Hennepin County Divorce Resources

henAbout one-half of the divorce and family law cases our lawyers handle are venued in Hennepin County. Located in downtown Minneapolis, the Hennepin County Family Justice Center provides a central hub for all sorts of resources for litigants doing through a divorce, custody dispute, or domestic abuse proceeding. The nice thing about Hennepin County is that there are a number of terrific resources available outside the four walls of the courthouse as well.

Here’s our “best of” list of helpful Hennepin County divorce and family law links:

If you have an idea for an additional link, I invite you contact our office with the relevant information.

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Minnesota Divorce Lawyers Rely on New Judicial Resource: Pendleton’s Blog

mosMinnesota divorce attorneys have an emerging resource to rely upon in preparing their cases, and it’s coming straight from the bench. Anoka County District Court Judge Alan Pendleton’s blog, entitled “Pendleton’s Judicial Training Updates,” has now captured national attention from legal commentator and author Robert Ambrogi – and for good reason.

Whether custody, child support, personal property disputes, the involvement of children in a court proceeding, or family law motions in general, Pendleton offers the analytical framework utilized by the bench, in a rather user-friendly format. The nice thing is that the issues he addresses tend to be those causing some confusion for lawyers.

For example, our attorneys routinely debate how, and whether, to involve a child within a particular case. Pendleton provides insight relative to a highly sensitive question.

In addition to family law proceedings, Pendleton’s blog provides insight concerning domestic abuse proceedings, appeals, contempt, and the rules of evidence. Most posts provide an easy-to-navigate summary of a particular legal issue. The information provided certainly doesn’t dive into the minutia but, rather, offers a starting point for analysis.

Moreover, Pendleton offers links to the most common resources relied upon by lawyers and judges, including the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure, the Minnesota Rules of Evidence, and the Minnesota Rules of Appellate Procedure. Attorneys should strongly consider bookmarking the blog for that reason alone. Frankly, new lawyers should read every post on his site.

Pendleton’s work is one of a small number of blogs authored by District Court Judges in Minnesota. Anyone can subscribe, either by e-mail or RSS feed. Cutting-edge stuff, and a trend this author hopes continues.

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The Rights of Unwed Fathers in Minnesota

Paternity-2You may wonder what happens if you are an unwed father to a newborn. Being a father means, naturally, taking on responsibility for your child, and making sure that you do what’s best for him or her. But what rights do you have as a father if you are not married to the mother of the child?

PATERNITY

The term “paternity” refers to the “legal” father of a child under Minnesota law. Once paternity is established, a father has the responsibility to support their child financially. He may also seek a court order concerning parenting time and custody.

Of course, every child will have a biological mother and biological father. But, a child may not have a “legal” father. Under Minnesota law, if a newborn’s mother and father are not married to each other when the child is born, the father will not be considered the “legal” father until the necessary steps are taken.

An unwed father will have no legal rights to the child until he becomes the “legal” father. Even if the father’s name is on the newborn’s birth certificate, that is insufficient to declare him as the “legal” father.

HOW DOES AN UNWED FATHER BECOME THE “LEGAL” FATHER OF THE CHILD?

A man (not married to the child’s mother) can become the “legal” father a child either through a signed “Recognition of Parentage” (ROP), or by court order.

Establishing paternity is the first step to gaining rights to access and decide issues surrounding health care, school issues, adoption, benefits, parenting time, financial support, and many other needs and issues surrounding a child.

HUSBAND’S NON-PATERNITY STATEMENT

In a case where the mother is married to a man who is not the biological father, a ROP form will not be enough to establish the biological father as the “legal” father. The husband of the mother must also sign a form known as the “Husband’s Non-Paternity Statement” within one year of the birth of the child.

Once these two forms are completed, it will finally establish a “legal” relationship between the biological father and child.

ROP DOES NOT GRANT CUSTODY OR PARENTING TIME

Once a ROP is signed, a father becomes responsible to support the child. However, under Minnesota law the mother of the child will have sole physical and legal custody. The ROP does not give any custody or parenting time to the father. In order to gain custody or parenting time, an action must be filed in family court.

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What’s the Difference Between Physical and Legal Custody in Minnesota?

custody2The phrase “custody” is used to describe the obligations, and rights, of parents regarding the care of their children.

Child custody issues come about when an unmarried couple has a child together, or when married parents get a divorce.

The two types of child custody in Minnesota are physical custody and legal custody.

Legal custody involves a parent being able to make decisions regarding the child’s upbringing and well-being (religion, education and healthcare).

Physical custody is the type of custody that a parent has when the children live primarily with them. It involves the day to day care of a child.

Parents can have joint legal custody, which means both parents have a say in the upbringing of the child. If there is a dispute, the court can intervene in order to settle the conflict.

With joint physical custody, children typically (but not always) split their time with both parents.

If a parent is awarded sole physical custody, the non-custodial parent will be granted visitation (now referred to as a more politically correct “parenting time” award). A schedule will be established. For instance, a child may live with dad, but visit mom on weekends.

In some cases, sole legal custody is granted, but those awards are rare (typically reserved for situations in which there is a history of domestic abuse among the litigants). When both parents are in the picture, the court prefers that they are equally involved in making important decisions for the child.

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Parenting Plans: An Option for Minnesota Custody Disputes

Once a divorce or paternity action pphas been initiated, physical and legal custody issues may arise, along with a need to determine the appropriate parenting time schedule.

Rather than fighting over custody labels, Minnesota law allows the litigants to simply enter into an agreement called a “Parenting Plan.”

The details of a Parenting Plan are finalized by the parents themselves, and are not based on an Order of the Court; Judges have no authority to unilaterally order a Parenting Plan.

The Parenting Plan will be used in place of a specific child custody order.

The Plan, however, is a legally binding document. Both parents are required to adhere to its terms. Either party may be found in contempt for a failure to do so.

There are variations in Parenting Plans depending upon the needs of the child, as well as the needs of the parents. Some are a few pages long, and others are several dozen pages in length.

You can expect a Parenting Plan to include details about the primary residence of the child, and who is responsible for the child’s medical, educational and religious needs.

We also recommend that Parenting Plans address the circumstances of not only the child - but also the parents, including household routines, schedules and the geographic distance between households.

Finally, many Parenting Plans take into account a child’s relationship with extended family, including grandparents and other family members.

Wondering whether a Parenting Plan is the ideal way to address the child-related issues in your case? We’re here to help. Call (763) 323-6555 to speak with one of our attorneys free of charge.

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What are the Differences Between Judges, Family Law Referees and Child Support Magistrates?

gavjuIn 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.

If you have a question about your rights in a divorce or family law case, call (763) 323-6555. Our attorneys will speak with you free of charge, and provide you with the best information possible.

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Minnesota’s Social Early Neutral Evaluation Model for Divorce and Paternity Cases

best iMore than 95% of the cases we handle settle short of trial. When custody issues are involved, many of our clients participate in a process known as social early neutral evaluation – an SENE.

In a social early neutral evaluation, the lawyers and clients will meet with a pair of evaluators. These individuals are usually social workers, custody evaluators, or experienced family law practitioners. The team will consist of one male and one female, to avoid the perception of gender bias.

Most social early neutral evaluation sessions are approximately three hours long.

During the first hour, the parties themselves do most of the talking. The evaluators want to hear from each side. Issues such as physical custody, legal custody and parenting time are discussed. The role of the lawyers during this part of the process is typically rather limited, as the evaluators want to absorb information directly from the litigants.

During the second hour, the evaluators do the hard work. Once the evaluators have heard from the parties, and asked all of the questions that need answering, they will break and discuss the matter privately. This part of the ENE typically takes about 30 minutes. During this time, the parties are usually separated.

Next the parties, the lawyers, and the evaluators come back together, and the opinions of the evaluators are expressed. The opinions of evaluators are nonbinding, but provide some insight into what two qualified individuals believe the likely outcome will be if the matter proceeds to trial. The opinions of the evaluators will not become known to the judge.

Once evaluators have provided their thoughts, the third hour of the session occurs. During this third hour, the parties separate, and negotiation begins. Some, or all, of the relevant issues may be discussed, such holiday schedules, routine access schedules, summer vacation time and non-school days.

About 75% of the time, a settlement will be reached. If the settlement is reached, the terms of the settlement are put into a memo, which is then forwarded to the judge. Assuming the court approves of the agreement, the agreement will be incorporated into the final divorce decree.

Because of the success of this type of forum, many counties have now adopted the social early neutral evaluation model. Some (like Anoka County) call it a custody parenting time early neutral evaluation, or CPENE, where Hennepin County uses the SENE label.

Our lawyers have participated in hundreds of early neutral evaluations. If you have questions about the process, we invite you to give us a call at (612) 767-4404.

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Contempt in Minnesota: Consequences of Ignoring Court Orders

The court is responsible for controlling the conduct that occurs within its doors, but also has to deal with issues outside of the courtroom when it comes to family matters.

It is typical for a contempt motion to be made in a family law case when one party has violated an order of the court, such as an order to pay child support, spousal maintenance, or a parenting time arrangement.

The contempt rules are rather strict, in an effort to motivate individuals to comply with court orders. A particular action (or inaction) may constitute contempt if the following criteria are met:

  • The court must have jurisdiction over the case in order to file a motion; and
  • It must be properly alleged by the non-offending party that offending party has violated the directive of the judge.

When a contempt motion is filed against a litigant, that person must show up to a hearing and prove that they did comply with the court order, or have an adequate explanation as to why they violated it. An “Order to Show Cause” mandates such an appearance.

If the individual is found in contempt of court, a conditional penalty may be handed down by the judge. Sanctions can include fines, fees, transfer of property, jail time, or any penalty that the court deems appropriate.

Our Minneapolis divorce lawyers routinely represent clients in contempt cases – either pursuing contempt, or defending against a contempt claim. We invite you to contact us at (612) 767-4404 to discuss your situation free of charge.

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Podcast: Establishing Physical & Legal Custody Under Minnesota’s Best Interest Standard

In this edition of The Family Law Show, we offer an overview of the standards Minnesota judges use in determining the physical and legal custody of children.

Custody is an emotionally-charged issue, with a lot of uncertainty for parents and kids.

Topics in this podcast include the difference between physical custody and legal custody, joint custody as compared to sole custody, the “best interest of the child” factors and the key facts judges look toward in making custody decisions.

Run Time: 12:52

Download this episode (right click and save)

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The Benefits Of Working With A Parenting Time Expeditor

Under Minnesota law, the parties, or the court, can seek the appointment of a parenting time expeditor as part of a divorce or paternity proceeding. Parenting time expeditors can save the parties time and moneyby keeping parenting time disputes out of the court system entirely. No attorney to pay. No motion filing fee to pay. No two-month waiting period to speak with a judge.

A parenting time expeditor works to resolve parenting time disputes by interpreting and enforcing an existing court order. Some parties never use the expeditor, even if appointed, because no conflicts arise. Others use them once. Still others…quite regularly.

Expeditors are supposed to first mediate disputes between parents. If the parents are unable to come to an agreement on their own, the expeditor issues a written decision.

Once a dispute is brought to the attention of the expeditor, they expeditor will meet with the parties in a relatively short period of time – often the same day, by telephone.

If a decision is required of the expeditor, it must be consistent with the existing order. In other words, an expeditor does not have the authority to create new schedules or conditions of visitation.

The decision can include an award of compensatory parenting time, along with an award of attorney’s fees and costs. The opinion must be written and mailed to each party, and is subject to review by the district court if either party requests a hearing. Usually the expeditor’s decision is subject to “appeal” to the district court for a period of 14 days. Thereafter, the right to have the matter addressed by the court is extinguished.

Either party can move the court to remove the parenting time expeditor, but must show “good cause” for doing so. Such a feat can be rather difficult, but tempting to those who are not happy with the decisions of the expeditor.

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