Articles Posted in Spousal Support

Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution that is mandatory in a Florida divorce, paternity, or modification case, but many people do not see the process as the benefit it is.  During mediation, the two parties will meet with a mediator who is an unbiased and uninterested person in the case.  The mediator will try and help the parties resolve all disputes related to the family law case.  If an agreement is reached, it is drafted and submitted to the Court for approval so the case can be closed.  While the process is straightforward, there are still many myths related to the process.  Your Jacksonville family attorney can assist you in understanding the mediation process.  Below are the biggest myths about family law mediation in Florida, and the truth behind them.

The Mediator Will Make All the Decisions

This is simply untrue.  Mediators do not make any of the decisions when they meet with parties going through a divorce, paternity, or modification case.  They cannot force either party to do, or not do, anything.  Instead, they are only there to help you and facilitate you and your spouse, ex-spouse, or co-parent to reach an agreement.  If you cannot reach an agreement and your case requires litigation, it is the Judge that will make all the decisions.  Your Jacksonville family attorney is here to assist you in mediation and to represent you in any litigation should you not reach agreement.

It is no secret that going through a divorce is expensive.  Although there is very little that you can do about certain costs of your divorce, such as what you may or may not lose during property division hearings, there is one area of expenses you can control.  That is your legal fees and costs.  All divorce attorneys in Jacksonville will charge something to legally represent you during the process, and the advice and counsel they bring to your case is invaluable.  Still, there are some ways that you can keep the legal costs down, so you do not face unexpected charges in the future.  Your Jacksonville divorce lawyer can explain to you in your initial consultation how to keep your legal costs down but here are some basic tips.

Call and Email Only When You Have To

            Most divorce lawyers in Jacksonville will charge you for every time they devote to answering your phone calls and emails.  However, you likely want them to spend this time preparing for your trial, mediation, or other aspects of your case.  You will have may questions during the divorce process, and you deserve to have them answered.  Instead of incurring fees every time you have a question, prepare a list of questions, and ask them all at once.  Your Jacksonville divorce lawyer will still charge you, but you will likely incur fewer legal fees.

Do You Know Your Rights in Child Support Court?

In a child support case, one cannot be incarcerated if they do not have the present ability to pay.  Bowen v. Bowen, 471 So.2d 1274 (Fla. 1985).  Although this case is binding on Florida courts, the author believes that self represented individuals do not get the benefit of legal protections against incarceration or cancellation of a driver’s license or professional license.  The author believes that one reason for this is because laymen tend to believe that an administrative agency must take a neutral position (similar to a judge).  This is not the case when it comes to collection of child support by the Florida Department of Revenue.  The author, in the next paragraph is going to summarize the case of Bowen v. Bowen to give readers a clearer understanding of child support issues when the Florida Department of Revenue is involved.

The Case of Bowen v. Bowen.

It is not uncommon in a divorce case for one of the spouse’s not to want to end the marriage.  One partner may think that there is a chance of working things out and resolving their differences, or they may not want to legally dissolve the marriage for other reasons.  If your spouse has started divorce proceedings, and you really don’t want a divorce, your options may be limited but there is something you can do.  Florida is one of seventeen states that follow No-Fault laws in divorce cases.  The Petitioner only has to allege that the marriage is irretrievably broken. If you really do not want a divorce you should answer the Petition for Dissolution by alleging you do not believe the marriage is irretrievably broken.  Florida Statute §61.052(2)(b)1 allows you to request the Court to Order you and your spouse to marriage counseling.  It is rarely done and there are specific requirements that must be met.  Your Jacksonville Family Lawyer can assist you in understanding this law and representing you in Court.

In order for a spouse to utilize this statute, the parties must have a child together.  If the Court grants the request for marriage counseling, psychiatrist, priest, minister, rabbi, or any other professional the divorce will be placed on hold for approximately three months to allow the counseling to take place.  Florida Statute §61.052(2)(b)2 allows the Court to continue the proceedings for a reasonable length of time not to exceed 3 months, to enable the parties themselves to effect a reconciliation.  During any period of continuance, the Court has jurisdiction to make appropriate orders for the support and alimony of the parties; a parenting plan, support, maintenance, and education of any minor children of the marriage; attorney’s fees; and the preservation of the property of the parties.  Consult your Jacksonville Family Lawyer for assistance with your case.

As previously stated, the above statute is rarely used.  This is because if one person wants to end the marriage, counseling is usually not effective.  By the time a person has made the decision to start the divorce process, they have usually given it a lot of thought and intend to go through with it.

What is Support without Dissolution?

Section 61.09 allows a married individual to file for support (child support and alimony) where a person does not seek a dissolution.  This statute allows a party to seek alimony or child support.  However, that party may or may not request the entry of a parenting plan.  A final judgment of support does not include distribution of marital assets.  This type of action is sometimes referred to as separate maintenance.

“If a person having the ability to contribute to the maintenance of his or her spouse and support of his or her minor child fails to do so, the spouse who is not receiving support may apply to the court for alimony and for support for the child without seeking dissolution of marriage, and the court shall enter an order as it deems just and proper.”  F.S. 61.09.

If Your License is suspended for Child Support Obligations, What Can You Do?

Florida law allows one’s driver’s license to be suspended when they fail to meet their support obligation.  If your license is suspended as a result of child support obligations that are not satisfied, you should understand the law.  If one truly cannot pay their obligation because they simply do not have the financial resources to do so, your license cannot be suspended, but you must act promptly.

Your License Can Be Suspended for Child Support Failures

Few people want to accept responsibility for a lifelong obligation that they were not responsible for.  There is more than one way under Florida law to create a parental relationship with a child.  Not all relationships in today’s society follow the model that involved a two parent family whereby the husband was the bread winner and the wife was a stay at home mother.  Today, the norm has changed, and single parent households are much more commonplace than they were traditionally. 

There are a number of ways that paternity can be established.  When a woman is married and she becomes pregnant, there is a legal presumption that the husband is the father.  This is true even where the husband could not physically have impregnated the wife.  Section 742.10 of the Florida Statutes covers all of the ways that paternity of a child can be established.  In short, paternity can be established when a married woman has a child, by consent, by court order, or by the legal father signing the birth certificate and notarized documents admitting paternity. 

When a woman has a child out of wedlock and applies for governmental assistance, she may find that the agency or agencies she is applying through will require her to participate in a legal proceeding to establish the paternity of the child.  In part, this is because the government wants to make the father responsible for supporting the child.  Both parents are responsible for their child and a father or mother can be required to support their child until they reach majority.  In some rare cases, they may have legal responsibility beyond the age of majority.  The author of this article has handled numerous child support cases over the last 16 years and he has seen some people have their lives wrecked after they were required to pay child support (an Obligor).  When an Obligor discovers that the child they are supporting is not theirs, disestablishing paternity may be an option for them.  Although disestablishing paternity will terminate an ongoing support obligation, it will not extinguish any child support obligation which has accrued.  Even when disestablishing paternity is successful, an otherwise Obligor may still have to pay a large arrearage. 

There may be some negative stereotypes that are associated with Prenuptial Agreements.  Typically, neither party wants to detract from the blissful atmosphere typical prior to a wedding.  However, a Prenuptial Agreement can also help preserve a marriage.  This is because there is certainty as to how things will terminate should the marriage not last.

The thought alone of creating a prenuptial agreement can cast a negative light upon a wedding.  To some, the contemplation of a prenuptial places a negative light upon wedding preparations and the future of the relationship.  Having to plan for divorce is an admission that a relationship is not permanent.  That said, it is far better to deal with the details of how a relationship is going to end (should it end) while a couple is reasonable and loving compared with being negatively affected by the hostilities and uncertainties of divorce.

In Florida, there are several types of alimony that courts may consider.  There are factors that affect the amount of alimony that can be provided for such as, length of a marriage, the equality of earning ability between the spouses, and the assets that a court must divide.  Florida law creates a rebuttable presumption against permanent alimony when a marriage is 7 years or less, which under the Florida Statutes is defined as a short term marriage.  However, there is a rebuttable presumption for permanent alimony awards in marriages that are long term (greater than 17 years).  Moderate term marriages are defined as between 7 and 17 years and no presumption exists.

It is important to know your rights following a divorce.  The final judgment of dissolution and the parenting plan determine the legal playing field for the future.  However, most issues are dynamic.  Children get older and their schools change and sometimes their relationship with parents change.  Incomes change, which can directly impact child support and people sometimes desire to relocate where child custody can be an issue.  There are a myriad of circumstances that should be re-evaluated following divorce. 

In Florida, the standard used to file an action to modify a final judgment is that a substantial change in circumstances occurred that was not anticipated at the time of entry of the final judgment.  It does not always make practical sense to file an action to modify a final judgment just because a party can do so.  The relationship that a party has with a former spouse is important, especially where children are involved.  Every time a party considers filing a supplemental petition (this is the instrument filed requesting modification of a final judgment), one should consider how such will impact their relationship with their former spouse and other legal consequences.  I frequently have parties coming to me that wish to file for a modification.  I typically find that they have only evaluated a part of the effect of seeking a modification.  For this reason, it is imperative that one review the ramifications of an action for modification with an experienced family law attorney.

Although a divorce is designed to deal with all of the legal issues concerning dissolution, the reality is that there are sometimes issues that are left unresolved.  On occasion there are assets that neither party put on their financial affidavits that require addressing post dissolution.  One example of such an issue involved a divorce of a long time married couple in which neither party included the child’s prepaid college fund account on their financial affidavit.  The fund was cashed out by the Father/Former Husband after the divorce without permission from the court or the Mother/Former Wife.  Since the asset was not listed on either party’s financial affidavit, the judge considered the asset marital property and ordered the Former Husband to pay back one half of the funds post dissolution.

An uncontested divorce is a proceeding to return two married persons to the status of being single in which all of the details of the divorce are reached with an out of court agreement.  As a practicing family law attorney for more than 15 years, it is my opinion that overly optimistic litigants frequently find that an uncontested divorce may be more difficult to achieve than first thought.  Sometimes both spouses agree that a divorce is the correct thing to do in their circumstances.  If a couple contemplating a divorce can agree on all of the important issues then an uncontested divorce will typically benefit the family.  The critical issues that people spend the most effort fighting about are child custody, child support, spousal support, and property distribution.

Litigants sometimes find that dealing with the mechanics of settlement are challenging when they attempt to memorialize their intentions in writing.  The process of getting to a consented to outcome involves some negotiation in most cases.  A self-represented individual will benefit substantially by consulting with a qualified family law attorney prior to signing a marital settlement agreement or a consented to final judgment.  This author believes that people are much more likely to honor orders created by negotiation, as opposed to orders emanating from a contested final hearing before a judge.  A litigant that is being guided by qualified counsel is more likely to negotiate a favorable outcome over a Pro Se Litigant, since an understanding of the legal issues is necessary to negotiate knowledgeably.

Many of the issues that one has to deal with during a divorce are complex when dealing with custody and financial issues.  Parties that are able to amicably settle their divorce in writing typically have fewer post judgment problems.  Prior to negotiating a marital settlement agreement, it is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney to help draft the legal documents required to accurately reflect the agreement.

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