Board Certified in Marital & Family Law
Board Certified in Marital & Family Law
Board Certified in Marital & Family Law
Board Certified in Marital & Family Law
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gavelYou may have heard phrases like “due process” or “equal protection” on the news or in a courtroom TV show, but you may not imagine them having a substantial impact on your divorce case. You may assume that your divorce case will involve, primarily, an assessment of the factual evidence each side presents. That is not always true, however. Any family law case, like any other case, can turn on issues of fact or issues of law, including constitutional law. That’s why, no matter how straightforward or basic you may think your family law case is, you should be sure to retain the services of an experienced South Florida family law attorney.

One recent South Florida case is an example of this concept. Zanja and Richard’s case started as a straightforward paternity, timesharing, and child support matter. The court originally scheduled the hearing for one day. As is true in many cases, this pair’s hearing ran long. At the end of the first day of the hearing, the judge scheduled a second day for the continuation of the hearing. At the start of that second day, the court indicated that both sides would have a chance to present their cases-in-chief.

At the end of the second day, the parties still weren’t finished. However, this time, the judge did not allow the hearing to expand to another day. The judge ordered that, due to time limitations, each side would simply wrap up by presenting their closing arguments, and the judge would rule on what had been presented. There was one major problem:  the mother still hadn’t had the opportunity to present her case-in-chief yet.

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day plannerIn a perfect world, the result you get in the order of final judgment from your divorce case is wholly satisfactory to you. Unfortunately, the real world isn’t a perfect world, and the divorce judgment you get isn’t always ideal. When that happens, you may have certain options for getting it thrown out. One of these is if the judge waited too long after the final hearing to finally hand down the written order of judgment in your case. For all of the legal options available to you, consult a knowledgeable South Florida divorce attorney.

A recent example of a delay triggering a reversal was the divorce case of Elizabeth and Marc. This couple’s divorce litigation was initially a typical case. There was the petition for divorce, pre-trial steps, and then a final hearing. And then nothing…for more than two years. Two and a half years after the final hearing, the court entered a final judgment.

Not happy with that final judgment, the wife appealed. The appeals court agreed that the delay was a problem. That meant that the wife won her appeal and a reversal of the trial court’s order.

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magnifying glassThere are several things that are essential in order to make a proposed marital settlement agreement appropriate for you to sign. Any agreement should appropriately protect your interests. The agreement also, though, should be completely clear and unambiguous so that any disputes that arise later will not trigger a whole new round of discovery and litigation. For all of these things, rely upon a skilled Florida divorce attorney to help you get the marital settlement agreement you need.

The case of Michael and Regina was an example of what happens when a marital settlement agreement isn’t unambiguous. When the couple married in 1987, Michael was a seven-year veteran of a local police department in Broward County. In 1989, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office absorbed Michael’s employer. When that happened, the couple decided to cash out the husband’s pension and spend the money.

After becoming an employee of the Broward Sheriff’s Office, the husband became eligible for an account with the Florida Retirement System. The FRS allowed some members, including this husband, to purchase service credit, which meant that the employee would be entitled to a larger benefit when he retired.

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cashIn many court disputes involving children, child support is a key issue. Calculating the correct amount of child support can be complicated if one of the parents is not working. If the parent is unable to work, the court may proceed with calculating support based that parent’s having zero income. If the parent is able to work, however, the court must do what’s called “imputing” income to that parent. That means calculating child support as if that parent is receiving an income that he or she isn’t actually getting, and it can make a big difference in the outcome of your child support case. Whether you are potentially paying support or seeking it for your child, make sure you have the services of an experienced Florida child support attorney on your side.

Jennifer and Miguel were two parents whose child support case presented an imputed income issue. They had a child together who was born in 2009. In 2010, the father initiated a paternity action, and the court awarded him majority timesharing. The mother had been employed by the sheriff’s office but lost that job due to alleged misconduct, including misusing electronic resources of the sheriff’s office in order to obtain information about the father’s attorneys and his girlfriend.

In his court case, the father argued that the court should impute income to the mother and should do so at the relatively substantial amount she was making with the sheriff’s office when she was terminated. The mother, on the other hand, asserted that she was disabled and that, because of her disabilities and her inability to find another job, the court should not impute any income at all to her.

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man with letterInjunctions of protection in Florida are serious matters. They can be invaluable to the person for whom they provide vital protection. They can also have a substantial impact on the person who is restrained by their terms. Depending on the type of injunction entered by the court, you may be able to challenge the entry of that order through the appeals process, even if the injunction has already expired on its own. Initiating a challenge may be extremely important because, depending on the type, an injunction of protection may have a substantial impact on your life, including finding housing, obtaining employment, and owning firearms. To mount a strong challenge, be sure to retain the services of an experienced Florida domestic violence attorney.

A recent case from Palm Beach County offers an example of how this process can work and when it is not available. The underlying case was a dispute between Joseph and Barbara. Joseph accused Barbara of stalking him and sought a protective injunction. After a “brief but thorough” hearing, the trial judge granted the man the injunction he sought. Many of these types of injunctions have expiration dates, after which the injunction ceases to be effective. The expiration date of this injunction was December 29, 2017.

Barbara appealed, but, before her appeal case could be heard, December 29, 2017 came and went. The appeals court, as a result, asked Barbara to make an argument as to why the appeal should not be dismissed as moot. (Mootness refers to a circumstance when the matter at issue has ended or been resolved, meaning that there is no “live dispute” still pending.) Barbara argued that a successful appeal and successful challenge to what she asserted were the inappropriate actions of the trial court would allow the public record to reflect that she did nothing to violate Florida law.

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cash boxThere is an old and colorful saying about the perils of making assumptions. The saying, which popped up on a 1973 episode of The Odd Couple, admonishes that you should “never assume” and reveals its lesson by separating the word “assume” into its first through third letters, its fourth letter, and its fifth through sixth letters. Before entering into any contractual agreements, including marital settlement agreements, it would be wise to heed this advice. It would also be wise to seek out the advice and counsel of an experienced Florida divorce attorney.

One case in which one of the spouses didn’t heed that advice was a recent action that originated in Sarasota County. James and Pamela were married for 27 years before their marriage ended in divorce. James was the son of very wealthy parents. In fact, James’ parents’ wealth was the source of the couple’s retirement plan. According to the court, they never saved for retirement; they simply made plans to live in their retirement years off the very large lump-sum inheritance they expected James to get once both of his parents had passed away.

James’ parents survived longer than James’ marriage to Pamela. Thus, when it came time for James and Pamela to enter into a marital settlement agreement, they simply included their assumptions about James’ inheritance in their MSA.

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gavelEveryone who is familiar with the legal system has, at some point, encountered a judicial order or case that they thought was wrongly decided. In your family law case, it is very important to know how to respond to various situations, including receiving an order that you think was incorrectly decided. A recent case originating in Sarasota County, and recently considered by the Fifth District Court of Appeal, is an example of a case with an injunction that one spouse thought was improper, and the erroneous way that he dealt with it.

The case involved the divorce of a couple named Todd and Ashley. In the early portion of the case, the trial judge issued an injunction, which is a type of court order that orders the subjects to refrain from doing certain things. This injunction told the husband that he was prohibited from “selling, transferring, alienating, pledging, forfeiting, hypothecating, encumbering, mortgaging, dissipating, spending and/or purchasing, and/or concealing and/or otherwise alienating any real property, personal property, securities, cash, or other assets or income of any kind or nature in which he holds an interest.” In other words, he was barred from doing anything with any of his assets other than maintaining them in good faith.

The husband believed that the trial judge had committed a legal error in issuing this injunction and that, under the law, the prohibition should never have been put in place. So what can you do if you are the subject of an injunction that bars you from doing certain things, but you think that the injunction was illegal? You have various options, but they generally all involve utilizing the legal system, including the appellate process, to get the injunction thrown out. You do NOT, however, have the option of simply deciding that you think the order is improper under the law, and, therefore, you are going to ignore it and go ahead and do things that were included in the list of prohibitions in the injunction order.

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cashIdeally, divorced parents are able to work together in a collaborative and cooperative fashion to meet the needs of their child when it comes to things like timesharing. Sometimes, though, that doesn’t happen. In some families, the issues of custody and timesharing can be matters of intense disagreement. Whether you need advice or in-court representation (or both) regarding timesharing issues, you should make sure you retain an experienced Florida child custody attorney.

One recent timesharing case that involved a definite lack of cooperation was the dispute between Reva and Hunter, whose situation fit into that “intense disagreement” category. The depth of their disagreement went all the way down to disagreeing about the exact hour when holiday timesharing exchanges should take place. One spring break, that disagreement boiled over. “Threats were made, texts exchanged, and the police were called,” as the court summarized it.

Of course, that also brought the parents back into court on the timesharing issue. The mother asked the trial court to hold the father in contempt of court. Instead, the trial judge concluded that the mother’s interpretation of the timesharing agreement was not reasonable and that the father was entitled a payment of his attorney’s fees by the mother.

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Delta planeBefore you sign any agreement regarding your rights in a child custody and timesharing situation, it is important to understand fully exactly what you are agreeing to do. If the terms of an agreement include provisions that clearly encompass a move out of state, you may very possibly not be able to contest that out-of-state move later. In other words, always know before you sign. An experienced Florida child custody attorney can advise you on your rights and the relative benefits and disadvantages of any potential agreement.

The dispute between Emmanuel and Laurie was one that involved a cross-country move. The couple was married in 2011 and separated in 2015, and the wife filed for divorce in 2017. The pair had one child together. While the divorce case was still ongoing in the Florida court system, the mother, without a court order or any notice to the father, decided to move, relocating the child and herself from Florida to Michigan.

The father went to court to protest this unilateral decision regarding the child’s living arrangements. Eventually, the parents reached a mutual agreement, agreeing to leave the child in the mother’s custody pending the outcome of a mediation. They also agreed for the father to have one month of visitation during the summer, as well as a period of visitation during winter break. The agreement made it clear that, if the two parents could not reach a permanent agreement during the mediation, the father retained his rights to argue in court about the custody and timesharing issues.

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gavelMany times, people may associate legal phrases like “due process of law” with criminal cases. The reality is, though, that all parties in criminal and civil cases are entitled to due process of law. Part of this due process protection says that a court generally cannot take action against you without proper notice and a chance for you to be heard. To make sure that all of your rights, including your constitutional rights, are protected in your case, be sure you have a skilled Florida child custody attorney on your side.

One recent family law case in which this issue of due process played a key role in the outcome was a matter that involved a long-distance family dynamic and some allegedly dysfunctional relationships. The father lived in southwest Florida, while the mother lived in Indiana. The Florida courts had jurisdiction over the issue of timesharing. Problems allegedly began emerging, and, in early 2017, the mother decided to take legal action. According to the mother, the father was taking improper steps to alienate the children from her. The “extreme” alienation allegedly included the father’s urging the children not to obey the mother and his making “hateful, inflammatory, outrageous and false allegations” about the mother in his social media posts.

In a situation like this, there are two types of rulings by the judge that the mother could seek. Normally, a modification of timesharing would only take place after the court gave both sides notice of a hearing, allowed both sides to attend the hearing, and heard both sides’ proof. In “emergency” situations, though, a court can take action without going through these steps. That’s what happened in this case. The mother requested emergency relief during the mid-morning of Feb. 8, 2017. The father’s former attorney found out about the hearing in the 3 o’clock hour that afternoon, but he no longer represented the father. At 10:30 the next morning, the hearing went forward without the father or any legal counsel representing him. The judge ordered the suspension of the father’s timesharing, cut off all contact between the father and the children, and ordered the father to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.