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What is the Purpose of Florida Family Law?

Anyone who has gone through a divorce, paternity, or other family law proceeding in Hillsborough County or elsewhere in Florida may have wondered: What is the purpose of Florida Family Law?

Well, section 61.001(2) purports to have an answer:

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What Your Florida Divorce Lawyer May Not Be Telling You

The vast majority of divorce attorneys in Tampa Bay and around Florida are good, hardworking people with their clients’ best interests always at mind.  However, there is one divorce option that more and more financial and mental health professionals agree is the best way to handle a family law matter, and yet many attorneys will not tell their clients about it:  collaborative divorce.

Collaborative divorce is a private form of dispute resolution where each spouse hires their own attorney only for the purposes of helping to negotiate a marital settlement agreement. Collaborative attorneys are contractually prohibited from going to trial or bringing any contested issues to be decided by a judge.

Trial Divorce = Big $$ for Attorneys

This is one reason why there are a lot of divorce trial lawyers who are against collaborative divorce:  attorneys make a lot of money billing time for trial-related activities such as depositions, interrogatories, witness preparation, exhibit analysis and selection, and trial itself.  Trial attorneys bill this time even though they know that 95% of all divorce cases end in settlement, even sometimes after trial but right before a judge issues a ruling.   Read more

Tampa Same Sex Divorce and Collaborative Practice

Same Sex Couple Seeks Divorce in Florida

Same Sex Couple Seeks Divorce in Florida

I have recently been involved in a Tampa family law matter that has made a couple of headlines lately. I represent a client who married her wife in Massachusetts, they moved to Florida, and ultimately they decided that their same sex marriage was irretrievably broken. The women reached a full settlement on all their marital issues, and, as the media has reported, now they are asking the court to grant them a divorce.

Related: In a Florida Child Custody Case, Does It Matter that I am Gay?

Related: Five Legal Steps Florida LGBT Parents Should Take

What has gotten far less attention is the fact that the women reached a full settlement agreement and formed a united front using the private collaborative family law process.

Unlike the more familiar divorce proceedings where parties hire gunslinger lawyers and have their dirty laundry aired in public courthouses, these women each retained a collaboratively-trained attorney (Ellen Ware and myself) who are experienced in respectful and interest-based negotiations. We attorneys were hired specifically to focus on reaching an amicable settlement in private offices; we both agreed that we would not inflame the situation by “building a case” against the other party and bringing arguments between the clients into the public courtroom.

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What Is A Florida Parenting Plan?

Any Florida parent who is going through a divorce with children or otherwise dealing with child custody issues will need to have a parenting plan.  A parenting plan is document that is either agreed upon by the parents or created by a judge that sets out each parents’ rights and responsibilities.  The Sixth Judicial Circuit (Pinellas and Pasco Counties) further describes a parenting plan as follows:

It is the public policy of this state to assure that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing. Florida Statutes, section 61.13(2)(c).

A parenting plan is a document developed and agreed to by the parents of a minor child, and approved by the court, or if the parents cannot agree, established by the court, which governs the relationship between the parents regarding the child (encompassing “custody”, “parental responsibility”, and “visitation”). A parenting plan may address issues such as the child’s education, health care, and physical, social, and emotional well-being, and must include a time-sharing schedule. The parenting plan must take into account the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, the International Child Abduction Remedies Act, the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, and the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction when addressing jurisdictional issues.

For purposes of establishing or modifying parental responsibility and creating, developing, approving, or modifying a parenting plan, including a time-sharing schedule, which governs each parent’s relationship with his or her minor child and the relationship between each parent with regard to his or her minor child, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration.

Any parenting plan approved by a court must address the following issues:

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How to Avoid a Nasty Divorce Battle in Tampa Bay

When people come to my office for the first time to discuss their Tampa Bay divorce, they are often nervous because they want to end their marriage, but they don’t want to have the knock-down, drag-out court battles that they frequently hear about in the news.  They simply want to resolve their family disputes as quickly, privately, and respectfully as possible, while also ensuring that they do not get the raw end of the deal.

And so many of these spouses are pleasantly surprised when I let them know that there is an option which fits all of these criteria: collaborative divorce.

The first and most important defining feature of collaborative divorce is that the parties each have their own attorney, and everyone agrees that they will not let a judge decide disputed issues.  In fact, the attorneys are contractually barred from filing any contested motions or bringing matters that have not yet been agreed upon before a judge.  This means that the parties and their attorneys will not be trying to tear each other down in a public forum and say things that cannot go unsaid.  Rather, they meet in private offices on the parties’ schedules and agree that all discussion held in the meetings will be confidential until a comprehensive settlement is reached.

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Ask for a Collaborative Divorce Attorney

If you are considering a divorce, ask your attorney whether he or she has received interdisciplinary collaborative training and offers the collaborative divorce option.  Why?

A collaborative divorce attorney will focus on helping you and your family rather than hurting your spouse.  He or she is committed to productive and respectful negotiations for a mutually beneficial outcome rather than conducting an all out war in the courtroom.

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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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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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What Are Florida Standard Family Law Interrogatories?

There are times when a Florida judge orders – or an opposing counsel requests – a person to answer standard family law interrogatories.  So what are standard family law interrogatories?

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Florida Divorce and Fathers’ Child Custody Rights

Many people believe that, in Florida divorces, there is a legal presumption that mothers should get majority time-sharing (formerly known as primary custody) with the parties’ children.  This is simply not the case, as judges fashion Florida time-sharing schedules based solely on the best interests of the children, regardless of the gender of the parents.

Florida Statutes Section 61.13(2)(c)1 states specifically that “[t]here is no presumption for or against the father or mother of the child or for or against any specific time-sharing schedule when creating or modifying the parenting plan of the child.”

So what factors do judges look at to determine children’s best interests when shaping time-sharing schedules?

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