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Family Law Archives

The Bargain

One of the toughest issues for attorneys and clients to talk about is fees. As in any other situation where a professional of any kind is hired, there is bargain, professional agrees to provide quality services to client, client agrees to pay professional. No one like paying out money, especially for criminal or family law situations. It is like paying to fix your car or your roof, your money goes to keep you where you are and avoid a bigger problem, not for something fun like a vacation or recreational vehicle. One of the most common complaints of clients about attorneys is fees, and one of the most common complaints of attorneys about clients concerns non-payment of fees.
How to avoid fee issues ruining the attorney client relationship? Both sides need to be upfront about what they need and expect. Attorneys need to have written agreements saying what they charge and terms of payment. If payment up front is required, which is common especially in family law, that needs to be communicated in writing and orally to the client. While it is not always possible to predict how much a case will cost, attorneys need to do their best to estimate costs and tell clients what they can do to control costs. If clients have a certain budget for a case, or concerns regarding costs and payment, they need to communicate those to the attorney up front. If a client can only afford 5 thousand for a case likely to cost at least 10, some other arrangement needs to be made or there will be a major conflict. Good communication avoids most fee issues between attorneys and clients. Ed 

Unmarried Fathers In Minnesota

In this day and age most people accept that men and women should have equal rights and opportunties. While gender bias remains, there are fewer and fewer roles that are seen as being just for women or men. The days of men having a limited role in raising children are over for most of us. But, family court seems to be a holdover from the old days for unmarried fathers. Too often, unmarried dads in this area are treated like possible threats to their children, even when they have never committed a crime.

Not Built For Speed

Clients often ask me to get into court right away, or if they can get a court date next week. Unfortunately, with very few exceptions, the legal system is not built for speed. Cases take months to resolve. One can get into court for temporary decisions while a case is pending, but it still takes at least a couple weeks if one is lucky enough to get an opening in the court schedule.

You Can't Always Get What You Want

The Rolling Stones said it best, you can't always get what you want. In fact, most of the time we do not get what we want. It is important to keep that in mind when deciding whether to make an agreement to resolve a case, or go to a trial. If you can get at least some of what you want in an agreement, there are some huge advantages to settling as opposed to letting a judge, or in some cases a jury decide.
You know what will happen, judges, and jurors are unpredictable, you do not know what they may do you could win big, or lose big.
The process of a trial, regardless of the result is generally unpleasant. In family court, you will hear the other parent, and their lawyer trash you in open court, often for hours on end. While it is true that you and your lawyer will get to trash the other parent, most people would rather avoid a mutual semi-public bashing.
In criminal court, if you lose you will be convicted, and likely go to jail or prison, for family court, your future with your children is likely at stake, or your financial security. The stress when the stakes are that high is very hard for many people to bear, to say nothing of the increased legal costs of contested cases.
Don't get me wrong, if there is no reasonable offer on the table, I am happy to go to trial with you, have done it hundreds of times. But, if I can negotiate a fair agreement for you give it some serious thought, by taking it you will avoid a lot of grief regardless of the result. 

Judges Are Not Gods

I was talking to a judge I know today at a mediation. He told me that he is a human being, who tries his best, but like all humans is not perfect, sometimes makes mistakes. As any other judge I know will tell you, putting on a black robe does not elevate one to perfection. The judges I know do their best to make tough decisions in family law disputes, often pressed for time with woefully inadequate information. A divorce trial usually takes 1 to 4 days, with about 7 hours of in court time per day. In this time the judge is expected to receive information about a marriage that lasted decades, decide which parent is best able to raise the children going forward, and also decide how financial assets should be decided, and what financial support spouses will pay to each other. To expect any human being to make all of these decisions correctly under these conditions is simply not realistic. Bottom line, if you, and your soon to be ex wife, or the other parent of your child can make an agreement without a trial you not only save money, but avoid the risk of a harried judge making the wrong decision based on the limited info presented at the trial. 

Bridge To The 21st Century

FAMILY LAW, CIVIL LAW, CUSTODY, DIVORCE, CRIMINAL LAW, REAL ESTATE LAW. Those of you who remember the 90s probably remember this slogan, used by another Clinton running for president. Bill Clinton said that he would build a bridge to the 21st Century during the 1996 re-election campaign. Now that we are in that century, in many ways the bridge has been built, almost everyone is online, and connected to the world via their cell phones. Almost every aspect of our work and personal life have changed. Unfortunately, in many ways the Minnesota Courts have not made it into the 21st Century, they seem to have missed the turn for the bridge. The Courthouse in Brainerd does not allow anyone, except attorneys to bring computers or mobile phones into the court. Parties to cases, and witnesses are often in the building for hours waiting for their case to be called, or to testify. They are not able to get work done, or even communicate with their employer during this time. The Court System needs to treat people better than this, and take that bridge to the 21st Century. 

Your Lawyer's Toughest Job

Telling a client what they do not want to hear is probably the toughest job of a good lawyer, but also the most important. The only way a client can make good decisions is to have good information. If the client is not told that they are pushing for something that they cannot get, they will waste time and money, and may lose the chance of getting some of what they want. Taking a position that is not attainable can backfire, alienating the judge, or making it impossible to get an agreement which lets you get some of what you want. If your lawyer always tells you what you want to hear, they are probably not doing their job, unless you have a very easy case. 

I Found Out On The Internet

I cannot tell you how many times someone tells me they learned something about the law on the internet. Don't get me wrong, the internet is the greatest tool for learning ever invented. Your computer has access to more information than all of the world's libraries put together. The problem, information does not equal knowledge. Seeing parts of the law online does not mean that you know how it works and how to use it, any more than my reading online about auto repair, or medicine makes me a mechanic or a doctor. I have seen dozens of cases where someone filed papers, went into court, or made a key legal decision relying on information they had seen online that was not correct for their situation. The results were always bad, sometimes disastrous. The bottom line is: If the stakes are high, do not rely on your computer as there won't be anyone there helping you through the problems this will create. 

Guardian ad litem: Weak link in family law cases?

I have written before about the serious problems with the guardian ad litem program in this area. For those of you who have not worked with a guardian, their job, in a nutshell is to investigate child custody or visitation dispute and make a recommendation to the court about where a child should live, and how often they should see their parents. The City Pages, a newspaper out of the twin cities ran a story about the need for major reforms to the Guardian ad Litem program, focusing on the metro area. Unfortunately, most of the problems identified in the story exist here to. Guardians are inadequately trained, they are only required to complete a 40 hour program, they are rarely held accountable, there is no independent authority where complaints can be made, and judges usually follow the recommendation of the guardian. No one wants to make custody decisions in contested cases, it is easy for the court system to defer the decision making to guardians in most cases. The problem is that guardians, despite having good intentions in most cases, are frankly not qualified to make many of the recommendations that they make. The court system needs to either make significant improvements to the guardian program to make it able to do the job it is given, or stop relying on it. Entrusting the most important job in the legal system to people who are often not qualified to do it as we are doing now is the worst case scenario.

Why would someone lie on court forms?

FAMILY LAW, DOMESTIC ABUSE, ORDERS FOR PROTECTION, RESTRAINING ORDERS. It seems like an obvious question, people lie for fairly predictable reasons, money, power, sex, to avoid embarrassment, to get something they want. Unfortunately, it is hard to have a discussion about domestic abuse court proceedings without getting caught up in a polarized debate, advocates on one side who say no claim of abuse by anyone should ever be questioned, and deniers on the other who either say that abuse never happens, or that it is not a problem. The fact is, domestic abuse happens, it is a serious problem, and, false claims of abuse are also a problem. We all know why an abuser would lie and say they did not commit abuse, they do not want to face a criminal conviction, lose custody of their children in family court, or face other consequences. It is also obvious why someone would make a false claim of abuse. A false claim believed by the court will usually give someone custody of their children, possession of a house and everything in it, and sometimes financial support. A domestic abuse case has no filing fee, easy to fill out forms provided by the court that do not need lawyers to fill out, and hearings happen within a couple weeks. Seeking similar relief in a divorce case involves a filing fee, usually attorney fees to prepare and file the papers, and often months of waiting to get into court for a hearing. When claims of abuse are made it is important for everyone, including the court to look critically at both sides and not assume that just because a claim is made, it must be true. Domestic abuse orders do carry serious consequences and an attorney should be hired immediately to help you with your case. 

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