In Minnesota, "family law" involves a multitude of practice areas, including divorce, custody, child support, paternity, grandparent rights, adoption, prenuptial agreements and domestic abuse. Some counties have a separate and distinct family court, while other counties do not.

You’ve filed for divorce. It’s a process that can take plenty of time even when uncontested. Your lawyer will likely advise you to avoid contact with your ex at this time, but checking in on them on social media can be tempting. Resist the urge to check his or her Facebook page: it’s unproductive emotionally, and it may even affect your case.

Social media is a useful tool for many things, but it’s made divorces more difficult. It means we have to see our ex’s posts every day. Lawyers may even scour your Facebook page for incriminating information. For example, say you’re in the negotiating stage of spousal support, and you’re posting information about your latest shopping acquisitions. Lawyers could use such posts as evidence of disposable income.

Use these the following good social media habits during a divorce:.

Watch What You Post

If you’re feeling frustrated about the latest blip in your divorce proceeding, it can be quite tempting to vent on Facebook. Such an act may negatively affect your case. Join a private support divorce group, or talk to friends privately. It’s healthy to talk through your emotions but not in a public medium.

Keep your soon-to-be ex-spouse and children out of all your status updates. Refrain from commenting on your days in court or any communications from the other side. Post about other things. Save your arguments for your lawyer and the courtroom.

Check Your Privacy Settings

Block your soon-to-be ex-spouse on Facebook and other social media outlets to avoid temptation. Such an act will prevent you from seeing his or her status updates. It also prevents him or her from finding you. Check your privacy settings on all social media outlets to see who can find your page and what information is available to the publicpublic— – and  lawyers..

Step Away From the Computer

Divorces are emotionally trying proceedings. Checking Facebook constantly won’t help you feel better. It may actually make you feel worse. Get away from your virtual friends, and start spending time with your real world ones. Get out of your house for a night: see a movie, get dinner, or organize a game night. Socializing with others will take your mind away from your current situation. Sitting at home and posting on social media will make you yearn for what you’re missing.

Learn what you need to do to obtain the outcome you need and to avoid complications as you separate from your spouse. Our qualified Minnesota divorce lawyers offer free consultations: call us now at 763-323-6555.

Just as finances can be a major source of contention in a marriage, they can be even more so during a divorce. Disentangling your ex-spouse’s finances from your own may be no simple task, especially with shared assets like home and vehicles, or with shared debts. This process can be even more complicated with an uncooperative ex, or one who happens to be fiscally irresponsible.

You might be tempted to avoid or procrastinate the task of financial disentanglement, but resist this temptation to protect both your assets and your credit. Some of the details of dividing larger assets will obviously be worked out during the divorce settlement negotiations, but for now, here are some steps you can take now to begin disentangling your ex-spouse’s finances from your own.

Set up your own bank accounts

If you haven’t done so already, open up a basic checking and savings account in your own name, and start paying bills and depositing paychecks into that account. If you still hold joint bank accounts with your ex, close these accounts as soon as possible, but do not attempt to withdraw funds without talking to your divorce attorney first, as these funds may be restricted until a divorce settlement is reached. When it comes to your own income, however, you should gain sole control of these funds as quickly as possible.

Separating credit card accounts

For any revolving credit card accounts you share with your ex, take these steps now to begin the disentanglement process:

•    Close any joint credit cards you have with your ex-spouse as soon as possible. This protects you from being held responsible if your ex decides to go on a shopping spree.

•    De-authorize your ex on any credit cards for which you are the primary cardholder.

•    Disentangle from joint cards with existing balances by opening up new cards separately and performing balance transfers. You and your ex will need to agree to how much of the debt each of you should pay, but once that’s decided, transferring those balances to your own individual credit cards will start the process of separating your shared credit history—plus, you won’t have the added worry of making sure the joint cards are being paid on time.

For larger assets like homes, cars and shared business interests, disentangling your finances will be a more complex matter reserved for the divorce settlement negotiations. But taking steps now to separate finances on a smaller scale can help you get a head start on financial stability as a single person.

To pursue strategic legal action in your Minnesota family law case, you need to retain the services of a competent, qualified lawyer. Given the high stakes of your decision, how can you find and vet prospective attorneys? Consider asking your candidates the following nine questions:

1.    Why do you and your team do what you do? Find a law firm whose purpose resonates with you.

2.    What values motivate you and your people? Bear in mind that you will likely be working closely with your attorney for months, if not longer. Make sure the team shares values that you cherish, such as integrity and determination.

3.    Does your firm handle cases similar to mine? You want to determine the attorney’s relevant experience. His or her website and marketing materials should offer a general overview of services. However, strive to obtain a more granular understanding of what the firm does and whom it serves. For instance, some family law attorneys work exclusively with high net worth individuals. Others prefer complicated cases that require deep thinking and that wind up being litigated. Still others enjoy handling issues using alternative dispute resolution (ADR) approaches, such as mediation.

4.    How do you like to work with your clients? Some lawyers approach each case systematically and prefer that their clients follow relatively clear and rigid guidelines. Others take a more flexible tack. There’s no one “right way” to manage clients, but you want to assess whether the attorney’s processes feel comfortable to you.

5.    How do you communicate with clients? Find out whether he or she prefers to discuss cases in person or via phone, texts emails or even social media. Determine when and how you will coordinate, so you understand the expectations being set.

6.    What are your rates? Get a sense of all costs you could incur for the services, including retainer fees, fees for incidentals, the attorney’s hourly rate and any other expenses.

7.    Will an associate or a paralegal work be handling certain aspects of my case? Just because an attorney hands off work to others on the team shouldn’t give you cause for concern. However, you want to be clear about how business gets done at the firm.

8.    What’s your first impression of my case, and how would you get started on it? Obviously, without much more detail, your attorney will be unable to determine a clear path forward. However, the lawyer can offer opinions about possible pitfalls and likely outcomes based on his or her experience with similar matters.

9.    Is there anything else that I should know? For example, the attorney might be planning an upcoming three-month trip or might be uncomfortable with (or excited by) some element of your case.

Your marriage is ending, and you face complex and emotional issues, such as how to divide up marital property and how to work out child custody and visitation. You know that you need the help of a competent family law attorney who has the experience and empathy to handle your case.

Aside from trusting your instincts or picking a random name from the Internet (or Yellow Pages, assuming they still exist), how should you winnow your possible choices? First, prepare a list of questions and concerns about your case and your path forward. Next, collect information about candidate attorneys who share your values and who have the requisite experience and resources. After you’ve narrowed your choices, call to interview two or three of the top prospects. Write down the answers you get during these consultations, and then use this information to make your selection based on both the facts and your intuition.

Questions to Ask a Potential Family Law Attorney

The Internet should provide answers to simple questions about things like how long the attorney has been practicing family law as well as his or her rating from services like Martindale Hubbell and Avvo. You can eliminate some candidates just by looking at their websites. However, be careful to avoid judging a book solely by its cover. Some excellent attorneys have so-so websites (perhaps because they’re too busy working with clients to worry about upgrading their marketing). Conversely, some middling lawyers have phenomenal websites because they’ve invested time and money into them.

Here are 8 questions to ask to gain clarity about your options:

1.    How many family law cases do you handle each year? What percentage do you mediate, and what percentage do you take to trial?

2.    What type of philosophy does your practice have, if any? What drives you and your team to do what you do?

3.    How much input will I have in the decision-making process? Will you tell me what to do, or will I be able to express my opinions about the direction that the case should go?

4.    What is the best way to contact you? How quickly can I expect a response from you?

5.    What do you think of my case? What problems do you foresee? How can we resolve these? What outcome do you expect?

6.    Can we possibly use mediation or arbitration in the case, or will it need to go to trial?

7.    How long do you anticipate the case will take to resolve?

8.    How much do your services cost? Do you charge a retainer? What about additional fees.

Whether you’re in the throes of a divorce, laying the groundwork for an adoption, negotiating a tough child support arrangement or involved in any activity that requires you to lean on a Minnesota family law attorney to solve problems and obtain results, odds are that you’re spending a lot of your free time thinking about your situation unproductively.

For instance, if your spouse recently left you and your two young children, you probably will have a hard time “being Zen” and being in the moment at work or with your children. Instead, your mind will likely generate scenarios that will distract you and make you miserable.

So why does this happen? What can you do about it?

Bestselling productivity author, David Allen, offered this compelling explanation in his book Getting Things Done: “Everything you’ve told yourself you ought to do, your mind thinks you should do right now. Frankly, as soon add you have two things to do stored in your RAM, you’ve generated personal failure, because you can’t do two things at the same time. This produces an all-pervasive stress factor whose source can’t be pin-pointed.”

Furthermore, Allen says: “Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they’ve started. Sometimes the biggest gain in productive energy will come from cleaning the cobwebs, dealing with old business, and clearing the desks—cutting loose debris that’s impeding forward motion.”

If Allen’s ideas are correct, that’s very good news! That means that you don’t necessarily need to finish everything on your to-do list to relieve your stress. Instead, you simply need to identify your obligations in a concrete fashion (i.e. write them all down as opposed to storing them in your head), and track where you are with each project.

Try this Allen-inspired exercise to gain some clarity and mental space now. This organizational exercise can in turn help you save on your legal bills, because you’ll make more productive use of your attorney’s time and thus get more done with less effort.

Take a fresh sheet of paper and just write down everything on your mind with respect to your family law issue. Don’t worry about whether it’s trivial or not – just get all your obligations, worries, hopes and thoughts about it out on paper. It may take you 30 minutes or 2 hours, but this process in and of itself will let you see that:

a)    Your workload is not infinite.
b)    You can intuitively organize and prioritize next steps.
c)    You can probably punt on many of the projects that are weighing on your mind right now – in other words, address them a few weeks or months from now.

In Minnesota, family law matters are typically handled either by a family court judge, referee, or child support magistrate.  There are minor variations in the legal authority and responsibilities of each such official, and there is also some variation in the types of cases that they preside over.

Most family court hearings in Minnesota are presided over by judges. A family court referee may get involved, but only in certain counties that allow referees to preside over proceedings – for instance Hennepin County or Ramsey County. Because of the volume of cases these counties experience, a family court referee may be hired at the discretion of the county itself. The referee is not appointed by the governor.

There is no major difference between a family court referee and a judge, and a family court referee has, more or less, the same kind of legal authority that a judge has.  Yet, when the family court referee signs an order, it must also be approved by a judge.  There is no need to appear at a separate hearing before the judge for approval of the referee’s order.

Child support magistrates, as the term suggests, are only involved in those cases where the issue revolves around child support and enforcement of child support payments. In the State of Minnesota, all counties have child support magistrates.

Thanks to Mark Pfenning, a divorce lawyer and author who has published many articles geared toward helping parties through the divorce process. His recent article, Divorce Courtroom Tips, provides some helpful strategies and a useful summary of the basic rules of decorum in family court. Here’s what Mark has to say:

  1. Settle Some Things. This means the judge won’t be in control of everything.
  2. Expect Unfavorable Decisions. There are three directions the judge can go when making a decision: Your way, your spouse’s way, or the Judge’s way. As you can see, two out three are not in your favor.
  3. Let Your Divorce Attorney Do the Talking. Do not speak unless asked to do so by the Judge.
  4. Respect is an Absolute. When addressing the Judge with respect by addressing him/her as “Your Honor.”
  5. Don’t Address Your Spouse. Never speak to or make comments to your spouse when you are before the Judge.
  6. Check Your Emotions at the Door. Do not make faces or gestures when the judge or your spouse’s attorney is speaking. Judges see this and do not appreciate it.
  7. Dress for the Occasion. Your attorney will have a certain strategy on how he/she wants you to be portrayed. Therefore, consult your attorney on how he/she wants you to dress.
  8. Write. Don’t leave anything to chance. Your attorney will be very busy during the process and cannot remember or write everything down.
  9. Come Prepared. Bring as much information, documentation and any pertinent documents that you possibly can with you. It is better to have too much ammunition than not enough.
  10. Be Ready to Wait. You will sometimes wait for hours before your case is called.

Good suggestions. We would also suggest leaving all digital devices in the car. We recall a lawyer whose cell phone rang in the middle of his intense cross examination of our client in a recent trial. The more memorable impression was the expression on the judge’s face.

The Domestic Abuse Committee of the Family Law Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association has published a new resource for domestic abuse victims entitled “A Domestic Violence Victim’s Guide to Getting a Good Attorney.” With the permission of the State Bar Association, here is what the Committee has to say:

Choosing an attorney is perhaps the most important decision you will make. Going through any court process alone without an attorney can be very difficult. The law and the rules of court can be very complicated.

You are likely dealing with upsetting facts that may make handling a legal process even harder. Many times the advice and/or representation of an experienced attorney may make the difference between a good and bad outcome.

Decisions made by a court can be permanent or very hard to change. Even though hiring an attorney now might seem like more than you can afford, failing to get legal advice may mean you do not get the financial support you need and deserve.

Note that even if you have a domestic abuse advocate, you should still consult an attorney, because attorneys and advocates serve very different roles. It is also a very good idea to have a domestic abuse advocate working with you and your lawyer.

Some people may be able to go ahead without an attorney in cases like Orders for Protection. But even if you think that you can handle the court hearing by yourself, discussing your case with an attorney may help you decide whether to hire an attorney.

There are circumstances under which you may especially need a lawyer:

  • Legal papers have been served on you;
  • An agency has taken (or has threatened to take) your children;
  • Confronting the abuser in the courtroom or otherwise is unsafe or intimidating;
  • The other side has a lawyer;
  • You or the abuser are immigrants or may have immigration-related problems or complications;
  • You may face eviction or lose your job because of the actions of the abuser;
  • You and the abuser live in separate states or one of you is on a reservation or in the military;
  • Your case involves property, financial issues, or child custody;
  • The legal issues involved are confusing;
  • You operate a business out of your home;
  • The legal matter is only one of the difficult issues you have to deal with at this point in time
    and you need somebody to take it over; and
  • Losing would drastically change your life.

In Minnesota, divorce and family cases are tried to the court, not to a jury. This usually results in significant cost and time savings for each of the parties.  For example, a case that might take a week to try to a jury may conclude in half the time through the use of a court trial.  While some advocate for the use of juries in family court, most practitioners believe that bench trials are more appropriate. The court is in a much better position to ascertain the legal merits of the arguments of counsel without drawing on emotion, as jurors typically do.

A family court trial is very different than you may have seen on television.  There are no large audiences or surprise witnesses.  The process is quite controlled and deliberate. The initiating party, called the “petitioner,” presents his or her case first. This may include testimony from acquaintances, family members, experts and others.  Once the direct examination of the petitioner’s witnesses concludes, the opposing party’s (“respondent”) lawyer will have an opportunity to cross-examine them. Once the cross examination of all petitioner’s witnesses has concluded, respondent will have an opportunity to present witnesses which the petitioner will have an opportunity to cross examine.

Opening and closing statements are somewhat limited in most family court trials.  Because the judge is the decision-maker, there is no need to explain to the court the concept of a burden of proof, the trial process or explain to the court how to digest the information that  will be presented.  Closing statements often take place in writing.  However, every judge differs in thier preference.

Once the trial concludes, the Court has 90 days in which to render a decision.  The decision is put into writing, filed with the court administrator and delivered to the parties and counsel.  Once the decision is received, either party may elect to file an appeal.  This must be done within 60 days from the entry of the order.  If an appeal should follow a trial, you may expect at least one year to pass until the Court of Appeals affirms or reverses the District Court.