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Articles Posted in Custody/Time-Sharing

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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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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It is once again the holiday season. It is the time of vacations from school and (perhaps) work, along with family get-togethers. For divorced spouses with children, it is also a time for managing the challenges of timesharing. Hopefully, the parents will work together cooperatively to facilitate the growth of each parent’s relationship with the child.

Regrettably, that is not always true. Whether it is the holidays, spring break, summer vacation or some other visit, your spouse may seek to make unreasonable demands regarding timesharing that aren’t part of your agreement or court order. When that happens, be sure you have a skilled Fort Lauderdale child custody attorney on your side to ensure that your rights and your relationship (and time) with your child are protected.

R.B. and M.O. were a divorced couple whose case involved long-distance timesharing logistical issues. The mother lived in Broward County. The father was a major in the U.S. Army stationed in Colorado. The couple had a timesharing order that said that the father and mother would “confer regarding airplane tickets and will mutually agree prior to booking” any air travel.

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Sometimes, you may have some serious items working against you in your family law case. If your case falls into that category, don’t let that intimidate you and lead you into making the mistake of simply giving up. Many times, the law is more complex and nuanced than people realize and there may be opportunities to achieve a successful outcome, even in the face of a difficult situation. In other words, don’t give up – contact an experienced South Florida child custody attorney instead.

L.S. was someone who definitely had some things working against her in her divorce case. Her husband had gone through all of the legal steps required to get what the law calls a “default judgment.” A default judgment is something that a court may award when a plaintiff has done everything the law requires of him to advance his case, but the defendant has not participated in the case in any meaningful way. When that happens, the court may enter that default judgment and, many times, that ends with the court giving the plaintiff everything he asked for in his court filings.

L.S. had not responded to the husband’s court documents that were served on her. She was given notice that the court was holding a hearing on her husband’s request for a default judgment, but she didn’t attend that, either. As a result, the trial judge granted the husband his default judgment, granting him a divorce. The judgment also gave the husband what he wanted with regard to equitable distribution, timesharing and parental responsibility.

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Some people may have the idea that attorneys just want to pursue the course of action that will lead to the largest legal fee. The reality is that the vast majority of experienced South Florida family law attorneys are focused primarily on something else – which is the best interests of our clients and clients’ families. Rarely does this involve engaging in a “scorched earth” kind of hostile, contentious legal battle. Generally, that type of extremely hostile family law litigation is driven by the client, not the lawyer.

However, even those spouses and parents who engage in “behaving badly” through the legal system are entitled to certain rights and protections. This includes things like being forced to undergo a mental health examination on an involuntary basis.

So, what do you do if your ex-spouse or the other parent of your children wants the court to make you undergo a mental health exam even though you oppose doing so? A recent case from the Florida panhandle offers some useful information about how to respond.

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Family law cases can be emotionally intense disputes and can lead to people not following their better impulses. People, feeling the pull of powerful feelings, may make mistakes during the litigation process. Just because you’ve failed to follow those better impulses in relation to a court case, that doesn’t necessary mean that those mistakes you’ve made necessarily equate to contempt of court, though.

What’s more, anytime you’re charged with contempt, you are entitled to due process of law. Just like family law litigants and their spouses, judges are human and have the potential to make mistakes under stressful circumstances. That’s one of the many reasons why you need to be sure you have a skilled South Florida family law attorney on your side: to be sure you are protected against an improper contempt citation.

Timothy and Jesica were two parents involved in just such a contentious case, which was a custody matter. The judge ordered the parents to keep “the case off social media and to prevent family members from publishing information about the custody action on social media.”

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Sometimes, the post-breakup circumstances between two parents are very contentious. Other times, the parents may decide to work collaboratively. The latter, of course, is generally the best for the child and the family as a whole, as is it more psychologically and emotionally healthy, and often less expensive, too.

Of course, as with anything — even a good thing like parental collaboration — there’s a right way to go about it and a wrong way. That’s true for working out collaborative agreements regarding the responsibilities for parenting your child. If you and your child’s other parent want to put down your mutual agreement in “black and white,” be sure that you have a knowledgeable South Florida family law attorney by your side so that you know what your mutual agreement can and cannot do.

What do we mean by “can” versus “cannot” do? Look at a case from Broward County. Mom and Dad decided that their daughter, A.C., should go live with the father in Pasco County right away, and both parents signed a “private agreement” to that effect.

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If you read or listen to enough material put out by doctors, you’ll inevitably hear many strong suggestions urging you see a particular type of doctor or undergo a particular test if your personal situation matches a certain set of facts. That’s not done just to “drum up” business. It’s done because doctors understand well the need for proper treatment of certain conditions and the risk when that issue isn’t addressed.

Family law and family law attorneys aren’t much different. There are certain people in certain situations out there who have a particularly high need for legal services, often because there’s a profoundly high risk that, if something goes wrong, it will go terribly wrong. An experienced South Florida family law attorney has the tools and resources to help you avoid that disaster scenario.

What do we mean by “terribly wrong”? Here’s an example, with a Tampa area woman who found herself in a heartbreaking situation because she hadn’t gotten the legal advice and legal services she needed when she needed them.

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