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/

Jennifer Moore
Moore Family Law, P.A.
Plymouth, MN
jennifer.moore@moorefamilylawMN.com

Financing Life during a Divorce

 Divorce and Earning Some Extra Cash 

One of my goals as a divorce attorney is to assist my clients obtain sufficient support to maintain their assets and meet their reasonable monthly needs during a divorce.  However, as families separate from one household into two, there might not be quite enough money to finance both households and the costs of a divorce.   In these cases, my clients often look for ways to make a little extra money each month.  If you find yourself in that category, and you consider yourself “crafty”, take a gander at www.etsy.com. It’s a place to sell your arts and crafts (or buy them from other people). I am not “crafty” but found the site inspirational.

 Divorce and Managing your Personal Finances 

Sometimes, divorce makes a person realize that they don’t know the first thing about how to run their personal finances.  I have read a lot of books on personal finance, but my favorite is by Jerrold Mundis.  “How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously for the Rest of Your Life,” will help you develop a personal spending plan, reduce and eliminate your debt, and live within your means.  Here’s the link:  http://www.amazon.com/How-Debt-Stay-Live-Prosperously/dp/0553382020/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1243441837&sr=1-1

 Jennifer Moore

Moore Family Law
Plymouth,  MN
jennifer.moore@moorefamilylawMN.com

Why a Depressed Market is not ALWAYS Bad in a Divorce

Divorce provides an economic opportunity for some individuals to start fresh with a pile of cash.  Maybe the pile is not quite as high as it could have been, but your buying power might be greater, too.  For example, the foreclosure crisis has created an unprecendented opportunity to obtain value for investment.  Bargain hunting is also possible in the stock market.  It is entirely possible that you can buy more long term investment vehicles with a smaller divorce settlement than you could have in the inflated market two or three years ago. 

Your divorce attorney is almost certainly not a financial advisor.  When your divorce atterney begins to discuss posssible outcomes for your case, it is time to consult with your financial advisor.  You may want to ask your financial advisor to meet with you and your divorce attorney to help you develop a plan of action.

In the meantime, if you find yourself find yourself somewhat panicked by the recession, you might want to read the following piece from the Boston Globe from last year,  http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2008/03/23/the_good_recession/.  I found it to be quite thought provoking!

Jennifer Moore
Moore Family Law, P.A.
Plymouth, Minnesota

 

Market Risk and Divorce

April 22, 2009

Market Risk and Divorce

 

One of the biggest issues in divorce involves the liquidity of the assets.  In a typical divorce, there will be a house, bank and investment accounts, and retirement assets.  The house and retirement accounts are not readily convertible into cash (especially in this market).  The bank and investment accounts are cash equivalents.  A good divorce settlement will attempt to match the needs of each party to the liquidity of the assets awarded to them in the divorce.  Thus, if one party will need cash to go back to school or fund a new home purchase, he or she should be awarded enough liquid assets to accomplish this goal.  At the same time, however, market risk is inherent in less liquid assets.  For example, until recently, real estate was a phenominal investment, but in the last year, prices have declined substantially, and there is a chance that it will be difficult to sell the home. 

 

Consider this extreme example of an unbalanced divorce settlement:  http://consumerist.com/5215609/divorcing-a-tycoon-you-win-some-you-win-some  The comments to the story are also interesting reading. 

Jennifer Moore
Moore Family Law, P.A.
(763) 951-7330
mfl@moorefamilylawMN.com
www.moorefamilylawMN.com

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

MN Family Law Attorney Discusses Alimony

Is $53,000 Per Week Too Much Alimony?

The wife of United Technologies Chairman George David is claiming that she requires an award of temporary maintenance (alimony) to cover her basic weekly expenses of $53,000.  http://www.nypost.com/seven/12192008/news/nationalnews/really_high_maintenance_144934.htm  That is $2,756,000 per year.   It’s hard to put your head around that kind of money, especially if you are the one being asked to pay alimony. 

 

In fact, in Minnesota maintenance (commonly referred to as alimony) is awarded based on a number of factors, including the standard of living during marriage.   In order to decide whether to award maintenance and the amount of an award of maintenance, both husband and wife will submit proof of their income and a proposed monthly budget.   The Court then balances the needs of the spouse seeking maintenance against the ability of the other spouse to pay.   

 

How About Zero Dollars per Week Alimony?

Not all cases warrant an award of maintenance. Sometimes, the marriage is not sufficiently long such that the spouse seeking maintenance has become accustomed to a higher standard of living or has lost opportunities to be self-supporting.  Sometimes, the needs of the spouse seeking maintenance are not sufficient to justify an award of maintenance.  And sometimes, there is no ability to pay.

 

Maintenance is a highly contentious issue.  In cases where maintenance is an issue, there is a much higher probability of going to trial and having a judge decide the case.  Unless a monthly budget is accompanied by solid supporting evidence, such as receipts, cancelled checks or other documentary evidence, it is likely that a Judge will red-line the budget, substituting his or her own judgment for the parties’.  $53,000 per week is likely to sound too high, even if it is consistent with the standard of living during the marriage.  

 

Similarly, if the Court must examine income information, the Court is likely to base its judgment on historical information, even though today’s economic reality might indicate that historical data is overly inflated. 

 

Your Attorney’s Job in a Divorce / Maintenance Case

The attorney’s job in a maintenance case is to give the Court less reason to disagree with your judgment about your needs and resources.  

 

 

Jennifer Moore

jennifer.moore@moorefamilylawMN.com

Moore Family Law, P.A.

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
 

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