Do I need a lawyer? What if I’m afraid of testifying? What does no-fault divorce mean? If you’re facing a divorce in Minnesota, these are a few of the questions you may be asking yourself.

Our divorce lawyers are here to offer answers to your important questions. In the podcast below, attorney Jason Brown addresses twelve of the most common questions asked during an initial divorce consultation:

Transcript

Welcome. This is Jason Brown. I’m glad to have you along. I’m one of the founding partners with the Brown Law Offices. Hey, today we want to go through a dozen or so of the most frequently asked questions we get asked during an initial telephone conversation.

We’d like to keep this podcast down to about 10 minutes, so I’m going to try to rustle through these 12 questions as quickly as I can, giving you the most key points and letting you get on with your day.

Need for a Divorce Lawyer

The first question we get asked most often, and this one’s really self-serving, should I hire a lawyer? Well, what do you think I’m going to say? Of course, you should hire a lawyer. There’s a couple of reasons, actually, three good reasons. First, we’re removed from the turmoil of your situation and we can offer objective, candid advice about your case, drawing on the facts of the case and the law rather than the good, bad, and the ugly. Basically taking emotion out of the equation. Second, we can offer you access to a host of resources you may not have normally considered or perhaps don’t know who to turn to. For example, realtors, real estate appraisers, accountants, other tax professionals, custody evaluators and so forth. And then the third reason we think it’s really important to hire a lawyer is that we really can level the playing field.

We know that you haven’t been through this before and we know that in many cases folks are being mistreated by their spouse and being told certain things. And those certain things simply aren’t true. They’re merely an attempt to dissuade you from moving forward or to scare you as things move along. We’re here to look out for your interests and we can stand with you in a way that you may not have been able to by doing so on your own.

Attorneys in an Uncontested Divorce

All right, next question. My case is uncontested. Do I need to have a lawyer? Well, of course I’m a lawyer. The answer is yes. And the reason I think so is this. First and foremost, if your spouse has a lawyer, you need a lawyer. You need someone to take a look at the paperwork they’ve drafted. Even if you’ve reached an agreement, we’ve never told a client who’s presented us with a settlement proposal, a comprehensive 20, 30 document. We’ve never told them to accept an agreement as is. There’s always room for tweaking and modification to make sure that your rights are protected. If you don’t have a lawyer and your spouse doesn’t have a lawyer in your cases uncontested, we can still help you. And the way we can help you is to make sure that everything is drafted up correctly. Make sure that all of the Is are dotted, Ts are crossed, and the court is going to be satisfied with the terms of your agreement.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been in court and seen litigants who are there representing themselves just trying to save a couple of bucks. Basically putting together paperwork only to have a judge say, “No, you’re missing this. You’re missing that. And I needed to say this or I needed to say that.” At the same time, the judge says they can’t give that litigant legal advice because they’re not a lawyer, “Go out, talk to a lawyer and come back.” And I’ve literally seen people back for the third or fourth time as I’m waiting to represent my client and get the matter wrapped up in about six to eight weeks doing it right the first time. So there really is some benefit that can be had, even if your case is uncontested that we can certainly help you with.

Aggressiveness of Our Divorce Attorneys

A lot of folks will ask about aggressiveness. Are you an aggressive lawyer? And well the answer is yeah, we’re aggressive but we also have common sense. The lawyers at our firm will always try the least expensive road to resolution first. And what that means is that we’re not going to start out by serving formal discovery on the other side, hiring a bunch of experts, going out and intentionally creating mountains of paperwork for the other side just so we can take an aggressive tech. If you want to do so, that’s fine. But understand that the more aggressive a lawyer is, typically that equates to more expensive. We’re not saying there’s not a time and place to be aggressive. There certainly is. And we’ve handled many cases that have taken several years to conclude and tens of thousands of dollars that a litigant has spent to get a great result, but most cases for most folks, you’re going to get a better result if we take a more cooperative approach at the onset, and if need be, turn on the aggressive switch a bit later.

Time and Cost of Divorce in Minnesota

All right. The next two questions are actually… I’ll combine them into one question because it’s easier to talk about them together. How much will my divorce costs and how long will it take to conclude my divorce? The reason I want to talk about these together is because there’s a direct relationship between how long a divorce takes and how much it costs. The longer the case goes on, the more expensive it’s going to be. That is relatively straightforward. But still most people want to know what’s this going to cost? What’s an average? And it really depends. It depends upon what the issues are and controversy in your case, what county your cases in, some counties are better at getting cases move through than others. How many experts are involved, the temperament of the other lawyer, the temperament of your spouse and everybody’s willingness to reach a comprehensive settlement.

I will say that on average, if your case has some contested issues involved, but you still feel like there is some sense of reasonableness there, you might plan on four to six months. If your case is uncontested, probably going to take about two to three months. If your case is purely contested and requires a trial, and this really is only about three to 4% of all cases, anywhere from a year or two even longer if it goes up to the court of appeals.

In terms of cost, the more uncontested cases typically run a couple thousand dollars. Cases that settle in the four to six month range, typically five to $6,000. Cases that go onto trial, you’re probably going to be looking at spending 15 to 20 to 30 to $40,000 depending upon the merits of your case.

No-Fault Divorce in Minnesota

Minnesota is a no-fault divorce state and a lot of folks ask us, what’s the meaning of no-fault divorce? Well, back in the 1970s, it used to be that you had to prove someone was at fault in getting a judgment to dissolve your marriage. And more importantly, the court would take fault into account in dividing the property interests of the parties and in awarding spousal maintenance or alimony. But that all changed and what happens now is the court really is an interested in marital misconduct or allegations of malfeasance. Instead, the court is simply going to focus on what you have in terms of assets and liabilities, and determine whether or not the marriage has been long enough and the income differential is significant enough to justify an award of spousal maintenance from one party to the other.

Now certainly the court will take into account misconduct or inappropriate conduct in making a decision on custody. If one party does have a drinking problem, for example, the court may look at that and figure out if it impacts their ability to parent a child. And if it does, then naturally the court is going to be concerned about that problem. But otherwise, any discussion about how heinous your spouses or how ugly things have been, really doesn’t play a role in the courtroom.

Division of Property

The next question we’re asked a lot about involves title to particular assets. A lot of folks call us and say, “My husband told me that the house is titled in his name, the car’s in his name, his retirement’s in his name, and he tells me that as a result I am not awarded anything and he’s going to get it all and walk away and I’m going to live on a box on the street corner.” Well, rest assured that title to a particular asset typically is not what dictates how that asset’s going to be divided. The exception is if it is non-marital in nature, and we can talk some other time about that. But the main point here is that it’s the timing of the acquisition rather than the title to the acquisition that governs. Anything purchased during the marriage with marital money being income or savings or retirement accumulated during the marriage is going to be marital and subject to equal division, even if it’s not titled in your name. So if there is a house, for example, that is titled in one name and not the other and there’s $100,000 in equity, each of you is still going to receive your $50,000 in equity from that asset.

First to File for Divorce

Next question that till we get asked a lot is whether or not they should be the first to file for divorce. Is there any inherent benefit filing for divorce prior to your spouse? And the quick and easy answer is usually not. However, there is some benefit if the two of you live in separate counties. Venue for a case, the county that your case can be brought does matter in some circumstances. And I’ll just say this because it’s common knowledge among the family law bar, but there is a distinct difference in representing folks in, let’s say, Hennepin County versus Anoka County. I practice in both counties. I know both counties well, and I’m not saying what those specific differences are, but there’s a difference. And in any particular case, depending upon the client and their goals, it might make sense for us to file in one county versus another.

So if you and your spouse live in opposite counties and we want to figure out which venue is going to potentially be more favorable to you, it might make sense to race to the courthouse and get them served first. Otherwise, the only real benefit is that a trial, the petitioner, or the moving party, the first party to file is the one that goes first.

Preventing a Divorce

And so what if you want to stop your spouse from divorcing you? These are very difficult situations. A lot of times we represent a client who is at a very different spot emotionally than their spouse. The other spouse has had a year or more to think about it and come to a final decision about the divorce, and they shock the heck out of our client with serving them papers and wanting a divorce. Honestly, there really is no way that you can stop your spouse from moving forward with a divorce. The relevant standard is whether there’s been an irretrievable breakdown in your marital relationship.

Again, back in the 70s you used to have to prove some sort of fault in order to be granted the divorce, but because we’re in no-fault state, the court isn’t really concerned about what leads to that breakdown. Basically, if one spouse comes in and says, “Look, my marriage is irretrievably broken.” That’s sufficient evidence for the court to find that the marriage is indeed irretrievably broken and therefore that the marriage ought to be dissolved. So it’s a tough spot to find yourself in, but unfortunately there’s not a lot we can do except perhaps ask for the court to, or not the court, but the other attorney or your spouse to maybe just put things on hold for a few months. See if you can participate in some sort of marital counseling or therapy to try to save your marriage prior to the action moving forward.

Hidden Assets

On other concern raised by many potential clients involves a spouse who might conceal assets. Let’s say that the parties have a rather traditional arrangement, where one spouse stays home, the other goes out and works and completely manages the finances of that particular household. There is potentially an opportunity for that spouse, the one who is controlling all the money, to hide an asset and not disclose the fact that it exists or the value of it. But the good news for you, if you find yourself in that situation where you’re unaware of what the assets are, or afraid that your spouse might conceal something or sit on a mountain of cash somewhere. And then come back in three months after the divorce and laugh at you by saying, “Hi, you know, I duped the court.”

First of all, if the court catches wind of that, they’re probably going to award that asset in full to the spouse who it wasn’t disclosed to. In other words, loser pays 100%. there’s a number of other penalties that are out there, including sanctions and an award of fees and costs for trying to collect and to bring the asset back to the attention of the court. If you’re considering concealing assets, don’t do it. If you’re afraid of your spouse concealing assets, just understand that we’ve been through this many, many times and we’ve got a number of tools at our disposal to get to the bottom of that.

Testifying in a Divorce Trial

And then finally, a lot of folks tell us, “Look, I’m fearful of testifying in court. What if I have to go to court, how am I going to get through that and will you help me prepare?” Well, absolutely. I mean, we get nervous too going to court. Quite frankly, court is a very intimidating process. The fear of testifying is very real, but we do a very good job preparing you for going in. And frankly, most people have kind of a false sense of what it’s really like inside a courtroom. It’s not like you see on television, there’s not going to be a large crowd or dozens of curious spectators or any of the media there. Quite frankly, you won’t even see a jury in family court.

Likely, the only individuals that are going to be in the courtroom during your case might be a few others who are similarly situated. In other words, they’re there for family court as well to have their case heard. You’re going to see a judge, the judge’s court reporter, the judge’s clerk, maybe the judge’s judicial law clerk, and the other lawyer and your spouse. That’s really about it. So there’s not a huge crowd there waiting to see how you perform.

Similarly, you should know that the vast majority of work in the courtroom is done on paper. Most of the work that we do is in the form of a motion, where we put together affidavits and where we do most of the talking. But in the event that your case is one of the few, I would say maybe three to 4% of cases that go to trial. We will prepare you for the day and we will get you through it. We’ve represented many, many folks through the course of a trial who were very fearful coming in and we did an absolutely spectacular job. And I’m not taking any credit for that. They just stepped up to the plate and used their nervousness to their advantage.

If you have further questions about the divorce process in Minnesota, feel free to contact us at (763) 323-6555. We’re here to help.

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Photo of Jason C. Brown Jason C. Brown

Jason Brown is a founding shareholder with the Brown Law Offices, P.A., a northwest Twin Cities divorce and family law firm. He is an honors graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato, and the William Mitchell College of Law. Jason has been recognized as a “Super Lawyer” by Thomson Reuters. Media appearances include WCCO Radio, KARE 11 Television, the Star Tribune, USA Today, Time Magazine, Minnesota Monthly and NBC News.