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Client Review: Responsive and Affordable

A Tampa Bay family law client of mine recently left a review of Family Diplomacy’s services on Avvo.com.  You can find the review after the jump.

FLORIDA BAR DISCLAIMER:  Please note that every case is different, and you may not receive the same or similar results.

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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

When Is A Guardian Ad Litem Appointed in Florida?

You may have heard the term “guardian ad litem” and wondered what they were and when they were appointed.

In a Florida divorce or child custody case, a guardian ad litem is a professional who looks out for the best interests of a child.  Florida Statutes Section 61.401 describes the circumstances under which a guardian ad litem is appointed:

In an action for dissolution of marriage or for the creation, approval, or modification of a parenting plan, if the court finds it is in the best interest of the child, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to act as next friend of the child, investigator or evaluator, not as attorney or advocate. The court in its discretion may also appoint legal counsel for a child to act as attorney or advocate; however, the guardian and the legal counsel shall not be the same person.

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Lie in Hernando County Family Law Court Leads to Jail Time

According to a report in the Tampa Bay Times, a woman in a Hernando County Family Law Court was seeking to get a domestic violence restraining order against her mother when she made some odd statements.  When asked about her extensive criminal background, the woman claimed that she was a DEA agent.

Hernando County Judge Stephen E. Toner gave the woman several opportunities to change her testimony, but she did not.  The family law judge then requested that the Sheriff’s Office check on the woman’s claim, which turned out to be bogus, and the woman was found to be in contempt of court and sentenced to 5 months and 29 days in jail.

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Family Law Courtroom Etiquette in Sarasota, Manatee, and DeSoto Counties

It’s always good to make a good impression when going into a Florida Family Law Court, and one of the best ways to make a good impression is to follow proper etiquette.  Fortunately, the Twelfth Judicial Circuit has published its Rules of Etiquette for Family Law cases in Sarasota, Manatee, and DeSoto Counties:

1. Be aware that the judges, general magistrates, hearing officers, or any other court personnel cannot give you legal advice. You may only obtain legal advice from an attorney. You may obtain general information from the Twelfth Judicial Circuit’s website at www.jud12.flcourts.org.

2. Arrive at least twenty (20) minutes before your hearing is scheduled to begin. There are unpredictable times when legal emergencies pressure the court to begin as early as possible. You should know that a judge may also dismiss your case if you are not present at the scheduled time.

3. All persons appearing before the court must dress in an appropriate manner. Shorts, hats, flip-flops, jeans, sneakers, tee shirts, and tank tops are not suitable for the courtroom.

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Tampa Bay Clerks of Court Return to Regular Service Hours

Thanks to a 7% increase in the budget for Florida clerks of the court, Tampa area clerks will increase their hours beginning October 1, 2012.  According to the Tampa Bay Times, the seven percent increase restores the amount that was cut from the statewide clerk budget in the spring, when office hour were reduced.

These extended office hours will allow Tampa Bay clerks to tackle the current backlog and hopefully help family law cases to be processed faster.

The local clerks’ new office hours (Monday through Friday, excluding holidays) are listed below:

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Filing a Florida Family Law Case

The Supreme Court of Florida provides the following information on filing a family law case in Florida:

Filing a case. A case begins with the filing of a petition. A petition is a written request to the court for some type of legal action. The person who originally asks for legal action is called the petitioner and remains the petitioner throughout the case.

A petition is given to the clerk of the circuit court, whose office is usually located in the county courthouse or a branch of the county courthouse. A case number is assigned and an official court file is opened. Delivering the petition to the clerk’s office is called filing a case. A filing fee is usually required.

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Technology and Florida Family Law Courts

The Commentator, which is the official magazine of the Florida Bar Family Law Section, recently published an entire issue dedicated to technology utilized in the practice of family law.  Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Judge Catherine M. Catlin was interviewed in this edition, and she discussed the impact of technology in Hillsborough County Family Law Courts:

Q: What types of technology do you use in your family law courtroom?

Judge Catlin: Almost every family law courtroom in Hillsborough County has been installed with Skype [computer video conferencing software]. Skype allows participants in the litigation proceeding, who are not in the courtroom, to feel like part of the proceeding because they can see the judge and the judge can see them. Using Skype also allows the family law judges to swear in witnesses not in the courtroom so that a notary does not need to be on the witness’s end. We can now do adoptions through Skype or telephone. Also, we are cognizant of the cost of expert witnesses and now expert witnesses can testify through Skype, eliminating the portal to portal fees that most experts charge.

Q: What types of technology do you see attorneys use in your courtroom?

Judge Catlin: I see attorneys play back videos such as video depositions or Children’s Justice Center tapes. Also, attorneys themselves bring their laptops to court to take notes. Other than that, there are not a lot of other types of technology used.

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Hillsborough County Announces New Judicial Assignments

Chief Judge Manuel Menendez, Jr., of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit of Florida, recently entered Administrative Order A-2012-24, which outlines new judicial assignments for Hillsborough County.  Below are the assignments for the Family Law Division, effective June 25, 2012:

  • Division A – The Honorable Cheryl K. Thomas;
  • Division B – The Honorable Paul L. Huey;
  • Division C – The Honorable Catherine M. Catlin;
  • Division D – The Honorable Daniel H. Sleet;
  • Division E – The Honorable Nick Nazaretian;
  • Division F – The Honorable Caroline J. Tesche; and
  • Division Y (Title IV-D Child Support Enforcement) – The Honorable Herbert M. Berkowitz.
We welcome Judge Nazaretian and Judge Berkowitz to the Family Law community.

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Hillsborough County Family Law Judges Begin Utilizing Skype

As a family law attorney, I often have clients in a Florida matter that reside outside of the state.  I recommend that clients attend their hearings in person, as it gives the judge a face to match with a voice (humanizing the client) and it allows the client to see non-verbal cues from the judge, opposing counsel, or myself.  However, there are times when an out-of-state client cannot make it to a hearing; for these times I often request that the client appear by telephone, and the judge usually grants the request.

Some of the family law judges of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit (covering Hillsborough County) have announced that they are now equipped and prepared to use Skype in the Courtroom for those clients who cannot appear in person.  This program allows the client to participate in a hearing via webcam.  Though I still recommend that clients appear in person whenever possible, this technology gives a great alternative.

The following family law judges have posted procedures for Skype:

Below is an announcement for the technology posted on Judge Ward’s profile:

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