COVID-19 UPDATE: Sandy T. Fox, P.A. remains open remotely to serve our community and assist them with their family law needs. We can be reached via the contact form on the site, and meetings can be handled virtually through the Zoom teleconferencing app.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the signs are everywhere… in some places, literally. In the Tampa Bay area, a billboard contains the name, website and phone number for a divorce law firm on the bottom half. On the top half, it says in large all caps “COVIDIVORCE.” In fact, #COVIDivorce has been trending on social media for months. What all of this reflects so clearly is one undeniable reality: the COVID-19 pandemic and its stay-at-home orders, job losses and distance-learning educational issues have upped the stresses on families and have increased the number of married spouses who no longer want to be married. If the events of these last 6+ months have led you to the unavoidable conclusion that your marriage is hopelessly broken, be aware that the courts and legal system remain operational during this time of pandemic, so you should reach out without delay to contact a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney.

As CBS Miami reported in early September, the uptick in spouses contacting local family law attorneys about getting a divorce began just three weeks after the government’s stay-at-home orders went into effect in Miami-Dade and surrounding counties. While the courts were closed for a time, local family courts have begun to utilize various emerging technologies to re-start the provision of services while still minimizing the risk of mass transmission of COVID-19.

For one, the courts in Miami-Dade County have Zoom hearings. These hearings allow for you to move your case forward while still maintaining the optimal level of distance. Additionally, the courts in Miami-Dade County are now encouraging parties who are handling their cases without an attorney to sign up on the Florida Courts e-Filing Portal system. That system allows parties to turn in their pleadings and other documents to the court over the internet.

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A lot of times, people who have an unsatisfying experience in court – especially family court – say they lost because the judge “had it in“ for them. Often this is the bitter complaint of someone who didn’t have a strong case or perhaps did have an adequate case but neglected to proceed without an experienced South Florida family law attorney.

Judges are not perfect, though, and sometimes, that appearance of bias is something more than just a figment of the imagination of an unsuccessful litigant. When a genuine issue of judicial bias occurs, this is another time when it pays to have a skilled attorney on your side so that he/she can aid you in handling it the right way.

E.M. was one of those litigants. In January 2020, E.M. and her infant child moved from Key West to Pennsylvania after the child’s father allegedly threatened to punch E.M. The mother filed a custody action in Pennsylvania and the father opened a custody case in Florida. The mother’s Florida attorney also filed a motion seeking to get the Florida custody action dismissed. The judge in Key West denied that motion.

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Here in Florida, as in every state, the time that you have for pursuing your rights in a civil court action is limited. These deadlines are called statutes of limitations or limitations periods. If you wait too long to file your lawsuit, the other side can seek a dismissal of your action, and can get it thrown out no matter how strong your factual evidence is. So, if your ex-spouse isn’t doing what he/she promised under the terms of your marital settlement agreement, then it’s important to know just how long you have to act, and make sure you’re not waiting too long. For this and other essential pieces of legal knowledge, rely on advice from an experienced South Florida family law attorney.

While all kinds of legal actions where you’re seeking enforcement of your marital settlement agreement have a limitations period, not all of those periods are the same length of time, as a recent case from southwest Florida illustrates.

In that case, the spouses signed a marital settlement agreement in March 1997. The agreement called for the husband to pay the wife the sum of $487,000, either as one lump sum due Jan. 1, 2001, or as five installment payments (plus interest) due on Dec. 31, 2001 and each Dec. 31 thereafter.

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While marital settlement agreements (MSAs) are unique in some ways, they are also a lot like any other contract in many ways. As you progress toward a final agreement, there are several checkboxes that must be checked. Does the agreement include everything you must have? Does the agreement contain none of the terms that you consider a “deal-breaker?” If yes, then you have the framework of a potentially workable agreement. Doing this, though, means taking ultimate care because, whatever happens later, you’ll still be bound by the terms of the MSA you signed. To make sure the MSA you’re signing is an MSA that is truly fair, get the legal representation you need from the right South Florida divorce attorney.

As an illustration of what we mean, there’s the recent case of M.J. and B.J. from the Tampa Bay area. The couple divorced after 26 years of marriage. Generally, in cases decided by a judge, a marriage of 26 years qualifies as a “long-term” marriage and the spouse who receives alimony is entitled to receive permanent alimony.

This husband avoided that outcome by working out an MSA with his wife that included an alimony provision. The agreement said that the husband would pay the wife, who was 54 years old at the time of the MSA’s signing, durational alimony of $4,500 per month for eight years. The agreement also stated that the duration of the alimony could not be changed later through a modification action. The contract said nothing about the wife getting a job during those eight years.

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When you are in court on a paternity case, two of the main legal things that you’ll likely be concerned with are timesharing and child support. One of the key things to keep in mind is that these two elements should be interconnected with one another; which is to say that, if you are the parent paying child support but you also have the child for a significant amount of time, then the law says that latter fact should entitle you to pay the child’s other parent a smaller amount of child support each month. To make sure the child support you’ve been ordered to pay is fair, based on the totality of your circumstances, be sure you have representation from a skilled South Florida family law attorney.

How does that reduction process work? A recent case from Palm Beach County offers a good example. K.W. was a father living in North Carolina, and R.B., the mother, lived in West Palm Beach. After the mother filed a paternity petition, the court set up a parenting plan. The plan called for one schedule in even-numbered years and a different schedule in odd-numbered years. This type of plan is not uncommon, as it allows each parent to, for example, have the child for 1/2 of the summers and also 1/2 of Christmases.

This child spent 84 overnights with the father in even-numbered years, but fewer than 73 in odd-numbered years. This was because the plan dictated that the father was to have the child for summer break and winter break in even-numbered years, but not in odd-numbered years. As a percentage, that meant the child spent 77% of the time with the mother, and 23% with the father in even-numbered years. In odd-numbered years, the child spent less than 20% of the year with the father.

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Most “pet parents” understand that their dog, cat or other animal isn’t mere “property” but, rather, is a beloved member of the family. A person’s bond with their pet may be on a par with the bond they feel for their closest human loved ones. That love does, however, have a potential drawback for one group of people, which is people in abusive relationships. A victim of abuse may forego or delay leaving an abusive situation out of fear for the well-being, or the very life, of their beloved “fur babies.” A new law in Florida, however, has provided these people and their pets an added degree of protection through the system of injunctions for protection against domestic violence. If you are encountering abuse, don’t delay in reaching out to a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney for options to protect your legal interests and your personal safety.

In late June, Governor DeSantis signed into law a bill that amends the Florida statute governing domestic violence injunctions. The new law expands the legal authority granted to judges in domestic violence injunction cases. Specifically, the bill added a new section to the statute, which says that a person who petitions successfully for a domestic violence injunction may potentially receive, in addition to temporary exclusive use of the couple’s home and 100% timesharing of the couple’s children, the “temporary exclusive care, possession, or control of an animal that is owned, possessed, harbored, kept, or held by the petitioner, the respondent, or a minor child residing in the residence or household of the petitioner or respondent.”

The court may also order the alleged abuser to have no contact with the animal. The law carves out exclusions for animals that are owned “primarily for a bona fide agricultural purpose” and for a service animal if the alleged abuser is the service animal’s handler. In other words, even if you provide the necessary proof to get a domestic violence injunction, you cannot, for example, take your sight-impaired abuser’s service dog or remove livestock from your abuser’s farm.

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For most people, their incomes are reasonably stable. They may experience one or two or three major “bumps” in earnings over a career, but their incomes mostly move on a gradual upward track. However, what do you do if your child’s other parent is one of those less common people whose income can change dramatically over short periods of time? For any parent that needs to pursue a child support case, but especially if you’re someone with an ex whose income is marked by dramatic and unexpected upturns, you need to make sure you have a skilled South Florida child support attorney handling your case.

There are several fields of work where earnings can be very volatile, such as actors, models and athletes. F.G. was one of those people. In 2005, he signed a rookie contract to play in the National Football League. At that time, F.G. had only minimal assets and was earning a relatively modest income consistent with the NFL’s “rookie contract” structure.

During that time, F.G. had a son with S.S. The father and mother established a mediated settlement agreement covering, among other things, child support. Six years later, the mother went back to court, asking for an upward modification in child support. While the father had always paid his child support, the mother argued that the modification was necessary.

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Family law is full of various rules, but few of them are completely black-and-white. The law recognizes that each family in a family law case is unique, and a just outcome should reflect that. That’s why having a skilled South Florida family law attorney is so important. Your experienced attorney will have that knowledge of all of family law’s nuances and gray areas that non-lawyers don’t, and know how to use them to your best advantage.

Very recently, this blog covered the issue of alimony and its relationship to the length of the marriage. That time, the wife was seeking permanent alimony after having been married for less than 13 years, or a marriage of “moderate duration.” (Florida law says marriages of seven years or less are “short term,” marriages lasting more than seven years but less than 17 years are “moderate” in duration and marriages of 17 years or more are “long term.”)

In law, including alimony law, there are “presumptions.” These are default positions that will be the final outcomes in most cases, but not in all of them. You can overcome a presumption if you have enough of the right evidence to do what’s called “rebut” the presumption.

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When you go through the divorce process and your spouse seeks alimony, you have several challenges. One of those is to avoid outcomes where your ex gets more alimony than they should, or gets it for a longer duration than Florida law says is appropriate. To help in making sure that your outcome is a fair one, get skilled legal representation from an experienced South Florida alimony attorney.

When it comes to the duration of alimony, the law has some pretty clear limitations on awarding permanent periodic alimony, which was on display in the case of B.P. and his wife, S.P. The couple married in 2003, separated in early 2014 and the husband filed for divorce in 2016. At trial, the judge concluded that the marriage was of moderate duration and that the wife was entitled to $6,912 per month in permanent periodic alimony, as that amount and duration was necessary “to maintain the standard of living to which” the wife was accustomed.

The husband successfully appealed the alimony ruling. As both the trial court and appeals court noted, B.P. and S.P.’s marriage was a “moderate-term” one under Florida law. (Florida law has created three different levels of marital duration that judges use in making alimony decisions. Those groupings are: “short-term,” which is seven years or less, “moderate-term,” which is more than seven years but less than 17 years, and “long-term,” which is 17 years or more. That duration period is measured as the period from the date of the marriage until the date of an approved filing for divorce.)

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The COVID-19 pandemic has affected people in many ways, including financially. Some may be struggling to keep their homes, while others may be struggling to feed their families. Some of those who have been thrown into dire financial straits here in Florida are people who have alimony obligations. If that’s you, the worst thing you can do is sit idly by and do nothing as you fall behind on your alimony. Instead, take action right away to get in touch with an experienced South Florida family law attorney and begin taking the actions that the law lets you take.

Even as Florida has re-opened most of its businesses, problems remain. Late last month, the government once again shuttered all bars, according to a NBC Miami report. You can imagine then, if you’re the proprietor of a popular bar in Fort Lauderdale Beach (from which you derive most of your income) and you’re also a divorced spouse who owes a monthly alimony payment, the re-closure of all bars in the Sunshine State is a source of major stress for you.

The law does still give you options, though. To get your alimony payments lowered, you will have to clear several legal hurdles. The first thing you absolutely must do is prove that you have a change of circumstances. Furthermore, that change has to be both (1) substantial and (2) something that could not have been anticipated when alimony was litigated (or set via a mutual agreement.) In other words, if you’re 63 years old when you sign your alimony agreement, you may not be able to turn around at age 65 and get a downward modification of alimony based on your retirement (and the reduction in income it created.)

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