Minnesota Government Shutdown

Like most Minnesotans, whether Republican or Democrat, I do not like to see our state government shut down.  I hope our elected representatives do what needs to be done to get our state open for business again.

The Minnesota court system will remain open for now.  It is possible that some services might be curtailed, but not during the month of July.

I believe that in the future, the courts will either provide fewer services to people who are getting divorced, or they will charge more for the service.  Presently, many courts have an “in-house” service that helps people resolve custody and parenting time disputes.  In some counties, this is called the “Custody Early Neutral Evaluation” program.  In other counties, it is called the “Social Early Neutral Evaluation” program.  Generally speaking, I think it is a good thing and most of the time my cases that go through the CENE or SENE program are settled.

Currently, many counties offer the CENE or SENE program at a very reduced rate to people who have financial limitations.  And, they offer it at a very reasonable rate to everyone else.  It’s possible that this could be one of the casualties of the financial straits our government is in.  I don’t think the CENE program will go away because its too important to the system.  But, I do think it will begin to cost more.

What a lot of people forget is that when taxes are kept low, fees for governmental services go up.  Right now, in most counties, the filing fee for a divorce case is $400.  (In Hennepin its $402.)  I expect that fee to increase.  The fee for sending a fax to the court is $25.  The fee for filing a formal motion is $100.  The person who is getting divorced pays these fees.

Feel free to call me at (952) 270-7700 if you have any questions or concerns about Minneosta divorce law and the Minnesota state government shutdown.

The Future of Family Law in Minnesota?

The fact is that I do not know what is going to happen in the future, anymore than anyone else does. But, I think it is possible to make some prognostications based upon what is happening now.

In my opinion, the Minnesota district court system, including the family court, is facing a crisis of funding.  There are not enough tax dollars to fund all of the programs that a healthy family court system requires in order to effectively meet the needs of the record numbers of people who are getting divorced. The result is a family court system that is only partially effective in resolving problem divorces.

Often, people who are getting divorced are at their emotional and financial worst.  They can engage in arguing and bickering and worse.  They can appear unreasonable and mean spirited.  But, regardless of how a party comports himself or herself, he or she is entitled to legal representation and legal services that fairly and promptly resolve disputes.

If the resolution of an issue is not prompt, it is not fair.

Let me repeat that: if the resolution of an issue is not prompt, it is not fair.

Because of the lack of funding, there can be tremendous delays in getting a matter heard and decided by a judicial officer.  One parent can be unfairly denied parenting time by the other parent, and during the months it can take to get the matter before a judicial officer, incalculable and unrepairable damage can be done to the child and parent relationship.  And there can be tremendous delays in establishing child support and spousal maintenance which can lead to hardship and even the loss of a home.

I believe that in the future, we will see more and more “private” judges–that is, Consensual Special Magistrates who are hired by the parties to act as an arbitrator.  In my opinion, this is not a particularly good idea for two reasons: 1. the parties usually have to pay a significant amount for this.  2.  Consensual Special Magistrates usually wear two hats.  Sometimes they work as magistrates and sometimes they work as attorneys.  They can have great familiarity with one attorney on a case, but not with the other.  They can tend to favor attorneys from big law firms, because they know that if they do, they are more likely to get repeat business.

I am aware of two prominent family law judicial officers who are leaving the bench soon in order to open up their own private mediation firm.  My guess is that they will also serve as Consensual Special Magistrates.  They have access to hard to get information about case levels, funding, staffing and other issues that are important to running a healthy family court.  My guess is that, while I cannot predict the future, they probably can.  And in that future, privately paid-for justice will figure prominently in the future of family court in Minnesota.

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MN Divorce Lawyers – How to Pick One

Once in a while people ask me how to pick a good divorce attorney.

Generally, an attorney with more experience charges more than an attorney with less experience.  That does not mean that you are necessarily going to get a better deal with a less experienced attorney, nor does it mean you are going to be more successful with an expensive attorney.  It all depends upon your needs and your bank balance.

If you and your spouse have already reached an agreement, you should have an attorney (who represents you and not your spouse) review it and put it in proper form for the court to act on it.  Generally, the attorney will take your agreement and from it, prepare a Marital Termination Agreement and something called “Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Order for Judgment and Judgment and Decree.”  You do not need to spend a lot of money on that kind of project, its not controversial, and any divorce attorney should be able to do it for you.

If you and your spouse do not have an agreement, and you expect that there will be a fight about child custody, parenting time, or spousal maintenance, you might want to consider looking for an attorney with a significant amount of experience in those areas of practice.

You should meet with two or three attorneys before making a decision.  Ask them how they bill out their time.  An attorney who bills in quarter hour increments is probably going to cost you more than an attorney who bills in tenth of an hour increments.  With the quarter hour attorney–he or she is going to bill you for 15 minutes of time for a 5 minute telephone call.  Do the math – if an attorney charges $250 per hour, a 5 minute phone call will cost you about $62.50.  That’s a lot of money.  Is it worth it?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

You should ask the attorneys you meet with where they went to law school.   That can sometimes you something about their overall intellectual acuity.

You should ask them whether they belong to, or participate in, professional groups like the Minnesota State Bar Association Family Law Section, or the America Bar Association.

You can go online to the Minnesota Lawyer’s Professional Responsibility Board and see whether the attorney you are interviewing has ever been sanctioned by the Board.  That’s something that you should know.

It is problematic getting referrals from attorneys.  I do not give referrals because I consider each of my client’s cases to be strictly confidential.  Though most divorce court files are public and you can look at anybody’s divorce court file just by going to the courthouse an asking for it, I, nonetheless, keep all client information strictly confidential and for that reason I do not give out referrals.  Doctors do not give out referrals and attorneys should not do so, either.

You should ask an attorney what he or she thinks of your case, and how he or she would present it to the court if there is a hearing for temporary relief, or if there is a trial.  Different attorneys work differently, and he or she should be able to give you an idea of the particular approach he or she would take.

If you have done all of that, then make a decision based on your best judgment.

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The Cost of Minnesota Divorce

People often ask how much it costs to get divorced.  The answer is “it depends.”  Certain costs are predictable.  Currently, it costs $400 to file a divorce petition in a Minnesota district court.  Some counties charge slightly higher, depending upon the amount of the surcharge for the county law library.  If each party appears in the proceeding, each party has to pay their own filing fee of $400.

It costs $100 to bring a motion for temporary relief (or to file any other kind of motion) in family court.  This is in addition to the $400 court filing fee.  Again, each party that appears in the motion proceeding has to pay the $100 filing fee.

It costs $25 to file a document by fax, even for a one page document.  Sometimes, because of time deadlines, it is necessary to file by fax.  If the fax is more than 50 pages, it costs another $25.

To start the divorce process, the responding party has to be personally served with a copyof the Summons and Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.  Depending upon who does the service, the cost can be $50 on up.

If the court requires a custody evaluation, this can cost quite a bit.  In the past, courts had internal court services workers who would perform custody evaluations.  Generally speaking, the courts no longer offer this service because of the cost.  So, custody evaluations are often done by professional psychologists or sometimes professional social workers.  The cost of a custody evaluation typically starts at about $5,000.  This would be an inexpensive evaluation.

If the parties agree on everything, it could still take 10 or so hours of attorney time to prepare all of the paperwork and actually get the parties divorced.  If the parties have a lot of assets to divide (retirement accounts, real estate, motor vehicles) it can take more than 10 hours, even with an amicable settlement.

If the parties disagree, divorce can cost quite a bit.  The biggest cost is the cost of a contested child custody proceeding.  This can cost thousands and thousands of dollars.  Sometimes its worth it to fight about this, and sometimes its not.  This is a decision that one needs to make for one’s self, weighing the benefits and the disadvantages.

If you have questions, feel free to call Minnetonka Family Law at (952) 270-7700.

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MN Divorce and Attorney’s Fees

Often in a Minnesota divorce proceeding, one spouse works while the other spouse takes care of the children and the home.  Often, the spouse who works has access to, and control over, the income that comes into the family.  Sometimes when one of the spouses begins to talk about divorce, the spouse with control over the income will start keeping the income for himself or herself.  This can be a problem for the non-working spouse.

In a Minnesota divorce proceeding, regardless of whether the case goes to trial, both spouses need the benefit of  legal advice from their own attorneys.  It is a huge mistake for a party to think they do not need an attorney, simply because they and their spouse agree on everything.  If a party does not know what they are entitled to, they do not know what they are giving up. 

One attorney cannot represent or give legal advice to both spouses, because this would create a conflict of interest.  Too often, one spouse will accept the other spouse’s attorney’s claim that things have to be resolved a certain way.  This problem is exacerbated when that spouse does not have access to the family income and cannot afford to hire an attorney.

Minnesota divorce law contains a provision that can require one spouse to contribute to the attorney’s fees of the other spouse.  The theory is that money earned during the marriage is marital or family money.  One spouse has no greater entitlement to the family money, just because he or she happened to earn it. 

If you are the spouse who does not have access to the money, you should demand that your spouse provide you with sufficient funds to retain your own attorney.  If your spouse refuses, you should make the same demand to your spouse’s attorney.  If the spouses attorney refuses to advise his or her client to provide you with attorney’s fees, you should bring a formal request before the court, asking for an award of temporary attorney’s fees so that you can, in good faith, assert your interests in the divorce proceeding.  I do this on behalf of clients fairly often.

If you have questions about this or any other topic, contact me at (952) 270-7700.

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The So-Called $99 Divorce is Probably a Scam

Its no secret that the government is running low on money these days.  The court system (which is one of the three branches of government) is running low on money too.  Recently, Minnesota Chief Justice Eric J. Magnuson gave an interivew that was published in the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, in which he commented openly on the financial crisis facing Minnesota courts.  Since, technically speaking, Chief Justice Eric J. Magnuson is my boss, I will just observe that his comments were right on.  I believe he presented the case for our court system very eloquently.

So, over the past several years court fees have been increasing.  If the future resembles the past, court fees will continue to increase.

Currently, it costs $400 to file a divorce petition in a Minnesota district court.  Some counties charge slightly higher, depending upon the amount of the surcharge for the county law library.  If each party appears in the proceeding, each party has to pay their own filing fee of $400.

It costs $100 to bring a motion for temporary relief (or to file any other kind of motion) in family court.  This is in addition to the $400 court filing fee.  Again, each party that appears in the motion proceeding has to pay the $100 filing fee.

It costs $25 to file a document by fax.  Yep, $25, even for a one page document.  Sometimes, because of time deadlines, it is necessary to file by fax.  If the fax is more than 50 pages, it costs another $25.

If the court requires a custody evaluation, this can cost quite a bit.  In the past, courts had internal court services workers who would perform custody evaluations.  Generally speaking, the courts no longer offer this service because of the cost.  So, custody evaluations are often done by professional psychologists or sometimes professional social workers.  The cost of a custody evaluation typically starts at about $5,000.  This would be an inexpensive evaluation.

So, when you see ads that advertise a $99 divorce in Minnesota, you can figure they are a scam.  It is not possible to get divorced in Minnesota for $99, when the court filing fee is $400.  For $99, all they really give you is a set of forms that you can actually get for free from the Minnesota Supreme Court at http://www.mncourts.gov/default.aspx?page=513&category=55.

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