Category Archives: Family Law Attorney

Parental Alienation Issues Negatively Impact Children

A very troublesome issue in some Custody and Parenting Time disputes and Divorces is when a parent intentionally attempts to alienate the children from the other parent. Trying to prove the alienation can be difficult as often there are vastly different stories and claims made by both parents and oftentimes the parties and the children are the only witnesses to the disputed facts.  Most judges are extremely reluctant to allow or have children testify in court and due to budget crunches and other factors it can be very difficult to have the court appoint a guardian ad litem.  Custody studies are also becoming more and more expensive.

In these types of cases it is usually critical a competent psychological evaluator and/or custody expert be retained to assess the children and situation, which will require a court Order unless the opposing party or counsel agree to the assessment.  Often times the alienation is only discovered, after the fact, when there is Parent Reunification Counseling that is completed.

There can also be disputes whether an alleged abusive parent’s own conduct has caused the alienation instead of the opposing party. To successfully prove alienation  claims it is also important to have an experienced divorce attorney who is familiar with these type of unique issues.

Experts recognize the dire tragic impact serious alienation has on children as do some judges. A recent article, by Paul Reitman,  discusses the problems it can cause and the need for more study by the courts. I am including the article in this blog as it is important and helpful:

Courts need to study parental alienation
Courts need to study parental alienation
By: Paul Reitman May 19, 2017

I have been doing parental reunification therapy since 1990 up until 2017. Throughout the years I have been extremely frustrated with parental alienation being minimized by the courts and then being allowed to continue. The impact is serious and can have lifelong effects, and children who are alienated are at a higher risk for psychological and psychiatric disorders.
I would like to discuss the major issues that cause parental alienation to be so difficult to confront.
A syndrome, not a diagnosis
The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) did not recognize parental alienation as a diagnosis; therefore, the myth has developed that there is no such thing as parental alienation.
Another issue that comes up from time to time is that some courts believe that in any type of adversarial divorce parental alienation is a normal development. This simply is not true. There are many individuals who get divorced who have adversarial feelings towards each other but they are able to discriminate between their own feelings and the need for the child to have a significant relationship with their mother or father.
Parental alienation should not be a diagnosis because it is a syndrome. It is a syndrome that causes children to develop depressive disorders and anxiety disorders, as well as personality disorders, causing severe impairment in the child’s ability to establish future intimate relationships with members of the opposite sex.
Often, courts will simply acknowledge parental alienation and set up a course of action whereby a mental health professional is appointed to do parental reunification. Typically, this will occur once a week, which is totally inadequate to confront the alienating parent. Ideally, there should be a team of mental health professionals who have the appropriate credentials, i.e., training in clinical psychology with respect to child development, attachment theory, and the ability to diagnose individuals and children with mental disorders. They also should be able to assess for parental coaching.
When there are inadequate measures, the alienating parent will typically not discontinue the alienation and the children will typically identify with the alienating parent and create an alliance with that parent. This is not to be unexpected. Children and even adolescents have not matured cognitively to be able to discriminate and understand that they have a right to have a relationship with each parent and because of the psychic conflict and cognitive ambivalence they have, they will identify and ally themselves with one parent.
In my professional experience, it has been the exception when a judge ordered children to be removed from the alienating parent’s home and then participate in deprogramming with a clinical psychologist that has that expertise.
Furthermore, if the alienating parent will not cease his or her activities, then he or she should be required to have supervised visitation.
Comprehensive assessments
There is an array of mental health professionals who participate in parental reunification therapy. Competencies and expertise are crucial and once again, as discussed above, the mental health professional should have training in clinical psychology and the ability to diagnose mental disorders in children and adolescents as well as in adults.
Furthermore, comprehensive assessments are required and roles need to be delineated so that the mental health professional is not taking on too many roles. For example, if a psychologist is appointed to do assessments of the entire family to determine if there is in fact parental alienation occurring, then he or she should not be the reunification therapist.
Psychological assessment is an exquisite art that requires comprehensive training in understanding the uses and abuses of psychometric testing. So often I have encountered assessments utilizing the MMPI-II or the MMPI-II-RF as well as the MCMI-III. These tools report to give an assessment of psychopathology and psychopathy (symptoms of mental illness and symptoms of personality disorders).
However, when parents are in an adversarial relationship or an adversarial custody study, it will likely produce elevations on psychometric tools that are transient and not permanent. For example, a father who is being alienated from his children and is not getting any true psychological assistance or relief will likely endorse symptoms of paranoia, mistrust, anxiety and even depression. If this presentation is taken in a vacuum, it produces a false positive assessment of mental illnesses. The examiner must be trained in understanding reliability and validity of psychological testing as well as being able to be at the center of the assessment, often times dismissing elevations based upon transient symptoms.
Additionally, under the American Psychological Association Guidelines for Custody Studies, a psychologist should not make recommendations about parental alienation without seeing the mother, the father and the children. Seeing one parent only and not examining the children and then making recommendations that: a) parental alienation is occurring; b) the children should be removed from one parent’s household; and c) the children should be placed in a different household, is simply not ethical.
First, parental alienation is a pervasive pattern of confusing children, causing them a great deal of distress, depression and anxiety, and typically if they are living with the alienating parent, they are in a role reversal whereby they are becoming little adults taking care of the alienating parent.
Second, when partial interventions are made and the alienating parent is not understood and given the opportunity for therapy to confront the alienation, then it is highly unlikely that it will stop. I have had too many cases whereby a child at 15 was alienated and partial procedures were implemented and it never dented the child’s psychological status. It went on until the child became 18 and then simply terminated the relationship with the parent that has been alienated.
It is quite clear in the clinical literature that children who come from divorce are at higher risk for mental disorders. However, the literature and research is quite clear that children that are able to maintain and sustain a significant relationship with both parents have a much better chance of living normal lives and become productive.
I highly recommend to the judiciary and the Legislature that a study be undertaken to examine this syndrome and to become familiar with the type of interventions that are required in order to discontinue this syndrome that has significant adverse effects on children and adolescents.
Paul M. Reitman, Ph.D., L.P., F.A.C.F.E., has been a forensic and clinical psychologist since 1981. During that time, he has also practiced in the fields of hospital psychology, outpatient psychology, and has always maintained a clinical practice on both an outpatient and inpatient basis. he has always maintained a clinical practice and was a hospital psychologist up until 2017.

It should be clear alienation needs to be stopped as it can have devastating consequences to children.  If you face these issues immediately contact an experienced divorce attorney to take prompt steps to combat and prove the claims and seek appropriate relief.

Spousal Maintenance And Income

In Curtis v. Curtis, A14-1841,  (Minn 2016) the Supreme Court reaffirmed  that a trial court has broad discretion to consider investment income to determine whether a spouse is need of spousal maintenance.

In Curtis, the husband worked as a dentist and his wife was a homemaker who had raised two children, who were now adults. The parties were married 22 years and had built a substantial marital estate, including a marital home, lake home, a second home, a vacation property in South Carolina and a commercial building. They also had an investment account worth $2,038,000 and a certificate of deposit with an approximate value of $171,000 and various other assets. By stipulation wife was awarded marital property totaling $2,800,000(57% of the marital estate), including the investment accounts and certificate of deposit, and husband was awarded $2,170,000(43% of the marital estate). The court approved the stipulated property settlement and the parties litigated the issue of spousal maintenance. The trial court denied wife spousal maintenance determining the wife could exchange the assets in the investment accounts and the certificate of deposit for higher yielding investments to produce income sufficient to meet her monthly expenses. The court did not consider the tax consequences of the restructuring and reallocation of assets. The court of appeals affirmed in a 2-1 unpublished decision.

On appeal, the Supreme Court determined the trial court did not abuse its discretion in taking into account the income-earning potential of the wife’s property award, but has an obligation to also consider the tax consequences that would be incurred to reallocate the assets to increase the income. (By inference apparently a trial court can require a reallocation of assets to maximize income if tax consequences are considered.) The court noted the tax consequences could impact the property division as the wife is not required to invade the principal assets she was awarded.  The Supreme Court remanded the matter to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with its decision.

This decision reaffirms a trial court must consider all potential income a spouse may generate from the property received in the divorce. It also makes it clear it is essential to have financial experts to perform analysis of potential income property awards and a tax expert to determine what if any tax consequences will be incurred to maximize the potential income that is claimed to be available for a spouse to meet their respective needs.

In all divorces with spousal maintenance issues or large marital property estates it is important to retain an experienced  divorce lawyer to assist in resolving the matter, whether through mediation or litigation.

Pitfalls In Handling Your Own Divorce

I have seen an increase in people trying to draft their own Divorce Judgment and Decree, which often leads to numerous problems and additional fees and expense to redraft the Decree or for the need to move to amend it because of ambiguities. Some terms or omissions can be impossible to correct afterwards.

If you have children, real estate, assets in excess of $20,000, pensions or issues relating to custody, parenting time, spousal maintenance or child support it is best to retain an experienced family law attorney to draft the final paperwork.

I have represented numerous clients when their paperwork has been rejected by the trial court or worse has been accepted, but has failed to properly address all issues or foreseeable issues. Family law is complicated and has extensive statutes and common law set forth in a large scope of cases that a layman will not understand or properly address. Neither the court or the clerk’s office can or will give legal advice.

Once the Decree is accepted and filed many of the terms are not modifiable at a later time. Property settlements become final. Other terms may be modifiable if there is a substantial change in circumstances, but still may be difficult and expensive to attempt to modify.

There are numerous nuances in drafting custody and parenting plans that would benefit the input of an experienced divorce attorney. These agreements are generally not easy to change or modify. Vague or incomplete parenting plans often leads to numerous disputes and issues that can cause the noncustodial parent to lose important parenting time when a dispute arises.

Determining child support under the calculator is not as easy as it seems as there are numerous collateral issues that may not be properly addressed such as imputing income for less than full-time employment, bonus income, or issues and complexities when dealing with self employment, or overtime income. There are also numerous complexities in determining what the actual percentage of parenting time is for each parent is under parenting time schedules. A lawyer can also make sure the issue of the child dependency tax exemptions are properly addressed and drafted in the decree as well as other matters such as security in life insurance is included to make sure there is adequate support in the event of a death.

Spousal maintenance terms have to be dealt with extremely carefully or unintended results can easily happen. If proper waivers are not included with specialized language a party may leave itself open for extended or continuing spousal maintenance or attempted motions to do so. A lawyer should be used in every case dealing with spousal maintenance cases.

If you own a home it is also important to have a lawyer’s assistance. It is essential to make sure the complete legal description is included or you can have expensive future title problems. An agreement to sell the home needs critical detailed information included to properly address possible unforeseen issues such as difficulties in facilitating the sale or default or possible short sale ramifications and other issues, including possession, payment requirements and cooperation terms.

Dividing retirement assets and pensions have many complex issues that can lead to serious unintended consequences if not properly addressed. Survival benefits, valuation and tax issues and other complexities needs the input and advice of an experienced attorney. Often a separate Order (QDRO) needs to be prepared with numerous electives and options that can involve tens of thousands of dollars in differences depending on the electives selected, or more, if there are errors made that generally may not be later modifiable.

Generally when a divorce starts many people are on an emotional roller coaster and often have some temporary depression issues. Many people have feelings of guilt or remorse or even anger and cannot properly evaluate what is fair and equitable or consistent with the law. They may overlook important issues or make unwise concessions that may haunt them for years as they try dig out of a deep financial hole or give up custody or parenting time they cannot later change.  They may find they are entitled to much more than they are aware of if they overlook nonmarital assets or other spousal maintenance issues. A good family law attorney will protect you from making a poor decision without careful thought and evaluation.

The family law rules and rules of civil procedure are very complex and you will be expected to follow them. If you miss deadlines you may lose or waive important rights to make submissions or argue issues.

Do not assume you can easily represent yourself in a divorce and navigate drafting a divorce decree that properly protects you. Retaining an experienced divorce attorney is a wise and prudent investment to make sure all issues are fully evaluated and addressed and your rights are protected.  I have been a lawyer for over 33 years and practice exclusively in family law, custody, divorce and mediation. I will make sure your rights are protected.

Preparing For Divorce

The Divorce Process has been made more civil and informal with numerous recent rule and law changes to require or strongly encourage mediation or other alternative dispute resolution and to limit time-consuming and expensive formal discovery. Often times it still will be stressful and emotionally difficult and it still can turn into prolonged litigation if your spouse is angry or determined to go down that path.

There are some steps you can take to make the process easier, less expensive and to protect yourself. A few recommendations were recently summarized in an article published in Huffpost Divorce by Lisa Helfend Meyer on February 2, 2016 titled “6 Things to Do Before Filing for Divorce.” These are the recommendations:

1. KNOW YOUR FINANCES. Make sure you try to copy or obtain access to financial records, account statements, tax returns, financial statements and any lists of assets, debts or purchase documents for real estate. At a minimum you should try to locate the last 3 years of tax returns and if necessary contact your accountant or investment advisor or investment account representative and obtain several years of records or statements. If homes or real estate has been refinanced or recently purchased you should obtain from the mortgage broker a copy of financial statements or loan applications completed and any appraisals completed in the process. This can provide a general overview of your income, debts, and assets to assist your divorce attorney to plan a strategy for the best way to proceed. If a spouse is angry it is important to obtain these records early to avoid expense to duplicate them or in some cases avoiding a spouse from losing them or worse destroying them.

2. GET YOUR AFFAIRS IN ORDER. Take care of financial transactions before the divorce starts. If you have joint credit lines or home equity lines you may want to contact the bank or mortgage company and freeze the credit line or have your named removed from joint credit cards for future charges or contact the credit card company and advise them you do agree to be liable for future charges and ask your name be removed if you are concerned about spouse going on a spending spree and damaging your credit or charging attorney fees on a joint credit card. You cannot change life insurance beneficiaries after divorce starts and generally you are restrained from liquidating assets except for necessary living expenses or for attorney fees. You may also wish to video tape or take pictures or inventory valuable personal property such as jewelry, guns, tools or equipment or consider having items informally appraised.

3. SET MONEY ASIDE. It often times is wise to have an emergency fund set aside to hire a lawyer or if possible to pay necessary living and debt expenses for 60 to 90 days or longer because a spouse can close down accounts or close out credit quickly and leave you vulnerable until mediation or court action is taken, which now can take 60 days or longer before you can schedule a temporary hearing if mediation is unsuccessful.

4. KEEP A JOURNAL. When custody or parenting time is in dispute it is important to document your involvement with the children. It often is helpful to keep a daily journal of all your involvement with the children, their activities and schooling and all communications and conversely your spouse’s lack of involvement. You want to make sure you are active at school events and conferences as well as day care selection and pick up and drop off as well as doctor or counselor appointments. Do not allow your spouse to control or limit your involvement. Do not work voluntary overtime and minimize weekend work or travel commitments.

5. AVOID SOCIAL MEDIA. Pictures, posts and internet activity is commonly being used as evidence in custody and parenting time disputes. Things you to do through social media is often discoverable and venting about your spouse on social media will be met with restraining orders, sanctions or worse. Stay away from social media for your own protection.

6. SEE A THERAPIST. A divorce can be very stressful and situational anxiety or depression can often happen. It is important to protect your emotional health and obtain help or support through a therapist , pastor or strong family network. Family  support is helpful, but they may not always give you the best advice or be able to appropriately address the feelings or problems you are experiencing. If you feel stressed, overwhelmed or depressed it is important to seek professional help.

These are important first steps, but it remains critical to promptly seek advice from a divorce lawyer or experienced divorce attorney before you take any rash action such as moving out, changing jobs or work schedules or refinancing properties, purchasing new residences or taking out joint credit lines or loans, when divorce is on the horizon. Do not agree to temporary parenting schedules, custody or temporary financial arrangements until you consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney. Temporary agreements can limit your future options or turn into permanent binding terms that may not be in your best interests.


Moving On After A Marriage Ends

Clinical Psychologist, Kristin Davis, has recently published a thoughtful article in the Huffington Divorce section on February 1, 2016 suggesting 5 ways to move on after a relationship ends, which is sound advice to consider after a divorce. I concur and believe the tips can help an individual transition and overcome the emotional and psychological pain that divorce often brings. These are the recommendations:

1. TAKE STOCK. As painful as it might be it is helpful to think through your take and what you learned from that relationship. Would you do things differently the next time? What struggles on both sides may have contributed to the marriage ending? Many people just want to run away and hide or escape another way through other means such as alcohol, dating, or other destructive behavior and this will only lead to more problems and potential heartaches.  Instead analyze , where do I see myself? What have I learned? What , if anything would you do differently in the next relationship? How is it best for you to move on? Some may realize there are positive things and aspects of the break-up such as freedom, optimism, empowerment and relief. Remember this is an opportunity for a fresh start and to recreate yourself and pursue dreams or things that may never have been realistic or available when married.

2. PURGE SOCIAL MEDIA. Make sure you remove your former spouse off your social media. Delete and remove picture, emails, and texts. Do not follow him or her on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. If you fail to do so you will be confronted with continuing painful reminders and will lead to you being stuck in the past and not focusing on the future.

3. INDULGE AND EXPAND HORIZONS. Reconnect with family and old friends. Expand your knowledge, take a class and read some interesting books or take up a new hobby. Exercise can often help with overcoming emotional pain. Be open to things, experiences or old hobbies. Explore things you have never done.

4. DO NOT RUSH INTO A NEW RELATIONSHIP. Many professionals believe rushing into dating is not the best way to move past your last relationship. It is often wise and better to give yourself some time and space before you rush back into another relationship. Give yourself time to spend on yourself to step back, evaluate and provide an opportunity for clarity and introspection. People often fail to analyze the mistakes of the past and end up repeating things that lead to future failed relationships. Look for patterns that can help prevent future relationships mistakes.

5. ACCEPT CHANGE AND UPHEAVAL. It often is not easy to get over a divorce or the end of a relationship, but do not dwell on the past every minute of the day. Over time you will heal and the ride will become less bumpy. Your new freedom can lead to many new adventures and you have an opportunity for a new beginning. Never give up. There will be future opportunities for love and fulfillment.

I am not a mental health expert or psychologist but as a divorce lawyer with several decades of experience and after representing a few individuals in multiple divorces and experiencing and witnessing the struggles some clients have I believe these recommendations are extremely helpful to prepare for your exciting future.

Attorneys Fees in Family Law

In a divorce or family law matter it is important to factor in the cost of attorney fees and Court costs in an action when deciding how you wish to proceed. It is foolhardy to not seek legal advice in divorce or family law matters. It is wise to understand it often may be difficult and expensive to obtain a Court order directing your spouse to pay your attorneys fees in the matter.

Under the law a Court can award fees to enable a party to carry on or contest the proceedings, provided it finds:

(1) that the fees are necessary for the good faith assertion of the party’s rights in the action and will not contribute unnecessarily to the length or and expense of the proceedings;

(2) that the party from whom fees, costs, and disbursements are sought has the means to pay them; and

(3) that the party to whom fees, costs, and disbursements are awarded does not have the means to pay them. Minn. Stat.518.14.

A Court can also award fees against a party who unreasonably contributes to the length or expense of the action, or if a party commits fraud, or takes what a Court determines are bad faith actions in a case. Fees and costs can be awarded at any point in the proceeding.

Attorney fees can be obtained when there is a gross disparity in incomes or financial situations in a case, but it often can be expensive and a lengthy process to obtain an award of fees. Sometimes Courts wait until trial after they hear and consider all evidence before deciding an issue involving fees, or make a small temporary award to allow a party to contest the case, but the award often falls far short of the attorney fees required to take the matter through a time-consuming litigation process or trial. It is folly to assume you are going to be awarded every dollar of fees you are incurring, even if there is a disparity in incomes because, in general, Courts are conservative in awarding fees and do not wish to risk encouraging potentially unnecessary litigation. By granting a large temporary award of fees Courts realize this may lead to more litigation rather than a settlement. Generally Courts want matters to settle and not be litigated.  They have very busy Court calendars already and often times ugly divorce litigation is not their favorite way to spend their time.

Instead of counting on or assuming you will be awarded attorney fees the best strategy is to attempt to minimize your own fees because 90% of cases settle short of a trial and it is never easy to negotiate or convince your spouse to voluntarily pay both sides attorney fees.

First carefully review and read your Retainer Agreement with your attorney to understand how you will be billed. Generally numerous phone calls or e-mails to your attorney will lead to a large attorney fee bill quickly. Do not use your attorney as a therapist or as a way to soothe your hurt feelings as it can be very expensive. Find a good friend, or family member, or therapist to talk about your emotional feelings and disappointment. Try to streamline communications to address multiple issues in a single call or e-mail and try not to constantly barrage your attorney with piecemeal information. If possible try to amicably resolve personal property disputes with your spouse without involving your attorney as fees can escalate fast over battles about old TVs or computers or used furniture that have small real current market value.

As hurt as you may be, try to be civil and respectful to your spouse. Personal or verbal attacks may give you temporary satisfaction, but may lead to a barrage of payback attempts to get even or other strategies to punish you in a revengeful manner that will lead to much larger attorney fees for both sides. It can also lead to expensive collateral actions such as Orders for Protection, or Harassment actions, which lead to more fees.  Do not let your emotions drive your actions. Treat your divorce as a business transaction and negotiations, as hard and as cold as that sounds.

Be honest with your attorney and do not hide information or assets. The more your attorney knows the better they can quickly plan how to settle your case. Trying to hide information or assets is unwise and can be deemed fraudulent and that can lead to an attorney fee award and also discredits your credibility with the Court. This can lead to very bad results no matter how good your attorney may be. It can also lead to length discovery requests, or information requests, from your spouse’s attorney, or depositions that lead to much higher attorney fees.

When your attorney requests information or documents, timely get the documents and provide them in an organized fashion. Do not procrastinate in getting information or documents as this leads to follow-up e-mails, letters, or phone calls and more fees and expense. You can save a great deal of expense by carefully organizing the statements, by file folder or clips in order. There are far too many cases where clients bring in a grocery bag of documents accumulated over years that are a mess and take hours to organize and often are incomplete, which again leads to higher fees for a paralegal or staff to try to organize and additional frustration for you.

Keep your children out of the middle of your divorce. Do not attempt to alienate your children against the other parent. If a party feels a parent is undermining a relationship with their children this will lead to anger and hard feelings and more litigation or efforts to get even. It also will cause great emotional harm to your children.

Lastly follow your attorney’s advice. Do not believe you know better or assume you can take shortcuts without seeking the attorney’s input, in particular in negotiating important settlement details, because there may be legal reasons for negotiating a certain way. When in doubt, talk to your attorney, and always before you commit orally, or in writing to any settlement seek your attorney’s input. After you verbally agree to a settlement with your spouse it often can be very difficult to backtrack and negotiate important other matters that may have been forgotten or neglected and this leads to litigation as people get entrenched in verbal promises made along the way.

I know everyone tries to keep their costs down in a Family Law matter, but usually it is more cost effective to discuss your case and the actions that you are considering before you take action, rather than trying to undo it after the fact. It should always be the attorney’s goal to settle your case short of going to trial, which will minimize your own attorney fees because it can be very difficult, time-consuming and cost prohibitive to go through a trial and to attempt to make your spouse pay your attorney fees. Even if the Court does decide to award you attorney fees the Court may only award a small portion of the fees you incurred.