The District Court Show on You Tube!

Some of the episodes of The District Court Show (30 minutes each) are on YouTube, including the Tenth Judicial District Self-Help Center.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Top Divorce Mistakes Regarding Real Estate in Minnesota

Here is a link to a MN Judicial Branch article about mistakes that may not occur to parties or even attorneys.  We judges still see petitions and divorce decrees with no legal description to real estate.  It could be the grounds for a malpractice claim.  Frankly it is simple laziness not to put the legal description of real estate in the petition.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

"You Can Pay for Your Kids to Go to College, or Your Lawyer's Kids, But Not Both"

When practicing family law I frequently heard a now-retired Minnesota judge tell my client and their spouse or ex-spouse precisely that.  I have often repeated that phrase in the courtroom at the end of a contentious hearing, sometimes over rather simple matters that most rational-thinking adults would resolve rather than spend more money asking the black-robed Solomon (which we judges are not) to resolve.  Recently I repeated that phrase and, as usual, both parties were nodding their heads "yes" in agreement.
So what got in the way?  Ill will?  Control?  Spite?  Hard to know.  The bottom line is you may not have any money left to send your teenaged child to college if you spend your resources on litigation.  And don't count on the other party being ordered to or actually paying all or a portion of your attorneys fees.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Mediated Agreements Are Binding in Minnesota, Whether Written or Verbal and Recorded

In 2 separate decisions the Minnesota Court of Appeals has held that signed agreements reached in mediation are binding on the parties.  In Ferguson, 2016 WL 4065594, the court stated, "It would undermine the ENE (Early Neutral Evaluation) process if no evidence of any settlement reached in an ENE process could be admitted into evidence at a later hearing in a dissolution proceeding."

 A similar result was reached in Tornstrom, 2016 WL 6826258 reported last week.  In that case the parties reached a settlement after 8 hours of negotiation, with assistance of their attorneys, and the agreement was audio recorded.  Thereafter the wife refused to sign a written stipulation.  The court found that all of the elements of a binding contract were met.

Unfortunately this type of dispute is quite common as litigants reaching an agreement either succumb to "buyer's remorse" or discuss the settlement with family or co-workers and are told they got a raw deal or bad advice from their lawyer.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Bloomberg Reports on the Devastation of Divorce in or Nearing Retirement

Here is a link to a timely article on the impact of divorce on the large baby boomer population, something I have observed for many years as a lawyer and a judge.  It is often reported that many people in or approaching retirement face many risks due to insufficient saving over the years and the impact of health problems.  These problems are exacerbated by a divorce in one's 50's and 60's and beyond.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

There is Little More Important Than a Lawyer's Reputation

As commented upon frequently in this blog, the demands and stresses of family law practice are many and can at times seem overwhelming.  Clients can be demanding to the point of insisting that their lawyer engage in conduct that is not only unprofessional and violates the rules of court, but can also besmirch their reputation with opposing attorneys and the court.  There is little in this profession that is more important than maintaining one's reputation as an "honest lawyer."  Reputation is more important than earning a living, collecting a fee or keeping a client.  Young lawyers seem to not grasp this concept.  They may have to learn with experience that they may need to withdraw from representation if the client demands unprofessional conduct.

Clients also need to be told and understand that it does not promote their cause for the lawyer to engage in unprofessional conduct, such as engaging in ex parte communications with the judge or being unreasonable in dealing with opposing counsel on matters of procedure and scheduling.
Judges do not tolerate the "scorched earth" approach to family law.

Monday, 26 September 2016

There Are Many Hazards to the D-I-Y Divorce

At the risk of being repetitive, having discussed this issue several times in prior posts, there are many hazards to self-representation in a divorce.  Frankly I find that term "self-represented" quite misleading and do not like seeing it used.  It reminds of the term "self-medicating" which, generally, is also a bad idea.  I prefer to call parties acting without a lawyer to be "unrepresented."

I'll grant you that at least in Minnesota there are forms on the state website and available at self-help centers to assist parties in obtaining a divorce without a lawyer.  That does not mean that failing to at least consult an attorney is a good idea.  Every day judges review divorce decrees parties have agreed to without a lawyer.  If approved, many of these are "an accident waiting to happen". By that I mean when the first dispute arises over an important issue like child support, spousal maintenance, or parenting time, it will be very unclear (and the parties will disagree on) "what was intended."  As an example, if the decree is unclear as to under what conditions spousal maintenance terminates or may be reviewed, it is just possible that it will continue or terminate under conditions at least one of the parties did not expect or anticipate.

Provisions about property division must be particularly clear because generally such provisions cannot be modified by the court.  So if the agreement says "We will sell the house and divide the proceeds," what does that mean?   Who chooses the realtor? Who pays the mortgage, taxes and insurance pending closing?  Who pays for what repairs and maintenance?  What if a short sale is necessary? etc.  etc. etc.

Sure, there are dozens of videos on YouTube about how to replace a toilet, replace a radiator on your car, or install an aboveground swimming pool.  That does not mean that it's easy or that going alone will produce the optimum result.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Attorneys, Not Just Witnesses, Need to be Responsive to Judge's Questions

Often during a trial an attorney will ask a "yes-or-no" question to which the witness replies with a long narrative response, not a yes or no.  The attorney asking the question may then object to the answer as non-responsive and ask that it be stricken from the record.  The witness' narrative may have included otherwise objectionable hearsay or speculative testimony.

Attorneys also are often not responsive to the judge's questions.  The judge may ask a yes-or-no question and receive a long argument from the attorney.  Usually this is not an effective tactic in a criminal case.  The argument often will complain about some trivial discovery issue with the opposing attorney.

So, lawyers, as with your clients, please listen to the judge's question and answer the question.