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.

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Welcome!  Today I’d like to address what’s happening in the legal profession and how it affects you as a client of a family law or probate law attorney.

 

YIKES!  TODAY, IT LOOKS LIKE A CRISIS TO ME

There is no shortage of alarming headlines nowadays about legal matters.  Look at these from the “Legal Strategy Review” published by CPA Global www.cpaglobal.com 

  • The Heat is on (the global economic crisis)
  • Disputes on the Rise (There has been a big rise in wage-and-hour disputes)
  • Opening the Book on Bankruptcy (Bankruptcy filings are expected to jump)

 

Here’s what I think after reading the magazine, with my thanks to the publishers for their inspiration.

 

IS YOUR ATTORNEY FOCUSED ON THEIR STRENGTHS?

The law firms that stay strongest during this economic and social crisis will be the ones planning for it and acting to meet it.  One way to do this is for the lawyer to avoid the temptation to grab just any client that comes along.  What is the smarter, more sustainable strategy is for the attorney to clarify and focus on what she does best, to help you discover those strengths, and to take the necessary steps to ensure that she can actually deliver what is promised.

 

Your focused attorney will use computerization, electronic record keeping, and paralegals and assistants to provide subordinate but necessary services to you (scheduling, discovery, document management) for less than the cost of a full blown attorney.  They will also bring their strengths to bear on your case.  Among these strengths would be:

  • Honesty:  they tell it like it is, as gently as possible – but the tell it.
  • Empowerment:  they work on a strategy that meets *your* needs.
  • Commitment:  they work for your commitment and work to win your case.
  • Concern:  they really do care about you and your goals. 

 

HOW DO YOU FEEL?

These are stressful times.  It pays to be in touch with your rational brain and with your feelings.  If you feel an attorney is just not right for you, keep on looking.  Think about it, yes, but if it does not feel right it probably isn’t.  Some attorneys are pit bulls looking for one pit bull to represent and a third one yet to oppose!  Some are not quite so pugnacious although just as effective advocates for your interests, in their own way.  This is especially true in the area of family law:  divorce, child custody, alimony, child support.  Find a lawyer who fits you in every possible way.

 

YIKES!  I OWE MY ATTORNEY HOW MUCH?

Sad but true, nothing is free.  If your lawyer is doing their homework, they are thinking about such things as the following in addition to your case and those of their other clients:

  • What is my cash flow.  How can I increase it?
  • What are my expenses.  How can I cut them?
  • What is my client base.  How can I identify and recruit them?
  • What are the needs of my clients.  How can I meet them?

 

You will want to hire an attorney who has asked and answered these very questions.  You want someone who has taken the steps to ensure, insofar as possible, that they will not be swept away in a flood of bankruptcy, crisis and broken contracts.  If that happens, they can’t work for you, no matter how high or low their bill is.  If they’re good enough to hire, they’re good enough to pay. 

 

What you want, and what you don’t want, are major determinants of the size of your bill.  Are you unwilling to compromise on any substantive issue?  It’ll probably cost you more in money, time and anguish.  Are you, for instance, bound and determined to get your wedding ring back?  Ditto.  To get what you want in the face of strong opposition, are you willing to pay your attorney an additional $5,000?  $50,000?  More?  Think it through; talk it out with your attorney, and be reasonable. 

 

I hope you have found this informative.  I’m Tom Moore, office manager at Moore Family Law in Plymouth, Minnesota

 

Our web site is at:

www.moorefamilylawMN.com

 

You can email us at:

mfl@moorefamilylawMN.com

 

You can call us at:

763-951-7330

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>

 

A MN Family Lawyer Talks Candidly About Divorce, a Will, and Estate Planning

 

OK, You Need a Divorce, a Will, or some Estate Planning, but…

This blog is difficult!  Have you ever felt – or been – disappointed and disorganized, dull and depressed?  I have! 

 After mulling this over this not-so-cosmic realization for a while it finally occurred to me that I’ve noticed a few interesting things lately, all of which can be summed up as “we are in crisis.”  Well, some of us, perhaps many of us, are in a crisis.  I don’t see this as basically anyone’s personal failing.  I think the whole society is in a crisis.  This may hit us personally in various ways – we need to change our will, set up a trust for our handicapped or flighty children, we need a divorce or a change in child support payments or alimony.  It hits us in many ways, but it is objective, originating outside of us, and there’s not a lot we can do about the huge changes in our society right now.  But, there are some things we can change for the better. 

 

Legal Problems are Compounded When You Have the Blahs or the Blues

Look, you’re reading this because you’ve found the Moore Family Law blog on the Web and probably because you’re considering divorce, a will, or some other not-necessarily-pleasant life change, right?  If you’re like many of the people we are seeing in our family law practice and in our trusts and estates practice this spring, you are justifiably angry, hurt, or both.  Still, getting your life back on the right track is something you need to do, regardless of how you feel right now and regardless of whatever confusion and indecision you may be feeling right now.

 

So Get Off the Couch and…

May I offer a suggestion?  Leap off the cliff and figure out on the way down how to invent the parachute.  In short, do something, anything that needs to be done, no matter how minor it may be.  Just do something.  It’ll get you off the couch and open up your mind, your will power, and your emotions to tackle the bigger stuff – that divorce or estate plan I mentioned above.

 

Still with me?  I’m talking from experience here.  When I suddenly snap to the fact that I’m watching infomercials, for goodness’ sake, but then get up and do something productive, when I start to get energized, I suddenly discover that I’m more optimistic, active and happy; and I’m  getting things done, too.  The point isn’t that, hey, all that got done was the trash got taken out or the oil changed in the car — big whoop.  Nope, the point is that when you start taking control in any area of your life, the benefits for you are truly global.

 

Once you’ve gotten this far, you can take the occasion S.T.O.P:  Meaning

 

  • Stop what you’re doing
  • Take stock of your situation and the situation outside of yourself
  • Orient yourself in the new situation
  • Proceed

 

But that’s another blog!  
 

The Proof is in The Pudding!


If you’re stuck with some unpleasant task that you really have to do that you don’t want to, that you’re afraid of failing in, that you don’t understand – do it anyway.  The fact that you realize that you have a problem is proof that you can find a solution to it; and the fact that you are doing something positive is part of that solution.

 

Have a great day!

 

I’m Tom Moore, the office manager at Moore Family Law.  We hope you find this blog amusing – and informative.  You can contact Moore Family Law at:

 

3350 Annapolis Lane North, Suite C

Plymouth, MN  55447

mfl@MooreFamilyLawMN.com

Come back and visit our blog, or if you have any questions or concerns, please contact our office  at 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
 

Minnesota Family Attorney Discusses The Financial Recession of a Divorce 
Recessions are financially sobering affairs.  The value of your assets decrease while the uncertainty of your paycheck increases.  In a recession, you need to take charge of your financial affairs in order to ensure that you are not spending money needlessly. 

Divorces are no different.  The first step to a successful divorce is to gather knowledge about your finances.   Your lawyer will need your tax returns, bank statements, and credit card statements for the last three years.  She/he will also need current investment and retirement account statements.  If you claim a non-marital interest (because you owned it prior to marriage or it was bequeathed or gifted to you) in any financial account, your lawyer will need to see documents that reflect the value of the asset when you married or when it was gifted to you. 
Consider having your home appraised.  The cost of a home appraisal is minimal compared to the uncertainty of the market.  If you are cash strapped, ask a real estate agent to prepare a market analysis for you. 
If you have an interest in a defined benefit pension, you should know before you begin negotiations with your spouse that its present value may be higher than the value listed on your pension statement. 

Next, consider that you may be able to negotiate payoffs with various creditors.  You may be able to obtain a lower interest rate or some other concession that will reduce the financial pain that is inevitable when you split one home into two. 

It may be that you cannot obtain certain information from your banks and/or creditors, because the accounts are in your spouse’s name.  You may be able to obtain a substantial amount of information by looking around the house.  If not, do not despair.  Your attorney can obtain this information through a process called “discovery” where the other party is required to ask questions and provide documents requested by you.

Ultimately, however, the more work you do now, the less work your lawyer will have to charge you for. 

My favorite resource for financial advice is www.consumerist.com.  You should be able to find a lot of tips there for lowering your monthly payments and negotiating lower interest rates, as well as reducing your debt, and obtaining the best customer service from unfriendly customer service professionals.

 

Jennifer Moore
Moore Family Law, P.A.
3350 Annapolis Lane North, Suite C
Plymouth,  MN 55447
(763) 951-7330
Fax:  1-(866) 354-3531
jennifer.moore@moorefamilylawMN.com
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TIMES ARE TOUGH – Discussed by a Minnesota Family Attorney

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has read / watched / talked about the economy this past weekend and gone, “Yikes!”  Times are tough! This puts the emphasis on being very flexible, very opportunistic as it were, about how you stretch your precious few dollars and still get done what has to get done.  We find people faced with this every day in our family law practice.

BARTER

Remember the story about Abraham Lincoln, who took various items in trade for legal services?  True story!  I could also tell you a story about how my mother paid for her first baby’s delivery by selling her cow Becky.  Turned out she, and the baby, were quite happy with the results of the trade.  The point is, if there’s a service you really need, and you are short on money, find someone you may be able to make a trade with, and make an offer to them.  I wouldn’t expect the IRS to take a cow in trade (whether named Becky or not) but perhaps a solo lawyer, your accountant, or small practitioner would take some work on their house or office or car or home computer.  Try it!  And, be ready to be flexible. 

BARGAIN

Many of us are not good at this at all, except maybe during port time on a vacation cruise.  The point here, I think is to go for not the cheapest but the best you can afford.  I know of one family who always got everything the cheapest when they built a garage behind their house.  They spent a lot of time in the courts trying to get recovery from the fly by night contractor who swindled them, *and* the garage leaked, too.   Use your brain!  If, for example, you’re bargaining for a lawyer and the cheap one has to look up everything in a book before he answers you, while the higher priced one knows the law already… you may be better off with the “more expensive” attorney since she has a better chance of actually accomplishing what you want.

CUT BACK

OK, I’m preaching motherhood and apple pie here, but cut back cut back cut back.  More than a few people we know have discovered the parsimonious joys of shopping at that really bare bones – and small! – Grocery store chain.  What applies to groceries applies to much of what we need in life.  Yes we have to give up variety and some expensive favorites but if the alternative is between living parsimoniously or living on an ever increasing credit card balance, I for one would choose parsimony.

 DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF

Anticipation of a dire situation is often worse than the situation itself.  Someone once wrote that the fact that there is a problem means that the elements are already present in the situation, for a solution.  You just have to dig it out.  For myself, I find that doing *something* — provided I’ve put some thought into its appropriateness – is better than doing nothing.  And, if after consideration, nothing is what you are compelled to do, that can work too.

DO SWEAT THE BIG STUFF

Family, friends, your own dignity and honesty.  THIS *stuff* is well worth paying attention to; and making sure that even if at the cost of some short run advantages, there are principles you can stick to. 

Please come back to our blog as we discuss more topics about Family Law and the economy.  You can visit our website, or give Moore Family Law a call 763-951-7330, if you have questions that you need answered.  We would be happy to assist you.

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.

 

 

 

 

The “D” Word

 

Family attorneys are not in the business of breaking up families.  We are about helping people manage family transitions.  If there is one piece of advice I could give to stay married, it would be to never threaten divorce during an argument.

 

Don’t use the “D” word.

 

Just don’t.

 

If you are the one using the “D” word in the heat of an argument, chances are you don’t really mean it.  People who are seriously contemplating divorce don’t throw the “D” word around much.  Instead, they quietly go about locating the information they need to make the decision to divorce and implementing a plan for future independence. 

 

On the other hand, the person hearing the “D” word in the midst of battle will begin to quietly locate the information needed to protect him or herself in the event of a divorce and implement a plan for the inevitable transition from married to single.

 

See the problem?  If you are not serious about divorce, you do not want to get your spouse serious about divorce. 

 

Finally, if you aren’t serious about divorce, try marriage counseling:

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/marriage-counseling/MH00104.

 

 

Jennifer Moore

Moore Family Law, P.A.

3350 Annapolis Lane North, Suite C

Plymouth,  MN 55447

(763) 951-7330

Fax:  (866) 354-3531

jennifer.moore@moorefamilylawMN.com