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SB 590: New Florida Law on Child Support and Parenting Plans

On June 15, 2017, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 590 (“SB 590”) into law.  SB 590 directs the Department of Revenue to provide parents with a proposed Standard Parenting Time Plan in Title IV-D child support cases.  The bill also authorizes the Department of Revenue to establish agreed-upon parenting plans.  Further, SB 590 waives court costs for families in a Title IV-D case who cannot agree on a parenting plan and are asking the courts to establish a plan.

Title IV-D Cases

Title IV-D of the Social Security Act requires each state to set up an administrative mechanism for establishing and enforcing child support orders.  Florida tasks the Department of Revenue with these administrative duties.

The Department of Revenue oftentimes steps in to establish child support when a parent seeks welfare or other government benefits.  The idea is that it is the duty of both parents to financially support a child.  Further, a parent should utilize child support from the other parent before the government provides state benefits.

The Department of Revenue may also administratively enforce a child support order created by the courts.

SB 590 Standard Parenting Time Plans

Prior to SB 590, the Department of Revenue did not have authority to establish parenting plans.  However, when the law goes into effect, the Department will be required in most cases to send a proposed Standard Parenting Time Plan to the parents.

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Divorce Without Lawyers – A Mediation Option in Tampa Bay

If you are going through divorce, you should have a lawyer.  Divorce is one of life’s traumatic moments, and it is smart to have a steady hand to advise you during uncertain times.

However, you don’t need to have a lawyer to get divorced.

Florida Supreme Court Mediator

You have the option of going through pro se mediation (mediation without legal representation).

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Face-to-Face Mediation

I have noticed lately that there is a trend among divorce mediators in Tampa Bay: keep spouses separate from one another.  This is known as “caucus”-style mediation, where the spouses are kept in separate rooms from the very beginning of mediation, and the mediator travels back and forth between the rooms relaying information and offers.

There is a good reason why many great mediators prefer caucus-style mediation.  As divorce is a highly-emotional process, spouses can set each other off when they are facing one another, and negotiations can descend into argument and cease being productive.

I can see where caucus-style mediation may be appropriate for some families, but it is not my preferred method.

acordover_logoRather, when I act as the neutral mediator, I prefer to practice face-to-face mediation.

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2016 Collaborative Law Process Act Making Progress in Florida Legislature

Senate Bill 972, the “Collaborative Law Process Act,” is making its way through the Florida Senate and will hopefully become law this summer.

[UPDATE 2: Governor Scott signed the Collaborative Law Process Act on 3/24/16]

[UPDATE: The Collaborative Law Process Act Passed the Florida Legislature on 3/4/16.  Learn more about it in the following Article: Collaborative Law Process Act Protects Families’ Privacy]

The Collaborative Law Process Act creates a legal framework for families to resolve disputes outside of court.  The bill specifies that family law matters under chapters 61 or 742 of the Florida Statutes may be resolved via the collaborative process.  These family law matters include the following:

  • Divorce;
  • Alimony and child support;
  • Marital property and debt distribution;
  • Child custody and visitation (also known as time-sharing and parental responsibility);
  • Parental relocation with a child;
  • Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements; and
  • Paternity.

Families in Tampa Bay, Greater Sarasota, and throughout the state of Florida are already utilizing the collaborative process to resolve divorce and other matters privately and respectfully, but a big improvement with this bill is that there will be a statutory framework to ensure discussions had in the collaborative process can be enforced as confidential.   Read more

Receiving Florida Child Support By Direct Deposit

If you have minor children and are going through a divorce or paternity matter in Florida, then someone is likely going to have to pay child support to the other parent.  Child support by default is paid through the Central Governmental Depository and State Disbursement Unit, which is a system for the courts to ensure that child support is being paid.

Usually, a judge will sign an Income Withholding Order that is sent to the payor’s employer.  The employer will automatically deduct the child support from the payor’s paycheck, and then send the payment to the State Disbursement Unit (“SDU”).  The SDU makes a record of the payment, and then sends the child support payment via debit card to the payee.

But, if you are receiving child support in Florida, you can choose to get it via direct deposit.

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Family Law Software Offers Free Child Support iPhone App

A fact of Florida family law is that if children are involved, there almost certainly will be child support.  Even in cases where parents have a 50/50 time-sharing schedule, child support is oftentimes warranted.

Florida Statutes section 61.30 sets out a formula to calculate child support that takes into account the incomes of each party, the amount of time the child spends with each parent, health insurance costs, and other costs.

And Family Law Software as created an iPhone and Android App which can give you an idea of how much child support you should expect to pay or receive.

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Freezing High Conflict Divorce Litigation for the Collaborative Process

I strongly suggest that any person who is in the initial stages of a Florida divorce consider engaging in the collaborative process from the very beginning.  This simply means that each spouses hires an attorney solely for the purpose of helping them reach a divorce agreement.

The attorneys are contractually prohibited from wasting time and money on preparing for trial (90% or so of all divorce cases settle, yet millions and millions of dollars are spent each year preparing for a trial that rarely happens).  Discussions are held in a private, respectful, and transparent atmosphere, and other professionals are brought in as needed to tend to the parties’ financial and emotional needs.

But some clients are resistant to the collaborative process because of perceived cost issues or they feel they need to have a gunslinger to take out their spouse.  And many attorneys will not engage in the collaborative process because litigation work is pretty profitable or they have not invested the time and money in taking an introductory collaborative training.

And so there are plenty of divorce battles going on in the Florida court system.  It is not uncommon for those battles to go on for two, three, four, or more years, and for the parties to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees, expert witness fees, deposition fees, document production fees, forensic evaluation fees, court reporter fees, and so on, and feel no closer to a final resolution of their divorce.

But there is something that can be done to change the dynamics.

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Florida Collaborative Divorce: A Flowchart

Many people come to my Tampa office because they heard collaborative divorce is private, respectful, conducive to co-parenting, and usually quicker than the traditional courtroom divorce.  But they do not quite understand logistically how the collaborative process works.

The first thing to understand is that each party is represented by his or her own attorney whose sole purpose is to help the parties reach a settlement.  The attorneys are contractually barred from engaging in costly, damaging contested court battles.  If parties want to fight one another in the court system, they must choose different litigation attorneys.

A neutral facilitator, who usually is licensed in a mental health profession, is involved in most collaborative cases.  The facilitator not only helps the parties (and attorneys) focus on the future rather than rehash the arguments of the past, but he or she also teaches the parties communication and dispute resolution techniques that will help them and their families long after the divorce is finalized.

A neutral financial professional is also oftentimes used to efficiently ensure financial transparency between the parties, to develop personally-tailored options for support and the division of assets and debts, and to help the clients budget to give them the best chance for financial security once their divorce is finalized.

Some folks are visual learners, and so my firm has created a flowchart that shows how a collaborative case might proceed.  Please understand that, depending on the facts of your case and the needs of your family, your collaborative divorce process may be customized differently:

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Florida Family Law: Mandatory Disclosure

When you file and serve a petition in a Florida family law case that involves financial issues such as child support, alimony, or the division of property in debts, a clock starts ticking.  Within 45 days of the initial pleadings being served on the respondent, each party is required to provide the other party with a whole host of financial documents and information.

This is what is known as Mandatory Disclosure, and it is governed by Rule 12.285, Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure.

The following are a list of documents that are required to be exchanged:

(1) A financial affidavit in substantial conformity with Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure Form 12.902(b) if the party’s gross annual income is less than $50,000, or Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure Form 12.902(c) if the party’s gross annual income is equal to or more than $50,000, which requirement cannot be waived by the parties. The financial affidavits must also be filed with the court. A party may request, by using the Standard Family Law Interrogatories, or the court on its own motion may order, a party whose gross annual income is less than $50,000 to complete Florida Family Law Rules of
Procedure Form 12.902(c).

(2) All federal and state income tax returns, gift tax returns, and intangible personal property tax returns filed by the party or on the party’s behalf for the past 3 years.

(3) IRS forms W-2, 1099, and K-1 for the past year, if the income tax return for that year has not been prepared. Read more

“Next Generation Divorce” Takes On A New Meaning At St. Pete Pride

Last Sunday, I met a lot of people who had a lot of questions regarding their parental and family law rights.  My law firm sponsored a booth at the St. Pete Pride festival in St. Petersburg, Florida, where I discussed topics such as adoptions, name changes, and LGBT child custody rights.  I also had the chance to talk about collaborative family law, a private form of dispute resolution which I have used to help same sex partners amicably separate.

20140706-153645-56205458.jpgAt the pride festival, I was wearing a metal name tag that I received from my collaborative family law practice group, Next Generation Divorce.  Next Generation Divorce is comprised of over 100 caring attorneys, mental health professionals, and financial professionals dedicated to helping parents and divorcing spouses handle difficult issues amicably and with their dignity intact.  I happen to be Next Generation Divorce’s current president and, needless to say, I strongly support the organization’s drive to help folks resolve disputes respectfully through the collaborative process.

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