Attorneys licensed in Minnesota are able to practice and represent clients in any county throughout the state. Even though the laws of Minnesota apply consistently, each county tends to have their own set of nuances, culture and procedure. Attorneys, and their clients, will find it helpful to understand, and become familiar with, how each county handles family law cases.
If you find yourself involved in a divorce or family law dispute in Hennepin County, here is the basic information you and your Hennepin County divorce attorneys will need.
Judges and Family Court Referees
Generally speaking, when your family law case is filed with the Hennepin County Court, you will be assigned a court file number and a particular judge. That judge will preside over each hearing scheduled under that particular court file number – even for matters that arise after your initial divorce or custody action is completed.
There are currently nine family court judges, and seven family court referees. There is no major difference between a family court referee and a judge, and a family court referee has, more or less, the same kind of legal authority as a judge has. The most distinct difference: a referee’s order must also be approved by a judge. Either way, you refer to both as “Your Honor.”
One unique characteristic is that the judges and referees assigned to family court in Hennepin County only hear cases related to family court. In many other counties, the judges may hear a variety of cases on a given day from contract disputes, to criminal matters, to divorce. Hennepin County Family Court judges and referees spend their days immersed in family law issues.
In every county, each judge has their own unique style and preference for how they like to manage their files. It can be helpful to have familiarity with the Judges in your particular county.
Family Court Procedure
In Hennepin County Family Court, after a divorce, paternity, or custody case has been filed, Court Administration will automatically schedule an Initial Case Management Conference – you may hear this referred to as an “ICMC.” The ICMC will likely be your first hearing before the judge or referee. This hearing is a brief meeting with the judge, where your lawyer will explain issues of your case that have not yet been resolved.
Most, if not all, of the judges and referees in Hennepin County will encourage you to try to settle your case outside of the courtroom through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Judges and referees do not encourage this because they don’t want to do any work. They encourage people to resolve their own issues because they know that you are in a better position to make decisions about your life than they are.
One form of ADR offered through Hennepin County is the Early Neutral Evaluation Program. Hennepin County’s ENE program differs from similar programs in other counties in that they offer the Social Early Neutral Evaluation (SENE) through Family Court Services. If you decide to utilize the SENE program, your meeting with the evaluators will be held at the Hennepin County Family Justice Center at Family Court Services, located on the 2nd floor of the Justice Center. Similar to other counties, the Financial Early Neutral Evaluation (FENE) is typically held at the evaluator’s office, or other agreed upon location.
The ENE process is completely voluntary and both parties must agree to participate in the program. If you elect not to participate in the ENE process, the next step in your case may be to either attend mediation privately, or attend a temporary motion hearing if there are immediate disputes that need to be resolved.
Either way, the judge will issue a scheduling order and will likely schedule a status conference with the attorneys. The status conference is a “check in,” held via telephone conference between the judge or referee and the attorneys, to update the judge on the status of the case. Eventually, if your case does not get resolved before hand, you will attend a pre-trial conference and eventually a trial.
Hennepin County has recently implemented “E-filing.” E-filing is simply an electronic means of filing and serving documentation with the court. E-filing is mandatory for your attorney. If you are unrepresented, you may still file paper documents with Court Administration. While this is a relatively new program, our office has found that it is much more efficient than traditional paper filing via mail or fax.
County Culture And Nuances
Hennepin County has a reputation for being more forward thinking and less “traditional” in their approach to family law issues. Some believe that parties are more likely to be awarded joint physical custody and an equal parenting time schedule in Hennepin County, than in some more conservative counties. Others believe that Hennepin County treats fathers and mothers more equally when it comes to custody and parenting time disputes, as opposed to some other counties with a reputation for favoring mothers as the preferred custodian.
In our experience, generalizations are very difficult to make. No two family cases are the same, just like no two families are the same. The particular facts of your case are not easily compared to the facts of your friend’s, neighbor’s, or family member’s case. Each judge or referee views your case through their own unique experiences. It is important to have an attorney who is familiar with the nuances of that particular county and has familiarity with your particular judge.
Location And Parking
The Hennepin County Family Justice Center is located at 110 South 4th Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55401. It is located directly east of the Minneapolis Central Library. While it does have a “downtown” location, the Family Justice Center is relatively accessible for those clients who are not accustomed to traveling into the city.
When traveling to the Hennepin County Family Justice Center, the most convenient parking is located in an open-air lot directly west of the Justice Center (between the Library and the Justice Center). While parking in this lot is not free, they do accept both cash and credit card payments. Additional parking ramps are located off 4th Street, directly across from the Justice Center and open-air parking lot.
Navigating the Hennepin County Family Justice Center
You will likely enter the Hennepin County Family Justice Center off 4th Street. You will immediately be required to go through security. Just like at the airport, the fewer metal items you wear on your person (i.e. belt buckles, heavy metal earrings, jewelry, shoe buckles, etc.) the more quickly you will move through.
Once you get through security, to your left you will see Court Administration and the Self Help Center. To your right you will see large monitors. These monitors will tell you in which courtroom you will be meeting with the Judge. The elevators to the courtrooms are located just beyond the monitors. If you are there to attend a child support hearing, your courtroom maybe located near Court Administration and the Self-Help Center.