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.

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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We all make mistakes. For some people, that may mean putting some less-than-perfect information in a tax return. For others, that may mean using that flawed return in a divorce proceeding. Now, to be clear, you should never cheat on your income taxes and you should never provide to a court any proposed piece of evidence that is inaccurate, misleading or false. However, even when you have made mistakes in the pursuit of a divorce, there are still limits on the actions that the judge can take. An experienced Fort Lauderdale divorce attorney can help in cases like this in many ways. Your experienced attorney can help you make sure that you avoid submitting documents to the court that lack candor and, if you’ve made mistakes before you hired counsel, your attorney also can help protect you when a judge oversteps her legal authority.

As an example of how these kinds of boundaries can work, there’s the Orange County case of M.B., who was a self-employed commercial truck driver and a husband going through divorce. At his divorce trial, the husband presented numerous financial affidavits and three years of tax returns. “The tax returns — which included deductions for business expenses and for cost of goods sold — showed a significant disparity” between what the husband actually made and what he declared as his final taxable income, according to the appeals court.

At trial, the husband disclosed that his work entailed only transporting goods, and that he did not actually sell goods. That, of course, was a problem for the husband and his case. Based on this evidence, the judge decided that the husband’s tax documents did not accurately display his true income and the judge imputed income to the husband.

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Injunctions for protection against domestic violence are very important things that can have major impacts on your life. That’s true whether you’re the alleged abuser or the victim. As the victim, denial of an injunction can place you is serious, perhaps even life-threatening danger. As an alleged abuser, an injunction can lead to you losing your job, losing future job opportunities for which you apply, denial of housing and surrender of your firearms. That’s why, whichever position you’re in, it is always worth your while to hire an experienced Fort Lauderdale domestic violence attorney.

If the alleged abuser does not participate in his case, that can be a huge disadvantage for him and advantage for the alleged victim. For example, there’s the case of A.B., the wife of M.W., who filed a request for an injunction for protection against domestic violence in Broward County. According to the wife’s court documents, the husband had committed multiple acts of domestic violence, including a 2016 choking incident to which the police responded, as well as an April 2018 incident in which the husband allegedly told the wife that he “should put bullets in her head.”

The appeals court determined that this was enough evidence. If the wife had presented only an isolated incident that occurred years earlier, Florida law would have required denial of the injunction based on insufficient proof. However, A.B. had “several previous violent acts” committed by M.W. that had occurred over the years, including incidents that were quite recent.

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This past January was an important anniversary to many gay and lesbian couples in Florida. Five years ago on January 6, same-sex couples were, for the first time, legally able to marry in the Sunshine State. With that event, and with the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling the following June, it might be easy to assume that it’s now all smooth sailing for LGBT families in Florida. However, that isn’t always the case, especially if there are children involved. If you are a gay or lesbian couple who has minor children, there may still be potential pitfalls, which is why it is still very wise to consult an experienced Fort Lauderdale family law attorney about your situation.

Last year, a gay couple lost their case seeking to have both of them recognized as their children’s fathers. They had added two children to their family through the use of an egg donor and a surrogate mother in Canada, and their high court told them that only the children’s biological father could be recognized as a legal parent. The other partner would “have to apply for special permission to become their adoptive father,” according to a report from thelocal.it.

That case happened in Italy, not in Florida. However, recent rulings from Florida courts also raise the possibility of problems for gay and lesbian couples with children. Back in 2018, the Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling that, while not involving gay or lesbian parents, could have a profound impact on LGBT families.

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Today, more than ever in recent memory, people have side businesses. Perhaps they drive for Uber, housesit, walk dogs, deliver groceries or have some other freelance gig. For others, it’s owning rental property, as changes in the economy have made owning rental property very attractive in recent years. Whatever your side business, it is important to understand how it can impact other aspects of your life, such as your child support obligation. Obviously, if your side business is profitable, that has the potential to raise your child support obligation. What about, however, a business that is losing, not earning, money? The law in Florida may be able to help you… if you know how to advance your case properly. For that, be sure you have the services of a skilled Fort Lauderdale child support attorney.

Such was the case for S.S. Before she got married, S.S. purchased a townhouse property. Fast forward several years and S.S. had gotten married, had a child and gotten divorced. At this point, S.S. still owned the townhouse but was using it as a rental property. Although she had a tenant in the townhouse, the mortgage payments and maintenance fees on the place were so high that, even with the rental income, S.S. was still losing money every month on the property.

That townhouse “in the red” became an issue when it came time to litigate S.S.’s divorce from A.M. In order to set child support in any case in Florida, the court needs to make determinations about the money that is available to support the child. That includes making a finding about the father’s gross income and the mother’s gross income.

Late last May, the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion called In re Amendments to the Florida Evidence Code. As a spouse contemplating divorce or a parent potentially facing a parental responsibility/timesharing case, you may think that a thing like a Supreme Court opinion on “amendments to the Florida Evidence Code” would be some sort of “hyper-technical lawyer thing” that would have little or no impact on your case. And, quite possibly, you’d be wrong in thinking that. Of course, it really isn’t reasonable to expect you, as a non-lawyer, to be keeping up with all the new changes to the Florida Rules of Evidence. This is a great reason, among a host of others, why it pays to have a knowledgeable Florida attorney on your side. Your experienced Fort Lauderdale family law attorney is going to be up to date on all of those changes and how to use those amended rules to your maximum benefit.

That May opinion from the Supreme Court altered the way that trial courts analyze whether or not expert evidence is admissible proof in a case. Up until the Supreme Court’s opinion, the rules for determining whether expert evidence was admissible were contained in a 1923 federal appellate case. Going forward, Florida’s rules of evidence for expert evidence admissibility will rely much more on a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court case called Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals.

Under the new rules in Florida, expert evidence is admissible if the testimony “is based upon sufficient facts or data” and “is the product of reliable principles and methods.” Additionally, the expert witness advancing that testimony must have “applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.”

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Recently, an appeals court here in Florida ruled that a stepfather was not entitled to timesharing or visitation with his stepchild, even though his evidence established that he was the father figure in that child’s life. This harsh result is a reminder of the status of Florida law and the profound importance of making sure you are taking the proper legal steps to protect your relationship with that child. Whether you are an LGBT partner/spouse of a biological parent, a heterosexual stepparent or hold some other relationship, it is very important to retain a skilled Fort Lauderdale child custody attorney and complete the right legal processes, or else you may be denied contact with that child if you and your spouse/partner split.

In that recent case, J.H. and his wife were a married couple raising three children in the Tampa area. The eldest of the three was born the year before the marriage and had her last name changed to match the rest of the family. She was, however, not J.H.’s biological child and J.H. never legally adopted her.

After eight years of marriage, the husband filed for divorce. The mother did not promptly take action in response to the husband’s filing, which led to a default judgment in the divorce. That default judgment said that J.H. would have 100% timesharing with the children except for visits with the mother that were subject to J.H.’s approval. The judgment also said that the two would share parental responsibility for decision-making but that J.H. would hold tie-breaking authority in all areas.

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If you watch or read the news much, you know that one of the most frequently recurring topics is the matter of paying for healthcare and healthcare insurance in this country. If you are a parent going through a divorce or a paternity action, health insurance for your children is going to be an important issue. A collateral aspect of that often can be insurance “networks” and what happens when an “out-of-network” doctor is used. This all may leave you with many questions like… “Who gets to pick the doctor?” and “Who has to pay for those out-of-network costs?” To make sure you’re not left footing a very large medical bill after having had no say-so in the provider selection process, be sure you have an experienced Fort Lauderdale child custody attorney representing you in your case.

In a divorce with minor children, or a paternity action, the court’s judgment will often order one parent to maintain health insurance for the minor child (or children) at all times. Of course, for most people, that means including the child or children on their employer-sponsored plan. And, if you’re like a lot of folks, that means an HMO or other plan that declares some doctors to be “in network” (and therefore much cheaper for you) and other to be “out of network” (and therefore much, much more expensive for you.) In many divorce cases, the judge will order you and your ex-spouse to split the costs of your child’s healthcare that are not covered by insurance, so it is very important to make sure that you have the necessary control when it comes to the decision-making process in selecting a doctor for your child.

As an example, there’s this recent case from Tallahassee. T.N. and K.N. divorced in 2015. They had two minor children. The spouses worked out a marital settlement agreement that said, among other things, that the father would maintain health insurance coverage for the children and that the parents would split all of the children’s uninsured healthcare costs 50-50.

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