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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checkbookIn many divorce cases, one of the key areas to resolve is equitable distribution. In some marriages, the couple may have a mixture of marital assets, non-marital assets, and maybe non-marital assets that were improved or acquired in part by using marital funds. Reaching a conclusion on equitable distribution can be very complex and is yet another example of where the experience of knowledgeable Florida divorce attorneys can help. One Tampa-area case involved just such a complication when the couple had used marital funds to pay the mortgage on a non-marital asset.

In this case, the wife, Bridgett, owned one-half of a duplex. That asset was the wife’s non-marital property. During the marriage, the couple paid $350 of marital funds toward the duplex’s mortgage from November 2004 until the wife’s half of the duplex was destroyed by fire in November 2006.

Sometime later, Bridgett and her husband, Ricky, divorced. During the divorce hearing, the husband sought credit for the duplex mortgage payments in calculating the couple’s equitable distribution. The trial judge agreed with the husband and gave him dollar-for-dollar credit for the full amount of the 24 mortgage payments made on the duplex during the marriage.

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dollarsIn any divorce case that involves minor children, the issues of child custody and child support are likely to be important elements of the case. Sometimes, if your spouse is determined by the court to be voluntarily underemployed or unemployed, you may be entitled to a larger child support payment (if you’re the recipient parent) or a smaller child support obligation (if you’re the supporting parent) based upon what’s known as imputing income to your spouse. Making a successful argument for the imputation of income often requires very detailed knowledge of both the facts and the law and can be a place where a knowledgeable South Florida child support attorney can help you. A recent case originally from Miami-Dade County demonstrates how you can succeed, even if your spouse claims to be disabled.

The case involved Michelle and Charles, a couple who married in 1992 and remained that way for 22 years. They had four children. The couple’s divorce trial focused on, among other things, the amount of child support the wife should receive. The husband was a fishing guide who made more than $80,000 per year. The wife, who had earned $20 per hour in the past as a bookkeeper, suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome and was unemployed at the time of the divorce.

When the trial court calculated child support, it set the husband’s income as $84,427. On the wife’s side, it counted as income several monthly payments she regularly received, and the trial judge also imputed income to the wife in the amount of $487 per month. Based on these numbers, the court ordered the husband to pay $799 per month in child support. The wife appealed this ruling but decided to go forward in her appellate case without an attorney. One of the issues she argued in her appeal was the trial judge’s decision to impute a part-time income to her in calculating child support.

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father and sonNot everyone’s family is destined to look like a “traditional family” from a 1950s “sit-com.” Some fathers will find themselves in the position of having children with women who are not their wives. These fathers may, like any other fathers, still desire a close relationship with their children. The level of complexity of Florida paternity cases may vary, depending on the circumstances, but all can benefit from the input of knowledgeable Florida family law counsel. One situation that can add extra layers of complexity occurs when the mother of your child is still married to someone else at the time of your child’s birth. A recent case from Broward County outlines some of the legal rights alleged fathers have in these situations.

In the case, a woman (“T.S.”) gave birth to a child in February 2013. The mother did not provide paternal information in the child’s birth certificate but did give the child a last name that did not match hers or her husband’s. Eventually, DNA tests showed that “C.P.,” the man whose last name matched the child’s, was the child’s father.

Two years later, the biological father filed a court action seeking a determination of paternity and child support, among other things. The mother argued that the trial court should throw the case out. Her argument stated that, when she gave birth to the child, she was married to another man (“S.F.”). This meant that the child was the product of an intact marriage and was presumed to be the legal child of S.F., and C.P. had no legal right to bring a court action for paternity.

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grandparentsOne of the more recent issues in family law with which the courts in the various states have wrestled is the matter of grandparent visitation. In Florida, the law as announced by the Florida Supreme Court is relatively clear:  the state Constitution’s right to privacy includes a parent’s right to raise his or her child as the parent sees fit, and that means that the courts generally cannot order that grandparents receive visitation over a parent’s objection. As with almost any aspect of the area, there are a few exceptions, though, one of which was on display in a case that went before the state’s Supreme Court recently. Whether you’re a parent or a grandparent involved in a visitation dispute, an experienced Florida child custody attorney can go over with you the limits of grandparents’ rights and how Florida law would apply to your case.

In general, a parent has a very strong right to privacy when it comes to child-rearing under the Florida Constitution. Specifically, Article I, Section 23 of the Constitution says that every “natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life except as otherwise provided herein.” The Supreme Court has consistently interpreted this section to mean that forced grandparent visitation is unconstitutional and against public policy. A judge telling a parent that he or she must allow his or her child to have visitation with a grandparent is exactly the sort of government intrusion into private life that Section 23 bars, according to the court.

There are a couple of ways a grandparent might be able to obtain a court order of visitation, but they are very narrow. One is if the family was involved in visitation litigation in another state that allows enforced grandparent visitation, and a court of that state entered a valid order that required the parent(s) to allow visitation with the grandparent(s). There are very few things that can trump the Florida Constitution, but one of them is the U.S. Constitution.

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ConstitutionA lot of family law cases get resolved based upon relatively straightforward legal bases – things like, “What do the Child Support Guidelines indicate is the proper amount of child support?” or “What custody arrangement does the judge conclude represents the best interest of the child?” Occasionally, though, some family law cases involve more expansive issues like Florida public policy or the U.S. Constitution. Regardless of whether your case involves litigating something related to the Child Support Guidelines or the U.S. Constitution, your case needs an experienced Florida child support attorney who is well-versed in all of the laws and knows how to apply them to your case.

One recent case in which the U.S. Constitution played an integral role in deciding the outcome was a child support dispute from Gainesville. The parents’ divorce was finalized in 2007 in Michigan. The couple’s Michigan final judgment included a mediation agreement that the couple had worked out. One of the provisions within that mediation agreement stated that the father had the option to prepay his child support for the couple’s two children and that, if he did so, he was entitled to “interest at the rate of one and a quarter percent per month on any amount of prepaid child support.” The agreement also stated that the father would not receive any payments of interest but would instead receive his interest in the form of credits against his future child support obligations.

The agreement additionally called for the couple to go through an annual process of calculating how much interest the father had earned that year. This last part led the couple back to court, with the father alleging that the mother had refused to participate in the mandatory annual accounting process. The mother, in opposition, argued that her participation (or lack thereof) was immaterial. The court was required to dismiss the father’s case, she maintained, since enforcing the interest-and-credit provision would leave the children without child support, and that made it contrary to Florida public policy.

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old cell phoneBeing accused of being voluntarily underemployed or voluntarily unemployed can be potentially very problematic in any Florida alimony or child support case. This is true whether you are the supported spouse/parent or the supporting spouse/parent. If you are the spouse paying support, and the court rules against you, you could end up paying an amount of support based on an amount that’s far in excess of the actual amount of income you make. If you are the parent receiving the support payments, a ruling that you are voluntarily underemployed may substantially cut into the necessary support money you would have otherwise received. Regardless of whether you are in a child support or alimony case, and whether you are the supported spouse/parent or the supporting spouse/parent, you should contact a skilled Florida child support attorney promptly to help you defend your rights.

One recent case in which such an issue arose was the divorce of Joseph and Andrea, a couple who were married for 12 years until the husband filed for divorce in Palm Beach County. The couple had one child together. Both the husband and the wife were accomplished professionals. The wife had a communications degree from a university in Los Angeles, and the husband had an engineering degree from the University of Florida.

As with many parents, the couple decided to make career changes in order to address the needs of their child, with one parent transitioning from a “traditional” job to a home-based, self-employed position. This allowed for the continuation of work and income while also addressing the day-to-day needs of the child. In this family, though, that parent was the father, rather than the mother.

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Judge With GavelWith many family law litigation matters, finances can be an important part of the overall case. Your South Florida family law attorney can go over with you some of the scenarios in which you may be able to obtain a court order forcing your ex to pay your court costs or fees. Often, these matters come down to the respective spouses’ need and ability to pay. In certain scenarios, however, those factors are not the only factors. In one recent case, the wife’s misconduct led the court to give her a much smaller fees and costs award than she desired.

In January 2014, Sharon filed for divorce from her husband, Brian, after eight years of marriage. That was the beginning of a prolonged and bitter battle. Shortly after she filed for divorce, she filed for a domestic violence protective injunction. Among other things, she accused Brian of molesting the couple’s children. She made these accusations, not only to the judge, but also to the children’s pediatrician and their school principal. She told the pediatrician that she thought that the father was giving illegal drugs to the son. There was one major problem with the abuse allegations, however:  they were all false, according to the court.

Along the way, the mother also asked the court to appoint a guardian ad litem for the children to aid in determining timesharing, even though she had already agreed with the father as to shared parental responsibility and equal timesharing. The mother also argued that, since the father was wealthier, he should have to pay for the guardian ad litem.

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fireworksIf you decide to go to court to seek (or to oppose) an injunction for protection from stalking violence, you should take the matter extremely seriously, and you should retain a skilled South Florida domestic violence attorney to represent you. The law is fairly clear regarding what is needed in order for the courts to enter an injunction, including the number of acts required and who may be a victim of the alleged harassment.

A recent case involving a pair of neighbors offers an example of the process and the hurdles involved. On the 4th of July in 2016, Deniz was doing what lots of people do on Independence Day. She and her family were lighting fireworks in the street. Deniz’s neighbor was apparently startled and displeased by Deniz’s family’s patriotic festivities. The neighbor grabbed his unloaded gun, exited his home, made verbal threats toward Deniz’s family, and, before leaving, shoved Deniz’s boyfriend. This entire series of events took place within 20 minutes’ time.

Deniz went to court and asked for an injunction for protection against stalking violence against her neighbor. This type of injunction involves a requirement that the person seeking the injunction prove that at least two instances of stalking took place. The trial judge entered the injunction. The two qualifying occurrences of stalking behavior were the neighbor’s issuance of threats while brandishing the gun and the neighbor’s shoving the boyfriend.

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stack of cashIn your alimony or child support case, there can be many components that go into calculating the appropriate amount of support owed. Part of making that calculation is ensuring that only a supporting spouse (or parent)’s regular and continuous income is factored into the determination. Whether or not you are the supporting spouse or parent, getting this determination of income correct can be integral to your case and is one of many ways an experienced Fort Lauderdale divorce attorney can help. For one husband and father, his counsel persuaded the Second District Court of Appeal that a lower court erred by using an older year’s bonus income instead of his most recent bonus in calculating his alimony and child support payments.

In the recent divorce case of Matthew and Jilla, originating in southwest Florida, one main item with which the courts wrangled was the calculation of the husband’s income for determining his support obligations. The man made a little more than $100,000 per year ($8,476 per month) in salary. He also, though, got an annual bonus. The trial court, in making its calculations in this case, used the husband’s 2013 bonus ($133,332) to arrive at an income figure of $19,583 per month. This $19,583 sum was the figure the court used to determine both alimony and child support.

The husband appealed, and he won. The problem was that the methodology for calculating his income was legally flawed. Section 61.30 of the Florida Statutes requires the inclusion of bonuses in calculating a supporting spouse or parent’s obligations. The courts have made it clear that, in order to count in this calculation, bonus income must be regular and continuous. Thus, using an example from a Second DCA case from March, when a man received a $30,000 bonus each year for 12 years, the trial court in that matter properly added $2,500 to the man’s monthly income because that bonus income was regular and continuous.

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moneyWhen you, as a spouse who owes an obligation of alimony, experience a substantial chance in your income, the law may provide you with certain avenues to obtaining a reduction in, or the elimination of, your alimony payments. In many situations, that change may even apply retroactively to some date in the past. A knowledgeable Fort Lauderdale alimony attorney can help you navigate the path to seeking a modification and a retroactive application of that modification. In one recent case, the First District Court of Appeal concluded that the elimination of a husband’s alimony obligation should have applied back to the date that his ex-wife began receiving payments from his military pension, since that was the date when she ceased having a need for alimony.

Holli and Michael were a couple from Santa Rosa County who had divorced. The couple had children, but their children were all legal adults. The one issue that proved to be a source of extensive litigation was alimony. The trial court issued one order modifying alimony, and the husband appealed. The appeals court reversed and sent the case back to the trial court.

At that time, the only basis for the award of alimony to the ex-wife that the appeals court could identify was the wife’s continued financial support of the couple’s children in college. This was a problem in Holli’s case because one parent’s support of a couple’s adult children is, in Florida, not a valid basis for determining that a spouse has a need for alimony. If a parent has a court-ordered obligation to support a child (or children) in college, that potentially can be the basis for a determination of need. In Holli’s situation, though, there was no judgment to that effect, meaning that she had no legal obligation to support the children, and her support could not be the basis for a determination of her need for alimony.