all those remotes in one basket. You will always know where to go for these things.

When you’re facing a divorce, you need organization more than ever. Likely, you are suddenly in the position of having a lot more information that you had during the marriage, whether it is about the financial state of the marriage, the other spouse’s spending habits, or the reality check that your house may not be worth what you thought it was. Organizing this information is one way an attorney helps guide you through the divorce process.

Organizing Your Information at the Start of a Divorce

At the beginning of the divorce process, you can start organizing by first collecting a lot of necessary information to give to your attorney. You will need to collect all your financial information, including taxes for previous years, W-2s, recent pay stubs, credit card statements, and bank statements. You will need titles to property, including homes, cars, and boats. You will then need to collect personal information, like social security numbers for you and your family members, dates of birth, bank account numbers, important dates in your family’s history.

Organizing Your Future to Prepare for After Divorce

Once you have collected information about your past and present, you need to start organizing for your future as well. Start keeping a budget, which you may or may not have had to do before. You will want to know how much you’re spending and when. Make sure to think about expenses that may only come once a year, such as license fees. If you’re looking for a program to help you, I’d recommend reading this review of 10 online budget tools by Dough Roller.

If you have children, start keeping a calendar that you can keep track of parenting time on, and important events in your children’s life. One possibility is creating a Google Calendar that you and the other parent can share.

Really, anything that is causing you anxiety and stress can be better managed by anticipating the cause of the anxiety and doing something to prepare for it. A little organizing can help ease the transition from a troubled married life to a more peaceful single life.

What is an Annulment?

March 15, 2010

By Jennifer Moore, Family Law Attorney

What Makes a Marriage Valid in Minnesota

In order to obtain a marriage license in the state of Minnesota:

  • The marriage must be between a man and a woman.
  • If you were married before you must show that your previous marriage was legally terminated.
  • Applicants between the ages of 15-18 must have parental consent.

Valid marriages must be presided over by state-approved personnel (usually judges or ordained ministers who have registered as such with their county vital statistics offices), and have two witnesses over the age of 16.

Void Marriages in Minnesota – Marriages That Are Annulled by Law

If any of these requirements are not met, the marriage is void, and the Court will issue an annulment that provides that the marriage was void.

Voidable Marriages in Minnesota – Marriages That May Be Annulled

There are also certain situations in which the Court may find that the marriage should be annulled, including:

  • Mental illness- petitioner would have 90 days to file from the point where they discovered this condition.
  • Outside influences that impaired judgment were present at the time of the ceremony (drugs or alcohol) – petitioner would have 90 days to file from the point where they discovered this was a factor.
  • Impotence or an inability to have a physical relationship- petitioner would have one year to file from the point where they discovered this condition.
  • One party was underage- petitioner would have until the date that the underage party reaches legal marriage age.

In these circumstances, the marriage is considered voidable within a certain period of time. If a party does not seek an annulment within that time frame, the right to an annulment is lost.

Religious Annulment

There are also religious annulments. You should contact your church for information about those. However, this type of annulment has no legal consequences, and therefore no legal effect on your family situation.

Annulment is NOT a “Get Out Of Jail Free Card”

Sometimes people mistakenly believe that an annulment will relieve them of the obligation to divide certain property or pay certain support. This may not be true, however, since Minnesota recognizes “putative marriage,” which means that if the couple lives together, believing in good faith that they were married, they are entitled to the same rights to assets and property as if they were married.

By Emily Matson, Family Law Attorney

The Trend Towards A Better Economy

According to a recent study by Forbes, the Minneapolis metro area is the 4th in a list of a cities where the recession is “easing.” In an analysis by Yahoo!, this means we can expect our job markets to grow, and our housing crisis to slow.

Why This Trend Matters to You

These kinds of trends are interesting in a large scale view of the world, but in the practical, personal details of your life, trends don’t necessarily translate to changes in your life.

However, trends might change how you look at your future. This might give you hope when you’ve been starting to give up on ever selling your house or finding a better job. This might give you more options if you’re looking at making a change in your family situation. Perhaps this will give you and your partner the financial stability you need to focus on your relationship, and possibly to recognize that now you have the financial ability to move on in separate directions.

Regardless of your personal situation, I hope this bit of news brightens your day at least a little.

Each Thursday, the Minnesota Appellate Courts and the Minnesota Supreme Court publish their most recent opinions. Below are the newest ones for this week.

By Jennifer Moore, Family Law Attorney

Parents do not always agree on the issue of child discipline. This is a major problem in custody cases.

Discipline May Affect a Child’s Preferences

Where one parent is permissive and the other parent is somewhat more strict, the permissive parent has an edge in a custody battle. Even though courts attempt to honor relationships with both parents, the more permissive parent will be favored by the children. This will be reflected in any custody evaluation, both in the children’s preferences, as well as in the evaluator’s observations regarding the children’s bond with each parent. As Arizona Judge Anne Kass states in her article, Divorce Pair Should Agree On Discipline, “the common way these quarrels over discipline methods will usually play out is that the children gravitate to the parent who is more lenient because children vote with their feet.”

Tools to Measure Discipline

It can be hard to win a custody battle if your argument is that the children need more discipline, even if it’s true. Psychologists have attempted to design tools, such as the “Discipline Index,” that measure the the level of discipline that each parent may use, without asking the child to take sides in the divorce. However, it is my experience that custody evaluators seldom use these tools.

Discipline May Lead to Allegations of Abuse

A greater problem is that conflicts over punishment styles can lead to allegations of abuse. I was chatting with a group of friends, ranging from age 25-50 the other day, and almost every one of them had stories of experiencing physical discipline as a child. Some of the stories would have raised significant issues in a custody dispute. Some may have given rise to a child protection investigation or criminal charge. In Minnesota, you can be charged with a crime if you engage in malicious punishment of a child. Minn. Stat. Sec. 609.377 provides that “A parent, legal guardian, or caretaker who, by an intentional act or a series of intentional acts with respect to a child, evidences unreasonable force or cruel discipline that is excessive under the circumstances is guilty of malicious punishment of a child.”

Malicious punishment is a subjective determination. For example, A few years ago, there was rigorous debate over the propriety of “hot-saucing”, where the parent puts hot sauce on a child’s tongue as discipline. The practice has led to day care sanctions and even criminal charges, and has been the subject of custody litigation.

Attitudes and Beliefs About Discipline Vary by Community and Era

Salon.com has published an article about bibilical chastisement that shows the divergent nature of societal attitudes about corporal punishment. It is an almost certainty that Minnesota Courts would not regard “biblical chastisement” as an appropriate method of discipline, and such discipline would severely hinder a custody case.

What Discipline Style is Right for You?

We recommend that parents attempt to agree on a parenting style, and apply it consistently throughout their children’s lives. When cases come to us with discipline conflicts, we advise that the more strict parent modify their parenting style towards lenience, without giving up important parent child boundaries or risking the safety of their children. We also advise parents to avoid physical discipline in all cases. Sometimes, physical contact is necessary to protect yourself or your child. However, such contact should be loving, and intended to protect with every effort made to avoid any harm.

Where the parenting styles have been different for a long period of time, we advise that families engage in therapy and education together so that parents can parent more effectively with fewer misunderstandings and no false allegations of child abuse. Classes are available through the University of Minnesota Extension Service, and The Storefront Group.

Each Thursday, the Minnesota Appellate Courts and the Minnesota Supreme Court publish their most recent opinions. Below are the newest ones for this week.