Many times custody cases involve a parent who is seeking to assume, or expand, the extent to which he or she has parental responsibility for the child. However, sometimes, circumstances might dictate that an extended family member assume temporary custody for a minor child. If you were in that position, would you know how to take the proper steps to obtain legal custody? With an outcome as important as this, you need to be sure, so make certain you have a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney giving you the assistance you need.

A case litigated in Miami presented this type of extended-family-member-custody scenario. J.M. was a man originally from Guatemala residing in Florida. J.M. sought temporary custody of his minor sister through the Florida courts. The older brother’s legal petition indicated that the parents had abused the girl in her home country of Guatemala and that the parents had consented to their adult son assuming temporary custody over their minor daughter.

The trial judge was highly dubious of the accuracy of the assertions made in J.M.’s petition. The judge noted that, if everything in J.M.’s petition was true, then the “terribly abusive” parents had signed documents “basically admitting to these terrible acts.” The judge also pointed out that there were “certain immigration benefits” of the request being granted “in circumvention of existing immigration laws” For those reasons, the trial judge dismissed the request for temporary custody.

Here in Florida, judges have a legally mandated way that they approach parental responsibility (i.e., child custody) cases. Shared parental responsibility (which some of you may know by the phrase “joint custody”) is the default position under Florida law. That means that, when a couple is litigating parental responsibility, the court will award shared parental responsibility unless there is evidence indicating a good reason why that would not be in the child’s best interest. These orders also may include directives from judge regarding which parent has “ultimate decision-making authority” (sometimes called “tiebreaking” authority) in each of a specific set of areas. In order to be sure you are able to be involved in a meaningful way in your child’s life and the guidance of your child, it can be very important to achieve a positive outcome in a case like this, which is why you should be sure you have a skilled South Florida family law attorney working for you.

A case from here in South Florida, which was recently decided by the Fourth District Court of Appeal, shows how the parental responsibility process is supposed to work. In the case, A.C. and K.S. were a couple with children who were going through divorce in Palm Beach County. The trial court ordered shared parental responsibility, because there was not evidence to indicate that shared responsibility wasn’t proper.

Of course, as with any circumstance of divorced parents, you have two people, which means you have the potential for a decision-making impasse. To alleviate the gridlock that these kinds of deadlocks could otherwise cause, the law allows the courts to award one parent “ultimate decision-making authority,” but Florida law does not allow a trial judge simply to say, “the parents shall share parental responsibility and ultimate decision-making authority, in the case of any deadlocks, goes to the mother.”

Marital settlement agreements (MSAs) can be wonderfully helpful tools for some divorcing couples in reducing the amount of time, stress and acrimony that can sometimes be involved in litigating issues before a judge. The key to resolving your issues by agreement, though, is to be sure that you fully understand everything in your agreement and that the agreement is a fair resolution. To aid in those goals, as well as all the other ones related to your case, be sure you have reliable South Florida family law counsel on your side.

For an example of how a seemingly straightforward MSA can eventually lead to considerable litigation, there’s the recent case of H.W. and D.W. As a bit of background, H.W. and D.W. had been married for 17+ years when they divorced in 2008. That meant that, under Florida law, theirs was a “long-term” marriage, which could potentially impact certain divorce-related things like alimony.

The couple, however, resolved alimony (among other things) through an MSA. The spouses signed not only an MSA, but also an addendum to that agreement. The documents required the husband to make monthly alimony payments to the wife of 30% of his income or $2,000, which ever was more. The agreement also required him to keep paying until she died, remarried or entered into a cohabitative relationship.

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If you are familiar with Florida’s legal rules that relate to child support, then you may have heard the phrase “imputed income.” Imputed income means that, when it comes to calculating child support, a court will perform that calculation based upon that imputed income amount, even though the paying parent’s actual income is less–sometimes significantly less. A court may assign imputed income because the paying parent is unemployed by choice, or is voluntarily employed in a job making less than what he’s capable of earning. These rules exist to prevent a paying spouse from not working or underperforming by choice in order to avoid paying more child support.

So, then, one important question that may be on your mind is when, exactly, can a court impute income? What if I relocated to a new city and the job prospects there are less lucrative? What if I began working fewer hours because I needed to care for a seriously ill family member? What if I decided that I simply wanted to “slow down” a bit in terms of work? For helpful answers to questions about your specific situation, be sure to consult a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney.

D.W. and T.W. were parents involved in this kind of dispute. When they divorced in 2009, the father agreed to pay $550 per month in child support. Several years later, financial circumstances had changed and both parents were back in court seeking a modification of child support. The father, who was once a high-level executive chef and had also owned his own restaurant in the Panama City area, had left that work to run a small coffee shop with his current wife.

The law is full of multisyllabic words that sound almost like a foreign language to most any lay person. However, within all of that “legalese” can sometimes be found some rules or standards of law that can make all the difference between success and failure in your case. Family law is no exception. While there’s no reason why you, as a lay person, should know what a “rebuttable presumption” is, it is something that can make all the difference between receiving an award of permanent alimony and receiving an award of alimony that lasts only a few years. All of this just goes to show that your family law case needs the skill and knowledge of an experienced South Florida family law attorney.

As an example, take the case of E.G. and R.G. The pair had been together for what Florida law defines as a “long-term” marriage. In Florida, a marriage of less than 7 years is deemed to be a “short-term” marriage, 7-17 years is a medium-term marriage and more than 17 years is long-term. These distinctions can matter a great deal when it comes to divorce issues like alimony. For example, if your marriage meets Florida law’s definition of a long-term marriage, and you are the spouse entitled to receive alimony, then the law says that there is a “rebuttable presumption” that you are entitled to permanent alimony.

So, what does that “rebuttable presumption” language mean? Unlike most situations (where a contested topic is considered not proven until one party presents sufficient evidence to prove it), a topic that is the subject of a rebuttable presumption is considered to be true until the opposing party proves that it isn’t.

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For many couples, an uncontested divorce, or at least reaching mutual agreement on some of your issues, can be a very helpful and important part of the divorce process. The more matters upon which you agree, the fewer things  you will have to litigate in front of the judge. This can save time and money and possibly reduce acrimony. When you resolve an issue or issues by agreement, though, it is very important to be careful you understand how that agreement is structured. Even just minute inclusions or exclusions in your agreement can massively alter the impact on you in the long run. This is one of many reasons why you should consult an experienced South Florida family law attorney before signing off on any agreement.

For an example of what we mean, look at the divorce case of D.I., a husband from the Tampa Bay area. D.I. and his wife reached an agreement on the issue of alimony. The terms of that agreement were eventually included in the couple’s stipulated divorce decree. The decree stated that the husband owed the wife $800 per month in alimony and that the alimony obligation was to continue for the remainder of the wife’s life.

There was no “or until the wife remarries” wording or “until the wife remarries or enters a supportive relationship” language. The decree contained no wording at all that allowed for termination of the husband’s alimony obligation other than at her death.

A divorce case may often revolve around matters like child custody and child support, alimony and property issues like who gets the house and the cars. Other times, they’re much more complex, especially if one or both spouses held ownership interests in one or more companies. When that happens, it is particularly important have knowledgeable Florida family law counsel on your side to make sure that your issues are handled skillfully.

C.B. and K.B. were a couple whose case presented that type of situation. They separated in 2014 after almost nine years of marriage. The pair had two sons together. They also owned and operated several businesses together.

When a couple like this divorces, there are a wide variety of issues they may need to resolve. In that type of situation, the more issues you can resolve through agreement, the more time and expense you may be able to save. Even then, it is important to be sure you get the right marital settlement agreement. In this couple’s case, they were able to resolve all issues related to their children, but division of assets was not something upon which they could agree completely. They agreed upon most asset-related things, but could not decide how to divide a real estate holding company that they co-owned.

A few years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a case involving an ex-wife, a surviving widow and a deceased man’s life insurance proceeds. The man had named the ex-wife as his beneficiary while they were still married, and then never changed that designation. The widow argued that she should get the money because she was the surviving spouse. The ex-wife argued that the money was hers because the law required honoring the designation attached to the policy. The court ruled for the ex-wife, because the law allows for disregarding beneficiary designations only in rare circumstances, and this was not one of those.

What does all this mean if you are named as the beneficiary of your ex-spouse’s life insurance policy as part of your divorce settlement? If your ex-spouse subsequently creates a new beneficiary designation without your knowledge that names someone new after your divorce is finalized, will the law honor that changed designation and will you lose that insurance money when your ex-spouse dies? As a recent case originating in the Orlando area demonstrates, the answer is no. As always, to find out exactly how the law applies to your specific circumstances, be sure to consult a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney.

D.P., a physician, was married to R.P. for 25 years, divorcing in 2006. The divorce agreement required the husband to pay the wife $6,000 per month in alimony. As is not uncommon in alimony award situations, especially larger ones, the court ordered the husband to obtain a life insurance policy to secure the alimony award and to name R.P. as the policy’s death beneficiary. Without R.P.’s knowledge, the husband changed the beneficiary designation in 2011 to name Melinda (the woman who would become his third wife in 2013) as the beneficiary. R.P. knew nothing about this change until after D.P. died.

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Three decades ago, there was a popular TV comedy featuring four senior women sharing a home here in sunny South Florida. The eldest occasionally tried to impart her “wisdom” by telling stories from her youth, urging her listeners to “picture it,” and then describing the setting. So, in that tradition… picture it: you’re in a courtroom in your divorce case –- on your own — facing the judge and your spouse and your spouse’s lawyer. Both you and the other side have made motions asking the judge to do certain things. While you’re in the hearing, the judge suggests to your spouse’s attorney what motions that lawyer should file. The judge also makes a suggestion that that attorney not file another motion that the lawyer was contemplating.

That would be pretty intimidating, would it not? You’re there on your own and your spouse has counsel but it is your spouse’s side that the judge seems to be helping out. Would you think that you have any recourse? The reality is that you do have options in a circumstance like that. One option to which you should definitely avail yourself is retaining legal counsel. Having a skilled South Florida family law attorney on your side can help level the playing field.

This scenario allegedly happened in a real-life case recently. A wife and a husband were in court in their divorce case disputing the wife’s alleged improper sale of certain assets contained in storage units. The husband had a lawyer; the wife didn’t. The judge in the case allegedly suggested that the husband’s lawyer file a motion to show cause and that, as part of that request, the judge “would be happy” to haul into court the third party to whom the wife allegedly sold the assets. The judge later allegedly offered an opinion that the husband’s lawyer should avoid filing a different motion the lawyer was considering.

Generally, the law gives judges significant discretion when it comes to the orders they hand down in family law cases, especially when it comes to division of assets and debts. The court can demand that a particular spouse pay a particular debt and can impose requirements regarding how to pay it, such as demanding that the marital home be sold–at least in most circumstances. However, Florida constitutional law creates some very strong protections for homestead property, and sometimes the homestead exemption protection can have an impact on a family law case. To make sure you’re not forced into selling your home when you don’t have to, be sure to retain an experienced Florida family law attorney.

As an example of a conflict between debt assignment in a divorce and the homestead exemption, there’s the recent case of S.A.S. and J.S. The pair were going through divorce in Broward County, and their divorce included issues that required the retention of a guardian ad litem. Guardians ad litem often become involved in divorce cases involving minor children if the case is especially litigious or there has been an allegation of child abuse or neglect.

In a family law case, a guardian ad litem is often a local attorney and is entitled to payment of fees for the service she provides. Many times, the guardian ad litem may be paid by the hour. The guardian ad litem’s fees are owed by the litigants, which means that this is one more marital expense that the court must decide who pays.

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