Custody ModificationsFlorida courts will consider modification of a child custody order only if the parent requesting the custody modification is able to prove a substantial change in circumstances. Under Florida law, a “substantial change in circumstances” means a substantial, permanent and involuntary material change. In other words, the change cannot be temporary, it cannot be caused by something the parent voluntarily did and the change must be big enough to warrant the court changing the original parenting plan or custody agreement.

Only after the court has been satisfied that the change in circumstances is substantial, will it then move on to consider what is in the best interest of the child. The reason for this is to prevent constant back and forth motions to change custody which would be destabilizing for the children. It also helps prevent the court from becoming overburdened with frequent and repetitive modification requests.

Parent relocation is one of the most common grounds for seeking a change in custody. The modification request may be submitted by a relocating parent who wants to take the child with them, or a parent opposing relocation who wants the child be placed with them. Some courts switch custody from one parent to the other, although the increasingly common approach is to ask the parents to work out a plan under which both parents may continue to have significant contacts with their children.

Another thing that can prompt a modification is if there is a significant change in the lifestyle of the custodial parent, which the other parent feels will adversely affect the child. For instance, if the custodial parent finds a new job that has longer working hours or the parent is leaving the child alone for long periods of time the court will consider modifying custody based on these factors. Also, if one parent begins drinking heavily or taking drugs, the other parent may file a request for modification of the visitation order. What amounts to a substantial enough change to warrant a revision can vary greatly depending on your jurisdiction and even your particular judge.

If you have questions about a divorce proceeding and would like a divorce attorney to assist you in the matter by calling us at (904) 685-1200.

Celebrity Divorce Lessons
Many celebrity marriages are over in the blink of an eye. What can average citizens learn from the divorce mistakes of the rich and famous? Plenty.

1. Get a prenup

When Mel Gibson divorced, he was reported to have cut his $900 million fortune in half. Madonna’s ex, Guy Ritchie, is said to have walked away with an extra $90 million for his time spent with the singer. Kelsey Grammer, of Frasier fame, had to shell out $50 million to a former Playboy Playmate. Why did they all pay so much? Not because of their generosity, that’s for sure. All these people foolishly lacked prenuptial agreements. Even if you don’t have the amount of money they have, a prenup can help secure the assets you will need if your marriage fails.

2. Don’t trash your ex in public

Kim Kardashian and the rest of her family have wasted no time trash talking her ex, Kris Humphries since their 72-day marriage ended months ago. All the talking causes the process to drag on longer than necessary and leads to emotions running high along the way. Rather than hurting feelings more than has already happened, keep quiet and tell your friends and family to do the same, at least until the papers are signed.

3. Follow your child custody agreement
Follow whatever agreements you reached in court. When Alex Baldwin and Kim Basinger split, Basinger tried to keep their daughter away from him. This move resulted in a very prolonged and nasty dispute between the two and led to hurt feelings all around. If you don’t hold up your end of the bargain your ex can drag you right back to court, costing you time and money, as well as damaging your relationship with your child along the way.

4. Don’t film a reality show about your marriage

Have any doubts about the dangers of letting cameras document your every move? Just ask Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey or the Gosselins how it turned out. Though most of us aren’t interesting enough to have television crews knocking down our doors the larger lesson still applies: avoid involving others in your private marital issues.

If you have questions about a divorce proceeding and would like a divorce attorney to assist you in the matter call us today at (904) 685-1200.

Source: “Celebrity Divorce: What It Can Teach Us,” by Silvana Raso, published at

Grounds for Florida DivorceFlorida statutes were designed to encourage amicable settlements and to make it easier to end a marriage, all with the aim of reducing potential harm to children and spouses during the messy divorce process. In Florida, the dissolution process begins with one party filing a “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage” with the family division of the local circuit court. The other spouse is then served with divorce papers and given time to respond before the process proceeds.

The divorce system in Florida is based on the principle of “no-fault,” meaning that a divorce will be granted if either party believes that the marriage is over. According to Florida Statutes 61.052, marriages in the state can be dissolved based on only two grounds: 1) the marriage is irretrievably broken; or 2) there is mental incapacity of one of the spouses for a preceding period of at least three years.

For the first basis, no one needs to have a specific reason for wanting the divorce and no one needs to be blamed for the collapse of the marriage. That being said, it must be shown that the marriage is “irretrievably broken,” meaning that the spouses have differences that cannot be settled. This decision does not have to be mutual; only one spouse is required to have the intent to end the marriage. As is the case for any divorce in Florida, one of you must have been a resident of Florida for at least six months.

If one of the spouses is deemed mentally incapacitated in some way, which requires adjudication of incapacity, the petitioning spouse can only dissolve the marriage after a three year period of incapacity. Given the time requirements in Florida, mental health as a basis for divorce is not used very often.

Many states require a “cooling-off” period of separation for a certain period of time before no-fault divorce proceedings can commence. During this time, the couple is required to live separate from one another with the intent that the separation will be permanent. In Florida, there is a waiting period of 20 days before finalization of the divorce can take place. This waiting period can be waived if injustice would otherwise occur. I have used this exception to divorce a couple in 17 days.

If you have questions about a divorce proceeding and would like a divorce attorney to assist you in the matter, contact us by calling today at (904) 685-1200.

Source: “The 2012 Florida Statutes,” published at Leg.State.FL.US.

Military Divorce and PensionsDeciding how to split up a couple’s accumulated assets is a challenging but necessary task before any divorce can be finalized. This already tough job can be made even more complicated if one or both spouses is an active duty or retired member of the military. In such situations, one of the couple’s biggest assets is likely the military spouse’s pension. This pension, and all the rules that come along with it, make military divorces generally more complex than those of nonmilitary families.

Military pensions are often worth significant amounts of money and, as an added bonus, are guaranteed for the rest of the military spouse’s life. The Wall Street Journal says that a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force who has put in 30 years of service will receive a pension worth $72,288 a year. The pensions are not paid in lump sums, but if they were, the present value of the pension may exceed $1 million. What makes this even more valuable is that there is no minimum retirement age. It’s in the realm of possibility that someone who enlisted at 18 could retire at 38 and go on to receive a pension, including yearly cost of living increases, for decades into the future.

The length of the marriage is another factor that can contribute to the difficulty of dividing up the military retirement pension. When the marriage overlaps the military spouse’s service period by 10 or more years, the nonmilitary spouse may receive benefit payments directly from the government. If the marriage lasted fewer than 10 years of the service period, then the government may not enforce a court order from the nonmilitary spouse for a share of the retirement pension. In such cases, if the military spouse does not agree to provide a share of the retirement benefits directly to the nonmilitary spouse, then the matter will have to be settled in a divorce court in the appropriate state.

Military retirement pensions are also governed by a complex system of both state and federal rules. Therefore, even when a nonmilitary spouse gets court ordered retirement benefits, state and federal rules can still make collecting those benefits a challenge.

If you have questions about a divorce proceeding and would like a divorce attorney to assist you in the matter, contact us at (904) 685-1200.

Source: “Divorce: Splitting Up a Rich Military Pension,” by Ellen Schultz, published at

Bride, Groom, Conflicts of InterestA recent Reuters article says that if you see divorce headed your way it’s best not to waste any time before hiring an attorney, even if the papers haven’t officially been filed yet. The reason is an attorney ethical conflict known as “conflicting out.”

It’s possible that if your spouse is clever and devious, he or she could make it very hard for you to find a divorce attorney that you actually want. Even if your ex is nice, it’s still possible that he or she could inadvertently prevent your from getting the lawyer you desire.

To explain the importance of conflict, you must first turn to the rules of professional conduct, a kind of ethical handbook for lawyers. These rules say that attorneys must decline to represent an individual if “there is a significant risk that the representation … will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person…” The rules also require that lawyers keep any and all information they learn confidential, even information that is obtained during an initial consultation.

The nightmare scenario is as follows: Your spouse schedules meetings with the best divorce attorney in town. They get together and discuss the marriage, the reason for its dissolution, what he or she wants, the kids, their innermost thoughts and feelings, etc. Once this happens, it does not matter whether your spouse actually hires that attorney; they are now ethically required to keep any information they learned confidential. The problem is that this will likely mean they are ethically required to decline representing you. The reason being that they may believe the amount of information they learned from your spouse (which they must now keep secret) will prevent them from fulfilling their responsibilities to you as a zealous advocate.

After a few consultations your spouse could prevent you from hiring some of the best attorneys in town. Even if your spouse isn’t so devious, the same result could come from unintentional lawyer shopping. If you don’t start looking early, your spouse may beat you to the punch.

If you have questions about a divorce proceeding and would like a us to assist you in the matter, call us at (904) 685-1200.

Source: “Waiting to Hire a Divorce Attorney Could Cost You,” by Stephanie Rabiner, published at

Gender in Law
We hear a lot about how the courts are biased in favor of mothers when deciding child custody. Several different studies show that there might be more to the story as other factors come into play with why fathers are less involved in their children’s lives post-divorce.

The following statistics come from a Pew Research Center analysis of the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). According to the report, a married father spends on average 6.5 hours a week taking part in primary child care activities with his children. This compares to an average of 12.9 hours for married moms. The study points that that two-income households are now the norm and that the data reveals more mothers are working and doing extra child care. This gap and the increased time spent caring for children may be one reason women are more likely to retain primary custody after a divorce.

Even more surprising are the statistics regarding fathers time with children post-divorce. The results mentioned in the Huffington Post show that when fathers and children live separately, only 22% see their children more than once a week. An additional 29% see their kids one to four times a month. Sadly, a full 27% of dads have no contact with their children at all. These numbers further reflect a possible reason for the gap in custody awards during a divorce.

It could be argued that family courts send the message that fathers are not essential to raising children and that it’s because of these judicially created parenting plans that they don’t spend quality time with their children. This doesn’t appear to be the case, as information from, indicates that in 51% of cases both parents agreed on their own accord that the mother would become the custodial parent. In another 29% of custody cases, the decision was made without any third party involvement. Eleven percent of custody cases had a resolution for custody made during mediation and five percent were resolved after a custody evaluation. This means that only 4% of all custody cases went to trial and of that 4 percent, only 1.5% went through custody litigation.

This data suggests that 91% of custody cases are decided without the interference of judges, biased or otherwise.

If you think that you’re an active father who should be awarded majority time-sharing with your child, you need to be able to demonstrate to the court why that is. If you would like more information about divorce and “custody”, contact us at (904) 685-1200.

Source: “Dispelling The Myth Of Gender Bias In The Family Court System,” by Cathy Meyer, published at

Al Gore and TipperAccording to new data the trend known as “grey divorce” appears to be picking up steam. The numbers of senior divorces in the country continues to grow and with the baby boomers aging the amount will likely rise even faster.

Susan L. Brown and I-Fen Lin at Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Family & Marriage Research Center conducted research that indicated the divorce rate among those over 50 years old had doubled between 1990 and 2009. This shocking figure was true even for those over the age of 65, proving that it is not a phenomenon limited to divorce-prone boomers.

These same researches are predicting that the trend will only continue to escalate. The reason is that those who have already been through one marriage and are now remarried are more than 2.5 times more likely to divorce again than those who are still on their first marriage.

The reasons for the trend are hard to nail down and include everything from the larger number of older people, the age those people are living to, a greater acceptance of divorce, rising female empowerment and an increased emphasis on living a happy life.

Regardless of the cause, the trend has important financial implications for those going through a late in life divorce. The first thing to understand is that single life can be expensive. It’s not a simple matter of splitting all the bills in half. There’s a magnification to dividing bills and separate households are much more expensive to run than half of a marital household.

Beyond living expenses are the ordinary legal expenses associated with divorce. New legal documents will need to be drafted, often more than if you had divorced at a younger age. Wills will need to be redone, health directives, insurance polices, etc. Make sure you have a divorce attorney on your side; you want someone experienced and capable of handling things as amicably as possible.

It’s also important to take stock of where you’re at financially. Who owns what? Get your name off credit cards and other debt obligations if possible. You don’t want any more ties than necessary to someone you will no longer be spending your life with. Make copies of all the financial statements you can find in the house and get comfortable with what the numbers look like. Sometimes one spouse is unaware of the real financial state of affairs and this is a good time to quickly get up to speed.

Finally, a special concern for those facing a late in life divorce involves future payments. If one party is entitled to future payments as part of the settlement (alimony, for instance), make sure that there is life and disability insurance in place to make sure that spouse responsible has the means to finish paying the obligation.

If you have questions about a divorce proceeding and would like to speak to a divorce attorney, contact us at (904) 685-1200.

Source: “Financial Safeguards Needed as Senior Divorces Soar,” by Philip Moeller, published at

Less Expensive DivorceHere’s something that’s not news to anyone going through the process: divorce can be expensive. When a couple decides it’s time to part ways, it is almost always for emotional reasons but these issues can quickly morph into fights over money. The result can be financial devastation even in splits that started amicably. Everybody loses, except the attorneys.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Divorce doesn’t have to destroy both parties financially but the decision rests in their hands.

Though it’s often hard to do, a divorce should be unemotional. There are years of hurt and anger built up, but the split needs to be seen as a business decision. Financial decisions should be made by keeping your emotions outside of the legal process, whether through therapy or exercise.

Many couples fall into one of a few traps that lead to the endless cycle of fighting and pumped up divorce fees. Watch for the following issues and you can help avoid financial disaster.

• Anger – Couples that carry around bitterness or jealousy and an approach divorce like a war can result in sky-high legal bills. If the couple is out to destroy one another then the result is often mutual destruction.
• Ignorance – Not understanding the process, the couple can make expensive mistakes that take time and money to undo.
• Speed – Couples that are in a dead rush can create more problems than they think they’re solving. When one party is so eager to finish the marriage they can make rash and ill-advised decisions which lead to terrible consequences down the road.

Now that you know what leads to the problems, here are some strategies that can be employed to keep costs from ballooning out of control.

1. Try to cooperate, no matter how much you have to bite your tongue. It can be painful, but working together is the only way to ensure that you reach a deal without forking over your life fortune.
2. However, unless you have minimal assets and no children, don’t try to do it alone. Use an attorney to help handle the complicated process; they can actually save you money in the long run given their expertise in the field.
3. Put everything in writing. Resist the urge to work things out verbally, these deals can be forgotten or fudged later.

If you have questions about a divorce proceeding and would like one of our divorce attorneys to assist you in the matter, call us at (904) 685-1200.

Source: “The Finances of Divorce,” published at

Consent Divorces UpConsent Divorces are becoming more popular as economic downturn squeezes parties into making cost-cutting decisions.

A Consent Divorce is one where the parties are non-adversarial. Husband and Wife agree to the terms of their divorce without bringing lawyers to fight with one another. They outline the terms with the advice of counsel and present that agreement to a judge for his signature. As long as the terms are agreeable to the court, and they usually are, the marriage is dissolved with a single hearing.

Typically, a consent divorce takes about a month to occur. This is because Florida Statute §61.19 requires a twenty-day waiting period between the filing of a petition and the entry of a final judgment. This waiting period can be waived if injustice would otherwise occur, a requirement which is granted fairly liberally. In a recent case, I was able to dissolve a marriage in only seventeen days with the recent closure of the courthouse serving as reason for the “injustice” exception to the waiting period.

This is in stark contrast to the timelines of contested divorces which can go on for years an can cost tens of thousands of dollars. In a contested divorce one or both parties files a petition for dissolution of marriage. Then there is an exchange of “discovery documents”, which typically includes financial disclosures, bank statements, etc. Then there may be a temporary needs hearing, sometimes a contempt hearing, a mediation conference and then a trial. Some of these hearings may occur more than once depending on the length of the case and over time this may drain more money than the value of the asset the parties are arguing over.

With the shrinking of Florida resident’s individual incomes, several unhappy couples have taken the route of a consent divorce. This divides their property legally, settles the marital issues and restores them to the status of being single again so that they can remarry if they choose.

If you and your soon to be ex think that you can come to terms that will be agreeable to both and realize the value in preserving what money you do have, contact me at (904) 685-1200 and see if a consent divorce is a good fit for you.

gay-adoption.jpgAccording to recent census data and other studies, the number of children being raised by lesbian and gay parents is increasing rapidly. This increase is evidenced not only throughout the country, but at home in Florida as well. The conflicting laws of the various states as to the legal recognition of same-sex parenting rights present not only complications but is fraught with legal challenges.

A nagging question is what happens when same-sex parents become parents in one state, but then move to a state that does not provide the same protection to the parties parent-child relationships?

The 2009 Florida case Embry v. Ryan (11 So. 3d 408, Fla. 2nd DCA) examined this issue involving a same-sex couple who became parents while living in Washington State, and then moved to Florida. While living in Washington, one of the partners gave birth to a child. A few months later the other partner adopted the child. After moving to Florida, and 4 years after the birth of their daughter, the couple broke up. The former partners initially entered into an amicable visitation and custody agreement, which lasted for approximately 3 years. However, like many relationships, their relationship became strained. The birth mother then refused to let her former partner have any contact with the child. Litigation ensued.

The adoptive (non-birth) mom filed a lawsuit seeking declaratory relief and a petition to determine parental responsibility, contact and support. The birth mom sought to dismiss the petition arguing that Florida was not required to give “full faith and credit” to the Washington state adoption as it was contrary to Florida public policy which prohibited same-sex couple adoptions.

The United States Constitution’s Full Faith and Credit Clause provides that states give effect to judgments from sister states. The United States Supreme Court has made it clear that a “final judgment in one State, if rendered by a court with adjudicatory authority over the subject matter and persons governed by the judgment qualifies for recognition throughout the land.”

The Court further stated that there are no public policy exceptions to the full faith and credit clause which is due to judgments entered in another state.

The Florida Court of Appeals in the Embry case held that “regardless of whether the trial court believed that the Washington adoption violated a clearly established public policy in Florida, it was improper for the trial court to refuse to give the Washington judgment full faith and credit.

The Florida court declared that the same-sex relationship was irrelevant for the purpose of enforcing the adoptive mother’s rights and obligations as an adoptive parent. Florida law specifically states that adoption decrees from other states must be recognized as though the judgment was issued by a court of this state. There is no exception for gay second-parent adoption built into this Florida provision.

If you have any questions about your legal rights concerning gay, lesbian or same-sex partner adoption in the State of Florida, contact a Jacksonville gay and lesbian estate planning lawyer.

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