LADC’s Executive Director in Minnesota Lawyer’s Unsung Spotlight

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Earlier this month, as part of its Unsung Legal Heroes series, Minnesota Lawyer magazine featured Sharon Jones, executive director of Legal Assistance of Dakota County (LADC).

LADC is a private, non-profit 501(c)3 organization that provides critical civil legal services to low-income families and individuals in Dakota County, MN. Founded in 1972, LADC focuses primarily on family law and routinely partners with the Dakota County District Court administration and the Dakota County Law Library to run the Dakota County Family Court Self-Help Center, a consumer law Clinic and regular community legal education clinics/presentations on a range of legal topics.

About her work at LADC, Jones said, “It is a privilege to do the work that I love, and to help people during the hardest and scariest parts of their lives.  Also, I couldn’t do the work I do without the support of the local legal community – both in terms of our incredible volunteers and financial support from the local bar.” Read more in Unsung: Sharon Jones.

SMRLS' Minnesota Supreme Court Victory Yields Custody Clarification

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Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) attorneys recently prevailed in an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The case, Christensen v. Healey, was centered on whether to apply the Minnesota best-interests-of-the-child standard or the endangerment standard to the father’s motion to increase his parenting time to every other week.

In the case, the parents had stipulated joint legal custody, with sole physical custody and the child’s primary residence with the mother. When the child was 7, the father moved to expand his parenting time to alternating weeks throughout the entire year. He lived an hour away from the mother’s residence.

Applying the endangerment standard, the District Court found the modification would change physical custody and primary residence, and dismissed the father’s motion. The Court of Appeals reversed this decision, holding that the District Court improperly focused only on the proportion of parenting time.

After SMRLS' appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, the decision was reversed, concluding that the modification was a de facto change in physical custody to which the endangerment standard applied.

As a result of the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision, district courts must evaluate modification motions under the totality of the circumstances to decide if it is a substantial change that would modify the parties’ custody arrangement. But, a motion for equal parenting time is not automatically a motion to modify custody because joint physical custody need not be equal parenting time.

Statewide Low Fee Family Law Project Now Accepting Referrals

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Last fall, the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) and the Hennepin County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service (HCBA LRIS) began a collaboration to expand the existing HCBA LRIS Low Fee Family Law Project to include service throughout Minnesota. Both organizations have recruited attorneys from across the state to participate and continue to encourage participation from attorneys interested in serving modest-means clients. Potential clients are those who exceed legal aid income guidelines and are not eligible for pro bono legal services, yet cannot afford the services of a private attorney.

Because of the great initial response, HCBA LRIS is now able to handle referrals for eligible clients from legal aid programs. Programs may direct clients to contact HCBA LRIS at 612-752-6666 and find more information on the LRIS website

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LRIS staff members screen clients by phone for initial financial eligibility. In order to qualify for services, potential clients must be currently employed, or on Social Security, and have an income source that falls between 125-250% of the federal poverty guidelines. Clients pay a billable rate of $55 per hour. There is a required retainer of $500, and a $30 administrative fee paid by the client.

Why participate as a provider?

Interested attorneys can build their practices through the project or expand their practice to include alternative fee arrangements. Attorneys are particularly needed in the northeast and northwest areas of greater Minnesota. Attorneys can receive new business in the following areas: separation or divorce, child custody and parenting time, paternity and child support, domestic abuse and Orders for Protection, and post decree issues.

Specifically, the project seeks to expand the number of attorneys providing unbundled (or limited scope) legal services. Numerous resources exist to help attorneys build unbundled practice into their service mix. For more information, including sample billing and retainer forms, see the MSBA website at www.mnbar.org/unbundled. Attorneys can contact Dana Rindahl at dana@hcba.org or call 612-752-6627 for additional information about how to apply.

Anishinabe Legal Services Announces New Interactive Forms for Tribal Court

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Anishinabe Legal Services (ALS) is excited to announce new interactive family law court forms for White Earth and Leech Lake Tribal Courts. The forms are available online through LawHelpMN.org and were created with funding from LSC's Technology Initiative Grant Program. These free, interactive tribal court forms, available through LawHelp Interactive, include custody and parenting time petitions and answers, in forma pauperis, dissolution petition and answer, summons, petition for visitation, orders for protection, motion to modify child support, and more.

The new interactive forms use guided "interviews" which take users step-by-step through all the information they will need to submit to the tribal court, and include video instructions and checklists for individual use. The interview then compiles the user’s information to create the forms they will need to file with the tribal court.

Cody Nelson, ALS project designer, said, "Providing these automated forms and document assembly services for community members with so few pro bono legal assistance options is a tremendous opportunity to increase access to justice throughout the Leech Lake and White Earth Reservation communities.”

To access the new interviews, visit LawHelpMN.org, or the ALS blog page.