From Matthew’s interview for the Masters of Family Law series on ReelLawyers.com
If a fair settlement cannot be reached in a divorce or custody matter, you are faced with the difficult decision to give in to unfair terms or to ask the court to resolve the issues at trial. When those disputed issues involve the safety of children, their future development, and the financial foundations upon which families depend, you can rarely afford to give in to unfair terms. A trial is necessary to get what is fair and necessary.
The need for trials is often unforeseeable: There are differences that seem ripe for amicable settlement yet still somehow go to trial; on the other hand, there are disputes that begin with fireworks that find ways to settle. You can estimate your need for trial but you can’t be sure.
Never do our clients need to worry that they hired a law firm that is now outgunned and outclassed heading into trial. For every client, we are trained, skilled, and ready to go to trial to accomplish their goals.
We recognize that a string of unsuccessful negotiations leading up to a divorce or custody trial can be exhausting, and by that point, you may feel hopeless. You shouldn’t. You should feel confident that you have the right attorney for the trial ahead.
As a family law firm, we recognize that the various forms of mediation are valuable means of coming to amicable resolutions that work for many couples. We also know that there are some cases that cannot be settled out of court. Matt Ludt of Stillwater, Minnesota’s Atticus Family Law was trained at one of the top trial advocacy programs in the nation. Matt has built Atticus Family Law by hiring and training other skilled trial lawyers and staff so that all are prepared to apply the firm’s trial advocacy experience to cases that require it.
Technically, all family law trials are “final” hearings. However, the court orders and labels used by judges and attorneys refer a final hearing at which a judge will decide all remaining issues in a divorce or custody action as a trial. Meanwhile, if a judge needs to hear testimony about a smaller set of motion issues, such as determining how child custody will be awarded, the court setting is called an evidentiary hearing.
Real-life divorce and family law is much different than you see on television. Here are two predictable truths and a stunning truth around contested court trials:
Behind this stunning truth is that the threat of going to trial is so terrifying to so many people that it forces a settlement. Why are people afraid? They are fearful of the unknown outcome; they are afraid of the cost; they are fearful of how they will fare on the stand. They also may not have confidence in their attorney to prove their case at trial.
As skilled trial attorneys, we use the threat of trial to bring about a settlement. It can be a powerful tool for getting a client what they need for a fair resolution. If your ex is afraid of the trial (and you are not because you hired Atticus Family Law) you are more likely to get the resolution that you find fair and reasonable.
While the idea of a trial may be scary, most family law hearings and trials are not nearly as dramatic as Hollywood would have us believe. To address the stress and anxiety that people may feel as they move toward trial, we prepare and practice with our clients so that they are comfortable with the requirements of a trial and have an idea of what to expect.
At the beginning of each case, clients provide us with as much information as possible about their lives and finances. We collect this information from questionnaires, discussions during our initial meetings, and from documents, such as income tax returns, that we ask you to provide. Additional supporting information is obtained from the other party through a process known as discovery.
The discovery period is where we exchange supporting documents and information with the other party. It is not uncommon for this to take some time as we use a system of official questionnaires, requests for documents, and depositions of the parties, witnesses, and experts. This is also the period where assets and businesses are valued, income-earning capacity is calculated, and custody evaluations occur.
With a comprehensive understanding of the facts, we work with our clients to determine where the client stands and what strategy is best suited for their case. For some, this settlement period is comprised of negotiation by the attorneys; for others, the best shot at an amicable resolution is a facilitated mediation between the parties, their attorneys, and a trained mediator. Upon any full or partial agreement, the attorneys will prepare final documents for filing with the court. The remaining issues, if any, are left for trial.
If a case does result in a Contested Divorce Trial, a judge will preside over the case; there are no jury trials in family law. The length of time required will vary by the issues involved, the documents submitted, and the number of witnesses. The time required ranges from a ½ day to several days. We present our case evidence, our witnesses, and our case theory in highly strategic ways to demonstrate to the court that you deserve what you are asking for. Our attorneys use their extensive trial experience to carefully select the best exhibits for trial and to maximize how those exhibits are used to support your position. Meanwhile, we keep a critical eye on the other party’s witnesses, object to unfair and improper evidence, and argue the statutes, court rules, and the law to ensure that the opposing party’s proposed facts and case theory is seen by the court in a fair light.
The attorneys will have prepared and exchanged witness lists, exhibit lists, exhibits in trial binders, pre-trial motions, any relevant memorandum of law, as well as proposed court orders prior to the trial. These pre-trial requirements ensure that the trial is efficient and not needlessly protracted. These requirements are also used by Atticus Family Law to develop the strategy and tactics that will benefit our client’s case.
No reasonable person wants to be subjected to a trial where personal matters are discussed and decided before a judge. The sensitive nature of family law trials and the importance of what’s at stake require a unique combination of compassion and tenacity. At Atticus Family Law, we advocate on behalf of our clients for a fair and just outcome from the first court filing to the final resolution. And our support doesn’t end there – we want our clients to feel comfortable reaching out to us any time with their family law matters, even years after a case concludes. To learn more about what makes Atticus Family Law an excellent choice for so many people in Stillwater and surrounding communities, call our office or complete our online inquiry form to connect with us today.
Five years ago, Tammy’s divorce went to trial.
At the consultation, Tammy told me had been contacted by a woman who, in introducing herself, verified that she knew Tammy’s husband Jeremy and within five minutes, Tammy not only found out that Jeremy was having an affair, but that this woman had also been duped by him. Tammy retained the firm and we initiated the divorce.
There was no settlement headway amongst attorneys or at mediation upon the key issues in this matter. The custody evaluation gave some inevitability to the children issues; it wasn’t custody or parenting time that concerned her.
What concerned Tammy was spousal maintenance. Before she was married, Tammy had gone to the Carleton College and earned nearly straight A’s in a difficult liberal arts major. That had been more than 14 years ago. Tammy had not worked except for a couple of years after the wedding. She didn’t have any job history and good grades in college isn’t going get a recent divorcee an immediate job with a good salary.
Meanwhile, Jeremy earned six figures. As a narcissist, he refused to make any sort of offer. Jeremy believed that she was able to immediately get a job at $60,000 and she would still be able to cover all of her expenses.
His beliefs persisted even after she participated in a “vocational assessment” to have an expert determine exactly what she was capable of making. The assessment served Tammy better than it did Jeremy – it recognized that she was going to have to be retrained, that her initial income was not $60K but rather $40K, and after training would take her nine months to find a job.
With no reasonable offer by him, we’re compelled to go to trial on the issue. We carefully selected our witnesses. We aggressively identified, attained, and prepared our exhibits. We prepared our witnesses for our questions and theirs. We prepared Tammy to testify. We prepared all of our questions to ask Jeremy.
The trial lasted two days. Our client and her witnesses testified excellently, as did the vocational assessor. When it came time for Jeremy to testify, his facts and arguments didn’t hold water. When our questioning of him was done, the judge recognized that nothing he said was credible. In the weeks after the trial, we submitted our post-trial arguments, and thereafter the judge issued the divorce decree based on the facts that she saw.
Tammy was awarded permanent spousal maintenance as follows: she was awarded a larger sum for the 48 months so that she’d have additional income while she went through retraining and the nine months of seeking a job, and that she then have a lesser but still substantial amount of spousal maintenance each month thereafter, in addition to the child support that he owed.
Teddy Roosevelt said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” In divorce and family law, we thrive on being that big stick. Yes, we speak softly and use the threat of that big stick to find opportunities to negotiate good settlements for 9 of every 10 clients. But it’s great to use that big stick to do for that 10th client what we did for Tammy. We exclusively do divorce and family law on purpose – we hire and train our staff so that each of our clients has the benefit of our trial experience, skills, knowledge, and moxie to settle their issues when appropriate and, when it’s not, go to trial with confidence.
Think positively. We’re here to help, and we’ll be with you every step of the way.
The greatest family law firm in the Twin Cities Metro Area, they are skilled in their working capabilities, they are the heart of a stress-free closing deal in any divorce or family case.
My family is forever grateful for Alexandra and the work she put into our case.
You can count on the excellent and dedicated team at Atticus Family Law to handle your divorce or custody matter superbly. I highly recommend.
I have confidence in Matt's skill as a family law attorney and have referred many people to him over the years. He has always treated them professionally and done excellent work for them.
I love Atticus and recommend them to anyone in a difficult situation. They are there for you and your family.
Alexandra Reynolds is an outstanding attorney and she did an incredible job handling my case. She applied the little tested Cohabitation Law to my alimony appeal and she nailed it. Her knowledge of the law and her professionalism
The worst thing I have ever experienced in my life, my divorce, felt like a never-ending maze of financial and emotional torment. Alexandra Reynolds was there to guide me through the process. Her ability to break things down
Alexandra and the entire team at Atticus Family Law have been nothing short of amazing during what is no doubt one of the most challenging times to navigate! Her incredibly poised and professional approach with opposing counsel and
I'd like to say that Alexandra Renyalds is an extremely outstanding Family Attorney. She not only found new ways to look at my case. But was able to get on it right away. And when I needed her
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