Family Law Practice Areas
Jessica Sterle represents clients throughout Northeastern Minnesota in the following areas:
Also known as marital dissolution, divorce is a court proceeding to legally end a marriage. It can include a court hearing to decide temporary relief of various issues in the early stage of proceedings. Ultimately, the parties must either agree on their own or have a judge decide how the parties shall permanently provide for care and access of marital children (custody and visitation), who must pay child support and how much, who must pay alimony (otherwise known as spousal maintenance), if any, how to divide marital property (debts, personal property, vehicles) and name change, if any.
What if a husband and wife have divided their debts and assets and negotiated legal custody, physical custody and parenting time on their own? Is an attorney necessary to finalize the divorce? An attorney can be retained to draft the approximately 10 forms necessary to complete a divorce. Some clients hire the attorney to complete and file the 60-70 pages necessary to finish a divorce. Jessica Sterle may be retained for a low fee to draft the forms and file the paperwork so the parties can quickly divorce. Prospective clients may contact her office for more information.
A legal separation involves all of the issues in a divorce except the marriage is not dissolved. The couple remains married until the parties go through the divorce proceeding. Should the parties wish to divorce, the terms of the legal separation are put aside and all the issues of legal and physical custody of the children, spousal maintenance, division of debts and so on, must be resolved.
Legal and physical custody must be determined for the children. Initially, a custody determination is based upon the “best interests of the child,” which is an examination of 12 factors set forth in Minnesota law. If custody was established in the past, then custody can only be changed by written agreement or by showing physical or emotional harm or endangerment to the child under the current arrangement.
This is a legal process to establish the biological father of a minor child, the mother has all the legal rights to a child when parents are not married. Paternity is an issue when a child is born to parents who are not married. Mother or father may initiate a paternity action. Paternity is usually settled at the child’s birth when mother and father sign a Minnesota Recognition of Parentage form. The parties may submit to a paternity test generally at their own expense.
Once paternity is established, legal and physical custody, visitation and child support must be determined.
Minnesota law gives every parent the right to see and spend time with his or her children. Sometimes parents have difficulty arranging when the parents are going to have time with their children during the school year and during summer break. Holidays can be particularly difficult. As children grow older, the parenting time parents created no longer works so it may need to be changed.
Child support is the money the non-custodial parent, known as the obligor, must pay to support his or her children. This child support is paid to the obligee or custodial parent. The amount of child support an obligor must pay is based upon each parties’ financial situation, but key is the net monthly income of the obligor. It may be possible to modify a prior child support order if the obligor’s financial situation has changed “substantially”, meaning his or her finances have had a change to cause a 20% change in ongoing support.
Tied into the issue of child support is also issues of medical support for the children including health insurance coverage, if any, as well as who is responsible for any unreimbursed health and medical expenses for the children, such as braces or glasses.
This is an agreement by the couple before marriage stating how the parties’ money, debts, property and assets must be divided should the parties ever divorce. Premarital agreements are also known as antenuptial agreements or pre-nups.
The property husband and wife accumulated during a marriage is marital property requiring the parties to equitably divide all items. The name assets are held in is irrelevant. Such property includes furniture, house wears, vehicles, ATV’s and real estate. Property is not usually divided on a 50/50 basis. It may be necessary to have a professional appraise or value assets. If there is a question if property is marital or non-marital, it may be necessary to hire a professional to make this determination.
There are times when a divorce does not end issues of property division, pension division, spousal maintenance or legal and physical custody of children because of change of circumstances. Should one or both parties are not honest in declaring marital and non-marital property, it may be necessary to address the non-declared property in a legal proceeding.
Spousal Maintenance, Otherwise Known As Alimony
Spousal maintenance is paid by one former spouse to the other former spouse because he or she cannot financially support himself or herself for whatever reason. Spousal maintenance can either be temporary, for example for two years to allow the husband to finish a college degree, or permanent because the wife was a housemaker for 25 years and does not have an education.
There may be circumstances when parents are unable to properly care for their children. Drug and alcohol abuse are main reasons why county Social Services steps in to provide children with a safe environment. Often times, grandparents step in to care for their grandchildren. Under Minnesota law, there are times when grandparents can seek and obtain legal and physical custody of their grandchildren ensuring they are properly cared for.
An Order for Protection is an order one receives from a judge prohibiting a spouse, ex-spouse, ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend from having contact with him or her. A court hearing is set allowing the parties to present witnesses, police reports and other supporting documentation. A judge issues an Order for Protection upon proof that someone (1) committed physical harm, bodily injury or assault, (2) committed the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, or assault, or (3) terroristic threats, criminal sexual conduct or interference with an emergency call. A judge has the ability to make determinations of temporary legal and physical custody of children, child support, and property division.
Courts sometimes see a party inappropriately seeking an Order for Protection with little supporting evidence hoping to use the Order for Protection against the other party for strategic purposes in a divorce or custody action. Such behavior is used against the improper party in future hearings.
A Harassment Restraining Order is an order one receives from a judge against another preventing contact whether by telephone, mail, email or through third parties. A court hearing is set allowing the parties to present witnesses, police reports and other supporting documentation. The person seeking a Harassment Restraining Order must prove a pattern of harassing and unwanted contact, such as repeated telephone calls over several days, unwanted visits at work, or the person constantly drives past one’s house.