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Florida Alimony Reform 2015 – Florida Alimony Guidelines

Many people are surprised to learn that, currently, Florida has no alimony guidelines.  Rather, it has a bunch of factors that a judge considers, such as lifestyle of the parties, each spouses’ contribution to the marriage, and the age and physical condition of each.  This has left many clients frustrated when they ask their attorneys how much alimony they should expect to pay or receive.

House Bill 943 looks to change this.

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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 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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Powers of Hillsborough County Child Support Enforcement Hearing Officers

If you are involved in a support matter involving the Florida Department of Revenue, then your case will be heard by a Child Support Hearing Officer, rather than a judge.  But what are the powers of the Hearing Officer?

Hillsborough County Chief Judge Manuel Menendez, Jr., recently updated procedures for cases involving Child Support Hearing Officers, and 13th Judicial Circuit Administrative Order S-2014-002 designates to them the following powers:

A. Hear contested income deduction orders and recommend entry of appropriate orders in accordance with section 61.1301, Florida Statutes;

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The Military, Florida Divorce, and Residency Requirements

Florida Statutes Section 61.021 imposes a residency requirement for divorce cases:  One of the parties must have lived in Florida for at least 6 months prior to the filing of the petition for dissolution of marriage.  This generally means that a spouse will have to be physically present in Florida fort six months and have the intent to remain a permanent resident of Florida.

However, Florida does provide exceptions for members of the military.

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Florida Divorce, Financial Affidavits, and Privacy

In almost any Florida family law matter that involves financial issues, such as child support, alimony, division of property and debt, or attorney’s fees, parties are required to exchange and file Florida Family Law Financial Affidavits.  Financial Affidavits outline each party’s source(s) of income, as well as expenses, assets, and liabilities.

And, when they are filed, they become part of the public record, accessible by anyone.

Most people, for any number reasons, do not want their financial profile to become public.  And yet, when people go through the traditional litigated divorce, that’s exactly what happens.

But it does not need to be that way.

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Florida Child Support & Alimony: What is an Obligee? What is an Obligor?

If you are going through a Florida family law case involving alimony or child support, you have probably run into the terms “obligee” and “obligor.”  So what do these terms mean?

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Does Florida Recognize Legal Separation?

Many jurisdictions require spouses to be legally separated for a certain period of time (oftentimes about 6-12 months) before they can get a divorce.

Florida does not have such a requirement.

However, there are many couples out there who wish to go through a “trial separation” without taking the leap of divorce.  Many want an interim step short of divorce to maintain the possibility that the parties can work things out later and reconcile.  Does Florida have any mechanisms to provide protections to spouses and children during a trial separation?

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Modifying Florida Alimony

Now that Senate Bill 718 on alimony reform has been vetoed by Florida Governor Rick Scott, many Tampa Bay residents are wondering whether there is any way to modify or terminate their alimony obligations.  The answer, in many cases, may be yes.

Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes states that most types of alimony may be modified or terminated when there has been a substantial change in circumstances that affects the receiving spouse’s need for alimony or the paying spouse’s ability to pay. Case law tells us that a “substantial change in circumstances” means a change that was unanticipated at the time the alimony was ordered by the Court, and a change that is permanent, involuntary, and material. Examples of substantial changes in circumstance that may justify upward or downward modification include health issues, long-term unemployment, a big raise, or a large inheritance.

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