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.

Today, the realities of professional growth and development mean that a parent may find him/herself moving, perhaps even moving several times, across long distances in order to advance a career and provide for his/her family. That, unfortunately, can be especially complicated if the parent is divorced and has minor children from the marriage. The parent must ask the court for permission to make the move and, if the court does accept the relocation, the court may also find it necessary to make additional rulings as other aspects (like timesharing) are inherently intertwined with the issue of relocation. If you or your spouse has proposed relocating, make certain you have a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney working for you.

The case of E.S. and S.S. was one that demonstrated just how interconnected these issues were. E.S. was a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, stationed in California. During the course of the divorce litigation, the wife, S.S., and the couple’s child moved from South Florida to Maryland. The trial judge set up a schedule in which the father would receive 12 visits each year–10 in Maryland and 2 in California.

However, life events intervened. The mother desired to move to North Carolina, and went back to court seeking permission to relocate with the child. The mother suggested that the court accept the move and modify timesharing to give the father 2 visits in California and 10 in North Carolina. The father opposed that, pointing out that, while there was a Coast Guard base near the child’s Maryland home, the nearest base to the proposed North Carolina destination was three hours away.

For many couples, the creation of mutual agreements can be a useful and healthy way to resolve some or all of the issues outstanding in a divorce. However, even the most well thought out settlement agreements can be undone, in whole or in part, by the intrusion of unexpected life-changing events. When that happens, one spouse may need to ask the court for an order modifying an obligation like alimony, and to make that modification retroactive. To ensure a truly equitable outcome, it is important to get that date of retroactivity right. To make sure your alimony outcome is a just one, you should be sure you have a skilled South Florida family law attorney on your side.

One couple facing this issue of retroactive modification of alimony was J.N. and C.N. The Palm Beach County couple worked out a marital settlement agreement that, among other things, said that the husband would pay the wife alimony of $2,750 per month in years one and two, and then gradually decline to $1,000 per month in year eight.

Two months after the spouses reached this agreement, in January 2016, the husband encountered an allegedly unexpected surprise: he lost his job. He went back to court and asked the judge reduce the amount of his alimony based upon this change. At that time, the court had not entered a final order of dissolution, which was not entered until nine months later. A month after the judge entered the order, in November 2016, the husband filed an amended motion, again asking for a reduction in alimony.

When a Florida court resolves your timesharing dispute, it is going to impose certain requirements: things that must happen and things that must not happen. One of the important things to know, especially if you are the parent who does not have majority timesharing, is that the law limits the sort of restrictions that can be placed on your timesharing. A limitation on timesharing should only be placed if it is genuinely necessary, and the court order should explain why it is needed. If it doesn’t, then you may be able to get that order overturned. For information and advice about how this and other legal rules may impact your case, be sure to contact an experienced South Florida family law attorney.

As an example, take the case of R.B. and B.T. The two lived in Austin, Texas and were in an on-and-off relationship over a period of roughly five years. The relationship produced a pregnancy and, shortly before the baby was born, the mother relocated to St. Petersburg, Florida. The father remained in Austin.

The relationship was, in the words of the court, “acrimonious” and “volatile.” After the child’s birth, the mother filed an action for paternity and requested adjudication of timesharing and child support. The father did not contest paternity. With regard to timesharing, the court ordered that the father received visitation of one weekend per month, to occur in St. Petersburg, until the child reached age five. After the child’s 5th birthday, the father was to receive two weekends per month: one in St. Petersburg and the second in St. Petersburg or Austin, whichever the father preferred.

In this blog, and likely in other sources, you’ve read pieces emphasizing the importance of not “going it alone” in your family law case, but instead obtaining a skilled South Florida family law attorney to represent you in your action. That’s advice is effective for many reasons. One is that, while you may think that your case will simply come down the resolution of factual disputes, almost any type of case (whether it’s family law or something else) can be greatly helped by a legal professional with in-depth knowledge of the procedural rules in effect in Florida.

As a real-life example of this, here’s the case of D.S. and A.S. The Seminole County couple was in court over a child support dispute. The mother, A.S., wanted the father, D.S., to pay more child support (in terms of duration). She filed a “petition for modification of child support.” The trial court in Seminole County referred the case to a general magistrate.

There might be several strategic or tactical reasons why you might prefer that your case not be heard by a magistrate. This father found himself in that position and timely filed a written objection to the referral to the magistrate. Despite the promptly lodged written objection, the case still went forward before the magistrate and the mother was successful, with the magistrate extending the father’s child support obligation for an additional one year.

If you need a modification in the alimony you’re receiving, your case requires more than proof that you need more support and that your former spouse can afford to pay more in support. You need evidence that a substantial change in circumstances has taken place. That can be a key stumbling block for some litigants’ alimony modification cases because without the right kind of proof to establish this change, a judge cannot give you the modification you seek. To make sure you have the evidence required to get the support you need, be sure to put a knowledgeable South Florida family law on your side.

In seeking a modification of alimony, it may make good sense to provide the court with multiple possible changes in circumstances. Here’s an example: S.M. was a former wife from the Tampa Bay area who went to court seeking a modification of her alimony. The amount of alimony had originally been set in a “nominal alimony award” contained within the final judgment of dissolution in the couple’s case.

In S.M.’s situation, she had been receiving support from her daughter and her sister, but those two women ceased being able to continue that support. Those women’s inability to continue supporting her was a substantial change in circumstances, she argued. The ex-wife argued that there were additional changes, as well. Her insurance costs had gone up following the divorce. She possibly owed her sister certain sums for various expenses, and the ex-husband had begun negotiating with lenders on the property where the ex-wife was residing, which forced her to rent a new place to live.

There is a tendency among some people to believe that certain types of cases are ones that don’t really require the aid of a skilled attorney. Family law matters can be one example. Parties may think that their cases are simple enough that they don’t need an attorney or they may think that they cannot afford legal representation. With all the ways that a case can “go wrong,” and all the severe consequences that can arise if your family law case does veer south, whether it is a divorce action, a parental responsibility case or some other area of family law, it is more viable to argue that you can’t afford not to have a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney on your side.

Here’s an example: K.E. and D.M. were former spouses who were in court because the husband had filed a request to modify timesharing, the couple’s parenting plan and the child support obligation. Generally, many of these issues often require multiple varieties of proof. As the parent seeking modification, you may be required to prove that substantial change of circumstances has occurred before the judge will even consider the modification you desire. If you clear that hurdle, you may need to show additionally forms of proof related to issues like the best interest of the child.

In this couple’s case, the judge ruled for the father and entered the modification he requested. The mother appealed but she again was unsuccessful. The Fifth District Court of Appeal’s opinion did not indicate whether or not one or both spouses had attorneys at the trial-court level, but, in the appeals court case, the mother proceeded without a lawyer while the father had legal representation.

You go into court expecting and understanding that yours is a case about one thing. Maybe that one thing is alimony or maybe it’s your spouse’s petition for a domestic violence protective injunction. Once you’re in the hearing, though, the judge starts asking your spouse questions about your timesharing arrangement with your children. At the end, the judge alters your timesharing plan and increases your child support obligation. If that happens, what can you do? Would know how to handle such a scenario? It is not unreasonable for most people to have no idea how to respond. This is just one example among many where it pays to have representation from a skilled South Florida family law attorney, so that you can be sure that your rights are protected.

A very recent case from Miami-Dade County was example of how this can happen and what you can do. L.R.L. and J.R. were a couple who had three children together. After eight years of marriage, the wife filed for divorce in September 2017. The wife filed two petitions, one in 2016 and one 2017, seeking domestic violence protective injunctions. In her allegations, the wife asserted that the husband had a history of bipolar disorder, that he was not taking his medication and he had recently undergone a psychiatric hospitalization.

The husband also allegedly showed up at the wife’s front door between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. one morning barefoot, half dressed and wearing a hospital sheet. This incident was one of the bases for the wife’s seeking the second injunction in 2017. Although the wife did not seeking any changes to the couple’s timesharing arrangement, the judge nevertheless asked the wife about timesharing. The wife then told the judge that she felt that the husband’s having unsupervised visitation was no longer proper.

When a court faces a question about the calculation of an alimony obligation, it generally looks at the requesting spouse’s need and the other spouse’s ability to pay. In many situations, that may involve just looking at the income and the expenses of each spouse. There are situations, though, where a court may be legally obliged to consider more than just the respective incomes of the two spouses. One circumstance where that’s the case occurs when one spouse is voluntarily unemployed or voluntarily underemployed. If you are involved in a case that includes issues of alimony and/or child support and your spouse is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, then be sure you have the skill of an experienced South Florida family law attorney on your side.

J.M. and T.M.’s divorce case was one where alimony was one of the key issues in dispute. In the case, the husband sought to have income imputed to the wife. Intentionally avoiding work, or avoiding working at an income level commensurate with your education and professional experience, can have the impact of skewing the calculation of the proper amount of alimony. When the court decides that this “voluntary unemployment” or “voluntary underemployment” has happened, then the law allows the judge to do what’s called “imputing income” to the spouse who is voluntarily underemployed or unemployed.

In that process, the judge determines how much the voluntarily underemployed or unemployed spouse would be making if he/she were earning up to his/her reasonable capabilities, and then makes a determination about alimony based on that figure, not the spouse’s actual income. This is true whether the allegedly voluntarily underemployed or unemployed spouse is the one seeking alimony or is the one who may be ordered to pay alimony.

Posted in:
Published on:
Updated:

01
02
03
04
05
06