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.

Uncontested Divorce

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 about uncontested divorce.

Legal Separation

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.

Child Custody

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 child 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.

Parenting Time

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

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 the 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.

Premarital Agreements

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 prenups.

Property Division

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 division 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 the property is marital or non-marital, it may be necessary to hire a professional to make this determination.

Post Decree Issues

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 or post-decree issues.

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.

Although the parties are divorced, issues involving spousal maintenance may surface again requiring legal advice.

Common questions about family law

What is family law (the definition)?

Family law is a general term for the practice of law involving divorce, child custody, parenting time, child support, paternity, adoption among others. Family law attorneys represent clients in family court cases and mediation and they draft a number of legal documents such as Petitions for Dissolution of Marriage, Complaints for Custody and Parenting Time, and child support Motions. Knowing Minnesota law as it relates to these types of cases is required for attorneys who practice in this area of the law.

What is a family law attorney?

A family law attorney represents clients who need legal representation in a divorce or have issues involving child custody, parenting time, child support, paternity, or adoption. Attorneys who practice in this area of law must know Minnesota law or the laws of the state in which a court case is going to take place.

What does a family law attorney do?

A family law attorney represents a client in a variety of ways. The attorney explains to a client the laws that affect his or her situation. Drafting a variety of legal documents to begin and complete a family court case is a vital part of being a family law attorney. The attorney advocates for clients in court and with opposing counsel. Family law attorneys appear with clients when there are court hearings, mediations, or Trials. From the beginning of a case to its end, the family law attorney is there to guide, represent and protect client interests throughout the process.

Are in-laws considered immediate family?

Possibly. In-laws at first glance are immediate family. But, the relationship between the in-laws, their adult child, and daughter-in-law or son-in-law may not be strong because of family conflict thus weakening the assumption they have close and intimate family members.

How much does family law court cost?

The cost varies widely depending on the type of family law case and in which part of the state the case is taking place. In Minnesota, it costs more money to hire an attorney in the Twin Cities than it does in Duluth. The complexity of the case and whether or not the parties are able to settle some or all of the issues without involving a judge has a real and direct impact on the cost of the case and what attorneys charge for their work. Participating in a mediation can significantly reduce the costs of litigation not to mention help it resolve quicker. 

It is always best to consult with a family law attorney before beginning a family law court case in order to discuss the law, the court process, ways to try to resolve the case, and the potential costs of mediation or a Trial.

How to get legal aid for family law?

Legal aid organizations have webpages so the best place to start is to do a web search for your local legal aid office. In Duluth and Northeastern Minnesota, one would contact Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota at (800) 933-1112 or at