Marital-Home-300x205A question that commonly comes up in Florida Divorce consultations and cases is whether a client should move out of the marital home once one of the parties has filed for divorce. While many times spouses recognize that if there has been a divorce filing, eventually the time will come where they will no longer live together, this is a decision that should be made with planning and careful consideration.

The marital home is often the largest asset that the parties share, and its division in extremely important when considering how assets and debt will be allocated in a divorce case. In some cases, a spouse bought the house years prior to the marriage, or before even knowing the other spouse, in those cases, the house may be considered a non-marital asset. Conversely, many times, a home is purchased either right before or during a marriage, with the anticipation that the parties will live together as a married couple and ultimately a family, which would then make the house a marital asset.  In Florida, when a married couple buys a home, the property is held in a “tenancy by the entireties”. Only married couples can hold property in this manner, and the deed will reflect that the parties are married at the time of purchase, and that is how the property is deeded to the couple. Being married is a prerequisite to the property being held in this manner. When the parties divorce, the “tenancy by the entireties” is destroyed, and both parties are joint tenants of the property. In both cases, the parties own 100% of the property, but when the house is sold, equity is divided in half, unless special circumstances permit that a party is awarded a more significant share of the proceeds.

A Florida Family Law Lawyer can advise you as to your legal rights prior to and during a divorce proceeding.  Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A. based in Jacksonville Florida has represented parties in divorce and post divorce proceedings since 1957.  At Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A., we are On Your Side – At Your Side.

Scales-of-Justice-Gold-300x277Investigations by the Florida Department of Children and Families begin with allegations that a child or vulnerable adult has been abandoned, neglected, or abused. It is the role of the Florida Department of Children and Families to take each allegation seriously and to ensure that claim is investigated to ensure the safety of all individuals involved.   Being involved in an investigation is stressful and causes many to worry about losing legal rights to a child or a grandchild. This, in turn, leaves many to wonder if they should contact a Florida Family Law Attorney to protect their parental rights.

Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) cases start with allegations that are forwarded to law enforcement or directly to DCF.  An investigator is sent out to visit the child, parents, and any other adults who may have relevant information regarding the allegations.   Usually, at that time, an investigator will not only interview the alleged victim, but also will assess the conditions of the home or place that the incident is alleged to have occurred.   Upon review, the investigative team will determine whether there are facts that give rise to the case going to court and whether the child should remain in the home during the pendency of the DCF investigation and court case.

While these types of investigations can involve criminal matters like domestic violence, substance abuse, and child abuse, the DCF investigation and resulting case are not criminal charges.   Under Florida Statutes Chapter 39, the State of Florida has a duty to children and vulnerable adults to protect them from abuse, neglect, and abandonment through a civil court, which can result in the child being removed from the home and ultimately to the loss of parental rights.  These are serious cases and should not be taken lightly.

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Gray divorces can put older Floridians in the financial red. The divorce rate for individuals over the age of 50 has doubled over the past two decades, and while other age groups have shown a decline in divorce, this age group continues to maintain or increase in more recent years. While the impact of minor children is less frequently occurring in these divorces, the financial impact of a “later in life” divorce can have substantial financial effects on the spouses in the State of Florida.

Considerations must be given to the intertwined finances of couples that have long term marriages, as well as the accumulation of assets and liabilities, health concerns, and a likelihood of permanent spousal support. The assets of these couples can be significant, and the need for an experienced Florida Family Law Attorney that can help to manage and lessen the financial impact of a divorce is essential to maintaining and maximizing the distribution of assets through a divorce.

In many situations, these couples have amassed significant retirement accounts, pensions, real estate, and other personal assets that should be itemized for proper allocation of assets to be determined marital and non-marital property, when evaluation equitable distribution in a divorce case.  Unfortunately, this information has not been fully or openly discussed by the spouses and requires that records from employers and banking institutions be directly subpoenaed from the source to avoid continued misinformation.

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Life after a divorce can be very difficult both for the co-parents and for the children of the former marriage.  Part of what makes it easier is that children are still seeing both parents regularly and have the same social circles, schools, and sometimes home that they already know. But then life strikes, and the need to relocate has reared its head. Someone has to move, and that means that the children will be thrown into massive change again.  No matter how you slice it, when a parent has to move with or without the children, it is a huge change for a child. Making the decision to relocate is not one to take lightly or make out of haste.

In most cases, Florida law requires that if you are relocating that you must follow the very specific procedures set forth in Fla. Stat. 61.13001.  These relocation procedures become applicable when either parents who is entitled to timesharing with the minor children intends to move more than fifty (50) miles away.  You can obtain permission to relocate either through the agreement with the other party, or by filing a Petition with your family court.

When co-parents agree to the relocation, you still must make sure that you agreement conforms to Florida Law.  In order to comply, your agreement must be in writing, must consider transportation and related expenses, must specify a new parenting plan, and ultimately be sanctioned by the Court to be considered valid.

Travel-Out-of-the-Country-300x300Love knows no boundaries, and multicultural families are very common in our society.  Things, however, become complicated when couples separate, and at times, intense emotions lead can lead to bad decisions. At times, foreign spouses threaten to take a child or children out of the United States, leaving the American born spouse in fear of losing the children.  The issues under these circumstances include how to protect the children from parental abduction and what limitations exist on how parents can travel post-separation.

Being vigilant and having open communication is always the best step to avoid a future issue when considering the safety of your children. If the other spouse makes a legitimate threat to take your child, you may be able to request a emergency order to keep your children in the state or country.   You may also be able to obtain an order enjoining the other spouse from taking the children to locations.

These orders may not be without limit, but they may provide a sufficient warning to  a spouse who is considering taking the next step and removing the children. In addition, there are federal safeguards that require that both parents to participate in getting a minor child a passport. The Two Parent Consent Law requires that both parents provide notarized signed consent for the issuance of a passport for a child. In addition, parents can register their children with the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program, which is governed by the Department of State. If a parent registers with the Department of State, and provides the necessary documentation, a child’s passport application will be denied after being approved for acceptance by the program. It is important to know your legal rights in a family law case by consulting with an experienced Florida Family Law Attorney.

Wedding-300x238When two people are getting married, the excitement of planning and celebrating the upcoming matrimonial bliss is the focal point, but in actually, it is really two people entering into a legal binding contract.  In order for the contract to be valid, there are certain requirements that have to be met.  Parties have to come to a meeting of the minds and must be capable of entering into an agreement freely and voluntarily.  Ultimately, when this contract is breached or broken, however, the parties go to divorce court. For most people, when a marriage ends, they file for divorce, because the marriage is irretrievably broken. But for a small fraction of individuals, an annulment can be filed, which states that the marriage was invalid from the beginning.  While annulments can seem like an attractive or less complicated approach, it is not a simple fix and Florida has specific legal requirements and proof standards for a situation to qualify for an annulment ruling or court order.

In Florida to receive an annulment, you have to show that there was:

1 Bigamy– meaning that the person you thought that you were marrying is actually already married to someone else; OR

Laboratory-300x200Many couples dream of having a child to add to the love and home that they are starting to build. In some heart breaking instances, couples experience trouble conceiving a child, and seek out medical help to become pregnant and look to In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) as a way to make that dream a reality.   When couples use IVF, they typically create several viable embryos at the time, which are then stored for later use. Fortunately, for many, IVF procedures bring success and before long, the couple welcomes a beautiful baby and the joys of parenthood. In some instances, however, after IVF has been successful, the other viable embryos remain cryogenically frozen, and due to breakdowns within the marriage, an issue arises during Florida divorce proceedings about what to do about the children who have not yet been born.

When children have been born, the court balances a multitude of factors in determining how timesharing with children should be divided between parents.  The most important of these factors is the “best interest of the child.”  This issue become more difficult when considering how to deal with children who are yet to be born.  Florida is one of the few states to have actually dealt with this emerging issue as more and more couples are turning to IVF.   That being said, every case is different, so it is important to discuss your case with an experienced family law attorney who can help you to navigate this issue and what the evolving law states on the issue.

In Florida, when a couple starts IVF, each person signs a contract between each other, and the treating physician, that should address what should happen to the stored genetic material: sperm, egg, and pre-embryos upon death or divorce.   Obviously, when couples are starting to take the very big step of IVF, then they should consider the “what if” seriously, but it is a daunting task, as emotions are high and anticipation of a “dream come true” is so close.  These agreements have been determined by the court to be legally binding, so discussing this issue with an attorney may lead to reducing conflict and turmoil later.

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The short answer, yes, this happens all of the time and you should get a Florida Family Law attorney to review the documents and represent you to protect your legal rights. In Florida, historically, when a parent is looking to collect child support from another parent, they go to court, the judge determines whether the man is the father, they create a child support amount, and everyone carries on from that point.  Another procedure has been getting more popular in recent years, however, and it is called the administrative establishment of child support.

The Department of Revenue is the state agency that works with custodial parents to collect child support, both from citizens who are in need of legal help for a small fee and also from citizens who receive public assistance for their children.   The law allows the Department of Revenue to either use circuit courthouse to establish child support, or to use the administrative process.  In the administrative process, parents are sent a letter that the Department of Revenue has started a case against them, and gives the parents twenty days to respond. Unlike the procedure in circuit court, no one comes out to serve the paperwork, they just receive a certified letter in the mail.  It is assumed that if a person receives a letter, or a letter is signed for by a household member that the mail will be read by the addressed person.

This may not always be true, and can result in a child support order being entered against you, without going to court. If the parent does not respond, then the procedure moves forward, and with or without the involvement of the other parent, child support will be established, and will be a court order with the same effect of one that you would get from the courthouse.  So, it would be possible for a person to have a child support, and not know it if they did not open the letter that they received from the Department of Revenue.  This can have huge effects on the paying spouse, because if they are not aware of it, and their case does not have an income deduction order, then obviously, the Department of Revenue can seek to suspend their driver’s license, or any other method to make someone pay their child support.   Not only that, but if a parent wishes to have a DNA test or has a question whether they are the father or not, that issue can be addressed in the administrative process but only if the parent takes the necessary steps to participate.

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When you file for divorce, paternity, or are involved in a dispute regarding your children with your former partner in the State of Florida, there are requirements that both parties exchange financial information.  Under the Florida Family Rules of Procedure, specifically Rule 12.285, when a family law matter is filed in circuit court, then the parties have to turn over certain documents to the other side.  These include the following financial documents: three years of tax returns, three months of proof of income, three months (at least) of bank statements, retirement information, credit card statements, and the list goes on.  This is required so that both parties and the court have a clear picture of the financial assets and debts of each side, and that the needs of the spouses and children are met based on the income between the parties.  Without it, the court cannot do its job to ensure that the outstanding issues between the parties can be handled completely and that resolution can be final.

In many instances, clients, or the opposing party, does not want to turn over financial information.  This is especially true when parties are already divorced and have been living separately for years.  The requirement, however, remains the same.  Having an experienced Florida family law attorney to guide you through the necessary disclosures from your documents, and also ensuring that you receive the documents that you will need to prove your case is essential.  This is frequently a hot bed for issues that result in one party refusing to fully comply, and requires motions to be filed before the judge to decide not only when you should receive the information, but also if sanctions, like attorney’s fees should be assigned to the non-compliant spouse.

Ensuring that you are in compliance with the required, or further requested documents, is essential to safeguarding yourself from facing possible sanctions as well.  By providing organized documentation to your legal representative gives them the ability to review and submit with confidence that you are in compliance with the required disclosure.  These documents are important to your case. In some instances, bank statements, credit card purchases, and income statements can show an experienced family law attorney aspects of your case that will help to make you successful in claims of spousal support, child support, or the distribution of assets and debts. These documents are also helpful when received from the other side in demonstrating what their need for support, ability to pay support, or where funds may be wasted which in turn in also helpful to your case.

Military-Service-300x211In the State of Florida, one of the most unique issues in a military divorce is the calculation of alimony and child support based on the income of the parties.  When one spouse is OR both spouses are employed as service members, it is important to recognize that aspects of income, some not even taxable by the IRS, will be considered income when it comes to providing for your children and former spouse after a Florida Dissolution of Marriage.

Calculating income for a Florida military divorce or paternity action creates special issues, because of the differences in how service members are compensated as compared to the civilian workforce.  Most of the pay information is found on the Leave and Earning Statement, which details how much you (or your partner) earns, their rank, years of service, but also any deductions. In every day terms, this is essentially the equivalent to your pay stub.

When considering what is inclusive income, a Florida court will consider the service member’s pay first. Thus, the basic pay, hazard pay, combat pay, and flight pay will definitely be considered in the calculation of the available income. These forms of pay are usually taxable, therefore it should come as no surprise that they are income.  Military families need to also include the allowances that decrease a service member’s cost of living, such as housing allowances (BAH), disability pay, subsistence allowance (BAS), per diem payments, and cost of living adjustments (COLA). These “allowances” not only decrease the daily living expenses of the military spouse, but also act as an increase in their income, and become a complicated issue for family law judges to determine when considering child support calculations. These additions are usually considered to be income, as they are cash benefits which ultimately would be considered components of gross income when calculating child support of the families’ children.