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Florida Child Custody Reform 2013

There has been a lot of press lately about efforts to reform Florida’s alimony laws.  As discussed on this blog, Senate Bill 718 (which primarily deals with alimony reform) passed the Florida House by a wide margin (85 Yeas versus 31 Nays) and, since it had also passed the Florida Senate, will be going to Governor Rick Scott for his signature.

Update: Governor Scott Vetoes Senate Bill 718

One area that may be even more significant, but has not received as much coverage, is language in Senate Bill 718 that reforms Florida’s child custody laws.  Currently, there is no presumption in favor of or against any child custody schedule, including a 50/50 split custody (known as equal time-sharing).  Senate Bill 718, however, adds language to section 61.13 of the Florida Statutes that seems to make a strong presumption in favor of equal time-sharing.

The text of the child custody provisions of Senate Bill 718 is reproduced below (deleted language is stricken while new language is underlined):

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Pinellas County’s Standing Notice for Family Law Cases with Minor Children

When you file a family law case in a Tampa Bay court that involves children (such as divorce, paternity, or modification of a parenting plan), you will get a standing notice or order which prescribes how parents should treat one another and their children.

For the most part, parents that utilize common sense and common courtesy should have no problem sticking to these standing requirements. Below are excerpts of the requirements in Pinellas County:

1. CONTACT WITH BOTH PARENTS; SHARED PARENTING:

1.1. Contact with both parents is generally in the children’s best interests. Children are entitled to “frequent and continuing contact with both parents when the parents separate or divorce” as a matter of law.

1.2 The “primary residential parent” has an “affirmative obligation to encourage and  nurture a relationship between the children and the alternate residential parent.” A parent who restricts access of the children to the other parent and who does not encourage a relationship between the children and the other parent, perhaps should not be designated the “primary residential parent, ” as this is not acting in the children’s best interests and is not following the law.

1.3. In nearly all cases, the court orders “shared parental responsibility” of the children, which means co-parenting. The parents must confer with each other and agree on parenting decisions. Both parents must participate in all parenting  decisions and work out their time sharing schedules. If the parents cannot agree on any issue, then the court will decide.

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Rights Recognized in Tampa’s Domestic Partnership Registry

As President Obama today expressed his support for gay marriage, the State of Florida continues to define marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman,” leaving homosexuals in loving relationships in a state of legal limbo.  Attempting to fill in the gap, many local county and municipal governments are passing “domestic partnership registries” which codify certain rights to heterosexual and homosexual partners.  Tampa, for one, has passed an ordinance creating a domestic partnership registry.

Related:  Five Legal Steps Florida LGBT Parents Should Take

[Related:  In A Florida Child Custody Case, Does It Matter That I Am Gay?]

[Related:  In Which County Should I File My Florida Adoption Case?]

Tampa’s domestic partnership law recognizes the following rights for registered partners (to the extent that these rights are not superseded by other laws or ordinances or by contract):

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Do Fathers Ordered to Pay Child Support Have Custody Rights?

I see it all the time.  A mother requests state welfare benefits, and the Florida Department of Revenue inquires as to whether the mother is receiving child support from her child’s father.  The answer is no, and the Department of Revenue then initiates an administrative action to get the father to financially support his child.

Sometimes, the father admits that he is the child’s parent, and other times paternity is established through genetic testing, but the ultimate result is that the father is ordered to pay child support.

So, then, since he is paying support, does the father automatically get custody rights?

Though a mother should encourage a loving and continuing relationship between her child and the child’s father, the father does not automatically get custody rights.

However, the father can establish those rights.

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Disparaging The Other Parent Hurts Your Child And Your Florida Child Custody Case

Rosalind Sedacca, a divorce and parenting coach and author, writes about why parents should not bash one another in front of their children:

When you put down their other parent, your children are likely to interpret it as a put-down of part of them. When both parents are guilty of this behavior, it can create a great confusion along with a sense of unworthiness and low self-esteem. “Something’s wrong with me” becomes the child’s unconscious belief.

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Appellate Judges Discuss Collaborative Divorce in Meeting of Hillsborough and Pinellas Family Law Attorneys and Judges

I recently had the opportunity to attend a joint meeting of the Tampa Bay Family Law Inn of Court and Pinellas County’s Canakaris Inn of Court.  The guest speakers were three judges from Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals:  Chris Altenbernd, Edward C. LaRose, and Robert Morris.  I had the opportunity to discuss collaborative divorce with the appellate judges.  The following excerpt of a Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay article describes a portion of the meeting and my discussions:

 Judge Chris Altenbernd (who served as chief judge from 2003-2005) observed that, by the time divorce and paternity cases reach the appellate level, both parties have almost invariably already lost:

“You have families that are being torn apart, and the parties are arguing often for the sake of arguing, not putting children’s issues and the families’ financial future first.”

Judges Edward C. LaRose and Robert Morris agreed.

The Second D.C.A.'s Judge Chris Altenbernd and CDITB Membership Chair Adam B. Cordover Discuss Collaborative Divorce (April 4, 2012)

The Second D.C.A.’s Judge Chris Altenbernd and CDITB Membership Chair Adam B. Cordover Discuss Collaborative Divorce (April 4, 2012)

Judge LaRose then asked the attorneys in the audience whether collaborative practice was being utilized in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay membership chair Adam B. Cordover answered their question. “The practice of collaborative family law is growing in Tampa Bay. Last year, the Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay provided training to instruct more attorneys, mental health professionals, and financial experts on how to handle collaborative divorce cases in a way that is private, individually-tailored, respectful, and takes into account the best interests of any children involved.  In short, we collaborative professionals are carrying out the ideal of ‘therapeutic jurisprudence.’”

Judge Altenbernd later relayed to Mr. Cordover that he supports the collaborative process, especially in divorce cases where issues of child custody and parenting plans are involved.  ”I just think more people need to seriously consider the family-focused process of collaborative divorce rather than fight it out in the court system.”

Attorney Adam B. Cordover has completed advanced training in interdisciplinary collaborative family law.  He is on the Board of the Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay and is a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

If you have questions regarding collaborative divorce and you wish to speak with a Tampa Bay collaborative attorney, contact The Law Firm of Adam B. Cordover, P.A., at (813) 443-0615 or by completing our online form.

TMH v. DMT: Florida Appellate Court Recognizes Parental Rights of Both Lesbian Mothers in Case of Fertilized Egg Transplant

Here’s the story:  Two women are in a committed lesbian relationship when they decide to have a child together using reproductive technologies.  One woman (the “Genetic Mother”) supplies the egg and has it fertilized.  That egg is then implanted into her partner (the “Birth Mother”) who gives birth in 2004.

Related:  Five Legal Steps Florida LGBT Parents Should Take

[Related:  In A Florida Child Custody Case, Does It Matter That I Am Gay?]

[Related:  In Which County Should I File My Florida Adoption Case?]

The child is given a hyphenated last name, combining the names of the Birth Mother and Genetic Mother.  Birth announcements are sent out, proclaiming both partners to be mothers of the child.  The partners reside with one another and the child in Florida, and they all live happily ever after.

Until 2006, when the Birth Mother and Genetic Mother break up.

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Can Smoking Affect Your Child Custody Case?

As a former cigarette smoker, an article in the Washington Times regarding smoking and child custody piqued my interest. Below is an excerpt:

States are increasingly factoring in cigarette smoking in making decisions about who gets custody of minor children. The group Action on Smoking and Health, an anti-tobacco advocacy group, surveyed custody issues involving cigarettes and tobacco use.

  • In at least 18 states, courts have ruled that subjecting a child to tobacco smoke is a factor which should be considered in deciding custody.
  • No judge and no court has ever ruled that subjecting a child to tobacco smoke should be ignored in deciding custody.
  • In thousands of cases, courts have issued orders prohibiting smoking in the presence of a child, especially in vehicles.

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Prenuptial Agreements: Uniform Premarital Agreement Act

No matter the reason that parties enter into a prenuptial agreement, there are certain issues that may be agreed upon and other issues that Florida public policy prohibit parties from agreeing on prior to marriage.

For example, a clause in a prenuptial agreement defining a visitation or time-sharing schedule with respect to the parties’ unborn children would not be enforceable.  This is because a time-sharing schedule must be based on the best interests of a child, and it is difficult to define and anticipate those best interests before the child is born.  Similarly, a prenuptial agreement may not restrict a child’s right to financial support.

So, what may be agreed upon in a prenuptial agreement?  Section 61.079 of the Florida Statutes, known as the “Uniform Premarital Agreement Act,” specifically states that the following may be settled in a prenuptial agreement:

1. The rights and obligations of each of the parties in any of the property of either or both of them whenever and wherever acquired or located;

2. The right to buy, sell, use, transfer, exchange, abandon, lease, consume, expend, assign, create a security interest in, mortgage, encumber, dispose of, or otherwise manage and control property;

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Garon: 8 Tips for Co-Parenting During the Holidays

Winter break can be one of the most difficult times for both children and parents to cope with divorce.  We see Christmas and New Years cheer and celebration everywhere as we are dealing with our own internal and external stressors that make the mere sight of such images so painful.  However, we must dedicate all of our strength to keep this period of time as happy and stable as possible for our children.

Risa Garon, a licensed clinical social worker, collaborative law mental health professional, and Executive Director of the National Family Resiliency Center, Inc., provides tips for co-parenting during the holidays:

  1. What can you as a parent handle? Be honest with yourself and how you feel.
  2. Be honest with your children about your limitations and what you can handle. Approach them in a way that doesn’t burden them with your feelings. Ask them what would help them during the holidays.
  3. Recognize that rituals are symbolic and often treasured by children and adults. If possible, try to have some of your family’s traditional rituals and include your children in creating new ones. Read more