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.

When people think about child support in general, they typically associate the child’s 18th birthday with the end of the child support obligation. In reality, there are several scenarios where a parent’s child support obligation may continue, even after the child has turned 18, including cases where the child has disabilities and is dependent. Sometimes, in order to obtain that extended support, the recipient parent may be required to get a court order that declares the adult child to be dependent. When you need a judgment like that, it is important to have an experienced South Florida child support attorney on your side so that you can be confident you’re going about seeking that dependency judgment in the right way… and at the right time.

A recent case from the Daytona Beach area shows just how important timing can be in matters like this. T.P. and P.M. were the parents of a daughter with special needs who was born in 2000. According to the mother’s court papers, the daughter had been severely disabled since infancy and would likely never be self-sufficient due to her disabilities.

In 2006, the parents agreed to a stipulation that said that the father would keep paying support until the daughter reached age 18 “or so long as the child is dependent.” In 2018, just four days before the daughter turned 18, the mother filed court papers asking the court to judge the daughter dependent and order the father to keep paying child support.

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Though most of Florida has begun reopening and the shelter-in-place period passed, things are not as they were before. The impacts of the pandemic have been wide-ranging, but have been keenly felt by victims of domestic abuse. For many, the shelter-in-place period may have added additional stress and increased the frequency and/or severity of the abuse while, at the same time, taken away opportunities (like school or work) to reach out for help. Despite these extraordinary conditions, it is essential to recognize that the courts and law offices are still open and that, if you need help, help is available to you. A skilled South Florida family law attorney can be your vital lifeline to the courts and protective orders, along with other resources to enhance your safety.

Sources across the state and the country have been trying to get the word out: just because the number of domestic violence calls during the shelter-in-place period didn’t go up (or in some places went down,) that isn’t necessarily a cause for celebration. Research shows that introducing the conditions we’ve just experienced tends to increase incidents of domestic violence. You have an added element of financial insecurity for many families. You have many primary earners who have lost their jobs. You also have families confined at home together for extended periods, including wage-earners who are used to working outside the home and for whom remaining at home for weeks on end is completely outside their established routines. All of this is a recipe for increased domestic violence.

ABC News reported that authorities in California were greatly concerned by the low number of domestic violence calls during the “lockdown” period, fearing that the low number meant that a vast number of victims were suffering violence but unable to seek help. Closer to home, the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office in Tampa launched the “We Are Open” campaign to encourage victims to reach out. Much like the California authorities, authorities in Tampa feared that victims were still suffering violence, probably at increased rates, but were fearful to ask for help, WMNF reported. Victims may have encountered many problems, including an inability to secure a private place to make contact, a fear of the effects of the virus if they left their home, or a fear (often falsely instilled by their abusers) that they would be arrested by the police if they left their homes during the shelter-in-place period.

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As you prepare to create a marital settlement agreement in Florida, there are several things you should be certain you do. One is to negotiate carefully and diligently to include all of the terms you need and exclude everything that you need left out. After that, you need to be sure that the written document presented for your signature accurately reflects everything for which you negotiated. This is vital because, if there is a dispute later, the court will rely heavily on what is in “black and white” in the written marital settlement agreement. An experienced South Florida divorce attorney can provide you with invaluable representation throughout this process, including both the negotiation and drafting of your marital settlement agreement.

Jay and Jane were a couple in Broward County whose marital settlement agreement was on center stage in their Court of Appeal case. The spouses had created a marital settlement agreement in the fall of 2015 and finalized their divorce shortly thereafter. Just a few weeks later, the husband passed away.

The couple had agreed in their MSA that, as a “contingency arrangement for the equalizer payment,” the husband would pay the wife 120 monthly payments of $5,000 each starting in November 2015 (for a total of $600,000.) The husband’s estate, though, paid Jane $400,000 up front and then made 28 monthly payments of $5,000, after which the payments stopped.

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Certainly, the best way to deal with issues like unexpected problems with timesharing schedules is often for the parents to work together collaboratively to find a solution that best meets their children’s needs. That, however, may not always be possible. So, you may wonder, what happens if I have agreed to modify the parenting plan in the past but this time I don’t want to? Am I required to agree again? The precise answer to that question may lie in your divorce judgment and parenting plan, or may lie in other specific facts from your case, so you should be sure to consult with an experienced South Florida family law attorney about your legal rights and obligations.

As one recent case revealed, you may not be legally required to accommodate your ex-spouse. C.B. and L.W., the ex-spouses in that case, were the parents of two children. The children lived with the father outside Gainesville. The mother, on the other hand, moved several times. The parenting plan included in the divorce judgment acknowledged that the mother lived in Texas at the time of the divorce (2012) and that the mother would have timesharing “at times and places agreed upon with the father.”

At first, that meant that the parents had a “long-distance-friendly” timesharing schedule to accommodate the mother’s home being far from the children. In 2014, the mother had moved to Florida, so the parent moved to a “one-week-on-one-week-off” schedule. By 2017, the mother lived in New Jersey with her new husband, so the parents returned to the “long-distance-friendly” schedule.

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Having a judge rule against you after a timesharing modification hearing in which you weren’t given a fair chance to argue your side can make you feel upset, frustrated and maybe hopeless. When that happens, don’t just give up, but don’t simply dash off to file an appeal on your own, either. A skilled South Florida family law attorney may help you spot additional flaws in your hearing or your judge’s orders that you can use effectively to achieve success.

For example, one Miami-Dade County mom, who retained this firm for her case, was able to use due process errors to get her timesharing back. S.T., the mother, was divorced with two twin daughters. The parents’ modified parenting plan called for each parent to share parental responsibility and receive equal timesharing.

Early in 2020, the mother canceled one daughter’s dental surgery due to “a lack of compliance with essential preoperative instructions.” It’s useful to know that the mother was a practicing physician, so she, in all likelihood, came into this dental surgery with considerably more knowledge of medicine and preoperative medical procedures than just your “average” mom. Based on this canceled surgery, the father filed an “urgent motion” asking the court to cut off all of the mother’s timesharing.

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Every parent feels a natural urge to protect their young children. That is especially true during times of enhanced danger, such as the current pandemic. This has led to a recent spate of court cases where one parent is a medical professional or first responder with enhanced risks of contact with the novel coronavirus, and the other parent is someone who thinks it best that the child not have contact with the health care provider or first responder until the current state of emergency passes. To preserve their relationship with their child, a parent who is a health care provider or first responder should consult a South Florida child custody attorney who can provide them with tenacious advocacy. Our law firm recently won an important victory in a case of this type.

We represented Dr. Theresa Greene, a South Florida woman who found her timesharing cut off by a judge in Miami-Dade County. Dr. Greene is an emergency room physician who, along with her ex-husband, shared a 50-50 timesharing split of their four-year-old daughter. According to NBC 6, she underwent a COVID-19 test last week, and the test result came back negative. Dr. Greene also wears proper protective equipment when working with patients. Nevertheless, the father desired to cut off the daughter’s visits with Dr. Greene while the pandemic continued.

The father went to court and obtained an emergency order temporarily suspending all visits between Dr. Greene and the daughter. The judge’s order stated that a temporary cessation of visits between Dr. Greene and the daughter was necessary in “order to protect the best interests of the minor child, including but not limited to the minor child’s safety and welfare.” The order made it clear that the change was not the fault of Dr. Greene but was “solely related to the outbreak of COVID-19.” Dr. Greene decided to appeal this outcome, and we represented her in the appeal.

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Recently, this blog took a look at the challenges associated with maintaining a court-ordered timesharing schedule during this time of COVID-19 risks and governmental shelter-in-place orders. You should follow your timesharing order when you can. When that’s impossible, you should work together collaboratively with your child’s other parent to forge a solution. If you have questions about whether your preferred (but off-schedule) solution for dealing with timesharing in this pandemic could get you in trouble with the court later on, be sure you consult with an experienced South Florida family law attorney before taking any unilateral action that is inconsistent with your timesharing order.

The Miami Herald took a look at this pandemic and its impacts on these sorts of families. The best technique for dealing with any sudden and unexpected disruption to your family’s court-ordered timesharing schedule is, of course, working together as parents to reach a solution that meets the best interests of your child. As an example, one mom from outside Florida, who worked as a doctor, agreed with her ex-husband that the couple’s daughter should remain with him until the danger passed because the mother was at too great risk of exposure. Additionally, a Pennsylvania dad, whose job required him to fix HVAC systems in grocery stores on a daily basis, concluded (in tandem with his ex-wife) that his job carried too much risk and that the couple’s 20-month-old son should temporarily stay full-time with the mother.

On the flip side, though, the Herald article cited an example of a potentially inappropriate response: a Virginia mom who, shortly before she was supposed to hand off her 10-year-old son to his father, unilaterally decided that the boy should stay with her until the current shelter-in-place order expired. (Currently, Virginia is under such an order until at least June 10.) “She basically used this to indefinitely halt my custody with my son,” the father said in the article.

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The plethora of people engaged in COVID-19-related self-isolation, whether due to infection, exposure without yet having symptoms, or governmental “safer at home” orders, means that millions of Floridians are shut in at home. They’ve been at home for days or weeks, and will be for weeks into the future. This is a radical disruption in many people’s routines. While some have joked that this period of couples “stuck” at home with extra free time could lead to a “baby boom” in late 2020 and early 2021, many professionals who deal with married couples know that there is a flip side:  a potentially significant uptick in the number of divorces. If you’ve come to the conclusion that your marriage is hopelessly beyond saving, you should immediately make plans to contact an experienced Fort Lauderdale divorce attorney.

This phenomenon of an increase in divorces among couples on “lockdown” has been seen across state – and even national – boundaries. Page Six spoke to attorneys in New York City, where at least one Manhattan “power divorce attorney” saw “a 50 percent increase.” In London, a Fleet Street law firm, which had previously identified a 230% increase in “I want a divorce” internet searches after the Christmas holiday, expected a similar uptick as a result of the widespread self-isolating that Britons are performing, according to a CNBC report.

As with the winter holidays, people are removed from their regular daily routines, and, for lots of folks, being “off-routine” is a source of stress in and of itself. It may make them easily agitated, or it may make them depressed and aloof.

The current pandemic caused by COVID-19 (a/k/a novel coronavirus) has upset almost everyone’s routines. Miami, Miami Beach and many others in South Florida were, as of March 25, under a “shelter in place” or “safer at home” order. Businesses are closed, churches are closed, schools are closed, and many parents may be unable to attend work, as well. If you are a divorced parent with children of that marriage, one question that may be at the forefront of your mind is… how do the current circumstances affect my timesharing schedule? You may have concerns about doing an exchange due to infection risks or because of the current governmental orders in place, but you may also have concerns about deviating from the court-ordered schedule for fear of facing a contempt of court charge later. For answers to you pressing questions about timesharing, be sure that you’re getting advice from a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney.

An article recently published by Business Insider focused on this. The answer to this unprecedented question, as is true for so many legal matters, is… it depends. If, for example, you have primary responsibility for your children and the children’s other parent is infected with this virus, then the legal system is not going to require you to give that parent timesharing while she/he’s infected. This may be made even simpler because, if she/he’s infected, she/he probably will insist that you keep the kids until her/his period of contagiousness (and risk to the children) passes. On the other hand, if your children’s other parent isn’t infected, but her/his current partner’s coworker’s spouse is, that probably isn’t enough basis for refusing to facilitate timesharing.

One key thing to know is that there is no law that is, as lawyers call it, exactly “on point.” There is no Florida Statute or court case that says what you should do about timesharing during a global viral pandemic. However, one thing that the courts have stressed, time and again, is the importance of parents working together collaboratively in the best interests of their children.

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When your marriage breaks down and divorce ensues, there are several issues you and your spouse have to work out. To resolve some or all of these, you and your spouse may sign a marital settlement agreement (MSA). If you, at some point after your divorce is finalized, happen to violate the terms of your MSA, there are potential consequences you can face, but the law also erects some clear limits on what the courts can do to you. Obviously, the best path is to avoid violating your MSA but, if you do, make sure you have a skilled South Florida family law attorney on your side for any contempt of court actions that ensue.

A.B. was a husband who faced contempt charges after he made that kind of error. He and his ex-wife were a divorced couple with two children. The couple had an MSA that said that each spouse was entitled to claim one child as a dependent on their federal income tax return. However, in 2017, the father claimed both kids on his return.

So, what can a court do to a spouse in situation like that? When a spouse violates the terms of an MSA, there are actually several things that can occur. It is important to recognize that, if your divorce is final and your marital settlement agreement was what the law calls “incorporated” into the final judgment of divorce, then the terms of that agreement aren’t just a binding contract, they carry the weight of an order of the court.

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