Each week, 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

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.

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

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.

 

 

 

 

BUDGET CUTS

 

Article XI of the Minnesota Constitution prohibits the State from running a deficit.

http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/cco/rules/mncon/Article11.htm  When tax revenues are significantly lower than expected, the State must cut spending or raise taxes in order to balance the budget. 

 

Over the past couple of years, family law attorneys have observed some significant changes in the Courts as budgets have tightened.  Hennepin County Family Court’s offices are closed on Wednesday afternoons.

Family Court Services can no longer perform custody evaluations except in the most limited circumstances.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that Courts are less willing to grant fee waivers than in the past. 

 

Chief Justice Eric Magnuson has stated that if the Court does not receive an addition $43,000,000 in funding out of the state budget for courts, many cases will not be processed.  Of particular interest to family law attorneys, it is likely that harassment cases will not be processed, which could have implications for safety in cases of domestic violence.  Here is a link to an article discussing the problem.

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/01/14/chief_justice_courts_need_an_additional_43_million/

 

In these tough economic times, it is even more important to have qualified family law attorneys on your side.  It’s not just about winning your case.  Sometimes, it’s about ensuring that you receive due process in a Court system that has few resources to provide it.  And sometimes, it’s getting sound advice to ensure your safety in the midst of a volatile family situation.

 

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