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.

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By Jennifer Moore, Family Law Attorney

On the District Court Show (QCTV in the Twin Cities) this week, Host Tenth Judicial District Judge Steve Halsey and his guests discuss Orders for Protection. I look forward to seeing how Judge Halsey views the Order for Protection process.

By Thomas Moore, Family Law Office Manager

First of all, I would like to express my appreciation to Stephen R. Arnott, author of Screening for Domestic Abuse: What You Don’t See, May be What You Get in the October 2009 issue of Bench & Bar of Minnesota magazine.

Domestic Violence

I would urge you to read his article in its entirety. It is written by an attorney for attorneys but Mr. Arnott makes several key points that are important for clients to consider also.

  • Domestic violence seems to be on the increase.
  • Some litigants in family law proceedings use allegations of abuse to give themselves an edge in the case, especially when fighting for child custody.
  • Unacknowledged domestic abuse may be at the heart of other disputes over property, visitation, child custody and other aspects of a family law matter.
  • Domestic abusers are taking advantage of modern technology, using cyberstalking, cameras, “bugs” and other devices to stalk their prey.

What Your Attorney Should Do

From this, Mr. Arnott draws several useful conclusions. Again, these are directed at other lawyers, but they are relevant to a layperson or litigant also.

  • Lawyers should screen for domestic violence even when their client does not mention it.
  • An attorney should develop a skill at eliciting the relevant information, judging its authenticity, and acting on it if need be.
  • An attorney might use a domestic-violence advocate or other professionals for the benefit of their client.
  • Appropriate screening for domestic violence helps ensure that their client is not only well represented legally but also physically and emotionally safe.

By Jennifer Moore, Family Law Attorney

Here are some bizarre divorce settlements to consider from CNN.com:

  • Zsa Zsa Gabor claimed that she received 5,000 Gideon Bibles as part of her divorce from hotel mogul Conrad Hilton.
  • In a story that sounds like a plotline from Boston Legal, a British Court rejected a husband’s demand that his wife give him back the kidney that he gave to her some years before.
  • Nobel-laureate economist Robert Lucus had to give up half the cash prize from his Nobel Prize in 1995 to his ex-wife. Had he received the prize in 1996, the terms of the divorce settlement would have given him exclusive rights to the prize money.

If there is any lesson to be learned by these bizarre stories, it’s that a divorce settlement can include just about any term, provided that the parties can agree on a price.

By Jennifer Moore, Family Law Attorney

When you are served with divorce papers, you receive a document called a “summons”. The summons has a lot of “fine print” “form” language on it that the average person might just skim over. That’s a mistake! The summons contains certain restrictions on selling property, liquidating accounts, and changing insurance, among other things. One local businessman ignored this language and liquidated a 401K account in order to finance what the court considered to be a lavish lifestyle. He now faces jail if he does not repay the funds.

 

Meeting Your Attorney 

The Initial Consultation

When you are dealing with any legal matter, — divorce, child custody, estate planning, or something else; you will of course have to meet your lawyer.  While every attorney handles this meeting in his or her own way, here is one take on how that meeting would proceed.  

First, you’ll have to find their office!  Be sure to ask, or to map it, or to get directions on the phone.  You do not want to be late to this meeting or arrive flustered by a frustrating chase around unfamiliar streets looking for an office.  Some attorneys do make house calls or visit you at some spot convenient for you, but most prefer to meet you in their office.  That this is “their turf” and not yours may be part of their approach, in order to ensure that you are capable of making some commitment to what can be an exhausting, long-term, and expensive relationship – hopefully resulting in you prevailing in your lawsuit, obtaining your divorce, drawing up and instituting your estate plan.  Your prospective attorney may want to see if you’re up to at least some inconvenience and effort on your own part. 

First Impressions Matter to You – And to Your Lawyer

OK, you’re in their office.  Pay attention.  Are you greeted immediately and courteously?  Are you expected?  Is this place like the offices on “Boston Legal” or “L.A. Law?”  Probably not!  So, being realistic, you’ll want to assess this first impression when you decide to employ this attorney – or not. 

The first person you meet may be your attorney, a paralegal, or an office staffer.  You may be handed a form to fill out, offered coffee, tea, or bottled water.  You may be asked if you have brought any paperwork relating to your matter.  Eventually – hopefully soon! – You will be invited into your prospective attorney’s office.  

Bear in mind that the law is not just about statute, litigation, and precedent.  It is also a very psychological matter – so you’d be advised to be aware not only of your intellectual, mental interaction with this person; but also of how you feel about him or her.  Do you have a battle ahead over, say, child support?  If so, do you want a lawyer who is a compromiser / nice guy; a battleaxe / bulldog; or something unique you can’t quite put your finger on yet?    

How Your Family Law Attorney Might Proceed

She would ask what brought you to her, giving you a chance to expand upon your motivation; and asking more directed questions to bring out what might be important to your cause.  It’s a back and forth question and answer format.  The law can be abstruse and non-common-sensical at times, so by all means ask questions back.  The point is to build some trust between you now, if possible. 

She will talk about the attorney – client relationship and confidentiality. 

She will outline what she sees your case to be and give some generic raw legal advice.  You cannot expect her to lay out her entire role for you here – especially since the initial client interview is often free to you.  This is an interview in both directions, actually:  you are trying to see if she is the attorney for you; and so is she. 

She will talk about the legal process you face.  In some jurisdictions and for some types of law this can be very standardized; in others, not. 

She will talk about two basic strategies in almost any case:  settlement (no trial) or trial.  Neither one is perfect and both typically involve both some work and some compromise.  

The attorney will explain the business of the law.  You have to pay the fee to get the advocacy you need.  

Finally, the lawyer and you will end the interview.  He or she will let you know what follow up you can expect – usually a letter or email. 

Is This the Lawyer for You?

That’s it!  Now, it’s time for you to make a choice – this attorney?  Another?  Drop the whole plan?  Good luck! 

Thomas Moore

Office Manager

www.MooreFamilyLawMN.com

Plymouth, Minnesota

Thomas.Moore@MooreFamilyLawMN.com

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