Top Court Attire Mistakes Judges Hate & How to Avoid Them

Court Attire and Appearance

Your Court attire and appearance are worthy of careful consideration. How you’re dressed for Court reflects your respect for the Judge, the Court and Justice system.

It’s also a reflection of you! Disregard your appearance and you risk drawing a judge’s attention away from the issues of your case. Worse yet, you may be left trying to deal with a negative first impression. Instead, your Court attire and appearance should compliment your case by increasing your credibility.

So, let’s learn what to wear and what not to wear in Court so you can put your best foot forward in your divorce or custody case. In addition, find a free court attire and court appearance checklist at the end of this article, along with helpful information about your first court appearance in a divorce, custody or family law case. 

Mistake #1: Informal Court Attire 

Examples include: Jeans; t-shirts; shorts; sweatpants; jumpsuits; jerseys; sports and/or athletic apparel; tennis shoes; slippers; and flips flops. 

Going to court is a formal affair.  So, you want to look your best. Although you don’t have to buy a suit for court, if you own a professional-looking suit, wear it. However, if you don’t own a suit or it doesn’t fit properly, professional/business attire is fine.

Dressing for court is similar to dressing for a professional job interview. Think dress pants, slacks, or pressed-khaki pants with dress blouses or button-up, collared-shirts under long-sleeved cardigans or blazers. In addition, stick with tall, dark-colored socks with close-toed black or brown dress shoes.

Court attire and professional business apparel in court

Mistake #2: Inappropriate Court Attire

Tank tops, mid drift shirts, short skirts, sleeveless and/or low-cut blouses or v-neck sweaters, and tight-fitted or extremely-baggy clothing are inappropriate in a Courtroom. Furthermore, clothing with images, messages, or words can be provoking and/or inappropriate and therefore, should also not be worn in a courtroom. 

Therefore, cover your skin when in the Courtroom and all undergarments.  Bra straps, underwear, boxers, or briefs should not be visible at any time in court.  If necessary, invest in a brown or black dress belt to prevent pants from sagging in the courtroom. 

court attire shoes

Mistake #3: Poor Personal Hygiene/Appearance

Strong body odor, bad breath, greasy and/or unruly hair, a scraggly-looking beard, dirty finger nails, scuffed shoes, etc… all leave an unfavorable impression on a judge.

For example, imagine a parent arguing for more parenting time enters court in wrinkled, mismatched, and stained clothing, with long disheveled hair. A first impression like this could lead the Judge to infer the parent as irresponsible, neglectful, inconsiderate, reckless, inept, etc…

With such a negative first impression, it’s much more difficult for the parent to present and be viewed by the Judge as a competent and qualified co-parent. Any arguments of competency on the parent’s behalf will strongly conflict with the image s/he initially portrayed to the judge. After all, when actions don’t match words, we tend to view a person’s actions to be more reliable, honest, and a better representation of the truth, or their “real” character. 

make sure everything is clean

Clothes should be freshly-laundered, ironed, and in good-condition. Do not wear anything that has holes, tears or visible stains.Shirts should be neatly tucked-in before entering the courtroom. Shoelaces should be tied. Clean and polish dress shoes the night before your court appearance, if applicable.

Attend to personal hygiene the morning of your court appearance.  

    • On the day of your court appearance, shower and wash your hair.
    • Hair should be combed and neatly-cut or styled. Your hair should not hang in your face or obstruct your eyesight. If you’re constantly tucking-in bangs or brushing hair out of your face, it’s very distracting for you and a judge.
    • Brush your teeth and if necessary, use a breath mint, but finish it before going into court.
    • Trim and scrub finger nails and remove any visible dirt on your hands before appearing in court.
    • Shave facial hair, or make sure all facial hair is neatly-trimmed and combed.
    • Apply deodorant, but avoid spraying colognes or perfumes, or applying scented after-shave products or body lotions, as this can also be distracting. 

Mistake #4: Concealing Accessories

Concealing accessories and a lack of eye contact can signify a lack of respect or sincerity to a Judge. Sunglasses, hats of any kind (baseball caps, top hats, winter stocking caps, “beanies”, cowboy hats, etc…), along with hoods, and heavy jackets should not be worn in a courtroom. 

Don’t wear any head gear (such as, baseball caps, headphones, bluetooth pieces, etc…) before appearing in court.  That way, your hair will stay neat for court and you won’t have to worry about remembering to take anything off before entering the courtroom.

However, if the weather necessitates it, make sure that all hats, earmuffs, sunglasses, hoods, etc… are removed and properly put away before entering the Courtroom. 

Mistake #5: “Flashy” Accessories

Make-up, jewelry, body piercings, shoes, tattoos, colors, electronics, phones, food and beverages, chewing gum, e-cigarettes, pocket change, extravagant purses, etc… can all be distracting in a court room. In addition, wearing political buttons, club pins, college rings, expensive jewelry, designer handbags, etc… can all trigger prejudice or bias. 

As for your Court attire, aim for a conservative and neutral look.  Facial make-up should be modest, and stick with neutral tones and light colors.  Avoid bright, bold or flashy colors and patterns. Instead, stick with solid colors of white, navy, gray, and the like to be taken more seriously.  Although tattoos and body piercings are more common today, temporarily remove any facial piercings and cover all tattoos as much as possible when in Court.

Mistake #6: Distracting Accessories

Next, limit unnecessary noise. Avoid wearing large chains, cufflinks, bracelets, necklaces, and earrings to Court.  Don’t have loose change and/or multiple keys in your pocket that bang against each other and jingle when you walk. 

Leaving your cell phone on vibrate is often still audible in a quiet Courtroom.  Therefore, put your cell phone on “silent” mode or off and make sure that it’s put away when you’re in court.

Also, you can’t drink, eat, or smoke in the Courtroom.  This includes the use of e-cigarettes and chewing bubble gum.

Lastly, minimize disorganization and distraction. Court documents should be neatly organized and properly filed. 

For other divorce or family law questions, please consult the list to the left or the FAQ page.  If you’re interested in retaining an attorney to help you, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation using the contact information on the left or the contact form on the Majeski Law home page.  For Court rules, please click here.

7 Ways To Protect Yourself When Being Deposed

Woman Being Deposed
A deposition can be extremely stressful

Deposed in your divorce, custody or family law case? The deposition process (especially when you’re the one getting deposed) can be very intimidating. And understandably so. After all, most of us are uncomfortable during a job interview. So, if sitting in a room as a trained and experienced professional “sizes you up” and questions you with the intent of spotting inconsistencies in your statements isn’t your cup of tea… it just means you’re normal.

However, you don’t have to let your nerves get the best of you. Check out our deposition guide so you know what to expect, meet with your divorce or family law attorney, and don’t forget these seven tips when you’re getting deposed.

What to Do When Being Deposed

1. Be honest.

Although you won’t be in a Courtroom, you’re still under oath, like you are in court, during a deposition. Thus, if you lie, falsify information, make false statements, etc… while you’re being deposed, it’s a serious offense and considered perjury. In addition, any inconsistencies can and likely will be used against you later or if there is a trial. 

2. Answer only what the deposing lawyer asks you.

It’s not uncommon for people to talk a lot when they get nervous. However, when you’re being deposed, resist the urge to story tell. If you’re a person who is used to giving lots of details, keep it simple by focusing your response solely on answering the question at hand.

3. “I don’t know” and “I don’t understand” are perfectly acceptable answers if they are true.

If you don’t know or can’t recall the answer, or don’t understand the question – say so. After all, it’s the deposing lawyer’s job to ask questions that you (the individual being deposed) is able to answer and clarify questions you don’t understand. Sometimes, during a deposition, people feel so pressured to give an answer and/or they think it’s bad if they don’t know or have an answer – that they make an assumption, guess or speculate. However, it’s much harder to change an answer given during a deposition later in court, than it is, to expand on your answer after uncovering more information at a later date. And thus why, making assumptions, speculating, and/or guessing during a deposition can be a costly mistake and isn’t in your best interests. 

4. Stick to your guns if it’s the truth.

Don’t allow the deposing lawyer to twist your answers or get you to answer something that you don’t believe is right. For instance, an inexperienced deposing attorney may ask you a question that assumes untruthful facts, in hopes that by responding to the question, you’re agreeing to those untruthful facts. Instead, don’t be swayed to change your answer or agree to statements that you don’t believe are true. 

5. Be patient.

Listen carefully and completely to each question from the deposing lawyer before answering. Sometimes silence can feel so uncomfortable that we rush to an answer or fill the air with “Umms…” until we’ve processed a question. However, it’s perfectly okay to pause (and thus, for there to be moments of silence) in order to collect yourself, process the question and provide a thoughtful response. In fact, you may find it advantageous to pause (briefly) after each question. If you pause briefly before responding to each question (even when the question is incredibly easy – such as, “What’s your date of birth?”) then when a more complex question comes along and you need more time- you’ll have it and feel less rushed. In addition, besides giving you the opportunity to provide a thoughtful response, being patient and taking your time ensures that you wait to hear the whole question before answering and also gives your attorney the opportunity to object to any inappropriate or unnecessary questions. Lastly, being patient during the deposition will help you remain calm, which is the next tip. 

6. Remain calm.

During a divorce or family law deposition, be aware of emotionally-provoking questions. A brief pause to take a few deep breaths is better than an aggressive outburst that you can’t take back. Besides making you look bad, interrupting and/or talking over the deposing attorney makes it difficult for the court reporter to type and have an accurate record of the deposition. In addition, do you really want the deposing attorney (in most divorce and family law cases – the opposing attorney) to discover what pushes your buttons and later be able to use it against you in a trial?

7. Be Professional.

Some people get so nervous about presenting themselves in a desirable light that they become overly friendly during the deposition. Others, don’t take the deposition seriously enough and tell jokes. Instead, you want to act in a professional manner. Show courtesy to those involved and be polite in your interactions. Avoid swear words and sarcastic responses during the deposition. Just like you don’t have to like a co-worker, but you need to respect him/her – the same applies to the other party, the deposing attorney, the court reporter, etc… during a deposition.

For other divorce or family law questions, please consult the list to the left or the FAQ page.  If you’re interested in retaining an attorney to help you, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation using the contact information on the left or the contact form on the Majeski Law home page.  For other Court rules, please click here.

What is the Notice of Initial Case Management Conference?

In a Minnesota divorce, custody or family law case, the Notice of Initial Case Management Conference is typically the second document you receive from the court. Generally, this notice from the court comes after the Notice of Case Filing and the Notice of Case Assignment. However, sometimes you receive all three of these notices from the court together. 

The Notice of Initial Case Management Conference will inform you of the date, time, and location of the Initial Case Management Conference, known as the ICMC. In most cases, the ICMC is the first time you’ll need to appear in court for your divorce, custody or family law case.

The notice may also briefly explain what the ICMC process is, and will inform you that you’ll need to complete a document titled, the ICMC Data Sheet. Typically, the ICMC data sheet must be filed with the court and the other party 5 business days before the ICMC. However, it’s very important that you know and follow the procedures and policies within your specific county court system. 

In addition, the Notice of ICMC may provide a short preview of what you can expect at the ICMC, along with a discussion of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE), scheduling, appraisals, and discovery. All of these processes can potentially be a part of your case. Although, typically you need to use more of these processes during a divorce case than a custody case.

Read At Court-ICMC to learn more about the Initial Case Management Conference with the judge and take a look at our infographic below.

Notice of Initial Case Management Conference

If you’re not familiar with such processes listed above (ADR, ENE, Discovery, etc…) or don’t know how to prepare for them with your best interests in mind, your best course of action is either to hire a family law attorney or try a legal self-help clinic. Because, regardless of whether you’re represented or not, the judge will expect you to be prepared to discuss these processes and issues.

TIP: In fact, judges are especially pleased when the parties have worked together and reached agreements on these processes and issues before talking to the judge at the ICMC. 

Lastly, if you have a family law attorney or divorce lawyer, s/he may be sent the Notice of ICMC from the court instead. However, in that case, your attorney should give you a copy. You should keep this copy of the Notice of ICMC for your personal records. 

For other divorce or family law questions, please consult the list to the left or the FAQ page.  If you’re interested in retaining an attorney to help you, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation using the contact information on the left or the contact form on the Majeski Law home page.  For Court rules, please click here.

Co-Parenting Class, Finding the Right One

As a separated or divorcing parent in Minnesota, you may be required to take a co-parenting class. Beginning in 1998, these classes have been part of a state-wide effort to provide parents with the support and resources to help their children adjust to family changes and work together effectively.

Unfortunately, many parents don’t know about these classes, until they’ve been court-ordered to attend. Understandably so, a parent education order can be an unsettling surprise for parents. However, we’ve found that the more parents know about these programs, the more helpful they’ve found the classes to be. Therefore, we’ve dedicated an entire blog series, The 411 on Parent Education in Minnesota Family Law, so parents have the information and resources to get the most out of this experience.

Parent Education in Minnesota Family Law

Most separated or divorcing parents find it reassuring to know that these classes aren’t “basic” parenting classes and they’re not handed out as a sort of “punishment” by the judge.

To learn why you’re being Court-ordered to attend and what these classes will be like, or to determine if you’ll need to attend a co-parenting class, check out our first article: Parent Education Program: Unknown Court Orders to Parents.

Next, check out our second article: 8 Tips to Navigate Court-Ordered Parenting Classes in Minnesota. The article covers frequently asked questions such as,
   

 “What happens if I don’t attend?” 
     “How much is this going to cost?” 
     “What if I can’t afford to pay?
     “Do I have to attend the same class as my Ex?
     “Can my Ex use what I say in class against me in court?

Now, as promised, our third article is committed to finding the best co-parenting class for you. When it comes to choosing a parent education program, your divorce lawyer or family law attorney can help. However, when it comes to the final decision, you’re the best person to decide. So to help you with the decision process, consider these 9 criteria to find the right co-parenting class for you.

Find the Best Co-Parenting Class for You

1. COURT-APPROVED

First and foremost, the co-parenting class needs to be court-approved in Minnesota. Specifically, the co-parenting class you choose needs to be approved and accepted within your specific county. Because counties vary, it’s essential you determine that the program is approved in your county before taking the class.

If the co-parenting class is court-approved, it means that the program has been selected because it meets the Supreme Court’s Parent Education Minimum Standards.

co-parenting class curriculum standards
Standards for Parent Education Programs in Minnesota

These 25 standards promote the quality of parent education programs in Minnesota. Although by law (Minnesota Statutes, Section 518.157, Subdivision 1 ), the county only has to offer one parenting program, most counties have a few available. Therefore, the rest of this list will help you narrow down your options.

Stay tuned to the series for more help with finding a court-approved co-parenting class in your county. 

2. CLASS FORMAT/SETTING

When you choose your co-parenting class, consider how the class is taught. For example, you may be taught in-person by an instructor, guided through self-study online, or a combination of both. The format of the class may be mainly lecture-based, or geared towards discussion and skills practice. In addition, it can be helpful to know how the material is presented. For instance, you may prefer handouts and take-home worksheets or maybe you value the visual guidance of a power point presentation and slide notes. Bottom line: When it comes to class format/setting, the most important thing is that you choose the class with the format and teaching style that is most compatible with your learning style. 

Additional questions to consider when evaluating Class Format/Setting include:

  • Are individual questions permitted at the end of the class or 1:1 sessions available?
  • What is the class size?
3. CONVENIENCE 

As a busy parent with a jam-packed schedule, convenience is a necessity these days. Finding a co-parenting class that is convenient for you to take, can reduce stress.

Therefore, it may be helpful to find a co-parenting class that is close by, and has designated parking. That way you don’t have to waste time searching for a parking space (especially if you’re in rush hour traffic).

Besides location, when you’re evaluating Convenience consider the following:

  • Program availability (How long before you can attend? Is there a wait list?)
  • Class Schedule (Time & Dates of classes offered)
  • Class Length (How long is each class?)
  • Number of Classes/Sessions You’ll Need to Attend

Typically, each co-parenting class is 8 hours long. However, the class will be taught in 2 sessions on different days, with each session lasting approximately 4 hours each. Parents are then required to attend both sessions, in order to fulfill the court’s parent education order.

Some of these parenting programs are organized so that the first session is an online course, and the second session is a 4 hour in-person class. In fact, in order to better accommodate parents’ busy schedules, Minnesota has approved some parenting programs that are entirely online.

If you’re interested in taking your co-parenting class with an online program, the following are additional questions to consider when evaluating Convenience: 

  • Is the online program available for you to take 24/7?
  • Can you save the work you’ve done and come back at a different time, or do you have to do it all in one sitting?
  • Do you have access to a computer, internet and the necessary software?
4. COST

Most programs in the Twin Cities area cost around $50 – $90. However, when calculating the total price of the class include additional costs, such as: costs for materials and tax (if applicable), and transportation and parking fees (if not taking the class online). Knowing the total cost to take a co-parenting class makes it easier when you’re comparing several programs.

Additional questions to consider when it comes to Cost include: 

  • If you can’t afford the class, is there a sliding fee scale or other additional discounts?
  • What happens if you’re not satisfied with the class, can you get a full/partial refund?
  • What type of payment method is required?
  • When is payment due for the class?
  • What is the cancellation policy regarding the class or what happens if you miss a class?
5. INSTRUCTOR & INSTITUTION’S CREDENTIALS

It’s important that the co-parenting class you take is taught by a qualified professional. Children and family therapists with experience in mediation, family law, counseling and adult education can be helpful class instructors.

In addition, some parents prefer to take a co-parenting class that is taught by two instructors, one female and one male. In return, they’ve reported that they felt more comfortable in the class and believed that they benefited by having more than one instructor’s perspective.

Besides considering who teaches the class, along with their credentials, training and experience, it can be helpful to consider the company and/or the institution’s reputation.

Typically, parents tend to feel more comfortable with a company or institution that has been in business for a while and is known as a leader/expert in the field. In fact, knowing more about the company can be particularly useful when you’re taking an online-only program and you’re not being taught by a specific individual.

6. CLASS CURRICULUM

As mentioned above, the supreme court sets certain standards for the program. Although these standards guide class curriculum, they’re just the bare minimum. Meaning, the standards dictate what must be taught in the class, but the class can cover more topics. Therefore, class curriculum can be different among court-approved programs. Therefore, to determine what you’ll be learning in the program, see a class outline. As mentioned in our second article, you may want to make a list of current issues and concerns, and then use this list to compare it to each class outline. Finding a class with a curriculum that interests you, that addresses topics you’re concerned about, and teaches skills applicable to your specific situation makes a big difference. 

7. CERTIFICATE OF COMPLETION

Also as mentioned in our second article, at the end of the program you should receive a certificate of completion. This completion certificate is essential because it’s your proof to the court that you followed the court’s order. Therefore, before deciding on a co-parenting class, find out how their certification process works. For instance, do you need to complete and pass an exam at the end of the program in order to earn your certificate?

If there is a final exam,

  • What score do you need in order to pass? 
  • If you don’t pass, do you need to take the whole program over again before you can re-take the exam?
  • Is the final exam timed? (If so, how long do you have to complete the exam, and how many questions is the exam?)
co-parenting class
You will receive a certificate of completion for finishing your co-parenting class

Additional questions to ask when learning about the Certification process include: 

  • How quickly do you receive your certificate after you’ve completed the program?
  • How do you receive the certificate? (For instance, is it mailed to you? Are you emailed and instructed to print it out yourself? Is it handed to you at the end of the class?)

These additional questions are important because (as you learned in our second article) you’re expected to notify the judge and the other party in a certain number of days after you’ve completed the class. In order to do so, you need the certificate to show you’ve fulfilled the parent education order.

8. TESTIMONIALS

When deciding which co-parenting class is right for you, consider what individuals who’ve taken the class have to say. Reading reviews from previous attendees can provide additional insight. And because most companies publish client reviews and testimonials directly on their website, it’s easy to do.

In addition, online reviews may be available through Google, Better Business Bureau, and Facebook Ratings and Reviews. However, don’t be alarmed if you can’t find several testimonials. Divorce and family law matters are a personal topic and therefore, a lack of reviews can be a result of a desire for privacy rather than an indication of the quality of a co-parenting class.

Besides reading reviews from previous attendees, you can also ask for referrals and recommendations from professionals or friends and family members who have gone through the program. Lastly, online support groups and forums can be an additional source for reviews from previous attendees.

9. CUSTOMER SERVICE & SUPPORT

Although hopefully you won’t have any problems, it can be reassuring to know that someone is there to help if they do arise. For example, if you end up having trouble taking the class online or receiving your certificate of completion.

Reading testimonials can give you an idea of their customer service and support, but it’s worth looking into deeper. This is especially true, if you’re taking the program online. In addition to determining if they have a customer support/help line, it can be beneficial to know the hours available.

If technical difficulties arise while taking your co-parenting class online, 24/7 technical assistance may be the difference between a 10-minute delay and having to wait and finish the class another day.

Hopefully, you now have a good idea of what to consider when it comes to picking a co-parenting class and you find the right one for you.

However, choosing a co-parenting class is just the beginning. Stay tuned for a “How To” guide for parent education orders to get walked through the entire process. We’ll also include a checklist to help you stay organized and on track.

For other divorce or family law questions, please consult the list to the left or the FAQ page.  If you’re interested in retaining an attorney to help you, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation using the contact information on the left or the contact form on the Majeski Law home page.  For Court rules, please click here.

Why Caseload Matters In Your Divorce

Why Caseload Matters
An overworked and disorganized attorney can be a bad sign

The Divorce Attorney’s Current Caseload

The divorce attorney’s current caseload may impact his or her ability to competently serve you.  For example, let’s say that you find a divorce attorney that has a reputation for caring about his/her clients, or you find a divorce attorney that is known for his/her dedication and hard work on cases.

However, even with these great qualities, no divorce attorney is immune to the limitations of time. After all, there’s only so much that can get done in a day. 

Therefore, the simple fact remains…

If your divorce attorney takes more clients and cases than s/he can handle, it impacts you, as the client, because your attorney won’t be able to deliver the best service possible.

Therefore, to ensure that you and your divorce case get the quality representation and attention that you deserve, don’t overlook the fact that the divorce attorney that you’re considering may already have a full plate.

Will the Attorney Has Time for Me?

 I recommend that you ask the divorce attorney that you’re considering on hiring,

“Do you currently have the time and resources available to competently handle my case?”

By asking this question, you signal to your divorce lawyer that this is a concern for you. By communicating this concern from the get-go, you ensure that your divorce attorney is made aware of your concern right away. By making your lawyer cognizant of the issue from the start, s/he is able to take the necessary steps throughout your case to ensure that it doesn’t happen. Therefore, by voicing your concern, you increase your chances of receiving quality representation and services.  After all, it’s in any lawyer’s best interest to keep his/her clients happy since lawyers depend on referrals from past clients for future business!

Other Considerations

For one, if your divorce attorney has a legal assistant or paralegal, then the firm can take more clients, than a solo practitioner, because more staff means more people to help with your case and share the work.

Support Help for caseload
Legal support staff can help manage caseload

Therefore, this example shows how taking into consideration both criteria 5 (the attorney’s current clients and caseload) and criteria 3 (support help) help you make a better decision about if you’re divorce attorney will have time for you and your divorce case, than if you only focused on criteria 5 or criteria 3.

In addition, if your divorce attorney practices exclusively in family law and is experienced with divorce cases, he or she can have more clients at a time, than an attorney who practices in several areas of law, because presumably the general practice attorney is going to be serving a wider range of clients and therefore having to set aside more time to learn and research laws in multiple areas (such as, criminal law, or bankruptcy law) due to having unrelated cases.

Multiple Law Areas increase caseload
Lack of specialization can increase an attorney’s caseload

Therefore, this example shows how taking into consideration the attorney’s current clients and caseload and background experience and education help you make a you make a better decision about if you’re divorce attorney will have time for you and your divorce case.

And as I just demonstrated, it’s detrimental to base your decision only on a single criteria because you just saw how criteria 3 and criteria 4, can impact criteria 5. So when you make your final decision of who to hire as your divorce attorney, just make sure to consider as many criteria as possible. 

For other divorce or family law questions, please consult the list to the left or the FAQ page.  If you’re interested in retaining an attorney to help you, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation using the contact information on the left or the contact form on the Majeski Law home page.  For Court rules, please click here.

Hiring a Small Law Firm: Advantages

Advtanges of Hiring a Small Law Firm
Hiring a small firm for a divorce should be personal

Advantages of Hiring a Small Law Firm for your Divorce

  1. Less Expensive

Perhaps the most significant advantage of hiring a small law firm for your Minnesota divorce is cost.

Small law firms have less staff to pay. They also have less organizational overhead, lower advertising costs, and less expensive office space rentals. In any law office, these expenses will inevitably be pushed off onto the client, usually in the form of higher fees.

For example, big law firms in downtown Minneapolis charge a minimum of $400 an hour with paralegal fees of $300 an hour for divorce and family law cases, and be prepared for a significant initial retainer.

  1. Focus on Divorce and Family Law

Small firms often, although not necessarily, are more likely to specialize in the practice area they work in.

Usually you can tell, through the firm’s advertising, website, or after calling, what areas they practice in and deal with on a regular basis.

It’s also easier to figure out how much experience and practice the lawyer that will be representing you has had with divorce when you go with a small firm.

  1. Personal Connection

When you work with a small firm, you meet all the staff.

Along these lines, you always know who is working on your case. Unfortunately, just because you meet with the partner of a big law firm, doesn’t mean that s/he will actually be the divorce attorney working on your case.

Do you really want to take the risk of your divorce case getting passed off to a less-experienced associate or bouncing from one attorney to another throughout your case?

Instead, with a small firm, what you see, is what you get! Staff at a small firm get the opportunity to know you and your case on a personal level. That’s exactly what you want from your divorce attorney considering the fact that your divorce case is a personal matter!

  1. Staff Availability

Because there are less people to get through and because staff will not be working on a high volume of different kinds of cases that they may not be as familiar with, staff are easier to get a hold of and more quickly available when you need them. This includes being able to directly communicate with the lawyer working on your divorce.

Please keep in mind that these are the common differences between small law firms and big law firms.  There are additional factors you should take into consideration as well when choosing your divorce lawyer.

For other divorce or family law questions, please consult the list to the left or the FAQ page.  If you’re interested in retaining an attorney to help you, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation using the contact information on the left or the contact form on the Majeski Law home page.  For Court rules, please click here.

Divorce Retainer in Minnesota

Minnesota Divorce Retainers
Retainers can be a large up front cost

When you’re thinking about divorce expenses or looking to hire a divorce attorney, it’s important that you take into consideration a divorce retainer and understand retainer fee agreements. If you’ve never hired a lawyer before, you may be wondering, “What’s a Retainer?” This article explains what a retainer is, how a retainer works in divorce and family law cases, and what you need to know before signing one.

Legal Retainer Definition

A retainer (also sometimes referred to as a, retainer fee) is a good-faith, advance payment made to a lawyer for legal services. The retainer can be a single advance payment or reoccurring, depending on your situation. (We’ll talk more about single vs. reoccurring payments later in the article).

Retainer Purpose

In addition to signing an engagement letter (or representation contract), the retainer establishes a client-attorney relationship between the individual and the lawyer. Without the retainer, an attorney will not work on your divorce or family law case, provide legal advice or representation. Thus, the retainer provides the individual with legal services and ensures that the attorney will be paid for such services. 

How Does a Retainer Work?

First, the retainer is typically collected during the intake appointment with the attorney. There are a number of different payment methods available to you. Learn about the different retainer payment options by reading: How to Pay for a Divorce Lawyer. Additionally, in some cases, your spouse can be ordered to pay your attorney fees. To learn more about when you can don’t have to pay attorney fees, read: Attorney Fees

After intake, the lawyer puts the retainer into a separate trust account for the client. The retainer belongs to the client. No money from the retainer can be collected by the attorney unless it has been earned.

Then, as the lawyer works on the divorce or family law case, s/he charges the client for legal services provided. The client pays for such legal services with the retainer (the money in the trust account). As services are rendered, the lawyer withdraws money from the retainer for payment. Once earned, money from the retainer is deposited into the firm’s account and no longer belongs to the client. Any unearned portion of the retainer is returned back to the client. (We’ll talk more about retainer refunds later in the article).

Divorce Retainer: How it Works

Typically, divorce and family law attorneys in Minnesota require an initial retainer somewhere between $3,000 – $5,000 and charge on an hourly rate basis. Minnesota laws, specifically Minnesota’s Rules of Professional Conduct Regarding Fees, guide what attorneys can charge, when they can charge, how they can charge and their responsibilities to the client-attorney relationship.

For example, in Minnesota, it’s illegal for an attorney to charge contingency fees in family law matters. However, Minnesota divorce and family law attorneys can legally seek reimbursement from the client for in-house costs and materials, like: paper; printing; coping; telephone charges; postage; etc…

TIP: In-house costs quickly add up and can exceed people’s expectations. Therefore, it’s important that you ask the attorney how additional case costs and expenses are handled. For example, at Majeski Law, we do not charge the client separately for such in-house expenses listed above.

Initial Retainer vs. Replenishing Retainer Fees

The initial retainer is the amount your divorce or family law attorney believes is reasonably necessary to start working on your case. As your case proceeds, you may need to replenish your initial retainer to continue working with the attorney.

Thus, the initial retainer may cover all legal services during your divorce or family law case or you may have reoccurring retainer fees. Whether you’ll have a single retainer fee or reoccurring retainer fees will depend mostly on you, your attorney and the specifics of your case. (We’ll talk more about replenishing the retainer later in this article).

TIP: Don’t be afraid to bring up money concerns with your divorce or family law attorney. In fact, it’s best to address any financial issues right away with your attorney. Generally, the more you, as the client, do yourself, the more money you can save. Therefore, it can be helpful to identify tasks that you can do yourself, and tasks that you will need an attorney to complete for you.

Retainer versus Additional Expenses

Typically, the retainer is only used to pay attorney fees. However, you’ll have additional case expenses, such as court filing fees. Court fees are set by the court, collected by the court, and paid to the court. You pay court fees regardless of whether you have an attorney or not as they are mandatory in the state of Minnesota. For example, it costs about $400 to file for divorce in Minnesota.

In addition, during your divorce or family law case, you may acquire additional services from a third party, such as a mediator, custody evaluator or a property appraiser. Like court fees, your attorney has nothing to do with third party fees, and retainer funds are not used to pay such third party fees. Instead, payment for services from a third party should be arranged between the third party and the client, directly.

An attorney may be willing to use money from the retainer to pay a court filing or process server fee on your behalf, but those tend to be the only (and rare) exceptions. If retainer money is used to pay a court or process server fee, the firm can provide you with a court and/or process server receipt. In addition, best practice would also be to have such items and services clearly accounted for on the firm’s invoice.

Thus, the retainer does not cover your divorce or family law case expenses. Instead, the retainer is only for attorney fees. We stress this point, because some individuals mistakenly take the initial retainer fee to be the total cost of their divorce or family law case.

Although attorney fees (and thus, the retainer) impact the total cost, they’re not the only expenses in a divorce or family law case. Instead, how much your divorce or family law case will cost, will depend upon your specific situation and several different factors. Therefore, it’s best if you can budget accordingly.

Minnesota Divorce Retainers

Retainer and Retainer Fee Agreement

The terms of your engagement letter or representation contract with your attorney should include a section regarding the retainer fee agreement. The retainer fee agreement or retainer agreement you make with your lawyer should not only be in writing, but should clearly state the firm’s procedures and policies regarding the following: Retainer amount; Hourly rates; Services provided; Scope of representation; etc…

Divorce Retainer and Accounting Practices

In addition, your lawyer should provide you with a regular invoice. A good invoice shows you what services were provided, who completed the work (such as, an attorney or a paralegal), and the amount withdrawn from the retainer.

Best practice would be that you receive a monthly invoice, unless no services were provided that month. In that case, depending on the firm, you may or may not receive an invoice that month. The firm’s accounting and invoice practices should also be explained and stated in writing in the retainer agreement.

Retainer Fee, Replenishing the Retainer and Legal Representation

As mentioned earlier, you may need to replenish the retainer. Some divorce and family law attorneys require the retainer to be replenished to the initial amount, while others require a larger or smaller amount. Inability to replenish the retainer usually results in the divorce or family law attorney withdrawing from the case. In that instance, the client would either need to represent him/herself in the divorce or family law matter or seek services from a free legal clinic. Again, the firm’s policy regarding representation and retainer replenishment should be clearly explained and stated in writing in the retainer agreement.

Divorce Retainer Refund

Once your case is completed and closed with the firm, you should receive your last invoice. At this time, you may still have money left in your retainer. As previously mentioned, the retainer money belongs to the client, until it’s earned. Therefore, any unearned portion of the retainer belongs to the client and must be returned.

In addition, you, the client, may fire your divorce or family law attorney at any time. Similarly, whatever balance is left in your retainer after closing out your case, would be returned to you. Therefore, whether you end up receiving money back, depends on the remaining balance of your retainer when your case is closed (regardless of whether your case is finished or because you fired your attorney).

Minnesota Divorce Retainers

Because the retainer money belongs to the client until earned and the client is not receiving the entire retainer fee, it’s not truly a retainer refund. It’s actually more accurate to call it an unearned retainer return.

However, because “unearned retainer return” is not commonly used or searched for by the public, “retainer refund” is used, and refers to the remaining (unearned) portion of the retainer that gets returned back to the client. Again, we emphasize that the client only receives the unearned portion of the divorce retainer at the end of the case.

Divorce Retainer Summary

  • The retainer is money that you designate up front to your lawyer to be used to pay for services provided during your divorce or family law case.
  • The retainer is put into a trust account and belongs to you. No money is collected from the retainer until it’s earned by the attorney.
  • As services are rendered, money from the retainer is paid to the firm. Once collected by the firm, that money no longer belongs to the client.
  • Depending on your case, you may need to replenish the initial retainer. Inability to pay for services, by not replenishing the retainer, dissolves the client-attorney relationship, legal representation and all legal services.
  • At any time in your case, you can decide to represent yourself or fire your current attorney and hire another attorney. At this time, the remaining balance would be returned back to you. Otherwise, any remaining balance is returned back to you at the end of your divorce or family law case.
  • It’s very important that you read the retainer fee agreement carefully to make sure that the firm’s policies and procedures are stated in writing and that you have a complete understanding before signing the contract.

For other divorce or family law questions, please consult the list to the left or the FAQ page.  If you’re interested in retaining an attorney to help you, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation using the contact information on the left or the contact form on the Majeski Law home page.  For Court rules, please click here.

Insulting the Other Parent in Divorce and Custody Cases

Angry parents insulting each other
Insulting the other parent or arguing in front of the kids can be harmful.

Insulting the other parent in a divorce or custody case can be tempting.  He or she may have done things you dislike or downright find detestable.

Hurling insults or talking about how bad the other parent is may make a parent feel better.  However, it’s rarely useful or positive to do that in a divorce or custody situation.

Along these lines, the following was written by Judge Michael Haas after 25 years on the bench in Cass County, Minnesota.  He retired in 2002, however his advice to parents in Minnesota divorce and child custody cases remains as profound as it was years ago.

The Judge’s Letter to Divorcing Parents

“Your children have come into this world because of the two of you. Perhaps you two made lousy choices as to whom you decided to be the other parent. If so, that is your problem and your fault.

No matter what you think of the other party—or what your family thinks of the other party—these children are one-half of each of yours. Remember that, because every time you tell your child what an “idiot” his father is, or what a “fool” his mother is, or how bad the absent parent is, or what terrible things that person has done, you are telling the child half of him is bad.

That is an unforgivable thing to do to a child. That is not love. That is possession. If you do that to your children, you will destroy them as surely as if you had cut them into pieces, because that is what you are doing to their emotions.

I sincerely hope that you do not do that to your children. Think more about your children and less about yourselves, and make yours a selfless kind of love, not foolish or selfish, or your children will suffer.”

Insulting the Other Parent in Divorce and Child Custody Situations

Putting the best interests of your children first is hopefully what drives anyone in a child custody or divorce proceeding.  If that’s not enough, there are also practical reasons in the context of a divorce case to be as honorable as you can.

The inability to get along with the other parent can reflect badly on your character in the eyes of the judicial officer and make him or her question your ability to be a mature and positive role model for your children.

In addition, putting down the other parent can show the judicial officer that you are not willing and/or able to put the interests of your child ahead of your own feelings towards the other parent.

Judges have a great deal of experience with family law situations.  They are able to get to figure out if one parent is truly bad for the child.  Bad mouthing the other parent, particularly in front of the children, is not well regarded.

In sum, insulting the other parent in a divorce or custody case is a bad idea.  It’s bad for the children.  It can reflect badly on the insulting parent.  Lastly, it has no value strategically.  It’s ok to talk about concerns you have about the other parent.  However, crossing the line into insulting or demeaning behavior is never good.

For other divorce or family law questions, please consult the list to the left or the FAQ page.  If you’re interested in retaining an attorney to help you, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation using the contact information on the left or the contact form on the Majeski Law home page.  For Court rules, please click here.

Parenting Time and the Holidays

Parenting Time and the Holidays
Parenting Time and the Holidays can still be wonderful

Child Custody, Parenting Time, and the Holidays

The holidays are usually a great time for children.  However there is one sure way to spoil a child’s experience.  When both parents are fighting, being petty over little things, and putting their wants first, the child will often lose.  This is true in general, but can be especially painful during what should otherwise be a joyous and happy time for the child.  Parenting time and the holidays can be one of those experiences.

Holidays can often be a special time.  Along these lines, parents may place great importance on this time, and rightfully so.  However, because of this importance it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that this is the time to dig in one’s heels and “assert my parenting rights”.

With this in mind, here are some suggestions to make the holiday experience as best as it can possibly be when there are parenting time issues.

Ten Ideas for the Post-Separation Holidays

  1. The best interests of the children should come first … always
  2. Holidays can be a great time to build the relationship between parent and child.  This goes for both parents
  3. Court-ordered parenting time schedules, which should include holiday provisions, are still the rule …
  4. … But flexibility can also go a long way towards building goodwill with the other parent and making it a better holiday time for your children
  5. Along those lines, building in some holiday time for each parent with the child is often the best strategy
  6. The other parent’s holiday decisions may be based on family decisions, not just his or her own.  Sometimes he or she may not be able to control a schedule conflict
  7. Usually, each parent places the same amount of value and importance of spending holiday time with their children
  8. Usually the children, especially younger ones, place the same amount of value and importance of spending holiday time with each parent
  9. One parent is not “losing” if they generously offer flexibility to accommodate what’s best for their children
  10. Lastly, if any disputes over these issues go to Court, a Judge is generally going to be very underwhelmed with the party behaving unreasonably.  This may be especially true for behavior during the holidays.

For other divorce or family law questions, please consult the list to the left or the FAQ page.  If you’re interested in retaining an attorney to help you, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation using the contact information on the left or the contact form on the Majeski Law home page.  For Court rules, please click here.

Can I Get an Annulment in Minnesota?

Annulment is for invalid marriages
Annulments are for invalid marriages

Can someone get an annulment in Minnesota?  The short answer is probably “no”.  Unfortunately, there are many popular misconceptions about annulments.  In particular, some believe that annulment is simply a convenient, low-cost alternative to divorce.  In reality, this is simply not the case.

Divorce vs. Annulment in Minnesota

A divorce is different from an annulment. 

  • A divorce is the legalized end of a valid marriage. 
  • An annulment is a legal recognition that the marriage had some deficiency from the start.  Therefore, this is not recognized as a marriage from the start. 

The reality is, in Minnesota there are only a few narrow circumstances for an annulment.  There are two types of situation in which an annulment may apply.  They are “void” marriages and “voidable” marriages.

Void vs. Voidable Marriages

Void marriages refer to marriages that were never and can never be valid as a matter of law.  These fall into two types:

  • Marriages with close blood relatives
  • Marriages when one party was still previously married

Most frequently this question arises in the second situation.  Specifically, a later spouse discovers that his or her partner was married previously and had never been legally divorced. 

In this situation, the latter marriage is automatically invalid in Minnesota.  The solution: The married party legally divorces their first spouse.  Then he or she remarries the new partner.

Voidable marriages are allowed to continue, despite their deficiency, unless one party or the other challenges the marriage in a timely manner based on the deficiency.  Voidable marriages in Minnesota include:

  • At least one party was underage (less than 18)
  • One party was not able to consummate the marriage and the other party did not know of this at the time of marriage or
  • One party lacked capacity due to any of:
    • Incapacity due to being under the influence of drugs or alcohol
    • Mental incapacity
    • One party committed fraud or used force to compel the marriage

Annulment Doesn’t Usually Apply to Marriages

Most reasons for dissolving a marriage, like financial struggles, infidelity, disagreements regarding child care, or abuse don’t satisfy the annulment criteria.  This is why divorce, not annulment, is almost always the necessary course of action if one party wants to end a marriage.

For other divorce or family law questions, please consult the list to the left or the FAQ page.  If you’re interested in retaining an attorney to help you, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation using the contact information on the left or the contact form on the Majeski Law home page.  For Court rules, please click here.