March 3, 2011
My first marriage ended in divorce soon after we adopted our second special needs child — our son, whom we love as much as our daughter, also handicapped.
When you or a member of your family are handicapped everything gets harder and, to coin a phrase, “the harder it is for ‘normal’ people, the hard harder hardest it is for you.” You have to be you and your children’s best advocate no matter what the legal situation you and your lawyer are working on.
I am an office manager at a law firm, not an attorney, so I can’t deal in depth with the legal issues. I can say, however, that you can expect to be required to work with a legally appointed guardian for the child, that your child’s welfare — as well as your own — will be and should be of special interest to you, your lawyer, and the court; by the very cause and nature of special needs.
In my case, my soon to be ex spouse agreed that no matter what happened we would be partners for our children’s welfare. It was still emotionally draining. The divorce hit the children especially hard and for at least five years my son asked me, at every meeting, when his mom and I would get married again. My daughter was so hurt and angry she changed her family name back to her birth mother’s.
A few simple thoughts my Ex and I have discovered and worked on:
1. You CANNOT use the children as weapons against your former spouse or as trash cans in which to dump all of the bad news about your ex. It will ruin them. Be honest, yes, but remember their natural and healthy inclination is to continue to love both you and your ex. Don’t spoil this special love and understanding.
2. You MUST keep or establish trust between the adults in this situation and not seek emotional revenge or any kind of revenge or retribution. You are still a family and your kids need a sane and reasonably happy father and mother.
3. You HAVE to be flexible (trust –but verify — is the basis for this) in alimony, child visitation, and child support. Special needs people are in my experience, more emotionally and physically changeable than us ‘normal people’ and you have to adapt to and anticipate what comes next — new meds, new doctors, new social services etc. — and new providers and side effects to deal with. Then there’s the reality of layoffs, shorter hourse, the house that won’t sell, the job offer 1500 miles away… And,of course, the possibility of a new partner entering your life.
4. USE the situation for some soul searching for yourself and to work out a life plan for your children.
5. EXPECT that your spouse and their attorney will probably have significant differences about parenting, special needs — including denying that they exist, and about the treatment for same – or the denial of it. I’m not a pollyanna but it is possible to take responsibility for what is yours, work things out, or at least minimize the damage.
6. YOU SHOULD KNOW that life, and divorce, and the hurt and harm the hadicapped are all subject to — know that all this is unfair. Learn how to deal with it.
7. You MUST take some unselfish amount of time off just for yourself. You deserve it.
8. BE HONEST with the children about the situation. None of this “daddy is sleeping on the couch because his back hurts,” or “Mommy cries all the time because she has a headache,” or “Your father is on a trip.” No. Tell the truth but don’t overdo it– as, for instance, you would do when a young child asks where babies come from.
9. BE STRONG. This means knowing when to tough it out and when and where to scream and cry.
10. And, oh yeah, KEEP A SENSE OF HUMOR. That’s an order! There’s always somebody worse off than yourself who is working through this and who is learning how to. Learn how to.
11. Finally BUILD A NETWORK of friends, providers, teachers, and family to help you through this. It helps if they can accept not only the scream and cry part but also your joy at the advances you will see and find in your special needs loved ones.
I hope this helps.
Moore Family Law
March 29, 2010
There is a certain nostalgia sometimes in browsing You Tube. This morning’s choice seemed appropriate to post here: My Dad Lives in a Downtown Hotel , an ABC After School Special. I hope you find it as funny as I do.
It’s Not Just an Expensive Cable Channel!
When you are in the process of getting a divorce, there is a period of time called “discovery.” Much like Discovery the channel, it’s about finding out information you may or may not have known. It is a broad term that includes requests for documents, written questions to each other, and possibly a deposition.
Formal v. Informal Discovery
In Hennepin County, MN and many other counties in Minnesota, there is a preference for doing “informal discovery” in family law. This is because often the parties are able to share information easily and completely without having to go through more expensive legal channels. It can be as simple as your lawyer writing to the other lawyer and asking for some pay stubs, tax records, and anything else that might be financially relevant.
However, when the parties are in disagreement about what information is relevant, or the scope of relevant information, the lawyers might proceed with formal discovery. Formal discovery includes formal pleadings requesting information.
Request for Production of Documents
One of the formal pleadings you may receive or serve on the other party is called “Request for Production of Documents.” This is a detailed list of documents that you ask the other side to provide. Some of the documents might be things you think you have, but you ask for them anyway in case you find you’re missing something. This will likely include requests for income statements, financial records, health records, and any written information about potential experts that might testify at trial. You have approximately 30 days to provide this information, unless the other side grants you an extension of time.
Interrogatories is the formal pleading that is simply just a lot of questions about who you are, what your plans are, what your thoughts are. It will likely include questions about your job history, your relationship with your children, your thoughts about custody, who else you think might testify at the trial. Like the request for production of documents, these are due within 30 days as well.
In my experience, depositions are rare in family law. However, sometimes the first two formal methods of obtaining information do not give the attorneys clear and complete information. In that case, you have the right to depose the opposing party. The person being deposed might be asked to bring additional documents to the deposition, and to discuss his or her opinion of them. The deposition might take a few hours to all day, and will be recorded by a court reporter. Depositions can be expensive and stressful if you are unprepared, and your attorney should sit down with you before hand to let you know what to expect and how to act during the deposition. They can often be a good tool to help the parties better understand each other and therefore avoid a trial.
Emily M. Matson, Esq.
Moore Family Law, P.A.
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.
Moore Family Law, P.A.
April 13, 2009
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
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March 30, 2009
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
* 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.
3350 Annapolis Lane North, Suite C
Plymouth, MN 55447
March 26, 2009
The Annual Family Law Institute in Minnesota
Every year at the end of March, the Minnesota State Bar Association’s Family Law Section ( http://www.mnbar.org/sections/family-law/ ) puts on the conference of the year for family law attorney: The Annual Family Law Institute. As we’re getting ready to attend this year’s conference, I am reminded of the excellent opening day speaker from the 2008 conference: Constance R. Ahrons, Ph.D. ( http://constanceahrons.com/ ), whose topic “Listening to Children About Divorce” confirmed what many of us in family law have been trying to explain to our clients – children are affected by how you and your spouse relate to each other and your children.
Family and Children after Divorce
Included in her talk was an overview of her article, “Family Ties after Divorce: Long-Term Implications for Children,” Family Process ( http://familyprocess.org/ ), Vol. 46, No. 1, 2007. Dr. Ahrons’ analysis of the long-term affects of divorce on the well-being of children offers a lesson for all parents now starting the divorce process:
“No single factor contributed more to children’s self-reports of well-being after divorce than the continuing relationship between their parents. Children whose parents were cooperated reported better relationships with their parents, grandparents, stepparents, and siblings. Most of all, the children said that they wanted to have relationships with both parents. What the children wanted was not for their parents to be friends as much as they wanted them to be cordial and not badmouth each other.”
Id., pp. 58-59.
If you are able to maintain a cooperative relationship with your spouse, even if you don’t ever like each other again, your children will have better lives for it.
Plan Now for Happier Milestones
When clients first come into the office and sit down and tell a story of heart ache and sadness and regret, and worse, I try to get them to think about the future, about when the divorce is done and it’s time to have a new start on life. I ask them to think about their children – when they graduate high school, or college, or get married, picture being at their wedding and getting along with your former spouse for the sake of your child. If you alienate your children and put them in the middle during the divorce, and subject them to the fighting that is going on between the two of you, then both parents might not be invited to those events. If you want to make sure your children are going to have happy milestones that include you, make sure you have a relationship that means it can include your former spouse as well.
I’m Emily M. Matson:
I’m family law and trusts and estates attorney at Moore Family Law: www.moorefamilylawMN.com
3350 Annapolis Lane North, Suite C
Plymouth, MN 55447
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
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!
3350 Annapolis Lane North, Suite C
Plymouth, MN 55447
Come back and visit our blog, or if you have any questions or concerns, please contact our office at 763-951-7330
March 14, 2009
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.
Moore Family Law, P.A.
3350 Annapolis Lane North, Suite C
Plymouth, MN 55447
Divorce Suicide – Discussed by a Minnesota Family Lawyer
Everyone has had a stressful time and *almost* everyone has had occasion to think back on how we might have done things better at some crucial moment. Legacy planning — drawing up your will, setting up a trust for your special needs or minor child – is stressful, but you have to do it. Obtaining a divorce, fighting for the alimony or child support you need, protecting you child with proper custody arrangements – is stressful, but if you have to do it, you have to. I’ve given a lot of advice on this blog – some of it helpful, I hope! – but it has occurred to me that sometimes a bit of *negative* advice is in order. So, here are few ways you can really really mess up your divorce. Enjoy!
1. Put your head in the sand, drink away and drug away your problems, leave town unannounced, quit your job, quit your friends, quit your insurance – then that SOB / tramp will be sorry! And, they’ll *have* to pay you alimony!
2. Misdirect your anger, blame the messenger — your attorney — for the message — divorce is often necessarily painful,
3. Make off-the-wall demands. Make your case the vehicle for revenge, for making the other side suffer, really suffer. Threaten that you will take your ex-to-be for every penny, ensure that he / she never sees the kids again, absolutely guarantee that they get absolutely nothing from the house, the lake house, both cars and the 401K too!
4. Get hysterical in general. Blame somebody, anybody, everybody, for everything!
5. Accuse your attorney of working for the other side, refuse to help your attorney prepare your case, stiff your attorney for their bill, take legal advice from some guy you met last Friday night in a bar and disregard your attorney’s advice.
6. Insist upon impossible and impractical results. Make your case the vehicle for resolving global warming, ending injustice to men (or women), establishing some abstract rule of some higher law over everyone, or some such.
7. Disobey Court Orders
8. Kidnap the children.
That’s it! We hope you have enjoyed – and learned from – the above. We know divorce can hurt. We know making out your will, drawing up a trust, planning your estate, can be disturbing and uncomfortable. Summing it all up, recognize your fears and hopes and take the steps you need to do what is best for you and your loved ones.
3350 Annapolis Lane North, Suite C
Plymouth, MN 55447