It can be difficult for a client to know whether his or her lawyer is performing well or not. Sometimes even the best of lawyers does not achieve the desired result, and it may be due to a difficult set of facts, a bad judge and/or custody evaluator or guardian ad litem, or unrealistic expectations. There are some clear indications of bad lawyering, however, which are objectively obvious:
I have more than 15 years experience with families and churches in conflict management and resolution. Clear thinking and calm presence is a must in stressful interpersonal situations so I’m balanced between a logical head and caring heart. Skill and experience in crisis counseling, de-escalation and conflict resolution is what I bring to to the table. As a former ER chaplain, I’m sensitive to diverse faiths and beliefs, and understand many of the differences that age, education, setting and lifestyle can make in dealing with conflict. I know my limits in dealing with different cultures yet have much inter-cultural experience. Immersed in language study in college, I also lived with people from over 20 countries including people from Africa, South America and Asia.
You may be surprised to know that most MN divorce cases (over 90%) are settled before they ever reach a court room. Mediation is so effective that the State of Minnesota requires you make a good faith effort to settle your divorce through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) before appearing in Court – so why not start with a process which is proven to work as well, if not better, than litigation?
In most counties in the Twin Cities Metropolitan area, as well as now many out state counties, after the filing of a summons and petition, the next step in the process will be an appearance at an Initial Case Management Conference ("ICMC"). ICMC’s are aimed at trying to expedite the processing of divorce cases, and minimizing conflict and the expense associated when parties quickly resort to litigating (resorting to the lawyers and the courts to decide disputes) all issues. As soon as a party files the petition or answer with the court, your matter will be assigned to one judge or referee, who in many counties will be responsible for all aspects of your case until its conclusion. Typically within thirty days thereafter, the court will schedule the ICMC. Both lawyers and both parties must appear, and the vast majority of judges and referees (judicial officers) will not allow any motions, including temporary motions, to be filed until the ICMC takes place.
If you are trying to obtain your dissolution on your own and there are children involved, you will be required to have at least one hearing in front of the judge. You will have to use the generic documents provided by the courts such as the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and Judgment and Decree. These documents will not be specific to your needs or specific fact situation.
Mediation sessions are typically 2 – 3 hours long and scheduled approximately 2 weeks apart. Most of my clients reach a complete settlement in between 6 – 8 hours of mediation occurring over a 6 – 8 week period of time. Depending on the county in which you live and the time of year, processing of your legal documents can take the court another 1 – 8 weeks.
If you can afford an attorney, but don't know any, ask a friend who was satisfied with his or her attorney. You can also look in the yellow pages under "Attorneys." You can contact the local bar association's attorney referral service listed below. The Lawyer Referral Service can give you the name and telephone number of an attorney in private practice in your area who may be able to represent you. You may have to pay an initial fee for the first appointment with the attorney. You may be able to negotiate how much you will pay the attorney for representation in a divorce. Many attorneys will ask for payment of some money before the divorce is begun. This is called a retainer.
To put this amount into perspective, a typical retainer paid to a divorce attorney (by one spouse) is $2,000 (or more); which means, if you both retain an attorney the starting price will likely be at least $4,000. The sticker shock gets worse when you consider that many sources indicate that when each spouse is represented by an attorney the average US divorce costs around $15,000. This same research indicates that divorce mediation in general is between 20-50% cheaper than the traditional adversarial legal process.
At the end of the petition is a section referred to as a prayer for relief, where the petitioner will indicate in general their desire that the marriage be dissolved, as well as their desires as to custody/parenting time, child support, spousal maintenance, property and debt division, and allocation of attorney fees. In Minnesota, the court may order one party to pay part of the other's attorney fees, based on consideration of two factors, the first being need, and the second being whether one party's conduct has unnecessarily increased the attorney fees of the other party.
1. If custody or parenting time is in issue, don’t move out without first getting an enforceable written stipulation addressing custody and parenting time after the move-out. The key is to have in place at least an interim parenting time schedule which affords you at least as much parenting time as you hope to obtain through the court. Otherwise, the longer you acquiesce to a pattern of parenting time that is less than you desire, the more of an argument the other party will make of it against you. Often arguments like the following are heard:
Most state courts require you to submit a financial affidavit during the dissolution process. Be sure to check your local rules or consult with an attorney. It’s paramount to complete your financial affidavit accurately, as that information can be held against you later. Creating a rough draft early in the information-gathering process will ensure that your final version will be error-free. It also serves as a roadmap of the financial factors to cover during mediation.
The Brown Law Offices, P.A., is a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. Our award-winning attorneys have represented thousands of clients since 1998. Key practice areas include divorce, custody, child support, paternity, prenuptial agreements and step-parent adoption. Our lawyers handle cases throughout Minnesota, serving primarily Hennepin, Anoka, Sherburne and Wright County. We offer a free consultation to all potential clients.
Then there are the parties who fall into the trap of thinking the best way to divide up assets and liabilities is by splitting each item down the middle. That can lead to thousands of dollars in additional fees that wouldn’t have been necessary if they had waited for an expert mediator skilled in the finances of divorce to offer alternative more efficient options.
The court may restrict parenting time if the parent seeking parenting time may harm or kidnap the children. The court can do this by limiting the hours of parenting time or limiting the place where parenting time can take place. The court can require that he or she only visit when another person is present (supervised parenting time). In very rare cases, parenting time may be denied altogether.
The cost of mediation may be based on Florida Statutes which provide a reduced rate for couples with a combined income of less than $100,000. Both parties will file a financial affidavit in order to establish the exact fees for divorce mediation. A Florida judge may waive mediation requirements but generally will not do so. Costs associated with divorce mediation may include the mediation costs, filing fees, recording fees, and service of process fees if the mediation is court-ordered. These fees may be levied against the non-prevailing parent if the court determines that parent is able to pay.
If you are concerned about ongoing earnings continuing to be marital in nature, then it is in your interest to lock in the default valuation date by filing the case as soon as possible and shepherding it along swiftly. For example, if you earn six figures, but your spouse is a stay-at-home unemployed parent, it is to your advantage to file the divorce first, and then work on settlement, rather than to mediate and negotiate for several months prior to filing.
Minnesota Divorce and Family Mediation offers skilled guidance on all the important issues surrounding your divorce. The mediation process consists of guided sessions to determine how assets will be divided, discuss budgets and future financial needs, calculate child support and spousal maintenance (when necessary), and develop a parenting plan. Through mediation, couples maintain control over the important life decisions that need to be made during a divorce, while at the same time developing a new foundation for their future relationship with each other. By choosing this gentler approach to divorce, couples are more likely to be able to positively work together in the future; they are less likely to return to court for post-decree issues; and they are more fully prepared to move forward for a better tomorrow.
Don’t ignore it! First, you should read the Summons and Petition completely and decide whether you agree with what it says or not. Second, you should make sure you note any hearing dates. This will give you your timeframe for responding the the Petition. If you do not go to the hearing, the case will end in a default decision and your spouse will receive whatever he or she asked for in the Petition. If you have any objections, or if you do not understand what the Summons and Petition say, contact an attorney for guidance.
Some people think it will be easier and safer to have an attorney fight for their legal rights. Unfortunately, maximizing your legal rights often comes at someone else’s expense (for example your spouse or your children). This is referred to as a “win-lose” situation. All too often the transactional costs (both financial and emotional) of a “win” far exceed the value of the victory, especially for children. Although a good lawyer can be helpful, the adversarial legal process is expensive and often seeks to solve problems through opposing positions, and win-lose thinking. In my opinion, this adversarial approach is not only expensive and emotionally challenging; it is also detrimental to the long-term well-being of the people involved, especially the children. It may surprise you to know that most of my clients are unrepresented and successfully reach a complete mediated divorce settlement without retaining an attorney. My standard advice to people considering which divorce process to choose is to start with mediation and see how it goes. You may consult with or retain an attorney at any time and you never give up your right to go to court if mediation is partially or completely unsuccessful. With success rates as high as 80–90% and average savings of 20-50%, it seems the better question to ask may actually be, why wouldn’t you try mediation first?
Grandparents may seek visitation with their grandchildren. Minnesota law also allows a person who is not a parent but who previously lived with the child for two years to ask the court for the right to visit the child. A court will grant visitation if it is in the child's best interests and if visitation will not interfere with the parent-child relationship.