Over the course of 33 years, Jeffrey R. Arrigoni has handled appeals and all types of divorce cases, from the amicable settlement to the most contentious and complex litigation. Here, he answers some frequently asked questions about hiring a divorce lawyer, and why it is so necessary to protect your rights and interests. Jeffrey R. Arrigoni Law Office is based in Woodbury and serves the entire Twin Cities metro area, including the cities of St. Paul, Minneapolis, Oakdale, Stillwater, Maplewood, Cottage Grove, Hastings, Roseville, Afton, Lake Elmo, and others in the Washington and Ramsey County area. For a free initial consultation to discuss your unique situation and our services, please contact our office by calling (651) 738-1400.

Do I need to have a lawyer represent me in my divorce?

While the courts do not require you to have an attorney, you will find that most judges strongly encourage you to be represented throughout the process, or at least to have an attorney review the proposed divorce settlement before you agree to it.  While there are forms available that would enable you to file your divorce without an attorney, there have been many instances where trial court judges have rejected proposed settlements as improper because the parties have made numerous errors in their attempt to draft a binding legal Marital Termination Agreement or Judgment and Decree. Judges do not have the time to educate parties who represent themselves (referred to as pro se parties) and sometimes have little patience with parties who choose to forego legal representation for whatever reason. Similarly, you should not expect the Clerk’s Office to assist you in completing any forms. Only licensed and competent attorneys should be giving legal advice, and the Clerk’s Office is in general extremely reluctant to give any assistance that could be construed as legal advice. At a minimum it is highly recommended you have an experienced Divorce Lawyer review your Proposed Dissolution Paperwork before you file it and submit to the Court. The time of divorce is frequently very emotional, yet you must make important decisions for yourself and your family that will likely affect you for a lifetime. To make these decisions properly, you need to understand your legal rights. However, the laws in Minnesota concerning custody, parenting time, visitation, child support, spousal maintenance, division of marital assets and debts, and other critical issues are very complex. Attempting to proceed without obtaining legal advice is extremely hazardous and oftentimes will only lead to delays and difficulties. While there have been recent efforts to simplify filing for divorce, there have also been numerous major changes in Minnesota law concerning divorce issues, making it unwise to take shortcuts and forego seeking the legal advice of an experienced divorce lawyer. It is especially important to consult with a divorce attorney if you have children, own real estate, have a disparity in income, brought significant assets into the marriage, have a disability or health issues, have incurred substantial debt, or have been married for more than a couple of years. Divorce is generally not a time to cut costs, as money that you may think you are saving now could cost you a great deal more in the future. While you may try to handle a legal matter yourself to avoid paying an attorney, the truth is that hiring an experienced family law lawyer is the best way to have your case processed expeditiously and without delays or unforeseen problems that could frustrate your purpose. Competent legal representation will assure that strict filing deadlines are adhered to, that your rights are protected, and that your best interests are looked after throughout the entire divorce process.

When should I hire a divorce attorney?

It is best to obtain legal representation at the very beginning of any divorce proceeding, custody matter, and/or paternity action, as the decisions you make early and even shortly prior to the commencement of a divorce action can have a major impact on how your case is resolved. For example, moving out of the house, agreeing on visitation time, and exchanging money at the beginning of a case can greatly affect the ultimate outcome of your case. There have recently been numerous law changes, including custody laws. It is essential to consult an experienced divorce attorney before you make these types of decisions in a divorce proceeding.

Will a domestic abuse or order for protection proceeding have an impact on my child custody case?

In some cases an Order for Protection or Domestic Abuse Proceeding will commence prior to a divorce action being commenced. It is highly recommended that both parties be represented by legal counsel in an Order for Protection or a Domestic Abuse Proceeding as the outcome of that case can have a significant impact on Custody Issues and Parenting Time issues in a subsequent divorce. A decision whether to litigate an Order for Protection or Domestic Abuse case or to make stipulated findings can be an important factor viewed upon in a subsequent custody dispute and should only be done after a party has had an opportunity to consult with an experienced divorce attorney.

Do Minnesota courts require me to have a family law attorney?

While a judge or trial court will not require you to retain a divorce or family law attorney, most judges and courts strongly encourage people to consult with legal counsel before entering into settlements. In some situations, a court may be reluctant to approve a settlement unless a party has had an opportunity to consult with legal counsel. Trial court judges also may reject proposed settlements as improper because parties have attempted to draft a binding legal Marital Termination Agreement or Judgment and Decree, but have made numerous errors. This occurs frequently as there are complex requirements concerning legal documents submitted to a court, and most judges do not have the time or resources, nor is it their job, to educate people about Minnesota law or their legal rights. Finally, courts have very strict rules concerning filing deadlines, which must be adhered to, as there are severe consequences if they are not. An experienced family law attorney will ensure that your case is processed expeditiously and without unforeseen problems in the preparation, processing, and filing of divorce pleadings.

How will the parent’s cooperation and communication with each other impact the court’s ruling on child custody?

The level of communication and the ability to cooperate between the parents is an important issue that a Court or professional will look at in formulating orders or making recommendations concerning custody, including legal and physical custody and a Parenting Time Schedule. If a parent consistently attempts to alienate or isolate the children from the other parent without a justifiable legal reason such as potential danger to a child, that conduct can come back to impact a custody or parenting time ruling or decision in numerous ways. If there are issues relative to abuse, alcohol or chemical dependency or mood-altering drug abuse, if there has been a history of mental health issues involving the parent, or if a child has special needs, it is also especially critical that a party consult with an experienced family law lawyer.

What are the important initial decisions impacting custody?

At the time of separation, a parent or party often times will make a decision whether to move out of the home or where to live and whom to live with and the distance from the home, all of which can have an impact on future custody issues. A temporary schedule that the parties follow prior to the commencement of legal proceedings can also establish a status quo or precedence that the Court may look at in determining the flexibility and continuity of the children and what the parties have presumably implicitly decided is in the best interests of the children in deciding custody and Parenting Time or visitation issues. If a party moves out of the family home and moves a significant distance from the home or the children this could impact parenting time and the ability to pursue joint physical custody.  All of these decisions should only be made after a party has an opportunity to consult with an experienced family law attorney.

What type of Divorce Lawyer should I obtain?

It is highly recommended that you obtain an experienced divorce lawyer, with many years of experience, or one who practices primarily in Family Law and has dealt with the numerous issues and ever changing law in divorce and the handling of your case. The issues that arise in a divorce such as child custody, child support, spousal maintenance commonly referred to as alimony, division of marital property, the award of non-marital property commonly referred to as assets brought into the marriage by a party, valuations of businesses, division of debt, and the division of pension and retirement plans requires an experienced attorney who understands unique issues that arise in family law and who is familiar with Minnesota law and the Minnesota Courts and does not have to spend substantial time doing research to assist you in strategizing and evaluating and handling these matters. It is also difficult, if not impossible, in many incidences to correct errors or decisions that have been made in a divorce proceeding by someone who has attempted to complete the forms and who has finalized a divorce without consulting an experienced family law attorney. If a divorce is approved and final paperwork is submitted to the Court and signed off by a Judge and filed with the Court, in many incidences, you will have waived your right to pursue potential relief. It is therefore critical that you obtain legal representation at the first sign that a divorce is imminent or will likely occur.

What makes Family Law unique and warrants you retain an experienced divorce attorney?

Minnesota Family Law is a unique area of legal practice. It is not simple, but is instead filled with a vast array of Minnesota case law interpreting unique facts and circumstances in all different cases. There are also unique formulas that are used and long standing precedent (prior case law) that are considered by the Court in dealing with issues such as spousal maintenance and non-marital assets or assets brought into the marriage, the appreciation of non-marital assets, the calculation of child support, and the valuation of businesses, that requires an experienced lawyer who practices a substantial amount of time dealing with family law matters. There cannot be general conclusions made about your case without an attorney obtaining detailed information from you about your specific situation and therefore, you should not rely on the general information referenced in this site in making decisions about your case. You need to take the time to meet with a lawyer and discuss your specific fact situation and obtain professional advice to protect your rights and to safeguard your future. Efforts to save a few thousand dollars could end up costing you tens of thousands of dollars if you attempt to proceed without consulting with a lawyer. It is often true in divorce cases that emotions run very high and it is very difficult to be objective in dealing with resolving matters and issues that arise in a dissolution proceeding. This is another reason that even if a party is familiar with Minnesota law it is in their best interests to obtain independent legal counsel who specializes in family law to represent them in a divorce. Emotions often cloud judgment and decision making and leads to poor tactical decisions in the divorce process. An experienced family law attorney who can be objective can greatly assist in resolving matters with less acrimony and less expense then if parties allow their emotions to cause unnecessary delays and leads to uncompromising positions or taking action that is contrary to their best interests. Competent family law attorneys also have resources that can be of great assistance in allowing the case to move forward and be resolved in an expeditious manner. In divorce proceedings there often will be the need to obtain a real estate appraiser, a tax professional, or a business valuation expert, or other experts to address and resolve pension valuation and division issues or analysis of non-marital property and it’s impact on the present marital estate. An experienced lawyer who practices extensively in family law will have resources that are reputable and competent to assist in dealing with these issues.

What other Custody Professional such as a Parenting Consultant or Parenting Time Expediter will I need?

In finalizing a divorce there are often times where decisions need to be made whether to appoint or select other professionals to assist in future decisions involving the children and whether to select a Parenting Time Consultant, Parenting Time Expediter, or other professionals and stipulating and agreeing to the scope of their authority can have a significant impact on future issues and expense in a case. In cases involving disputes about custody it is inevitable that a divorce matter will take a longer period of time because of the need to involve professionals and complete evaluations such as Custody Evaluations by County Court Services or by other psychiatrists, psychologists, or other professionals stipulated to or Court ordered. Custody is an extremely complex area and it is strongly recommended a party not represent themselves in addressing and resolving custody disputes. Your decision making on all custody matters and methods of communication are issues that should be discussed and evaluated with an experienced family law lawyer. The selection of other professionals to assist in addressing and resolving or handling future disputes is also an important component of a Custody Proceeding. The selection of a qualified mediator or Evaluator can have a substantial impact on your case. Even if a custody dispute is subsequently resolved it is important to receive a divorce attorney’s input in the decisions that are made in reaching a settlement as the settlement can have a significant binding effect on the resolution of future matters involving the children. There is substantial case law and there have been recent material changes in Minnesota custody laws, in particular, relative to what factors to evaluate and look at in deciding whether to allow a parent to move from Minnesota and relocate the children to another state.