1) Is the lawyer being paid? If there is plenty of unearned money in your trust account to pay for your lawyer’s pending workload, this shouldn’t be a factor. However, if the initial retainer has been used up, and an additional retainer has not been provided, or you have not promptly paid a bill from your attorney, this may be at the root of your lawyer’s lack of attention to your case.
Although each mediator has his or her own approach, most mediations tend to move along the same lines. You'll usually start with a phone call in which you'll speak with the mediator or an assistant and provide background information about your marriage, your family, and what the issues are. Some mediators want a great deal of basic information before the mediation begins, while others prefer to gather all of the information in the first meeting when everyone is present.
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.
In this first stage, the mediator works with you and your spouse to lay a foundation for the rest of the mediation. You give the mediator background information about your situation, and the mediator explains how the mediation will be conducted. Depending on how well you and your spouse communicate and what the issues are in your case, the mediator suggests an approach that should optimize the chances of reaching an agreement. You'll assess the issues on which you and your spouse agree or disagree, helping you to work together on an agenda for the rest of the mediation.
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:
This booklet explains your rights in a Minnesota divorce and includes information on custody, parenting time, child support, maintenance, abuse, and division of property. This booklet does NOT tell you how to get a divorce without the help of an attorney. Divorce law is complicated and changes often. Each case must be handled differently. Unless your divorce is very simple, it is usually a good idea to have an attorney.
Negotiating agreements isn't always linear. You may start at what feels like the end, and you may find yourself needing to gather more information at various points. The mediator will help you to stay on track and brainstorm options, will encourage you and your spouse to express your opinions, positions, and what's important to you, and will help you listen to each other in ways that will make a resolution more likely. (You may be able to use some of these communication tools in your ongoing parenting relationship.)
If a parent has been convicted of certain crimes, that parent must convince the court that parenting time with the child is in the child's best interest. These crimes include assault, sexual abuse, parental kidnapping, terroristic threats, felony harassment, domestic assault by strangulation, and stalking. Ask your lawyer if these laws apply in your case.
The parties may expressly preclude or limit later modification of maintenance through a stipulation, if the court makes specific findings that the stipulation is fair and equitable, is supported by consideration described in the court's findings, and that full disclosure of each party's financial circumstances has occurred. The stipulation must be made a part of the judgment and decree.
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Another rare exception to the general rule on termination of child support is in the case of emancipated children. An emancipated child is not entitled to child support.  Whether or not a child is “emancipated” is an issue that must be decided by the Court on a case by case basis, but will normally require proof that the child is living away from home and is self-supporting. Termination of child support by reason of emancipation requires a motion in Court.
If you and your spouse agree on the terms of the divorce and filed the Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution of a Marriage, then you will probably need to attend a court hearing so that the judge may issue the final divorce decree. If you have minor children but still have an uncontested divorce you may file a Joint Petition for Dissolution of a Marriage, after which the judge may schedule a short hearing to discuss details of child custody before issuing the final decree.
4. Use just one (1) attorney. Many people hire law firms to represent them, and end up in situations where more than one attorney is working on their case. This is inefficient, because each attorney involved needs to be independently educated about the case, and no attorney is as well informed as he would be if he were the only attorney on the case. I’ve seen billing statements from other firms with numerous charges for a “strategy conference” between attorneys in the same firm. I’ve seen billings for two attorneys from the same firm attending the same deposition. Obviously these duplicative charges don’t happen when you use a single attorney for your case.
Christine Callahan has completed the certified training and is on the court roster for counties in the southwest metro to conduct Social Early Neutral Evaluations (SENE, for custody and parenting time) and Financial Early Neutral Evaluations (FENE for support and property division). For more information about the Early Neutral process in Minnesota, please see our articles.
Financial Early Neutral Evaluations (FENE) allow the parties to meet with an accountant or lawyer neutral expert to assist the parties in preparing a balance sheet and help to negotiate a division of property. These experts can also assist in preparing cash flow summaries to help the parties settle issues of child support and spousal maintenance. As with social early neutral evaluations, the neutral may advise the parties what they believe will occur if the matter is fully litigated. As with Social ENEs, many counties provide rosters of lawyers and accountants certified to assist with FENE's in that county.
SUPERIOR SERVICE: All mediators are not created equal! Although mediators are not decision makers, they do have a significant impact on your divorce process. Mediators set the tone and guide you through the rough patches. Therefore, it is wise to interview mediators and select one who respects your sense of fairness, recognizes the importance of self-determination, helps generate creative solutions and facilitates workable agreements.
Case in point: I had a client once who — contrary to my advice — chose to engage in settlement negotiations for several months prior to commencement and filing of the divorce, rather than filing first and then working on settlement. The pre-filing settlement negotiations did not bear fruit, and because of the delay, the valuation date did not occur until much later than it otherwise would have, with the result that a $180,000 dividend payment received by my client was treated as martial property, when it otherwise would not have been.
Judges often tell litigants not to argue over the physical custody “label.” They often say that it is not important. Years ago, the physical custody label had a major impact on the issue of child support and out of state moves. Because of statutory changes, that is no longer the case at all. There is debate in the bar as to what if any legal impact the physical custody label has now that those two considerations have been removed.
The court may also require that medical insurance for an ex-spouse continues. For example, group medical insurance rates may not be available to one spouse or may not cover as many medical costs as the insurance available through the other spouse's employer. The court may order that the insurance through one spouse's employer continue. Either party may be ordered to pay the cost. This kind of insurance coverage is part of spousal maintenance.
Mediation is non-binding. This means that the mediator has no authority to force either party to agree to anything at all. Too often people come to me after the fact, complaining that the mediator forced them to agree to something. Just remember that no matter how much they may try to tell you that your position is unreasonable, or that the Court would never side with you, you do NOT need to agree to whatever it is they are pushing for.
To get a no-fault dissolution in Minnesota, you need to state in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage that “there has been an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage relationship.” Also, one of the following must exist: (1) serious marital discord adversely affecting the attitude of one or both of the parties toward the marriage, or (2) the parties have been living separate and apart for 180 days before filing.
Kay Snyder Attorney at Law has offices in St. Cloud, Big Lake, and Cold Spring, MN. She's a part of the Chamber of Commerce in those communities, as well as many volunteer organizations helping those in need in the area who cannot afford legal counsel. Kay Snyder Attorney is also involved with the Minnesota State Bar Association, the Stearns/Benton Bar Association, Minnesota Women Lawyers, and the St. Cloud Downtown Council.
There are alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods other than mediation. Arbitration is an ADR where both sides agree that the neutral third person will decide the dispute. In arbitration, both parties can agree whether or not the arbitration decision will be enforced by the court. Arbitration might be used when you can't agree about the value of something and you're willing to let someone else, other than a judge, decide.
In some cases, there will be a temporary relief hearing. This hearing can take place after the Summons and Petition have been served. At the hearing the court makes an order that sets the rules for the parties until the divorce is final. A temporary relief hearing is especially important if children are involved and there is disagreement over custody, or if child support needs to be decided right away.
MN law is relatively vague about how to divide marital property (all that you own and owe). There is an assumption that all marital property should be divided equitably. Mediation allows you and your spouse to define your own concept of fairness and to control how you divide your marital property. Through the creation of a master spreadsheet you will fully document and verify all of your assets and liabilities. As you make decisions about who will receive which property, the spreadsheet calculates and reveals the overall monetary value awarded to each spouse. The end result is one comprehensive document which allows each of you to easily determine if your property division is “fair” or not. My experience is that typically the numbers speak for themselves.
NOTE: There are many ways to divide real estate in a divorce. The court forms for marriage dissolution (divorce) only give you 1 option -- one spouse gets 100% of the house, cabin, or other real estate, and the other spouse gets a lien. But, you can change the court forms. An attorney can explain other options, advise you about the law, and draft terms to meet your situation. If your divorce involves real estate, you should get advice from a lawyer on your legal rights and options.