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.

Divorce HouseOne of the most common questions that divorce attorneys hear is: “What will happen to our house?” While courts do have the power to order the sale of the marital residence, what happens to the house usually is left up to the parties themselves. Typically, the house situation has a lot to do with whether there are children residing in the home and whether one party can afford to buy out the interest of the other, either through cash or by offsetting the equity (or debt) with other assets.

As we mentioned, the first consideration is usually whether minor children are residing in the home. If there are children in the house and it has been their home for a significant period of time, the courts are often reluctant to order the property sold and the children uprooted. Usually, the Court will give the party residing in the house a chance to come up with a plan to make the mortgage payments and retain the property.

Judges prefer to have the parties themselves come up with a plan regarding the house than have to order the home sold. Even if the parties refuse to decide amongst themselves, a judge may still decide no to order a sale until the children are grown and gone. The court is also able to offset the equity in the house against the value of other assets (including retirement funds, stocks, bonds, etc.).

If there are no minor children living at home the sale of the house becomes more likely. This is doubly true if the equity in the house represents the primary marital assets of the couple. If there are other assets, they can often be used to buy out the value of the marital home if one party is adamant about not selling. Though judges usually don’t have a problem allowing one party to “buy out” the other, this can be tricky if not impossible when there are limited financial resources.

If a “buy out” does occur, the value of the home must first be determined. Certified real estate appraisers are often used to arrive at a fair number. The appraisals are then coupled with the rest of the couple’s financial picture to determine each spouse’s interest in the home.

Given the current real estate market many couples are reluctant to sell and take a loss. Even when they do agree to sell the house the process can take a significant amount of time and no court order can speed that along.

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

Source: “Dividing Real Estate in Divorce – What Happens to the House?,” by Maury D. Beaulier, published at

Equitable DistributionDivorce and Annulment courts in Florida apply the legal concept of equitable distribution when it comes time to divide the assets of a divorcing couple. This means that the entire marital estate, assets and debts, must be divided in an equitable, though not necessarily equal, manner. There is no fixed standard for dividing property, each case will be decided on the merits, and the trial court’s discretion will not likely be disturbed on appeal without a showing of clear abuse.

Property includes anything of value, tangible or not: personal items (such as cars, furniture and art work) and real property (land and houses). Debts include anything you owe money on: mortgages, car loans, and credit card bills. Really anything the two of you possess is thrown into the mix before it’s all divided.

It’s important to know that not all property is subject to equitable division. Items that qualify as non-marital may include the following: property acquired by either party before the marriage; property acquired after certain stages of the divorce process; property excluded by a written contract between the parties (likely a prenuptial agreement); and any increase in value of non-marital property that did not result from efforts of the other spouse.

Judges consider a multitude of factors when deciding how to divide property between spouses and it’s sometimes hard to know which issues hold the most sway. Here are some examples of the things judges consider when dividing property:

• The length of the marriage.
• The financial contributions of each spouse to the marriage.
• The age and health of the parties.
• Misconduct in the marriage and whether one of the spouses is the reason for the dissolution.
• The child custody arrangement.
• Any potential spousal support awards.

After determining what percentage of the marital estate each spouse should have, the next step involves coming up with the proper asset division to achieve the mandated split. This is the stage where it’s decided who gets what: the house, the cars and other assets. The division continues until each party receives their appropriate share of the marital estate.

It is important to note that even though the Family Law Court can order one party to pay a joint debt, if that person does not pay, the other party will still be liable. Your judge can order someone to pay, but he or she cannot modify the terms of an otherwise valid contract because of your divorce.

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

Source: “Who Gets What Where,” published at

Parental Kidnapping“Forum Shopping” occurs when a party attempts to choose a judge or court because they feel that judge or court will favor their position over the other party. This is looked down upon by the courts, but isn’t often addressed. There are strict rules when it comes to which judges have jurisdiction, but jurisdiction over a case can change if the parties relocate.

What used to happen a lot in Florida was situations where a child’s parent would move to a state far away from the other parent and take the child with them. This would force the non-moving parent to sell their home and quit their job if they were to have a good chance to get visitation rights with their child.

People complained to the Florida Legislature and to address the issue they proposed and passed Florida Statute 61.13001 which permits a judge to enter an injunction against a party moving move than 50 miles from the other parent. If court permission to move is not granted and a move still occurs, the court can order the return of the child to the jurisdiction.

Unfortunately, many people are unaware the statute exists and when too much time passes, the jurisdiction over the child may change to the new state. As the saying goes, “If you sit on your rights, you lose them.” Meaning that you must take action if you wish to preserve your right to claim something or else you lose that right.

Personally, I have seen too many children’s relationships with their parents damaged by the other parent’s inability to cope with the strong negative emotions they have for their ex. Many people want to take their children away and start a new life. Unfortunate as it is, a child is part of both parents and though the other parent may seem terrible at the job, it takes an impartial judicial system to determine what role that person should have in the child’s life.

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