travel service passportWhat do you do when you want a divorce but your spouse has left to go to a foreign country?  How do you serve your spouse with divorce papers?  It can be a very complex and scary process; even to a lot of lawyers.

To commence a divorce action, there must be personal service on a spouse, meaning that a copy of the petition may be served on your spouse by sheriff or certified process server at their usual place of abode with any person residing therein who is 15 years of age or older and informing the person of their contents.  The spouse may also be served at their employment in a private area designated by the employer after contacting the employer.  Service may also be made on a spouse doing business as a sole proprietorship at their place of business by serving the person in charge of the business at the time of service if 2 attempts to serve the owner have been made at the place of business.

International service of process is governed by the Hague Convention on the Service of Abroad of Judicial and Extrajudicial Documents in Civil or Commercial Matters and the Inter-American Service Convention “IASC,” with an Additional Protocol.  There are some countries who are not a part of the Hague Convention and special rules apply for these countries.

You may wonder how Florida courts make a decision on what is income and what is not in divorce cases.  In addition, you may wonder how business income is considered in divorce cases by the courts.  The case of Marchek v. Marchek, 159 So.3d 1025 (2nd DCA 2015) gives a great example of what can be considered income, especially when it comes to business income.  In this case, the husband appeals a final judgment of dissolution of marriage to his wife.  The court reversed an equalizer payment of $35,777 to the wife because there was not competent, substantial evidence supporting the court’s valuation of the business income.

business caculateThe husband was an electrician that owned an electrical contracting business where the wife worked handling much of the administration such as bookkeeping, payroll, and accounts receivable for a time.  As of the trial date, the business had a pending job for which it billed $100,000 and accounts receivable of $40,000, some of which stemmed from the pending job.

The problem was the $100,000 for the pending job was the gross amount for the job, NOT a net amount.  The $40,000 accounts receivable figure was the amount the business had already received including the $100,000 job and any others from that same year, and the figure was still only a gross amount, not a net amount.

It’s only natural that when a step parent has been a major father or mother figure in a child’s life that the subject of adoption comes up.  It makes official what has already been a reality for quite awhile.  How complicated is step parent adoption in Florida?

The step parent must consent to the adoption and the process is started by the step parent filing a sworn petition to adopt.  A copy of any judgment terminating parental rights or consents to the adoption from the parents must be attached.  If the child is over 12 years of age, a consent to the adoption may be attached.adoption

Under Chapter 63, Florida Statutes, consent of the parent is required but the court may waive the consent of:

Mother and childBeing served with a termination of parental rights petition is the first step to a complicated process in the state of Florida.  A termination of parental rights petition must include facts alleging that at least one of the grounds listed in F.S. 38.806 has been met and that granting the petition would be in the manifest best interests of the child or children as listed in F.S. 39.810.  No answer to the petition is required, but if you answer, the petitioner will need the court’s approval to amend their petition later.

Grounds for termination are as listed:

(1)      Voluntary surrender:  When you have signed a written surrender of their parental rights to the child(ren)

military weddingThe Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) allows Florida courts to distribute military retired pay to a spouse or former spouse and provides a method of enforcing these orders through the Department of Defense. For orders dividing retired pay as property to be enforced under the USFSPA, the military couple must have been married to each other for 10 years or more during which to the military spouse performed at least 10 years of military service creditable towards retirement eligibility (the 10/10 Rule).

The USFSPA does not automatically entitle a former spouse to a portion of the military spouse’s retired pay. A former spouse must have been awarded a portion of the military spouse’s retired pay as property in their final court order (which can be a final decree of divorce, dissolution, annulment, and legal separation, and court-ordered property settlements incident to such decrees). The USFSPA also provides a method of enforcing alimony and child support arrears awarded in the court order. See 10 U.S.C. § 1408. Section 1408(h) of the USFSPA provides benefits to a former spouse of a member who, as a result of the abuse of a spouse or dependent child, loses the right to retired pay after becoming retirement-eligible due to years of service. A former spouse may enforce an order dividing retired pay as property under this Section if the special requirements of Section 1408(h) are satisfied in addition to all the regular requirements of the USFSPA. The right to payments under this Section terminates upon the remarriage of the former spouse, or upon the death of either party.  Section 1408(h) also provides for the enforcement of a court order awarding child support to a member’s dependent child, where the dependent child’s other parent died as a result of the member’s misconduct.

A property award of retired pay must be expressed as a fixed dollar amount or a percentage of disposable retired pay (gross retired pay less allowable deductions). If the parties are divorced while the member is still on active duty, the former spouse’s award may be expressed by an acceptable formula or hypothetical retired pay award. An award of a percentage of a member’s retired pay is automatically construed under the USFSPA as a percentage of disposable retired pay. A Qualified Domestic Relations Order is not required to divide retired pay as long as the former spouse’s award is set forth in the pertinent court order. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2017, in Section 641, signed by the President on December 23, 2016, amended the definition of disposable pay in the USFSPA, 10 U.S.C. § 1408. For Divorces entered after December 23, 2016, (in a case where the order becomes final prior to the member’s retirement) the military member’s disposable income is limited to “the amount of basic pay payable to the member for the member’s pay grade and years of service at the time of the court order” and increased by the cost-of-living amounts granted to military retirees from the time of the divorce to the date the member retires.

contract agreementCouples in Jacksonville and the Duval County area may need asset protection options in the event of divorce to eliminate costly litigation. A prenuptial or postnuptial agreement or even irrevocable trusts are great options. However, it is important that an experienced Family Law attorney constructs and reviews these documents.

A prenuptial agreement is an agreement between prospective spouses made in contemplation of marriage and to be effective upon marriage. See Florida Statutes section 61.079(2)(a). A postnuptial agreement is an agreement between spouses who are already married that is effective immediately upon signing. Both agreements are signed with the understanding that they will determine asset and property distribution in the event of divorce, among other things.

Parties to a premarital agreement may contract with respect to the rights and obligations of each of the parties in any property of either or both of them whenever and wherever acquired or located; 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; the disposition of property upon separation, marital dissolution, death, or the occurrence of nonoccurrence of any other event; the establishment, modification, waiver or elimination of spousal support; the making of a will, trust, or other arrangement to carry out the provisions of the agreement; the ownership rights in and disposition of the death benefit from a life insurance policy; the choice of law governing the construction of the agreement; and any other matter, including their personal rights and obligations, not in violation of either the public policy of Florida or a law imposing a criminal penalty. See Florida Statutes section 61.079(4)(a)(1-8). In contemplation of a premarital agreement being signed, there must be a fair and reasonable disclosure of the property or financial obligations of the other party.

Divorcing a husband you can’t find or a wife you can’t find can be challenging.  It is a maze that requires you to know where to start before you can get through it.  As a Jacksonville divorce lawyer, I sometimes have people that come to our firm wanting a divorce, but he or she has no idea of where the husband or wife is located. In some instances, the spouse he or she desires to divorce is believed to be somewhere in the State of Florida. Jacksonville divorce lawyers can find the average person inside the State of Florida. Even finding someone outside the State and extending the search nationwide is normally doable. However, finding a person suspected of being outside the United States is another question.

Divorce when your spouse cannot be foundStarting with a person’s last know address: A person filing a Florida divorce must start with the last know address of his or her spouse.  Assuming that the spouse to be served with divorce papers cannot be found at his or her last known address, there must be a diligent search to ensure that he or she receives notice regarding the case. Florida law sets out certain efforts that have to be made when trying to find your spouse in order to serve him or her.  Once a diligent search has been completed, you may serve your spouse by publishing notice of the divorce in the local paper in the areas where your spouse may be living.  This is called service by publication.  It is also referred to as constructive service.  Trustify.info suggests eight steps when trying to find a missing person in their article, “How to Find a Missing Person: 8 Critical Steps.  This could be helpful in trying to locate your spouse.

If the proper diligent search is not performed, service by publication can be invalidated.  The reason for this is that “due process” requires that a genuine good-faith attempt is made to give your spouse an opportunity to be heard on the issues surrounding the case.  Due process is a major part of justice in the United States and in Florida divorce cases.  A Jacksonville family lawyer or jacksonville divorce lawyer can help you make sure that your case moves forward properly.  At the Law Office of David M. Goldman, PLLC, our experienced Jacksonville divorce lawyers have dealt with these types of issues and can help guide you.  Call us today to schedule a free thirty minute consultation!  We will help you find the best solution for you and your circumstances.

As a Jacksonville divorce attorney, I understand that attorney fees in divorce cases is an issue that comes up in every case. Whether each person will pay his or her own attorney fees, or whether the other side will be forced to contribute must be decided in every case. This can be done by agreement or a judge will decide.  Payment of attorney fees in divorces cases is primarily controlled by Florida Statute 61.16.   F.S. 61.16 in its simplest form bases attorney fees on one person’s need and the other person’s ability to pay. The court has the ability to assess fees on a temporary basis, at the end of the case, and even on to an appeal.

attorney feesThe purpose behind F.S. 61.16 in granting attorney fees in some situations, is to level the playing field. The courts would rather family law cases be resolved on the merits of the case rather than based on who has the most money to fight. There are circumstances where a court can order attorney fees based on other considerations that go past ability to pay. For example, the inequitable conduct doctrine can be used to punish an individual who as acted in bad faith throughout the case. Simply refusing to settle a case by itself cannot be considered egregious conduct or bad faith. In cases where one person purposefully frustrates the legal process throughout the case, or intentionally goes against a court’s prior ruling, the inequitable conduct doctrine can be used. Appellate courts have ruled that it should be reserved for the most egregious of cases.

Recently, in the case of Myrick v. Myrick, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals reversed a judge’s ruling that granted nearly a six-figure attorney fee award to the former husband. The former wife refused to settle the case and apparently gave the former husband a hard time in certain aspects of the case. The second DCA stated that her conduct was not enough to justify the award of attorney fees.

Child Support Contempt is a common issue with Jacksonville Family law and divorce cases. When it comes to child support, often child support contempt motions are part of the norm.  As a Jacksonville child support attorney and family attorney, I have found that frustrations regarding child support are present on both sides. Parents that receive child support are often bothered when the paying parent fails to make child support payments. The parent required to pay child support is often frustrated when he or she can’t afford to make the payments. Child support contempt proceedings usually come up at some point in these situations.

The Issue if Non-Payment and What to Do About It

Child SupportFailure to pay child support gets the receiving parent charged up. This often leads to motions for child support contempt. Once the motion for child support contempt has been filed and scheduled for a hearing, the filer has to prove two things at the hearing. First, he or she must prove that there is a valid order from the court requiring the other parent to pay. Next, he or she must prove that the other person has failed to pay as required in the child support order while having ability to pay.   Ordinarily, these two things are easy to prove.  The court’s records will, of course, contain proof that there is a valid child support order. Next, the child support payment history will show a lack of payment.

gross income, child supportMoney and finances in divorce and related cases are rarely, if ever, at the very top of a judge’s list of important issues, but child support calculations are important.   For the most part, calculating child support is a simple as running the numbers through a formula set out by Florida law. Where child support calculations can be tricky is when there is a dispute over what numbers are to be used in the child support calculation. In general, child support is determined by taking each side’s gross income (monthly), then subtracting certain allowable deductions to reach the net monthly income. The net monthly income is then used to calculate child support based on the number of children and other factors.

 

Gross Income

Clearly, getting each party’s income correct is an important first step. Chapter 61 says income is “any form of payment to an individual, regardless of source, including, but not limited to: wages, salary, commissions and bonuses, compensation as an independent contractor, worker’s compensation, disability benefits, annuity and retirement benefits, pensions, dividends, interest, royalties, trusts, and any other payments, made by any person, private entity, federal or state government, or any unit of local government. United States Department of Veterans Affairs disability benefits and reemployment assistance or unemployment compensation, as defined in chapter 443, are excluded from this definition of income except for purposes of establishing an amount of support.”

Recently, the Third District Court of Appeals, in the case of Schafstall v. Schafstall, affirmed a trial judge’s decision to include in kind payments as gross income. Specifically, the court included, as gross income for the Former Wife, $1300 that the Former Husband paid toward her mortgage and $250 her mother paid toward her phone bill each month.  The Former Wife argued that neither should have been included in the trial court’s calculation. However, the appellate court pointed out that F.S. 61.30 mandates that reimbursed expenses or in kind payments be included if they reduce living expenses. Any payments that come from any person will typically be included as gross income. In the Schaftall, case the appellate court pointed out that the evidence the trial court considered was enough to support the decisions that were made regarding income used to calculate child support. Continue reading

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