If you are familiar with divorce and/or divorce litigation, whether personally or even just at arm’s length, then you know that divorce can be expensive, and that one of the larger expenses can be attorneys’ fees. However, if you’re familiar with the process, then you also know that proceeding without a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney can be an express ticket to an unsatisfying, and maybe even disastrous, outcome. So, if you are a person of limited means, what should you do? Start by reaching out to a skilled attorney, even in spite of your fears about fees. There may be several options available to you, including possibly obtaining an order from the judge in your divorce case that forces your spouse to pay some or all of your attorneys’ fees.

Sometimes, in an effort to limit the possibility of paying attorneys’ fees, one spouse may include a provision in a marital settlement agreement that relates to attorneys’ fees. When that happens, and you agree to it, it is important not to let your spouse over-use that provision and claim that it covers more things than it really does.

Here’s a case in point: K.L. and A.L. were in a long-term marriage that ended in divorce in 2014. As part of their divorce process, the couple worked out, and then signed, a marital settlement agreement (MSA). Paragraph 11 of that document said that each spouse “shall be responsible for their respective attorney’s fees, if any are incurred.” That’s all the paragraph said and that was the only paragraph that addressed attorneys’ fees.

Whether you are a parent with majority timesharing, have minority timesharing or have a 50-50 arrangement, child support can have a very important impact on your ability to provide for your child and, especially if you are the minority timesharing parent, maintain a close relationship with that child. With that in mind, arriving at a fair and just amount of child support can be very important for all members of your family. To help with these and other elements of divorce, be certain you have the representation you need from a skilled South Florida family law attorney.

When it comes to calculating child support, there are guidelines for making that determination. However, even with pre-existing guidelines, the calculation relies upon certain information that isn’t pre-set, like determining the amount of income each parent makes. This is one area, among several, where the potential for errors exists, and those errors have the possibility to cause you great harm.

The recent case of a family from Central Florida provides a useful example. R.M. and C.M. had a 50-50 timesharing arrangement regarding their two minor children. Even with equal timesharing, one parent may still be entitled to an award of child support if the other parent makes more money. In this case, the trial court determined that C.M., the mother, made $107,761. R.M., the father, had been recently involuntarily terminated from his job at a bank. He had just started a brand-new medical underwriting company. The company had one client and had invoiced that client the sum of $7,200 for a job that, the court concluded, took one month to perform.

Cutting off a parent’s timesharing, even just temporarily, is considered a relatively severe outcome in Florida. Courts generally will cut off a parent’s timesharing only in a narrow range of circumstances, and are required to give the suspended parent a clear pathway to follow to get timesharing back. What this means, from a legal perspective, is that there may be several very fruitful arguments for getting the order that suspended your timesharing reversed.

Of course, in order to do that, you must have followed all of the procedural steps correctly. When it comes to your time and your relationship with your child don’t risk proceeding on your own; be sure you have experienced South Florida family law counsel on your side. Your skilled attorney can, among other things, make sure you have all of the needed documents submitted to the court and that the arguments you present are potentially persuasive ones.

As an example of the difference a skilled attorney’s presence – or absence – can make, there’s the case of J.P. and P.D. The pair shared one child together. At some point, the trial court in Miami-Dade County ordered a temporary modification of timesharing; specifically, all of the mother’s time with the child was temporarily suspended.

With any family law litigation action, there are certain hard-and-fast rules established under Florida law. You only have a set number of days (or months or years) to take certain actions, and if you’re late, then you face serious consequences. The plaintiff has a specific burden of proof that must be met, and if the burden isn’t met, then the case ends in defeat. In other words, it isn’t enough just to know the facts of your case, you must also have someone on your side who knows the law and how to use the law’s procedural rules to your maximum advantage. For these and other benefits, look to a skilled South Florida family law attorney.

In the case of F.S. and L.D. the action being pursued was court approval of a child relocation, and the mother was the one seeking permission. In this kind of proceeding, there are specific rules. First, the parent who desires to move the child must go to court and ask the judge for permission to make the move in advance. After that happens, the other parent has a very limited period of time in which to file an objection. That is one reason (among several) why, if you receive legal papers serving you with notice that your ex has filed a request for child relocation with the court, you act with all due speed, including moving swiftly to retain knowledgeable counsel.

The law only gives you 20 days after you’ve been served with papers in which to file your objection and get that objection served on the other parent. Filing too late — or failing to file at all — can have dramatically disastrous consequences. Florida law says that if a parent files a valid request for relocation and the other parent fails to submit a timely objection, then the court can simply give permission for the relocation, unless there is evidence on record to indicate that the move isn’t in the best interests of the child. What’s more, the court can make that decision and give that approval without even holding a hearing.

In a perfect world, divorcing parents would work together collaboratively, without issue or conflict, to co-parent in the best interest of the children. Ours is not a perfect world. Co-parenting children is something that requires written boundaries and, sometimes, when those boundaries are violated, issuing penalties like contempt of court findings. However, the law limits the scenarios in which a parent can be held in criminal contempt of court. Unless you violated an explicit and precise order, and you did so intentionally, you cannot be in criminal contempt. Whether you find yourself being hauled into court and being accused of being in contempt, or you are a parent dealing with your ex-spouse’s non-compliance, your relationship with your children is vitally important, so be sure you have representation from an experienced South Florida family law attorney.

R.C. and F.C. were a couple who went through a situation not unlike many Florida couples. They married in 2002. They had three children. Then, the relationship deteriorated and the husband filed for divorce in 2013. Five months after the husband filed for divorce, the spouses both signed an agreement. Their agreement, which resolved parental responsibility (among other things), said that both parents “shall share parental responsibility for the children consistent with Florida Statute.”

In a lot of situations, a marital settlement agreement can be a positive first step toward two ex-spouses working collaboratively. Sometimes, unfortunately, that isn’t the case. F.C. returned to court in 2016, arguing that the wife was in contempt of court because she wasn’t following the terms of the settlement agreement. Specifically, the father alleged that the mother had unilaterally made several decisions regarding the children’s healthcare and general welfare, instead of consulting him as required by the agreement.

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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