February 22, 2013

Establishing Paternity of a Child in Florida: Establishing Parental Rights and Visitation

1198667_dad_day.jpgIn recent years, the rules and laws regarding paternity actions in Florida have changed. Paternity cases generally establishes a father’s parental rights to a child in Florida; however, if the paternity case is brought by the Florida Department of Revenue those rights are limited to, basically, paying child support. In prior years, fathers were able to file a counter-petition in the Department of Revenue case and request time-sharing/visitation and even custody, and request to have parental rights shared by the mother and father to make decisions regarding the child’s life. Filing a counter-petition basically saved the father money because the filing fee is less and it consolidated the cases into one so as not to have to attend multiple hearings on the same issue. Recently, the ability to file a counter-petition in a Florida Department of Revenue case against a putative father was banned. So, how do you establish your parental rights when the State of Florida is only filing an action to establish your child support obligation?

To give some background, signing a birth certificate as the “father,” does not automatically give that person parental rights to the child, if the mother and father are not married when the child is born. Signing a birth certificate gives the presumption that the person that signed is, in fact, the father. However, the rights to the child have to be established by a court. If the father does not do that, and later the mother files for any type of government assistance, then the State of Florida may file an action to establish paternity and child support for the benefit of the child.

The State of Florida’s interest in filing an action to establish paternity is based on a financial need of the State and not public policy for children to have a father. If a mother is requesting government assistance, like Medicaid for the child, then the State has a right to look at whether another person has a financial obligation to the child and possibly has an ability to provide health insurance for the child. Therefore, the State will request that the mother give a list of all possible fathers of the child. After that application is completed, the State of Florida on behalf of itself and the mother, will file a paternity action against the possible fathers. A DNA test will then be requested to establish the biological father. The case will then move forward with regards to that one individual and the State will only request child support be established.

If the father wants to be part of the child’s life, he must file a Petition to Establish Time-Sharing, a Parenting Plan and Other Relief. An additional case is then opened with the court to establish the visitation schedule and provide the father with some parental responsibility to the child. Simply going through the State’s case will not establish these issues. In addition, child support will initially be determined without giving any credit to time-sharing, unless and order is in place establishing a time-sharing/visitation schedule between the parents. Therefore, the father will be paying more in child support initially because the child support calculation will not use any days or overnights as credit to the father until there is a court order granting such visitation.

If you have a child with someone outside of marriage, then it is important to establish your rights through the court. Even if a mother and father get along in the beginning and try to work things out on their own, get it put into a court order so that rights are actually established. Far too often parents have fights and one parent tries to keep the other from seeing the child. Establishing your rights and visitation, and yes, even child support, can be beneficial in the long run for both mother and father, but more importantly, for the child.

To better understand your rights and options regarding a Florida paternity case, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney in your area.

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February 19, 2013

In Florida, Why Your Case May Be Heard By a Magistrate When Dealing With a Divorce, Modification or Paternity Case?

282848_law_library-1.jpgIn a Florida divorce, post divorce or paternity case, there may be times the case is referred to a general magistrate instead of the judge. Often, a general magistrate's calendar is more accessible than the judge's calendar due to volume of cases. The magistrates have the power to listen to cases and make a ruling based on the evidence presented, which then must be provided to the judge before being entered as a court order. Therefore, the judge still has control over the case, but the magistrate is helping move the cases along.

A referral to a magistrate is generally done for temporary needs hearings, which is when a party is requesting a temporary order be entered with the court until the final hearing so that each party has what s/he may need to get to a final hearing, like child support, alimony, or use of the home. The reason is that the judge may not be able to get the parties in for a longer period of time and the magistrate can generally see them in a couple of months. It is also common for the case to be referred to the magistrate when a lawyer does not represent one or both parties.

How does a case get referred to a general magistrate? When certain documents or motions are filed with the court, the court may tag them to be referred to the magistrate instead. For example, when a party files a Motion for Temporary Needs, the judge may sign an order referring the case to the magistrate's office. When that happens, both parties receive a copy of the order and have ten (10) days to object to the transfer. In Florida, use of a magistrate has to be by consent, so if one party objects, then it will not go to the magistrate but must be heard by the judge instead. This may mean that the hearing is postponed for a time to correspond with the judge's calendar.

Another way the case may be referred to the magistrate is if one party files on his or her own, the legal term is "pro se." When that happens, the case is typically managed by the family court services and is tracked through the magistrate's office. This allows the court services to oversee a little more of the case to make certain that requirements have been met by both parties, for example, mandatory disclosure (e.g. financial affidavit is filed with the court).

Once a magistrate hears the case, the magistrate then drafts a report and recommended order to the judge. The report and order are sent to both parties and they have the right to object or file for exceptions to the report. This may be done if the report and evidence do not match, or if the magistrate's order is in conflict with the evidence provided. This may happen if a father provides evidence that mother has a severe alcohol and drug issue and mother does not have evidence showing otherwise, but the child is placed in mother's care. If that occurs, both parties have ten (10) days to file their exceptions with the court and ask for a hearing with the judge. Whichever party files is required to get a transcript of the original hearing to be provided to the judge and other party before the hearing on the exceptions.

Florida family law courts are generally at capacity, so the use of magistrates is helpful to having your case heard in a timely manner. However, since there are so many caveats, like both parties agreeing, it is wise not to bank on the hearing being held as quickly as you may hope. In dealing with such cases it is important to breathe through the delays, they will happen and managing the stress where you can may be your saving grace through the process. To better understand your rights, options and what to expect, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney in your area.

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September 19, 2012

Establishing Father's Parental Rights of Child in Florida

Written By: Lenorae Atter, Attorney

1205795_father_and_son.jpgEstablishing paternity in Florida can and normally does require that both parties participate in DNA testing of the child and presumed father. The reason for DNA testing is to know with certainty that the father is actually the biological father of the child at issue. Not having the DNA test can lead to additional court action down the line if biological findings later show that that the individual that was ordered to pay child support and established a relationship with the child is actually not the father. Therefore, when an action to establish paternity is brought by either the potential father, the mother or the Department of Revenue on behalf of the mother, then the court will most likely order DNA testing.

The Department of Revenue may bring an action to establish paternity and child support and they normally do so if either the mother asks for such assistance, or if the mother applies for government assistance for the child’s benefit. Before the State will allow for a child to get on government assistance the State may require that paternity be established so that the biological father of the child can actually assist the child instead of the state. The Florida Department of Revenue may ask the mother to fill out forms to show who the potential father or fathers may be and the State may then take action in filing a petition to establish paternity against those listed.

In Florida, for a man to preserve and/or establish his parental rights of a child he must do the following:

1. File with the putative father registry in the State. This allows for the State to be on notice that there may be a child that is biologically connected to that individual and if anyone ever tries to terminate the parental rights of the child, then the registry is checked for a potential father of the child.
2. The potential father must file a petition to establish his parental rights with the court. Regardless of who is listed as the father on the birth certificate, rights are not established for the father until the court establishes them.

Once an action has been filed by the mother, Department of Revenue and/or the father, then DNA testing may be ordered by the court. Each party is typically responsible for the fee associated with the testing so the burden of cost does not fall on just one party. If either party does not comply with the court order to have the DNA testing completed, then the judge can enter an order against the offending party. What this means, is that if the mother/guardian does not take the child for DNA testing, then the court may find that the presumed father is not the child’s father and is not obligate to pay child support. Department of Revenue o/b/o M.J.W. v. G.A.T.,Jr., 37 FLW D28 (Fla. 2nd DCA December 28, 2011). The impact of noncompliance would basically, according to the court, meet the standards established under Florida Statute 742.18(7)(b), which determines the disestablishment of paternity for noncompliance with DNA testing.

If you have a paternity case, then you should contact an experienced family law attorney regarding your case.

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September 12, 2012

Florida Divorce, Visitation & Custody: How to Navigate Through the Divorce Process

As a Jacksonville, Florida family law attorney, divorce, visitation and custody issues are part of my daily practice. Visitation and custody are usually emotional and working with a client on their parental demeanor is vital in moving forward and eventually going to court. When dealing with custody and visitation of a child it is important that the court sees that you are willing to cooperate with one another in an effort to look out for the best interest of the child(ren).
As of October, 2008, the Parenting Plan Statute went into effect with the purpose of countering bad behavior. The time-sharing and parenting statute requires all parents to file and have the court approve a parenting plan that lays out exactly how all issues of time sharing with the minor children are going to be handled. Instead of limiting yourself to only two options, winning it all or losing, there is another, more productive way to approach the custody issue. The approach may require more maturity than some parties can muster, but, for those able to shift gears, think rationally and be patient, the following approach can be rewarding for them and their children. These steps can lead to a better solution for all, especially the children.
Think about, discuss and decide what your ultimate goals are for the kids. What outcomes would you like to see? Many people would want some of the following (or similar) goals:

1. Family Relationships
a. The kids having a great relationship with both parents
b. The kids having a great relationship with their extended families
c. Financial security for the children
d. Having a safe, secure home for the children
e. Having good schools for the kids
f. Providing for a college education for the children
g. Providing sports opportunities for the children
h. The opportunity for the kids to learn music, art or other interests

Each parent can decide what he or she thinks would be important goals for their children. Broader, underlying goals are more helpful and meaningful. If both parents think of goals in broad terms, they often can agree on them.

2. Look at the big picture.

a. Financial abilities of the parents
b. Parental/family member time available
c. What homes and schools are available and affordable
d. What the parents’ neighborhoods are like
e. The existing relationships between parents and children and the roles each parent plays with the children
f. What community resources are available
g. What special needs, if any, a child has
h. What interests the child has

Continue reading "Florida Divorce, Visitation & Custody: How to Navigate Through the Divorce Process" »

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September 10, 2012

Using a Florida Social Investigation or Parenting Coordinator in Your Divorce or Paternity Case Can Be a Helpful Tool

1088940_2_annual_reports__3.jpgPaternity cases and divorces in Florida have a standard of review by the court when children are involved, which is, “What is in the best interest of the child?” By changing things from “custody” to “time-sharing” and “custodial parent” to “majority time-sharing parent, “ the Florida legislature tried to help parents approach such subjects from a less adversarial position. As a Jacksonville divorce and family law attorney, I can attest to the fact that people seem to understand that visitation matters need to be addressed a little more openly, but it does not change the fact that parents sometimes want to fight over the time-sharing plan for many different reasons. That means that when parents disagree, which they often do, then the Court may appoint a parenting plan coordinator or social investigator to help them work out their differences.

The court, through Florida law, is allowed to appoint a parenting coordinator. The parenting coordinator will actually meet with the parents and the children to help determine what issues may be impacting the family, though a separated one. In so doing, the coordinator may be able to help the parents work through some of their issues that may be creating a communication challenge for them. Also, the parenting coordinator may be able to address issues with the children and parents that may have gone overlooked by the parents through the divorce or paternity action. There are psychological and emotional issues that can be associated with any type of family matter, the least of which is not divorce. The parenting coordinator is often trained in dealing with such matters and can help the parents and children reach a level of comfort with one another to express such issues. By doing so, the parenting coordinator may ultimately help the parties in reaching an agreement about the time-sharing and parenting plans that need to be filed with the court.

If the parents are in complete disagreement with one another from the beginning, the court may appoint a social investigator. The investigator’s role is to meet with the parents and the children. However, it is different from the parenting coordinator in that she/he actually interviews the parents and tries to seem each parent interact individually with the kids. Also, the investigator may employ psychological tools, evaluations to help determine any underlying issues the parents or children may have. Furthermore, the investigation may require home visits, which allows the investigator to see what the home life is like for the children and ultimately make a recommendation to the court based on all aspects of the investigation. If there are questions about the truthfulness of one or both parents, then the investigator may actually interview others and check up on the parents in their work-life, if it is deemed necessary. The investigation can help the court to better understand each household and to assess what type of time-sharing and parenting plan truly is in the best interest of the children.

While these tools can be helpful in your divorce or paternity action, not all cases require them. So, it is important to speak with an experienced family law attorney to help you better understand your rights and options.

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August 8, 2012

Establishing Paternity, the Father's Rights, Child Support, and Time-Sharing in Florida

Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law

1205795_father_and_son.jpgEstablishing paternity in Florida can mean more than just filing with the State's Department of Revenue. In Florida and most states, paternity is established by the court and not by a birth certificate. A birth certificate simply provides an assumption that the father listed is the baby's actual daddy. However, to establish rights to the child, child support and the like, at least one parent has to actually file an action with the court. The action is called a petition to establish paternity and while a DNA test is not required for the action, it is suggested given that the responsibility to a child and a parent is for a lifetime.

If you file for state benefits for the child, like Florida Healthy Kids, then you most likely will have to establish paternity and child support. However, a state action to establish paternity is only designed to establish paternity for the purpose of starting child support. The state does not handle issues involving time-sharing/visitation matters between the parents. Therefore, if the state files a petition, then chances are that the father will file a counter-petition to establish his actual parental rights, including time-sharing.

If a petition to establish paternity is done without the state, then there will most likely be a portion of the petition requesting that a time-sharing/parenting plan be established between the parents. A parenting plan establishes the mutual parent-relationship so that the parties know what they should and should not do with regards to the child without first letting the other parent know. For example, most parenting plans establish that the parents will have shared parental responsibility, which means that the parents should have equal rights in decision-making for the child. In most parenting plans, it will state that the parents shall communicate and cooperate in decision-making regarding schooling, counseling, tutoring, etc. Also, the parenting plan may state that neither parent should say negative or disparaging things about the other parent in front of the child. These seem basic, but parents often need blueprints for raising a child in separate homes.

The time-sharing plan establishes the actual time each parent will have with the child. For example, in Jacksonville, Florida there are some standard guidelines that were established by the court some time ago that allows for the non-majority time-sharing parent to have one night per week and alternating weekends with the child during the school year, alternating holidays, and one-half of the summer vacation. Parents can actually establish a time-sharing plan that works best for them and may reach an agreement outside of a trial. If the issue goes before a judge, then she/he may establish the time-sharing plan in a way that the court believes to be in the best interest of the child.

If you have a child outside of a marriage, then establishing parental rights for the father is necessary for both the child and father. Establishing rights does not have to be done only when the parents split, but can be done while they are actually still a couple. I often tell people that it makes more sense for the child to have two legal parents and to come to that agreement while things are still amicable as oppose to when the relationship may deteriorate. If the parents stay together, then at least the child’s parents have been legally established for purposes of inheritance and any other legal matters that may arise in that child’s life, including being enrolled in school by the father. When dealing with a paternity case you should speak with an experienced family law attorney to further explain your rights and options.

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May 8, 2012

Florida Divorce: Why Custody Plan Evaluations Are Important

Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law

First, the Florida legislature changed child custody to "primary timesharing parent" in October, 2008. However, since most of us are familiar with child custody and custody issues, this article will still address the issue as the historic term, "custody."
As a Jacksonville Florida family law and divorce attorney, dealing with paternity cases and divorces with children, custody issues often arise and the Social Evaluation is an important factor in helping the parents better understand the issues facing the children, and the evaluation assists the judge in having a better understanding and comprehension of what is in the best interest of the children. In Jacksonville and throughout Florida, the social investigation is a component of the case that may be used in its entirety by the judge or may give the judge a basis for a particular ruling. In addition, the evaluation can provide the parties with a stepping-stone or format by which to reach an agreement regarding visitation issues.

The social investigation is conducted by a professional, usually someone with a psychology and law background, and the investigator actually interviews the parents, speaks with witnesses, talks to the kids, look at school records, etc. Once the reviews and statements are completed, the evaluator writes a comprehensive report to demonstrate the findings for each parent, child, and the overall assessment of a parenting plan and recommendations for the court regarding any other matters that should be addressed (i.e. whether counseling is recommended, communication issues, etc.).

So how do you present well in the social investigation? Basically, parties are often concerned that they need to present themselves in a certain light to impress the investigator. However, most of the individuals handing these matters can tell when a party is putting on a show. The idea is not to be fake or phony, but to present your concerns for the children, explain your relationship with the children, and truly identify your wants and needs and the children’s wants and needs before the interview. Being genuine with the investigator is beneficial because it allows the investigator to truly determine any family issues that may need to be addressed, the impact the divorce/separation is actually having on the children and the like. The reason for the investigation is not to berate the parents, but to simply identify what may be in the best interest of the children in the present and in the future.

Extend a mental olive branch to the other party. During your interview with the evaluator, do not destroy the other parent with disparaging remarks. Describe the parts of parenting that the other parent does well and be honest in your comments about the children's relationship with their other parent. Then share the things that do concern you about the other party, or about the separation of the children. You do not have to make it sound like everyone is great, you’re getting divorced there were issues in the home, so being real about the situation can be helpful in reaching the right conclusion for your case.

Continue reading "Florida Divorce: Why Custody Plan Evaluations Are Important" »

February 24, 2012

Failing to Take a DNA Test in a Florida Paternity Case May Determine Outcome

1037197_dna_3.jpgUnlike mothers, fathers are not as easily determined to the parent of a child born out of wedlock and in Florida, the mother and/or the Department of Revenue may bring an action to establish paternity and child support. In a Florida, if the Department of Revenue is involved in a case it is typically due to the mother requesting some government aid for the child, such as Medicaid or Florida Kid Care. When the Department of Revenue is involved, the mother is asked to provide all information regarding the potential father of the child and the Department charges the mother a nominal fee to establish paternity and child support through the court. Since the father is not determined by simply signing the birth certificate, the petitioner, mother and/or Department of Revenue, may request a paternity test in order to scientifically establish the paternity of the child. In Jacksonville and most jurisdictions in Florida, the court will often require a DNA test even if was not requested in the initial petition simply to guarantee proper paternity is established.

DNA testing requires the putative or presumed father to comply with the DNA testing, the facility is often provided by the court, but the parties are typically responsible for paying for the test. The mother is also required to comply by taking the child to the DNA facility for the test to be complete. The DNA samples are then compared and an analysis or report is provided to the court. Cooperation by both parties is stand mandated by Florida Statutes.

If either party does not comply with the court order to have the DNA testing completed, then the judge can enter an order against the offending party. What this means, is that if the mother/guardian does not take the child for DNA testing, then the court may find that the presumed father is not the child’s father and is not obligate to pay child support. Department of Revenue o/b/o M.J.W. v. G.A.T.,Jr., 37 FLW D28 (Fla. 2nd DCA December 28, 2011). The impact of noncompliance would basically, according to the court, meet the standards established under Florida Statute 742.18(7)(b), which determines the disestablishment of paternity for noncompliance with DNA testing.

The impact of this ruling is that the DNA testing rules governs an action where paternity is questioned. Not having the testing completed basically means that the party that does not follow the court order is granting the court the authority to either order child support without a scientific finding of paternity or if the mother doesn’t comply, then not order child support be paid. However, the finding by the court did determine that noncompliance in the original case does not bar an additional case being brought in the future.

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February 13, 2012

Should Obesity Be Considered in Determining Custody, Time-Sharing, or Other Factors in a Florida Divorce or Paternity Case?

Weight.jpgFlorida divorce and custody battles (e.g. time-sharing battles) often center on the parenting styles of each party, the relationship of the children with each party, and the ability to care for the children in a safe, stable environment. When these things are questioned it can lead to legal arguments that center on the children and their academics, health, social environment and the like. As a divorce and family lawyer in Jacksonville, it has come to my attention over the years that sometimes the health of the children is more than simply getting check-ups, but also receiving the proper attention to their diet, school activities, etc. When these battles ensue, often fingers are pointed for things such as neglect, abuse (emotional or physical), lack of participation in homework and the like. However, in a 2009 Time Health article, the question of obesity in children has risen as a concern in custody or time-sharing disputes given the rise in the epidemic over the years.
The question, according to the article, is “Should morbidly obese children be taken from their parents?” While I do not see the Florida Department of Children and Families coming into everyone’s home with this issue, I can see how it may impact a legal case between two parents, especially if one parent is seeking a modification from a prior custody or time-sharing order. In order to file for a modification of time-sharing in Florida you must show a substantial change in circumstance. The question then would become, “Is the child’s excessive weight gain a substantial change in circumstance?” I believe, based on the health of the child, that the question may prompt legal action in the future.
According to the Time Health article, experts seem to be debating whether parenting styles can impact a child’s risk of obesity, thus making it healthier for the child to be out of the home of said parent. The concern is that if the child is gaining weight in the current environment, then there may be cause to remove the child to allow the child a chance at a healthier lifestyle in a different environment. The concern is a real one given that, “Childhood obesity can lead to a host of health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, which until recently was primarily a problem seen in adults. Overweight children can also develop insulin resistance, hypertension, high cholesterol, sleep apnea and orthopedic problems and go into early puberty,” according Time Health.
While the debate may exist for experts, parents of children suffering from this problem may grow concerns for their child’s health if it is believed that the majority time-sharing parent is attributing to the child’s weight issues. The courts have stepped into this debate in certain states and countries over the years, Scotland haven taken a drastic step in removing the child from an intact home due to the child’s morbid obesity. The question can become a legal debate and argument that one may take to court if the concerns of the child are truly there.
If you are concerned about your child’s weight or other health problems and believe that it is in the best interest of the child to modify your Florida time-sharing plan, then you should speak with a family law attorney to help in that pursuit.

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February 10, 2012

Is There a Course Required in a Florida Divorce or Paternity Action

divorce.jpgIn Florida divorces involving children and paternity cases involving time-sharing and parenting plans (custody/visitation), the parties must attend a course known as the Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course. Each jurisdiction may refer to the course by a different name, such as in Jacksonville, it’s Children First in Divorce, but the concept is all the same. As a Jacksonville divorce and family law attorney, I try to educate my clients on the importance of the course. These programs are mandated by Florida statute 61.21 and are developed and approved by the Department of Children and Families. The concept of the course is to teach parents the best way to communicate with each other and the children during the pendency of the divorce or paternity case.

The course program is required to be completed by both parties at the initiation of the case. The person that files the original petition has 45 days from the date the petition was filed to show completion. The person served with the petition is required to complete the course within 45 days after receiving the petition. The idea is that the course helps the parties through the divorce and paternity case better understand the emotions of the other party, but especially the children. If the class is not taken early on, then it may lead to more misunderstandings and poor parenting through the court process.

The course is required to have at least the following components taught, in accordance with Florida Statute 61.21(2)(a):
1. Legal aspects of deciding child-related issues between parents.
2. Emotional aspects of separation and divorce on adults.
3. Emotional aspects of separation and divorce on children.
4. Family relationships and family dynamics.
5. Financial responsibilities to a child or children.
6. Issues regarding spousal or child abuse and neglect.
7. Skill-based relationship education that may be generalized to parenting, workplace, school, neighborhood, and civic relationships.

These different subjects can help the parties better understand what they are fighting each other about and to help them cope with the legal process ahead. The aspects regarding emotions may sound trite to some, but the truth is that many divorces and paternity cases are dragged out due to emotions not legal matters. Overcoming those emotions and understanding them rationally can help facilitate an easier and less expensive legal path for both parties and their children. Also, understanding the financial needs of the children can help facilitate conversations regarding child support. Many times parents do not realize the expenses associated for children individually and when they see the child support calculation it often makes the paying party nervous. Understanding how money is determined for the sake of the child and what expenses should be covered with child support can help take the anxiety away. Education on these topics can assist the parties in understanding their legal case in a way that they may not otherwise have.

The course often has a fee associated with it, to help in the costs of running the course so that the State is not taking on all expenses for the education. However, there are options available for those individuals that may have financial difficulties and have filed for indigence status.

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November 4, 2011

How Does Florida Define Sole Parental Responsibility in a Divorce or Paternity Case?

Florida divorce and paternity cases can involve issues regarding parental responsibility. Parental responsibility is the term used to define the actual building of parent/child relationships and parental decision making for children. When both parents are mentally healthy, stable and responsible individuals there is normally not a question of the division of such responsibilities, they will be shared. However, what happens if one parent is absent and remained absent from the child’s life or one parent has a severe drug addiction; will the parents still be required to make decisions together?

Florida Statute 61.046(17) defines shared parental responsibility as both parents having equal share in major decisions involving the children (i.e. school; non-emergency surgeries, etc. If it is not in the best interest of the children for the parents to share these decisions, then Florida Statute 61.046(18) defines sole parental responsibility as a court-ordered relationship in which one parent makes decisions regarding the minor child. This is normally an issue when the Court or parties agree that one parent is more likely to take responsibility for the children and the other party is less likely to be able to engage in such decision making as would be required during the life of the children.

You should speak with a family law attorney about your rights and options regarding matters involving your children when going through a divorce or paternity action.

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October 26, 2011

How is Health Insurance Defined in a Florida Divorce or Paternity Case Involving Child Support?

1334532_ambulance.jpgA Florida divorce involving children or a paternity action will require, by Florida Statute, a determination of child support. Florida child support is based on a few factors, which are defined by Florida Statute. The factors considered in the child support calculation are the incomes of the parties, daycare costs, and health insurance costs. Understanding how Florida Statutes define these factors is key to understanding child support and how it is calculated.

Under Florida Statute 61.046, the Florida legislature established definitions found throughout the statutes involving divorce and child support cases. When calculating child support, the party that pays the health insurance costs actually receives a credit for such. Florida Statute 61.046(7) defines heath insurance as, “coverage under a fee-for-service arrangement, health maintenance organization, or preferred provider organization, and other types of coverage available to either parent, under which medical services could be provided to a dependent child.” This means that a party may have healthcare coverage under any of these types of scenarios, which also covers the children of the parties.

Continue reading "How is Health Insurance Defined in a Florida Divorce or Paternity Case Involving Child Support?" »

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July 21, 2011

Baby's Daddy May Have Uphill Battle in Florida Paternity Issues

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

1053161_footprints.jpgIn Florida, unmarried fathers have to establish paternity and parental rights through the court system by filing a Petition to Establish Paternity. Florida paternity is strictly defined by Florida statute, which also states a strong presumption that a child born during a marriage is the child of the husband. The court looks at the husband as being the legal father of the child and there is no cause of action that can be brought by the biological father to fight the presumption. What this means is that if you are the biological father of a child that is born during the mother's marriage, and you are not the husband, then you have no way of getting rights to your child.
However, Florida Statute also provides for the disestablishment of paternity and the husband can disestablish his legal rights to the child. In order to do that, the legal father must file a Petition to Disestablish Parental Rights. Once that is done, the biological father can then proceed with his action to establish paternity and parental rights.
If you have this type of situation, you should speak with a family law attorney to assist you because the statute is strict on how to proceed.

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July 12, 2011

What is Florida Parenting Coordination?

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

1338212_business_man.jpg49433_teamwork_2-1.jpgTime-sharing is an issue for Florida divorces involving children and in paternity cases. Florida requires a time-sharing plan to establish the visitation of schedules for parents and children. The time-sharing schedule can be agreed upon by both parents, but if they disagree, then the Florida family law court may require the parties attend parenting coordination in accordance with Florida Statute 61.125.
What is parenting coordination? Florida parenting coordination is completed to help resolve disputes between parents about what they want in a visitation schedule and who will have majority time-sharing (custody) of the children. Often parents do not agree about who should have the children the majority of the time, so the coordinator can help them better understand what is in the best interest of the children by educating the parents, interviewing them and the children, and by making recommendations to the court based on the court's provisions.
Speak with your divorce or paternity lawyer about your options and whether parenting coordination is in your best interest.

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June 24, 2011

Does Child Support Mean Tax Exemption in a Florida Child Support Case?

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

369111_taxpapers.jpgIn a divorce or other child support case, I am often asked which parent can claim the child as a tax exemption. According to Florida State 61.30(11)(a)(8), the parent with the majority timesharing is required to file the IRS waiver of claiming the tax exemption if the other parent is current in child support payments. This is enforceable when the parents have agreed, or it has been ordered that they alternate tax years claiming the child.

However, according to Wamsley v. Wamsley, 954 So.2d 89 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2007), it is error for the court to order the tax exemption be given to a parent that is not current in child support payments. What this means is that even though the order may alternate tax years for the exemption, the parent with the majority timesharing does not have to file the waiver of exemption if the other parent is behind in child support.

You should speak with a family law attorney if you have a problem with the tax exemption or an issue involving child support.

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June 22, 2011

In Florida, Do I Have to Take A Parenting Class?

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

1264271_notebook.jpgIn Florida divorce cases involving children, the parents are required to attend a DCF approved parenting class to help them learn ways of talking with their children and each other about divorce, timesharing and other issues. In North Florida courts, like Jacksonville, the family law judges require the same course be completed in paternity cases as well.

Recently, Jacksonville’s First Coast News reported that the online course, approved in areas like St. Johns County, can actually be completed by a dog. The fact is that the DCF online course does not require individuals taking the course to continuously stay engaged in the program. The class takes four hours and as long as someone is logged into the site, having paid, then once the four hours are done they get a certificate of completion. The idea from the article is that in-person classes like those provided at Hope Haven are more beneficial to the parents and children because it guarantees that the parents are listening and engaging since they have to participate in roll-play.

The class is designed to assist parents in understanding different parenting techniques and, in the process, to help avoid issues of child abuse. If you are going through a divorce or paternity case, think about the benefit to your child in attending the class, whether you do online or the in-person class. You have a course for four hours, but it helps to teach techniques that will be beneficial to you and your child for the next 18 years.

If you are going through a divorce or paternity case in Duval, Clay or St. Johns County, you should speak to an attorney about the court’s requirements on you during your case and understand your rights and options.

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June 21, 2011

Florida Child Support Through Income Deduction Order Keeps the Payor and the Company on the Hook

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

1046879_house_symbol_3.jpgIn Florida, child support is determined based on the child support guidelines. In addition, if the payee requests an income deduction order, then the child support will be garnished from the payor's wages with a fee established by the State. The fee is minimal and is assessed to the payor for the service of having the garnishment done.
If child support is not paid, then the payee (receiving party) may file a motion for contempt. If the child support was to be garnished an the employer failed o do so, the. Both the payor and the employer can be held in contempt. Often, if the parties are found to be in contempt (not obeying court order) then the attorney fees an costs established to bring the action may be paid by the offending parties.
If you have an issue with child support, including your wages not being garnished, then you should speak with a lawyer about your rights and options.

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June 20, 2011

See Your Children During a Holiday After a Divorce Can Be Challenging

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

1327447_fireworks_5_1.jpgHoliday Visitation can be challenging when going through a divorce and sometimes even after the divorce is over. Emotions are often heightened during a holiday so rational negotiations can be a challenge. If necessary, you may seek help from a third party such as a mediator or lawyer to reach an amicable resolution.

When establishing a timesharing plan, it is important to first think in terms of the needs of the children such as their school schedule, sports schedule and the like. Once you know those perimeters be fair to the other parent by truly thinking about what holidays and events are most important to you and your extended family. That may help you to establish a Timesharing plan that is workable now and in the future.

When establishing a parenting a d timeshare plan it is good to speak with a family law attorney to help explain your rights and options.

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June 9, 2011

Keeping Children First in Your Florida Divorce and Paternity Case

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

1177694_lollypop.jpgFlorida requires parents going through a divorce or paternity case to keep their children in the front of the issues. North Florida courts require that parents complete a course sponsored by the Department of Children and Families that teaches parents about issues regarding a split home and the effects it may have on the children. The course in Jacksonville Florida is called, "Children First in Divorce."

In Jacksonville, Florida the course is a requirement in every divorce and paternity case to help parents understand issues that may arise with the children as parents split or establish a time-sharing plan. Like it or not, separate households can cause the children difficulties and understanding how to address those issues can be helpful.
Speak to a family law attorney If you are going through a divorce or paternity action so that you follow all court rules.

If you are going through a divorce or paternity action, know your rights, options and the responsibilities the court may impose on you, speak with a family law attorney.

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June 8, 2011

Emails Can Be Used in Your Florida Divorce and Paternity Cases

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

1215930_an_e-mail.jpgUsing emails in your divorce or paternity case can be challenging. As a family law attorney in Jacksonville, Florida, I often have clients come in with emails that they want me to introduce to the court. However, simply because it exists does not mean that the email can be provided to the court to establish your case. Divorce and paternity cases often lead to the parties communicating through email so the emails often have information that is emotionally charged for both parties.

To use the emails, the court has to be able to verify that the emails are authentic to the parties and having that established takes understanding for rules of evidence. Authenticating an email may be through instant reply, nicknames, information unique to the parties, etc.

If you are going through a divorce or paternity case and have email communication that may be beneficial to your case, you should speak with a family law attorney.

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June 7, 2011

In Florida, Can I Use Instant Messaging (IM) Conversations in My Divorce or Paternity Case?

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

1178168_abstract_shape.jpgIn your Florida divorce or paternity case, the court allows the use of instant messaging (IM). Often, couples couples communicate through the internet using instant messaging (IM) and then wonder if their conversation can be used against the the other party in a divorce or paternity case. The court does allow the use of this communication, but it is difficult to get it admitted to court unless it can be shown to be a true copy of the conversation.

The best way to save the communication is with a screen shot versus cutting and pasting the document. A screen shot can be saved and used to show the individuals had communication, the communication was by using known screen names that are attached to email addresses associated with the parties. If you are communicating through instant message, take screen shots and also copy the profile of the other party.

If you are going through a Florida paternity or divorce case, then you should speak with a lawyer that is familiar with these issues so that the proper evidence may be shown to the court.

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June 1, 2011

I Just Found Out I Have Teenage Child; How Does Florida Calculate Child Support?

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

1173688_high_school_woes.jpgAs a Florida family law attorney, I often have calls from men that have been served with paternity papers who have just discovered they have a teenage child. Often, these men have already started their own family by the time they are told about the child and now they are looking to pay child support for the benefit of a kid they do not know. Florida law understands this can be an issue, so it only allows back child support only be calculated two years from the date of filing the petition for paternity. In addition, Florida case law has established that if the father did not know of the child and has children prior to finding out about the child, then child support may be calculated giving him credit for the children he presently has. The Florida child support guidelines gives credit for having a prior child support obligation, so the Florida courts have said that the father should get the same credit for kids he has in his life prior to the discovery of an unknown child.
To calculate child support for the children presently living with the father, the court may use a couple of calculations. The one that is easiest is taking the incomes of the father's present household, as if the parents were getting divorced, and establishing what the child support obligation would be. Once that is established, then that number is put into the Florida child support calculation as a credit to the father.
It is important to present the right argument to the judge for the calculation to be done, so speak with a family law attorney if you have a paternity case.

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May 30, 2011

In Florida, What Visitation or Timesharing Should I Expect With My Children if I Live Out-of-State

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

1235165_plane.jpgIn a Florida divorce or paternity case establishing a parenting and time-sharing are vital in dealing with visitation issues. However, if you live out-of-state during the divorce or paternity case, then the time-sharing plan may depend on your situation. For example, if you are in a paternity case and just found out that you have a child, then a judge may not require the child to simply get on a plane for you to see your child. What may happen is that you transition into a time-sharing plan where the child eventually will visit you at your home. In the meantime, you may be required to come to Florida to establish a relationship with the child so that the time-sharing can then be scheduled at your own home. If you already have a relationship established with the children, then other factors will be how far you live; transportation abilities; school schedules; etc. The Judge will look at these factors to help establish the best time-sharing schedule for all parties, including the child.
If you are in Jacksonville, Florida, then you may be asked if you are interested in what were previously 4th Judicial Circuit Long Distance Guidelines. They basically separate out holidays, summer vacation and three day weekends so that the long distance visits are lucrative for the parent and child to share bonding time.

Continue reading "In Florida, What Visitation or Timesharing Should I Expect With My Children if I Live Out-of-State" »

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May 24, 2011

Parental Responsibility in Florida Divorce and Paternity Cases

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

1272854_pile_of_books_1.jpgParental responsibility is a portion of any case involving children, including paternity and divorce actions a divorce lawyer in Jacksonville, many clients ask for full custody. What I first explain is that Florida now refers to visitation and custody as "time-sharing" and second, unless there is good reason (abuse, alcoholism, etc.) then the other parent has a right to have say in where the children go to school, what activities they participate on, if surgery is in the best interest of the children and all other aspects that go into parenting a child. Florida law refers to these decisions as parental responsibility and without good cause, that responsibility is going to be shared by both parents.
When one parent decides to avoid this division of responsibility and decides to make one-sided, big decisions, then the court may intervene. The parent left out of such decisions may file a Motion for Contempt against the other parent and ask the court to impose fines and other consequences on the offending parent.
If you are having such difficulties, then you may want to speak with a family law attorney to help you.

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May 20, 2011

What Is the Difference Between a Family Law Attorney and Divorce Lawyer?

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

883985_business_law.jpgAs a Jacksonville, Florida lawyer working in family law I am often asked what a family law attorney does. Basically, family law consists of handling divorces, child support cases, paternity cases, visitation or time-sharing matters, adoptions and the like. A divorce lawyer is just a more specific way of saying the same thing as, "I handle family law cases." When hiring an attorney to handle your divorce case or related matters, then looking for a family law attorney versus a divorce attorney or lawyer may broaden the scope in your search and better fit your needs.
Family law or divorce lawyers are one in the same, so you are not doing anything wrong by hiring a family law attorney instead of a divorce attorney to handle your divorce case. It is no different than referring to a lawyer as an attorney.

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May 12, 2011

Paternity and DNA Testing in Florida

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

1010760_dna_1.jpgPaternity establishment can be done by either admitting and swearing to the fact that the child is that of the father (the father must sign) or by submitting to DNA scientific testing. If the father is the one petitioning the court to establish his paternal rights, then he is stating to the court that he believes himself to be the father of the child; however, the mother may contest the establishment by requesting a paternity test be done. If the mother has filed the petition, then the alleged father may move the court to require the mother to provide the child for scientific testing so that the DNA test can be completed.
If a child is born out of wedlock, then the father's rights can only be established by the court and not by the signing of the birth certificate. Establishing parental rights also means providing for the child through child support payments and establishing a parenting and time-sharing plan for the benefit of the child to have a relationship with both parents. If the mother files a petition to establish paternity and only asks for child support, the father can still request time-sharing with the child by filing a counter-petition for the same. If you are going through a paternity issue, you should speak with a lawyer that handles family issues so that you can better understand your rights and options.

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May 11, 2011

Establishing Paternity in Florida

1123144_walk_on_pier.jpgPaternity cases in Florida often require two actions to be taken, such as follows:
1. A Petition to Establish Paternity: Often filed by the mother against the father, so it only requests child support the majority of the time.
2. A Counter-Petition to Establish Paternity and a Time-Sharing/Parenting Plan. This is generally filed by the father to guarantee that he has visitation with the child, which is referred to as a time-sharing plan in Florida.
If you are trying to fight a paternity action, as the father, then you will also need to file a Motion for DNA testing so that the DNA test is completed before filing a counter-petition.
If you are dealing with a paternity case, it is good to speak with a lawyer that handles family law cases in Florida so that you can best understand the process and your rights and options.

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May 6, 2011

In Florida, What Should I Expect to Pay In Child Support and Can I Change It If I Lose My Job?

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

1222661_sweet_home_1.jpgAs a lawyer in Jacksonville, Florida, I have a number of clients that want to know what they will pay in child support. Whether they come to me for a divorce, paternity action o modification of child support there is always concern for what should be budgeted.

Child support is based on factors of income, expenses paid for the child (daycare, health insurance, etc.), and time-sharing. Child support guidelines provide a calculation for how all of these factors are broken down and what the monthly obligation will be.

Once child support is calculated and ordered, it can still be modified of there are substantial changes of circumstance (i.e. Laid off from job). However, modifications should be petitioned immediately or else you will continue to be bound by the initial calculation and other consequences can occur, such as driver license suspension, jail time, etc.

Child support is not designed as a punishment to parents, but as simply providing support for the benefit of your child. When it seems like a high number consider that it is designed to provide the home, food, transportation, health needs , and other things for your child. In addition, it is designed to keep your child in the same lifestyle he would have if both parents lived in the same home.

When dealing with child support, issues it is a good idea to speak with a family law attorney to understand the process an your rights and options to be considered.

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March 3, 2011

Unwed Fathers Must Establish Paternity In Florida To Preserve Important Rights

Paternity.jpegIn Florida there are several ways an unwed father can establish paternity to preserve their rights as a biological parent. Generally in Florida the biological mother's rights are superior to an unwed biological father until he has taken steps to establish his paternity under the law. Florida Statute 742.10 governs the establishment of paternity for children born out of wedlock.

The statute provides that "if an adjudicatory proceeding was not held, a notarized voluntary acknowledgment of paternity or voluntary acknowledgment of paternity, which is witnessed by two individuals and signed under penalty of perjury as specified by s. 92.525(2), creates a rebuttable presumption, as defined by s. 90.304, of paternity and is subject to the right of any signatory to rescind the acknowledgment within 60 days after the date the acknowledgment was signed or the date of an administrative or judicial proceeding relating to the child, including a proceeding to establish a support order, in which the signatory is a party, whichever is earlier."

The statute also provides that "both parties must provide their social security numbers on any acknowledgement of paternity, consent affidavit, or stipulation of paternity." The father should also file a Claim of Paternity form with the Florida Putative Father Registry which charges a minor fee. If the father is not on the birth certificate he must get the mother's permission to be added or seek an order from a court of competent jurisdiction.

Continue reading "Unwed Fathers Must Establish Paternity In Florida To Preserve Important Rights" »

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February 28, 2011

Florida Mother's Can Seek Child Support Through Establishment of Paternity

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

In Florida, a Birth Certificate signed by both a mother and father lays a presumption that the one signing as the father is the child's biological father, however, it does not lay a foundation for the father to have rights or obligations to the child in the eyes of the law. Therefore, if you have a child and are no longer in a relationship with you child's father and you were never married, then you must establish that the father's paternity in order to establish his obligation to pay child support.

In order to establish paternity, you must file a petition with the court alleging paternity of the respondent and seek support for the child. The alleged father can file a counter-petition for timesharing (previously known as visitation).
If you choose not to establish paternity of the alleged father, then he does have the right to file a petition for determination of paternity so that he may establish his rights to the child. Once those rights are established, the obligation for support follows. Until either you or the father file for said establishment of paternity, the father has no legal recognition as the child's father. However, if you ever seek assistance from the State of Florida, such as Medicaid, then the The State of Florida may require a petition for determination of paternity in order to protect the State from having to pay assistance for a child that another individual is obligated to support.

Continue reading "Florida Mother's Can Seek Child Support Through Establishment of Paternity" »

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February 21, 2011

How Are Uncovered Medical Expenses Divided in Florida Cases Invovling Children

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.
Florida divorce cases involving children, child support cases and paternity cases often provide for support of the children based on Florida Child Support Guidelines in Florida Statute 61.30. However, the guidelines do not address medical expenses regarding the children, except for health insurance coverage purposes. So, how does Florida divide the parental financial responsibility for uncovered medical expenses for the children?

Often, agreements reached by the parties will include language that the parties are required to equally split the uncovered medical bills. These issues recently came up in the Florida 2nd District Court of Appeals, which ruled that uncovered medical expenses should be divided in relation to each parents percentage of income, as in the child support guidelines. Zinovoy v. Zinovy, 36 FLW D34 (Fla. 2nd DCA, December 29, 2010).

So, what does this mean? Florida child support is based on the overall income of the parents. Basically, if each parent makes $5,000 per month, then the overall monthly household income is $10,000 and each parent is 50% responsibility for that amount. So, their children's uncovered medical expenses would be divided 50/50. If one parent makes $4,000 per month and the other makes $6,000 per month, then the uncovered medical expenses would be divided 40/60. This helps maintain a fair balance based on the incomes of the parents.

Continue reading "How Are Uncovered Medical Expenses Divided in Florida Cases Invovling Children" »

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February 14, 2011

Florida Child Support Cases Require Filing a Financial Affidavit and Complying with Mandatory Disclosure Documents

334225_press_conference.jpgFlorida paternity and divorce cases involving children require child support to be calculated. Child support is based on the income of both parties and in order to establish that the Court does not simply accept testimony. So, how do parties actually provide proof of their individual incomes?

Florida divorces are ruled by Florida Family Law Rules of Procedure, which requires that both parties file a financial affidavit. A financial affidavit details the monthly expenses of the individuals including their income and expenses. In addition to personal expenses, the financial affidavit requires the children’s expenses be calculated as well. That way the court knows which parent is paying for childcare and the child’s health insurance, which all goes into the child support calculation. Since it is an affidavit, the parties must sign and have the affidavit notarized.

In addition to the financial affidavit, the parties are required to provide documentation outlined in Mandatory Disclosure, also detailed in the Florida Rules of Family Procedure. Some of the documents required are the following:

a) At least three (3) months of bank statements for all accounts held individually and jointly. Joint accounts are any accounts with the party’s name on them, including those held for elderly family members.
b) At least three (3) months of paycheck stubs. If you are paid hourly and work overtime, it is a good idea to provide as many months as possible.
c) Any and all loan applications filled out by the individual or done as a cosigner. This documentation often has questions related to your income and allows the Court to see what type of loans you may have outstanding.

All of these items help establish the actual income of each party and what the children’s needs are. Child support is based on the combined income of the parties and what each individual’s percentage of contribution is to that combined amount.

Continue reading "Florida Child Support Cases Require Filing a Financial Affidavit and Complying with Mandatory Disclosure Documents" »

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February 4, 2011

A Social Investigation for a Parenting and Time-Sharing Plan is a Helpful Tool in Florida Divorce, Paternity and Modification Cases

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney

980848_not_talking_1.jpgIn Florida divorce, paternity, modification or other family law cases involving children, if the parents cannot agree on a parenting and time-sharing plan, then the Court may order a social investigation per Florida Statute 61.20.

A social investigation can be a helpful tool in deciding where the children will reside the majority of the time. When the court orders a social investigation, then the court may appoint the individual handling the investigation by the court's own preference or by agreement of the parties. When the investigation is ordered by the court, the investigator is required to be a qualified staff of the court; an agency that works in child placement and licensed under Florida Statute 409.175; a licensed psychologist; or a licensed clinical social worker, marriage and family counselor, or mental health therapist.

Once the investigator is appointed, the parties and children will attend sessions with the individual and a final report with recommendations for a parenting and time-sharing plan will be provided to the parties and to the court. While the investigation is helpful and often relied upon, it is not a final statement of what will be ordered by the court. The parties can still discuss the parenting and time-sharing plan and may agree on terms that were not necessarily recommended in the report. The court may also review the report and deviate from the recommendations if the parties are still not able to reach an agreement. What the report does provide is a detailed analysis of the situation so that the court can ultimately rule in the best interest of the children, which is the standard in Florida for determining issues involving children.

Continue reading "A Social Investigation for a Parenting and Time-Sharing Plan is a Helpful Tool in Florida Divorce, Paternity and Modification Cases" »

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February 2, 2011

Florida Visitation Guidelines and Time-Sharing Plan

Jacksonville, Florida is in the Fourth Judicial Circuit of courts, prior to the 2007 legislative change from visitation to time-sharing, there was a standard visitation guidelines established by the court. Since time-sharing is a new concept for many people in Florida, the idea of the old “standard visitation schedule” seems to be used frequently in establishing a time-sharing plan. Because such schedules were developed by the court, each circuit court of Florida that used one had something different than the other. The difficulty I see with this issue is that often one parent will do research, find a schedule for visitation and try to apply it without court action. I often have clients call and ask me what “standard visitation,” is because the other parent told them that is what they have to do. Since there are different versions out there, often times my client does not know which one the other parent is even using. The legislative change to establish a time-sharing plan is designed to assist in this issue.

First, the Fourth Judicial Circuit visitation guidelines basically provided the minimum amount of visitation for the non-residential parent. According to this circuit, again each had their own standard; the non-residential parent received the following:
One day per week from after school got out until 8 p.m. one night per week, typically Wednesday; alternating weekends; alternating Thanksgiving from the day school got out until the day before returning to school; alternating Christmas break with one year from the day school got out until Christmas day at 3:00 p.m. and the next from 3:00 p.m. Christmas day through the day before school started; one-half summer and the other parent received alternating weekends; Mother’s Day with mom and Father’s day with dad; alternating birthdays; and other provisions.

If the standard visitation schedule was not working, often parents did not know what else to do because this was the court order and that is what they were going to follow. A time-sharing plan can still use these same ideas; however, it is designed to think through matters more intently so that parents can actually have time with the children greater than a minimum amount. Furthermore, some families celebrate different holidays than those accounted for in the above schedule, so the time-sharing plan takes those factors into consideration. The other thing that a time-sharing plan can assist with is developing a schedule that accommodates the parents and children since they often have more activities the older they get.

In dealing with any matter regarding children, the first step is to determine what the children’s needs are and go from there. Establishing a plan that makes sense on paper does not mean that it is going to be the right schedule in practice. Life is filled with the unexpected and having two households means that the unexpected can happen twice as often. Working through a time-sharing plan allows the parties to think through real issues before going in front of a judge and the plan can often be tweaked by agreement of the parties. In addition, it is an option to place in the plan that if the parties cannot agree on changes, then they will first go to mediation before filing for a modification of time-sharing with the court. This gives an opportunity for the parents to work through their disagreement with a neutral third party and hopefully, ultimately agree on a plan that will work.

It is not a good idea to inform the other party that you are making them go to guideline visitation because they will not understand and will not know to which set of guidelines you are referring. If you provide the parent with the guidelines that you wish to use, then allow him or her time to look over them and decide if they are agreeable. If you both have lawyers, then have yours provide your proposal to the other attorney. This can help in reaching the right time-sharing plan for both parties.

Continue reading "Florida Visitation Guidelines and Time-Sharing Plan" »

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January 31, 2011

Benefits of a Florida Time-Sharing Plan in a Divorce or Paternity Case

Written by: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

In Florida, Time-Sharing Plans have replaced the normal visitation schedules previously enforced by the courts. A Time-Sharing Plan is used in Florida divorce and paternity cases in order to assist the parents in scheduling visitation with their children. Visitation schedules, in the past, often provided for visits at times that were not practical for the children or parents. The idea of a Time-Sharing plan assists the parties in keeping the children first in developing the schedule.

In order to prepare a Time-Sharing Plan, often parents use the children's school, events, sports and camping calendars to assist in an accurate schedule throughout the year. Instead of simply saying each parent will have every-other-weekend and half the summer, it actually allows the parties to establish a schedule that can be used year round. In addition, it allows the party that does not have the majority of the time with the children, to spend more time with the kids as it fits into their schedules.

Developing a useable Time-Sharing Plan can be challenging and negotiating is often necessary to reach the best outcome. Understanding your options and knowing there are tools to accomplish a goal of proper visitation time with your children is helpful in reaching the best outcome. The challenge may best be met with the assistance of a lawyer who is experienced in handling such issues because s/he may be able to guide you along the way.

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January 26, 2011

Florida Options for Collecting Unpaid Child Support

Written by: Lenorae C. Atter, Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

Florida child support that has been ordered but gone unpaid may be collected through a Motion for Contempt or by the Department of Revenue's Child Support Enforcement. A court order is enforceable, so if you have not received child support payments, you may want to look into both a private action of a Motion for Contempt and the State's assistant with enforcement.

A Motion for Contempt may be brought by the parent that should be receiving child support that was previously court ordered. The action requires the party responsible for paying support to show to the court why s/he is not paying. If the obligor (the one owing support) cannot show good cause for nonpayment and cannot present the court with a financial solution to the support presently owed and the amount owed for past support, then that parent may be held in contempt. One result for being held in contempt may be jail time, with an amount for release set at what is owed in support. The action may also lead to a financial solution that requires child support, plus back support to be paid.

If Child Support Enforcement (CSE) is aware of the arrears owed, because the money was owed through the State Depository, then CSE may get the obligor's driver license suspended, keep any tax refund going to that parent, freeze that parent's bank accounts, petition the court for jail time, etc. Florida has an interest in getting support for children because otherwise that child may be on State support. Therefore, the State is quite active in enforcing support obligations.

When such issues arise, it is a good idea to speak with an attorney that can guide you through the process and further explain your options.

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November 8, 2010

Terminating Child Support When You Are Not The Father

FatherCustody.jpgIn 2007, Florida made it possible for men who discovered they were not the father of a child for whom they were paying child support to petition for the termination of that support and any other parental obligations through the Disestablishment of Paternity process.

The Disestablishment of Paternity statute spells out how this must be done, and one of the main factors is that there must be newly discovered evidence showing that the supporting father is not the biological father of the child.

After learning he is not the biological father, the alleged father cannot:

1. Marry the child’s mother after discovering he is likely not the father.
2. Volunteer to pay child support.
3. Claim paternity in a written sworn statement.
4. Agree to be named as the father on the child’s birth certificate.
5. Sign a written promise to be responsible for child support.
6. Refuse to take a DNA test.
7. Sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity.

These rules must be followed to be eligible to file a Disestablishment of Paternity petition. Men who meet these standards and wish to petition the court to disestablish paternity or end child support obligations should consult with a Jacksonville family law attorney to learn more about the procedures for filing a petition.

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August 11, 2010

In Florida, Can You Successfully Terminate Parental Rights because the Father is Incarcerated?


Under Florida Law, incarceration alone is insufficient grounds for terminating parental rights. Although Florida Family Courts may terminate parental rights where the court finds that the parent has abandoned, abused or neglected the child, incarceration, as a matter of law, does not constitute abandonment. That is not to say that terminating parental rights of a parent who is incarcerated is impossible. The efforts, or lack thereof, of the incarcerated parent to communicate with and support his or her children are measure against the incarcerated parent's limited opportunity to assume those duties while imprisoned.

Therefore, whether or not you can terminate the parental rights of a parent who is incarcerated is a case-by-case determination and will depend on the facts of your case. The parent's relationship with the child before his or her incarceration may have some bearing on the court's ruling as well.

Continue reading "In Florida, Can You Successfully Terminate Parental Rights because the Father is Incarcerated?" »

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June 17, 2010

What is Disestablishment of Paternity?


The Florida Disestablish of Paternity or Termination of Child Support Obligation statute allows a male to disestablish paternity or terminate a child support obligation when that male is not the biological father of the child.

Steps to disestablish paternity or terminate a child support obligation:

1. The male must file a petition in the circuit court that has jurisdiction over the child support obligation.

2. The petition must be served on the mother or other legal guardian or custodian of the child.

3. If no circuit court has jurisdiction over the child support obligation (i.e., the obligation has been determined administratively and not ratified by a court) then the petition must be filed where the mother or legal guardian or custodian resides.

a. This petition must be served on the Department of Revenue (DOR) and on the mother or other legal guardian or custodian.

4. The petition may be filed where the male resides if the mother or other legal guardian or custodian no longer resides in the state.

A critical element of the petition is that is must be supported by an affidavit, usually attached to the petition, that states the father has come across evidence relating to the paternity of the child in question since the initial establishment of paternity or establishment of a child support obligation. Thus, the question of paternity cannot be baseless, it must be well-founded.

Males, who no longer believe they are the father of a child and are financially obligated to that child, should contact a family law attorney to discuss disestablishing paternity and reverse any child support order that is presently in effect.

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June 11, 2010

Florida Divorce Law: Understanding the Different Types of Child Custody

FatherCustody.jpg As a Florida divorce attorney, I find that many of my clients are unaware of the different types of child custody that can be considered as part of a Florida divorce settlement.

In a Florida divorce action that involves minor children, there are four different kinds of child custody to be considered:

Legal Custody – Legal custody means you have both the right and the obligation to make important decisions about your child. This includes education, religion and medical care. In many cases, both parents are awarded legal custody of minor children and share the decision-making responsibility. If joint legal custody is awarded and one parent continually excludes the other from decisions about the child, that parent can be taken back to court for enforcement of the joint legal custody order.

Physical Custody – Physical custody means that one parent is given the right for the child to live with him or her. In some cases, joint physical custody is awarded – usually when both parents live near each other and the child’s life will not be unduly interrupted. In sole physical custody cases, the child lives with one parent and the other parent is granted visitation rights.

Sole Custody – A parent can have either sole legal custody or sole physical custody, or both if one parent has a history of unstable behavior such as physical or substance abuse, or criminal behavior. The courts usually prefer that parents share legal custody so both continue to play a significant role in the lives of their children.

Joint Custody – Parents can have joint legal custody, joint physical custody or both joint legal and physical custody. Parents who share joint custody usually work out a schedule based on the child’s needs, which is approved by the court. The advantage of joint custody is that it keeps both parents involved in the child’s life. Disadvantages can occur when one parent is uncooperative or harbors significant ill will toward the other, which can result in serious negative effects on the children.

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May 12, 2010

Florida's Alimony May Be Getting a Facelift


Florida alimony is due for a facelift and this year's legislation has decided to do the work. Currently, Florida House Bill 907 is sitting on Governor Crist's desk for a signature. What does this mean for those who may receive or pay alimony?
Well the main change will be that "Bridge-the-Gap" alimony, which historically is designed for a determinable (by the Court) period of time to provide for support from married to single life. Now, the time-frame will be defined with a stroke of Governor Crist's pen.
According to the intent of Florida HB 907, "Bridge-the-Gap" alimony will no longer be dependent on issues surrounding the divorce, but simply a two (2) year time frame. This type of support will be available for no more than two (2) years. While some who are recipients of this type of alimony may be cringing as they read, the reality is that this may not be a bad thing for either party. The reason is, if you become too reliant on money that is only there for a short period of time, previously 1 - 5 years, then it will make the inevitable transition that much more difficult. Knowing that you only have, no matter what, 2 years to rehabilitate yourself from married to single life, actually gives you a timeframe to see where you're going and when you need to get there.
The pie in the sky can be a bitter sweet transition in the family law world. However, what about the reality that some individuals may need more education? Well, rehabilitative alimony is getting a few nips and tucks, but it is still going to be an option.
The difference between "Bridge-the-Gap" and "Rehabilitative" is that the first is designed to smooth the transition so that you have additional income to help support your bills until you can get them reduced. The latter, rehabilitative, is designed for the individuals that need just that, rehabilitation into the working world. For some couples, one may not have finished college because s/he was supporting his/her spouse and now to get back into the working world s/he needs to finish school. This may be a two year process or a five year plan, it is dependent on the need and history of the marriage (length, standard of living, educational history, etc.).
Due to possible changes in the Florida law, it is vital that you find out your options from someone qualified to inform you of them. Contact an attorney about when these changes, if signed, will take affect and how they may affect you.

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May 11, 2010

Florida Child Support - How is it calculated?


Florida child support is not designed to hurt your bank account. In Florida, child support guidelines use the incomes of the parties with a few credits given: childcare costs (who is paying?) and health insurance (who is paying?).
First, the income of the parties and their percentage to the overall household is how guideline support is determined. For instance, if you W makes $50,000 per year and H makes $50,000 per year, then the combined income is $100,000 per year and each is contributing 50%. So, if the child support calculation is $1000.00, then the parent without the majority of time with the child will pay $500.00.
The cost of child care is factored in, and the person paying gets a 75% credit of the money paid. Therefore, if childcare is $100 per month paid by W, W will get a credit of $75.00. The same is true with insurance payments.
Child support is based on the monthly income of the parties since child support will be paid monthly. Payments can be made on the payroll cycle of the responsible party.
Child support is NOT designed to put money in the other party's pocket. It is actually calculated to provide for a portion of the child's expenses, including but not limited to: a roof, utilities, food, gas in a vehicle to get the child to/from school, clothing, school supplies, shampoo/conditioner and toothpaste. It is everything the child needs and would have if the child's parents were still living in the same home. The child's well-being should not be and is not dependent on a on one-income household simply because the child's parents are no longer together.
If you have questions about child support, establishing or modifying what is owed, you should contact an attorney for a true calculation to be completed on your behalf.

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April 30, 2010

Florida Timesharing / Visitation: A Parent's Plan or Goal?


Florida children that are the product of divorce are now a familiar with
visitation planning. Florida timesharing plans came into law in 2008 and
were introduced to help ease the need for a custodial parent to be
determined. It was also developed to keep the children's interest in
the forefront of the divorce or child custody action. The question is, in a world not capable of consistent time management, how are the children really impacted by
this plan change?
In 2010, in Florida and throughout the US we, as a society make work more important than our kids and our health. Time
management becomes important when exercising timesharing with your
children. Calendaring your days, your child's activities and family
gatherings/vacations. To make the judicial system work for you, manage
your time with your kids as if they are the next customer to contract
with you. You would not blow off a meeting with an investor so don't
do it to your kids.
If you see that there is a constant issue with your timesharing plan,
then modify it. If there is a substantial change in circumsance,
modifications of your final order are allowed. Do not become a victim
or allow your child to become a victims if a poorly executed
timesharing agreement, contact an attorney regarding your options.

April 28, 2010

Florida Paternity - Do You Have Legal Rights to Your Child?

Florida paternity is established by marriage or the Court, not by signing a Birth Certificate. A Birth Certificate does nothing more than give the presumption that you are, in fact, the father of your child. If you are not married to the mother ( at least 10% of couples living together are not married), then the Court does not recognize you as the baby's daddy.
To establish your rights to the child, it is important that you speak with an attorney so that your child does not grow-up without you. What you need to ask your attorney:
1. How do I file a Petition to Establish Paternity?
2. Do I need to take a Paternity test?
-- This is dependent upon whether the parties agree with each other, if there is reason to believe you are not the father, or if another man is listed as the father on the birth certificate.
3. How is Florida child support determined?
4. How is visitation determined?
-- Florida now has a timesharing plan that needs to be filed with the Court. This can be visitation that ranges from every-other-weekend to 50% of the time, if not more.
5. Is there a way to do this with the Mother agreeing?
-- If you and the mother can work an agreement on a number of the issues, it still needs to be formalized with the court. However, you can file a consent agreement, meaning you both agree to the above issues regarding your child.

April 21, 2010

Florida's Residency Requirements - Divorce, Child Support and Timesharing

Filing for divorce, child support or timesharing modifications in Florida require that you be a resident of the state. Residency is determined based on Florida Statute 61.021, which requires that an individual be a resident of Florida for at least six (6) months prior to filing an action within the State Court.
Residency can be determined by a number of factors, the most common of which is your drivers license. If you have moved to Florida, make certain to get your new drivers license immediately, so that you can prove your residency when the time comes.
Another way to prove residency is by providing a lease agreement, utility bills, or by having an affidavit signed by a neutral third party that can verify you have lived in the State for the required period of time.
There are emergency situations that can provide access to the Court without meeting the residency requirements, but meeting those requirements can be challenging.
If you have just moved to the State and are in need of any family law services (divorce, child support modification, etc.), upon consulting with an attorney be certain to let him know when you moved to the State. That way you are getting the most accurate information at the beginning.

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February 17, 2010

Rap Artist Flavor Flav Reported to Owe Thousands in Back Child Support


William Drayton Jr. is best known by his stage name, Flavor Flav. Recently, the 1980’s rap star from the group Public Enemy has made a big comeback by appearing on such reality TV shows as The Surreal Life, Strange Love, and Flavor of Love. But according to the Albany, New York Child Support Collection Division, Drayton owes back child support payments to Mary Parker, the mother of three of Drayton’s children.

Drayton will be required to appear in court to answer charges that he owes Ms. Parker over sixty three thousand dollars in back child support payments and private school tuition. The back child support payments are due to a judge increasing Drayton’s responsibility from just over one hundred dollars per week to over eight hundred dollars per week, and making the ruling retroactive to 2008, when Ms. Parker originally filed an amendment to the child support agreement.

Drayton plans to contest the charges, claiming that he has regularly paid Ms. Parker more than he was required to by the original agreement. Drayton’s recent success has prompted several other complaints from family members, including a daughter who said that he reneged on an offer to pay for her last semester in college. Karen Ross-Fortunate is the mother of three of Drayton’s other children, and has charged that he has not financially supported her children either. Drayton has seven children.

In Florida you can file for a modification of a child support obligation if there has been a significant change in circumstances or the modification is at least a 10% difference between the existing amount and the proposed amount or $25 per month. The distinction is dependent on the length of time it has been since the child support order was entered. A can help you get a child support modification.

If you are having trouble collecting your child support payments, please contact our Jacksonville, Florida law firm for legal counsel.

Read more about Flavor Flav’s child support troubles at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-adoption-difficult-20100214,0,7012433.story.

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February 11, 2010

California Man (Henry Lisowski) Allegedly Kills Estranged Wife (Rosa Lisowski) to Avoid Paying Child Support

PoliceCar.jpgHenry Lisowski allegedly threatened his ex-wife with murder two years before she disappeared in March of 2008. After several months of searching for the woman, police received a letter from Lisowski saying that his wife had died and that he had thrown the body in a dumpster. Prosecutors maintain that the man killed his wife because she was taking him to court for child support. Defense attorneys claim that his wife died from falling down the stairs and Lisowski hid the body because he was afraid her death would look suspicious.

At the time of Ms. Lisowski’s disappearance, Lisowski had been ordered to pay $1000 a month in child support, and a hearing had been scheduled to determine if he had underreported his income in order to avoid paying more. It later turned out that he had underreported his income by over one hundred percent.

When questioned by police about his wife’s disappearance, Lisowski claimed that she was a drug addict and believed that the drug cartel had gotten to her. Lisowski had fresh scratch marks across his cheek when he was questioned. He also expressed no interest in taking the children into his home.

If Lisowski is convicted, he could face life in prison. See more details of the murder trial at Prosecutor: OB man killed estranged wife over child support dispute.

If you need a prenuptial agreement or are considering a divorce or separation, please contact our Jacksonville, Florida law firm for legal counsel.

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January 19, 2010

Jacksonville, Florida – Birth Parents Take Back Custody of Daughter from Adoptive Family


Linda and David Pfeiffer of New London, Connecticut already had an adopted son, Darius, and they were not looking to have another child. But when a family friend from Jacksonville, Florida became pregnant and did not believe she was able to care for the child herself, she asked if the Pfeiffers would raise her child. Linda and David agreed, and they adopted Reylani soon after she was born. As part of the process, they flew to Florida and met with an attorney and had the birth parents sign a termination of parental rights.

It was only two weeks later that Linda Pfeiffer received a text message from the child’s birth mother, saying that Reylani’s biological father might actually be a different man. That man filed a paternity suit in Jacksonville Circuit Court and had his paternity confirmed with a DNA test. According to Florida law, a father must assert his paternity by filing the Florida Putative Father Registry Claim of Paternity claim before the child is born. Normally, this man would have no case. However, the child’s biological father is in the Navy, and he is arguing that he should retain his rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which allows service members certain legal protections when they are on active duty. According to the Pfeiffers, the biological father knew that the mother was pregnant and was not at sea during the pregnancy, meaning he had ample opportunity to file for paternity during the legal window. The birth mother and biological father have since married.

In March a judge awarded custody to the biological parents, and the Pfeiffers were required to hand her over to them. The couple has since turned the Pfeiffers away when they flew to Florida in hopes of seeing Reylani. The Pfeiffers have filed an appeal to a panel of three judges, and are awaiting final word on their case. If you have questions regarding your rights as a biological parent or an adoptive parent in Florida you should contact a Florida Family Law Attorney.

You can read more about this tug of war over a Florida infant at Legal twist wrenching family apart.

If you are considering adoption, you will need the help of an experienced family law attorney. Please contact our firm for expert legal counsel.

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January 7, 2010

Grand Rapids, Michigan – Non-biological Surrogate Mother Takes Children Back

Newborn.jpgAmy and Scott Kehoe were unable to have children of their own. So they went to great lengths to hand pick an egg donor, sperm donor, and surrogate for their future child. They then hired a Michigan IVF clinic to carry out the procedure. The couple paid for everything out of pocket. But a month after the surrogate gave birth to twins, Ethan and Bridget, the Kehoes were forced to turn the children back over to the surrogate mother, Laschell Baker, who changed her mind about turning over custody of the children when she found out that Ms. Kehoe was under treatment for a mental illness. Ms. Baker, who already has four children of her own with her husband Paul, said she couldn’t live the rest of her life worrying whether Ms. Kehoe’s illness would remain under control.

Surrogacy is largely unregulated, and is controlled mostly by fertility doctors. In some states, the parents must legally adopt the surrogate child, but it creates an interesting legal conundrum, as the parents must first create the baby, which is not genetically related to them, and then ask the courts to grant them custody after the child is born. In other states, the parents are allowed to place their own names on the birth certificate without any screening, if they obtain a pre-birth order allowing it.

If a dispute arises, the outcome varies widely from state to state. In Michigan, the state holds that surrogacy is contrary to public policy and that surrogacy contracts are not enforceable, which is how Ms. Baker so easily had the Kehoe’s guardianship rescinded. Find out more about this child custody case and others like it at Building a Baby, With Few Ground Rules.

The state of Florida regulates surrogacy, with different regulations depending on if the surrogacy is traditional or gestational. If you are considering having a child through surrogacy in Florida, you will need the services of an expert family law attorney. Please contact our firm for expert legal assistance.

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December 9, 2009

Fort Lauderdale, Florida – Man (Francisco Rodriguez) Ordered to pay over $10,000 in Child Support for Someone Else’s Daughter

DNA.jpgFransisco Rodriguez is married with three children of his own. According to the state of Florida, he is also legally the father of the fifteen year old daughter of an ex-girlfriend, even though DNA tests and the girl’s own mother have confirmed that Rodriguez is not her biological father. He reportedly owes more than $10,000 in back child support, and he has already spent a night in jail because of it. The girl’s mother has written to the state asking them to not require Rodriguez to pay the child support.

Rodriguez is legally on the hook for the child support payments because the mother named him on the birth certificate and he claims he didn’t receive notification until about 4 years ago – after the deadline to contest paternity had passed. By that time a Florida court had already legally named him as the father three years earlier when he failed to appear in court. Rodriguez says he never received the notices because he changed addresses quite a few times. In light of the new information, the court has ordered its own DNA test, which Rodriguez has taken. The girl and her mother did not appear as ordered for the DNA test.

In the case of paternity, lawmakers and the courts struggle to strike a balance between the rights of all parties involved. Some groups even go so far as to suggest that DNA tests at birth should be mandatory in order to avoid later legal battles. If you are involved in a child custody or paternity issue, please contact our firm for expert legal counsel.

Find out more about paternity laws in Florida and around the country at Florida man owes $10,000 for child who's not his.

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November 23, 2009

Father (Levi Johnston) of Bristol Palin’s Son (Tripp) Plans to Sue for Joint Custody

Custody.jpgAlaska governor and 2008 vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was forced to admit during her campaign that her fifteen-year-old daughter, Bristol, was pregnant. At the time the young girl and her teenage boyfriend, Levi Johnston, said they planned to marry. But they broke off their engagement earlier this year.

Now Johnston is pursuing legal action to obtain joint custody of the couple’s 10-month-old son, Tripp. He alleges that the Palin family is making it difficult for him to see his son. Sarah Palin is reportedly upset with Johnston for his upcoming appearance in Playgirl magazine. The two have had a publically strained relationship for some time. The Palin family attorney has stated publically that, according to the Palins, Johnston is always welcome to visit his son. You can read much more of the back and forth between Sarah Palin and her former potential son-in-law at Levi Johnston to Sue for Joint Custody of Son Tripp.

For unmarried or divorced parents in Florida, this case brings up some issues related to joint custody in Florida. Many Florida parents are seeking either joint custody or 50/50 rotating custody. The courts in North Florida do not really prefer this type of custody arrangement because some courts believe that the arrangement just isn't practical for the children once they start school unless the parents live within a few miles of one another and demonstrate that they can operate as a real team. If you need help with a custody issue, please contact our firm for legal counsel.

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November 17, 2009

Mel Gibson and Girlfriend (Oksana Grigorieva) Welcome Their First Child

Australian actor Mel Gibson and his girlfriend, Russian musician Oksana Grigorieva, have welcomed a baby girl named Lucia into the world. While Lucia is Gibson’s eighth child, it is the couple’s first child together. Gibson has seven children with his former wife, Robyn Gibson. They divorced in April of this year after twenty-eight years of marriage. Gibson and Grigorieva met while filming “Edge of Reason.”

Gibson’s daughter was born in California, but if the child had been born in Florida, the new girlfriend would definitely need to file for a paternity action so that a judge could determine Mel to be the LEGAL father of the child and to have a support obligation for her. Until a judge signs an Order making Mel the legal father, the child would not be considered to be an heir at law to Mel Gibson. In sum, people who have babies out of wedlock in Florida need a paternity action even though they may be listed on the birth certificate. Until a Judge says that the father is the father, the child will not be legally recognized as the legal heir.

If you are unmarried and expecting a child, please contact our firm for family legal counsel.

Find out more about Mel Gibson's daughter, Lucia, at Mel Gibson and his girlfriend welcome a baby girl.

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October 13, 2009

I'm Not the Father - Disestablishing Paternity in Florida Part II


Written By: Lenorae C. Atter
Family Law Attorney with Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

The Florida Disestablishment of Paternity statute allows for reputed "alleged" dads to tell the Court they have reason to believe they do not have a financial obligation to a child for whom they pay child support. The statute lays out many factors to be proven by the alleged father because there is a public policy interest that children not be without a father.
This statute does require that there is newly discovered evidence relating to the paternity of the child since the origination of the paternity being established. In so doing, the alleged father, after learning that he is most likely NOT the father, cannot engage in the following:
1. Marry the mother of the child while known as the reputed father (after learning someone else could be "daddy").
2. Voluntarily take on the parental obligation to pay child support.
3. Swear to paternity in a written sworn statement.
4. Consent to be named as the Child's father on the birth certificate.
5. Voluntarily promise, in writing, to provide child support for the Child and was required to support the Child because of that promise.
6. Dismiss or ignore ANY written, state notice requesting you submit to a DNA test.
7. Sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity as outlined in Florida Statute 742.10(4).

The above rules are required to have been followed if you wish to file a Petition to Disestablish Paternity. To make certain that you fall within the statutory guidelines, it is advised that you seek the help of a Family Law Attorney.

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October 12, 2009

I'm Not the Father - Disestablishing Paternity in Florida Part I

Paternity actions in Florida are common because there is a strong belief that children need two parents and child support. Many men are faced, on a daily basis, with a woman informing them they have a child, or a court document greeting them at their home delivering the stork's news. Once the court gets involved, there is a need to establish the father of the child legally, child support and time sharing. So, what happens when you find out, after a few years of this financial and emotional obligation that you, in fact, are not the baby's daddy?
In 2007, the Florida legislature passed the Disestablishment of Paternity Statute. This law allows for men to have the right to petition that they no longer have the obligation to a child if new evidence has come to light. However, there are multiple restrictions on the men for them to prove their case to a judge. It is important to contact a family law attorney to discuss your options and the actual expectation that you will be successful in pursuing this matter.

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August 25, 2009

Florida Parental Rights, Termination and Child Support


In Jacksonville, Florida, as a family law attorney, I receive questions about terminating parental rights. This is not an easy process since there are many protections in place for parents. I will probably do a series of blogs on this topic in order to cover each area, but we will start with the consent and agreement of both parties.
If a parent would like to terminate his/her parental rights, then there are certain things that must be in place. The following would be required:
1. There is another person to take the role of mother/father both emotionally and financially.
2. The parent is doing so knowingly with full understanding and willfully.
3. The termination is in the best interest of the child.

If these things are met, then the Court may grant termination of parental rights. The difficulty is, this does not alleviate child support that may be due from years of nonpayment. If a parent owes child support arrearages (back child support), then the termination of their rights does not alleviate or diminish the back child support to be paid.
The only time that can go away is if the other parent (non-terminating) is willing to forgive any and all arrearage. However, if the payments were through the state's Department of Revenue, then even agreeing does not end the State's interest in collecting that money on behalf of the Child.
If this is something that you are interested in pursuing, it is best to work with an attorney on this matter whether your are the one terminating or the one requesting termination.

August 24, 2009

Florida Visitation or Time Sharing: Rights of a Parent Living Away

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Florida Family Law Attorney

In Florida, many courts have time sharing or visitation guidelines and they can be specific to distance. In Jacksonville, we have the 4th Judicial Circuit Guidelines, which provide for time sharing throughout the school year and holidays.

Time sharing is now the correct term for visitation and a time sharing plan is required in a case involving children. You can either use the court guidelines develop your own, as long as the other party and/or the court agrees with the schedule.
Long-Distance Guidelines in Jacksonville set-up a number of opportunities for visitation. There is an ability to continue with alternating weekends, but it must be done in the town where the child resides. You can have once/month at your home, depending on the situation surrounding your case. In addition, you will be entitled, again depending on the facts of your case, to timesharing during the Spring Break time each year and summers beginning 5 days after school gets out until 2 weeks before school commences.
Long distance timesharing often has costs associated, so you have to determine what is best for you and the other parent for the child to stay connected to both parents.

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August 21, 2009

Florida Relocation Statute- Florida Divorce and Time Sharing/Vistation

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Florida Family Law Attorney

In Florida, there is a relocation statute if you are moving with a child. As a Jacksonville divorce and family law attorney, I realize that not everyone understands that moving may require court action. Relocating for a job, marriage or any other reason? If you have a child and looking to move, then you may have to file a Petition for Relocation with the Court.
Florida law has a Relocation Statute, which requires that a relocation petition be filed with the Court if you are planning on moving, with your child, 50 miles or more away from your current residence. This is required if the move or relocation is for more than 60 days.
Filing a petition for relocation also requires that the other parent is served with the papers and (s)he has 20 days to file an objection. If an objection is not filed within that time period, then the Court will assume the move is in the best interest of the Child.
If the other parent will agree to your relocation, then you can file an agreement with the Court. The catch is, there a number of provisions within the Relocation Statute that must be met or you could face contempt, the Court can require you to return, and the Court may go so far as to change the primary residential parent.

August 11, 2009

Florida Divorce and Child Support Frequently Asked Questions

By: Lenorae C. Atter, Jacksonville Family Law Attorney
1. What will I pay in child support?
- Child support is a calculation mandated by Florida Statute 61.30 and is based on the net income of the parties as a whole and the individual's percentage of that whole. There are things taken into the calculation consideration such as mandatory retirement and union dues, insurance costs of the child(ren) and day care costs for the child(ren). There can be considerations given for special needs or circumstances, but typically the calculated number will be the actual child support to be paid.

2. Which parent will get the child(ren)?
- The court can look at the history of the family unit, to which parent will be more likely to provide for the child's needs, etc. Ultimately the decision is based on the best interest of the child. While the Courts should look solely to the factors impacting the child, sadly there are still biases that sometimes remain, but those can be defeated under the right set of circumstances.

3. How often will I see my child?
- In Jacksonville, we have 4th Judicial Circuit Time Sharing Guidelines, which sets up the minimum amount of visitation. Each circuit is different, but many have the same concepts in place. Basically, the guidelines set-up alternating weekends, one night per week for dinner, and alternating holidays. Summer timesharing is often switched.

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July 28, 2009

Military Family Law: Child Support, Alimony and Retirement

Written By: Lenorae C. Atter, Florida Family Law Attorney

In Jacksonville, Florida, as a family law and divorce lawyer, I represent a number of individuals who have been or are in the military. Military family law differs in that many different amounts of income are factored in for purposes of child support and alimony. In addition, retirement is based on the military's determination of years in plus points earned during the time served in the Reserves.
In order to best determine the rights you and your children have while dealing with a military family case, it is best to speak with a lawyer that is familiar with all aspects of the system. BAH and BAS do change, but child support still factors those in. In addition, since some of the benefits are based on marriage and children, the military actually has some control until a civil court determines the actual amounts to go to the other party.

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July 21, 2009

In Florida, the Department of Revenue Cannot Default Paternity

Written by Whitney R. Lonker, Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

So many times I will receive a call from a man who has had a child support order issued against him by a Florida Court where the Department of Revenue, on behalf of the State of Florida, has filed a paternity action against the suspected father and has failed to effectuate proper service on the suspected father. As such, the "father" is not aware of any pending action against him. Normally, the Department will attempt to "default" the father and have the court enter a child support order against him making him obligated for the support of the child without addressing any issues of time-sharing or parental responsibility. Recently, Florida's First District Court of Appeal and the Second District Court of Appeal have ruled that a judgment of paternity cannot be entered as a default on an unadmitted and unproven allegation of paternity. There must be competent, substantial evience in support of the paternity allegation and that must be provided to the court. (Martowski v. DOR) & (Locklear v. Sampson). If you have had a child support obligation entered against you by the Department of Revenue without a hearing, please call our firm to represent you in this matter. We look forward to helping you.

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July 13, 2009

Fatherhood in Florida: What Are My Rights If I'm Not Married To The Mother?

So often in my family law practice in Jacksonville, Florida, I receive calls from fathers who are not married to the child's mother asking what their rights are in Florida. Many fathers are under the mistaken belief that just because they signed the birth certificate that they are considered to be the legal father of the child. There is a huge difference. The only effect that signing the birth certificate has for a father of a child is to acknowledge paternity. Until a Judge signs an Order directing that the father has parentage over the child, the child is not considered to be an heir of the father. It takes a Judicial Order to give an unmarried man parentage over a child. My firm can help obtain the necessary Orders required for parentage in a paternity/fatherhood issue. Please call us at 904-355-8888 to get the help you need.

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July 1, 2009

Michael Jackson Baby Mama Drama: Jacksonville, Florida Family Law

1195577_us-1.jpgWHO IS MICHAEL JACKSON'S BABIES' MAMA??? In fact, who is Michael Jackson's babies' father??? News reports have surfaced that neither Debbie Rowe nor Michael Jackson are the biological parents of the three Jackson children. Thus the question arises: Who Will Get Custody of These Children? News reports are stating that Debbie Rowe served as a surrogate mother to the children meaning that her egg was not used in the fertilization of the children nor was Michael Jackson's sperm. Reports are that the children were conceived in vitro using donor eggs and donor sperm. Legally speaking, this really should not make much difference in terms of custody of the children as the children are considered heirs at law of Michael Jackson and his mother will probably be the most likely candidate to gain custody and control of the children and their interests. What this news does do is eliminate Debbie Rowe as a possible candidate for custody of the kids as she served only as an incubation chamber and has no real biological ties to the children. If you or your loved one has a question about custody, paternity, child support or any other issue in Duval, Clay, Nassau or St. Johns Counties, please contact our firm at 904-355-8888 for help in addressing these important complex matters.

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June 29, 2009

Florida's New Parent Timesharing Affects Schools

Florida's visitation is now timesharing and residential parent is now majority timesharing parent. As a Florida family law attorney I have focused on the parents and children going through this change, but it was brought to my attention that change in visitation and custodial parents is actually having an impact on the Florida schools.
I practice primarily in Jacksonville, Orange Park, Fernandina and St. Augustine, but an article in the Bradenton Herald caught my attention. The article, entitled "Schools Custody Policy Proposed: Custodial Parent Is No Longer Decision Maker In Schools" deals with the impact the new legislation has had on the schools determining which parent is the "go to" parent on school issues. Historically, a family would go through a divorce and the mother or father was determined the "Primary Custodial Parent". In today's world of timesharing, things have changed and the language needs to be tightened up to make things easier. The legislature did create "Parenting Plans" to help in this transition and determine the roles of the parents.
While the article states that timesharing is designed to give both parents 50/50 split, that is actually not true. Timesharing is a way for the parents to feel as if they both get the child and that one parent is not more important or greater than the other. The courts, at least in Jacksonville, still frown at the concept of children not having a stable environment.

Continue reading "Florida's New Parent Timesharing Affects Schools" »

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June 5, 2009

Out-of-State Father and Child Support: Florida Family Law

In Florida, the statutes regarding paternity, child support, visitation and custody have different laws when dealing with an out-of-state parent. I am a Jacksonville area divorce and family law attorney and recently I had a case involving a mother and child that reside here and a father that lives out-of-state. The issue that was difficult to overcome is, "which court is proper to bring actions regarding the child?"
Florida Statute 48.193 requires that the out-of-state resident to have some form of contact with the State of Florida. While the presumed father has the option to prevail on this issue if he has not been in Florida, nor was the child conceived in Florida, that does not resolve the issue for the presumed father.
Once a child resides in Florida, the Florida courts have jurisdiction over that child through the UCCJEA and Florida Statute 61.514. Therefore, all actions dealing with visitation and custody must be brought in Florida, so an out-of-state court may be required by the presumed father, to determine paternity and possibly child support, but if the father wants visitation with the child, he will be required to file in Florida.
Also, if any of the actions in Florida Statute 80.2011, then Florida can have jurisdiction over all aspects involving the child, regardless of the other party's contacts with Florida.
Basically, if someone brings the issue of jurisdiction when dealing with a child, the individual will most likely have to hire an attorney in two (2) states as opposed to one (1). It ultimately makes more sense for all actions to be handled in one court and one state and to save the cost for attorneys.

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June 3, 2009

International Adoptions Pt. II: Jacksonville Family Law

International adoptions are popular not only among Madonna and Angelina Jolie, but Jacksonville, Florida residents as well. As a family law attorney I have clients call once they adopted out of the country and they want to make certain their adoption is legal in the U.S. and in Florida.
Once a child is adopted by a foreign court that document finalizing the adoption can be accepted by the Florida courts as well. The procedure for doing so is important to protect yourself and any issues that may arise regarding that child.
The Florida courts do recognize foreign decrees, foreign orders, but you must petition the court to recognize the decree or order. It is best to speak with an attorney regarding this matter to make certain that all requirements are met from the beginning to speed up the finalization of your adoption which has clearly been a long time coming at this point.

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June 1, 2009

International Adoptions: Jacksonville Family Law

1102237_-world_background_viii-.jpgMadonna's, have made the news for years in Jacksonville, Florida and throughout the country. As a family law attorney in Jacksonville, I have clients call to find out the process for such adoptions.
The reality is, as evident in Madonna's current court case in Africa, each country has different adoption laws. In Malawi, where the child resides in Madonna's case, there is a residency requirement for adoptions. That issue, not the paternity issue, is actually what's holding things up for the adoption of Chifundo James. Madonna, feeling that celebrity and money can beat laws, is now caught up in the court system to show the best interest of the child is to be adopted regardless of the residency requirement.
This case is a good example of why the normal adopting family should first look into the laws associated with the country they would like to adopt from. You don't want to get in a situation where you required to relocate for a significant period of time if you don't have to. It's best to contact an attorney where you live to help you in your process from the beginning.

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May 22, 2009

Parenting Coach: Florida Divorce and Family Law

In Jacksonville, Florida family law , I have clients that are facing huge changes in their life whether it is from divorce or determination of paternity. The majority have never been a parent or have never been a single parent. In addition, some have jobs that have taken them from their children. The solution may be in a service being offered by Ronnie Cage, who has a Master Trainer Certification in the “Fatherhood Development” Curriculum from the National Partnership for Community Leadership. I had the pleasure of speaking with him and finding out that he coaches fathers on how to become dads to their kids whether for the first time or the first time in a long time.
Mr. Cage has found his calling in helping individuals learn, mainly fathers, to be better communicators, listeners and parents. It's a service we could all benefit from in our lives, but we can't often find the recipe to make the proper parent pie. Mr. Cage, and others in his field, may be the missing cookbook to better parenting.

April 17, 2009

Disestablishing Paternity in Florida

Section 742.18 of the Florida Statutes governs the disestablishment of paternity or termination of child support obligation. There are certain requirements that must be followed when attempting to disestablish paternity. One of the requirements is that the party attempting to disestablish paternity must file a Petition To Disestablish Paternity with the court. Also, a DNA test must be performed and submitted to the court that shows that the male ordered to pay child support is not the father of the child. This DNA test must be performed within 90 days of the filing of the petition, but if the male doesn't have access to the child for paternity testing, then he may file a petition with the court to request the court to order a DNA test.

A Petitioner attempting to disestablish paternity must be current on all child support obligations or that he has substantially complied with the child support payment obligation. This area of law is pretty specialized and the statute states that certain things must be followed in order for the courts to grant the disestablishment of paternity. Please find a lawyer who specializes in family law, marital law, or custody and child support issues to help you if you require this type of court proceeding.

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April 13, 2009

The Taxation of Health Benefits in Florida: How It Will Affect Family Law & Children's Health Benefits

In Florida, when parties obtain a dissolution of marriage and there are children involved, one issue is which party will carry the health insurance on the children. If the party who does not have primary timesharing with the children carries the health insurance for the children, he or she will receive a "credit" towards the child support obligation to help cover the cost of the health insurance. As such, it can be a benefit to be the party who sustains the health insurance obligation. However, recently, the government has been exploring the idea of taxing health insurance benefits to employees. Under the current law, employer contributions for health insurance premiums provided for employees are not taxable income to employees, but that could change in the near future. Be aware that if health benefits become taxed as income to the party maintaining the insurance on behalf of the children that this could affect the child support, net monthly income and "credits" provided to the obliging party.

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April 1, 2009

Florida Child Custody Evaluations

When going through a Florida divorce or paternity case involving children, it is important to put the children first. Florida Statute 61.122 governs child custody evaluations in Florida. When Florida parties are divorcing and custody is an issue, the court will often order the parties to obtain a custody evaluation. A custody evaluation is performed by a licensed psychologist who will interview the parties, the children, neighbors and any witnesses suggested by the parties or by the attorneys involved in the case. The psychologist will then write a recommendation as to which party should be the primary time sharing parent in the psychologist's opinion.
The courts rely heavily on the custody evaluation in custody cases but the courts do not have to follow the evaluation's recommendation. The cost of a custody evaluation varies ranging anywhere from $1,500.00-$5,000.00 and is usually split by the parties. It is important to obtain a Florida family law attorney prior to having a custody evaluation performed to receive counsel on statutory factors pertaining to custody.

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March 30, 2009

Florida Relocation: Florida Visitation

Florida family law has a relocation statute that prohibits parents from taking children more than 50 miles from their residence without first providing notice. In accordance with the Florida statute, if you have been through a Florida divorce or paternity case and your ex has the primary timeshare of the children, there are specific acts that your ex must perform to be allowed to move more than 50 miles from the primary residence. The moving parent does not have the authority to move the parties' children on his or her own accord even if the move is to accept that new employment position paying that dream salary.

In Florida, the primary parent MUST notify the other parent, in writing, of his or her intent to relocate. The notice is called Notice of Relocation and must be signed before a notary and sworn to and filed with the court. The secondary residential parent then has 30 days to file an Objection to Relocation which will be heard before a Judge who will then decide what is best for the children. The Judge will take testimony from both parties and will determine if the move will affect visitation between the children and secondary residential parent, whether the children's relationship with other family members will be affected, the emotional impact of the move on the children and the relationship with the non-residential parent.

Please note that in some cases, if the primary residential parent moves without proper Notice provided to the other party and to the court, then the courts have authority to change the primary residential custody to the non-offending party. Thus, its very important to follow the relocation requirements as failure to do so could result in the loss of custody.

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March 9, 2009

Putting Down the Boxing Gloves: Florida Divorce

In Florida, when going through a divorce or separation, it is important to get a lawyer that understands the importance of putting down the boxing gloves.
You are ending a marriage and going from love to shuttering at the sounds of her voice or the site of his face, an experienced divorce attorney should take control and guide the client through a constructive not destructive approach. Even though the client may want to "take him for all he's worth" or "destroy her", its the lawyer's responsibility to provide a workable solution especially if there are children involved.
The members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers have proven that resolutions are often reached without the need for trial. In a 2007 poll, 58 percent of its members indicated that more of their divorce cases over the past five years were settled without trial. Only 12 percent said they were resolving fewer cases without trial. In this present economy, it has been shown that there is a clear preference among middle-income clients to reach agreements without a trial to cut down on the costs of the litigation.
This is not to say that nasty divorce cases are a thing of the past. Not so. In Florida Family, the areas of custody and parenting issues are the highest contested disputes, followed by spousal support and division of retirement accounts.
Due to the new Parenting Statute that went into effect October 1, 2008, the issue of shared parenting should help reduce custody litigation. Nonetheless, the level of resentment the parties may have for one another can drastically affect both the tone and the strife of divorce proceedings.
In the end, there is usually never a true "winner" in a divorce proceeding because of the emotionalism of the area of law. However, your lawyer must be experienced enough to counsel you through the proceeding and to protect your interests from the initial client consultation through mediation to the final hearing. Its important to find a lawyer who doesn't create roadblocks to settling just so he/she can pay his mortgage by billing you. Once the boxing gloves come off and people start to heal, a workable agreement should be able to be reached for both parties ultimate best benefit.

March 6, 2009

Child Support and Bankruptcy: Florida Divorce, Paternity and Child Support

In dealing with Florida family law cases with children, child support is an obvious factor. When going through a Florida divorce or paternity action child support will most likely be ordered by the court. In today's economic times, many more Floridians are facing bankruptcy and how that affects their Florida child support obligations.
Often, one party files for bankruptcy believing that any financial obligation to the other party will be dischargeable in the bankruptcy. On October 1, 2005, the new bankruptcy law went into effect and is entitled BAPCPA. The new law changed many things in the bankruptcy code including how a "domestic support obligation" will be treated. The support obligation can come in many forms such as alimony, child support, money owed to a spouse, or a money obligation incurred during a divorce agreement. Before BAPCPA, the bankruptcy law stated that you could NOT discharge a child support obligation or alimony in a Chapter 7 but you could discharge any money owed to a spouse under a divorce agreement as long as the money wasn't a part of the child support or alimony obligation. This is usually termed as an "equalizing payment" in the final agreement or judgment
Under the old law, if the spouse filing for bankruptcy couldn't pay the debt or if discharging the debt would be less detrimental to the spouse receiving the funds, it could be listed and discharged. Not so with the new law. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the spouse will still have to pay and will not be able to discharge the debt so when the bankruptcy is over, the spouse will still owe the debt to the other spouse
If you or your spouse are having to file for bankruptcy, I encourage you to explore the idea of filing a joint case. This may be more beneficial to both of you in the end. The Bankruptcy Law Network is a blog that contains lots of good information concerning bankruptcy. If you are considering bankruptcy, you should check out this blog because it has information regarding bankruptcy, debt and collection.

March 2, 2009

Jacksonville, Florida's New Parenting Plan Requirements

In Jacksonville, Florida, Family Law and Visitation took on a new role on October 1, 2008 and the way custody and family law has been practiced in Florida is no more. With the new parenting plan statute, judges are no longer to use taboo words such as custody, visitation, custody litigation, primary residence or access and contact. The words will now be replaced with the terms "parenting", "parenting plan litigation" or "time sharing schedule litigation", "time sharing majority of the time", and "time sharing".When dealing with visitation and parent-relations, "best interests" of the child factors have now changed and new factors have been implemented in Florida Family Law. The Florida parenting plan statute is designed to isolate the children from the divorce proceedings as much as possible and to emphasize drafting a plan to help parents in divorce meet the child's needs.
The following factors are now considered when parents are divorcing and custody and children are at issue:
(a) The demonstrated capacity & disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close & continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the timesharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required.
(b) The anticipated division of parental responsibilities after the litigation, including the extent to which parental responsibilities will be delegated to third parties.
(c) The demonstrated capacity & disposition of each parent to determine, consider & act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent.
(d) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.
(e) The geographic viability of the parenting plan, with special attention paid to the needs of school-age children and the amount of time to be spent traveling to effectuate the parenting plan. This factor does not create a presumption for or against relocation of either parent with a child The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home.
(f) The moral fitness of the parents.
(g) The mental and physical health of the parents.
(h) The home, school, and community record of the child.
(i) The reasonable preference of the child, if the child is of sufficient age.

Continue reading "Jacksonville, Florida's New Parenting Plan Requirements" »

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February 13, 2009

Visitation Rights in Florida: Can My Former Spouse Leave the State of Florida With My Child?

In a majority of Florida visitation cases, stopping the relocation of a custodial parent is difficult. After a divorce, determining paternity, or separating, relocating or moving with a child is not as easy as hiring a moving van. In Florida, there is a relocation statute requiring the relocating parent to inform the other parent of his or her intention to relocate and file that notice with the courts.
Once notice is provided, the parent that is not relocating has the option to file an objection to the move, with the court. Once that objection is filed, the judge must have a hearing to determine if the move will be permitted.
At the hearing, the parent that is relocating must show the court that the move is in the child's best interest and that it will not infringe on the non-relocating parent's visitation and relationship with the minor child. Also, there has to be a showing that the parties are able to afford travel expenses involved in continuing that visitation.
The courts want to preserve the non-relocating parent's relationship with the minor child and if the relocation would significantly diminish that relationship then the courts may be more apt to preserve the visitation rather than allow the relocation.

Written by: Whitney R. Lonker
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

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January 30, 2009

How Often Can I See My Child? Florida Visitation and Timesharing

In Florida, the parent that does not have the child the majority of the time does have rights. The court's main objective is to foster a good relationship between children and parents. In Jacksonville, Florida, the Court has developed the 4th Judicial Circuit Visitation/Timesharing Guidelines to help institute a satisfying schedule for both parents. These guidelines are suggested for parents that cannot reach a satisfying agreement regarding timesharing (visitation). If you and the other parent are able to agree on a schedule, then you can have a more liberal plan in place. Factors in determining the proper timesharing/visitation is also different when the child is under the ageto attend school and it changes if the child lives in a different city or state, depending on the distance.

Parental time sharing is considered important in Florida because it is in the best interest of the child to have a relationship with both parents, if possible. Florida Statute 61.13 details some of the aspects of handling visitation, but typically the courts in your area will have certain guidelines they follow. It's important to know what rights you have as a parent and to implement those rights with the court.

Written by: Lenorae C. Atter
Family Law Attorney
Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A.

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January 19, 2009

Options for Teen Moms in Florida Family Law

mother_holding_babys_foot.jpgSarah Palin's daughter was 17 years old and pregnant, Jamie Lynn Spears was 16 and pregnant, and most likely your Florida teen knows someone in high school that's pregnant. Taking the political nature of the question out, as in Pro Life or Pro Choice, what are the options one has?
I'm pretty certain that many of these young girls really don't want to get married right now, but obviously that is an option. But, does it really solve the problem? In Florida we recognize that parents have the right to child support, so the old fashioned idea of pregnancy equals marriage is not really necessary. In fact, it statistically causes more problems later since the majority of marriages that end are due to the couples being too young when they got married.
Another answer is for a paternity test to be done and filed with the court in order to prove the child does have a father, and hold that father responsible for any child support obligations. In teen pregnancy the mother and father are sometimes in school, but the court can impute income for child support to be assessed. Also, the child does have the option of going on state funded medical insurance. However, this is a tough road altogether and it's important to make certain you're making the right choice.
The option that is often overlooked because emotions control is adoption. Adoption is a great way to provide a good home for a child and make certain that all of the child's needs are being met. The popular movie "Juno" focused on a 15 year-old making that decision and though it was a movie it actually did a great job of showing how many good parents there are that are not capable of having them on their own. For a teenage girl willing to carry a child for 9 months, but not being able to recognize the long responsibility and affect the choice will have on her life, adoption is a wonderful option.
Any of these options are available, but making certain that all parties, especially the child are cared for properly, it would be beneficial to meet with a family law attorney that handles these types of issues on a regular basis.

January 12, 2009

Florida Man Still Gets Child Support Bills After Death

Some people may think that child support ends with death. "Well, when I die, at least, I will not have to pay child support any longer." Not so fast, the family of Scottie Pippen is still getting child support bills for him even thought he has been dead for 10 years. The story was reported in the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

The family attempted to clarify this matter many times over. Unfortunately, some child support office is chasing down a dead man when efforts could be made to better pursue living child support obligors in the State of Florida.

Child support is court ordered pursuant to a hearing or agreement of the parties. Typically, when the child graduates high school, marries, emancipates, or otherwise becomes self sufficient. The Court order of child support must be reviewed to determine the duration of the child support obligation in Florida.

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January 5, 2009

Florida Family Law Cases - The Good, Bad, and Ugly about My Space, Face Book and Other Social Networking Sites


Social networking sites like Face Book, My Space and others provide for a good support system for friends and family. When people are feeling down and need a friend or just are bored, they go to Face Book and My Space to read and posts their thoughts, feelings and activities. Friendships and activities posted on the web can come back to haunt you in a Family Law cases. People are often times foolish when they are online. They think that they are invisible when in fact the whole worlds can see what they are doing. There have been cases where people have been caught in marital affairs and even criminal activities through posts at Face Book, My Space and You Tube. On the flip side, these sites can be a wealth of information for those trying to find out more information about a person, business, and yes a spouse involved in a legal matter.

At Wood, Atter & Wolf, we have searched through My Space and Face Book in the past to find out information on the other side and (yes) our clients. Be careful what you posts out there in cyberspace. The whole world is watching and paying attention. One day, a Judge may even read your entries and information to determine an important legal issue on a case.

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