Smart-Home-300x265The age of the “smart home” is undoubtedly upon us, and devices control our room temperature, change our television channels, and even tell our children stories.  We have come to not only rely on their safety measures, but also embraced how they make our lives easier. At the same time, the smart home devices are keeping tabs on what we do, say, and where we are. Could Amazon’s Alexa help or hurt you in a family case?

Most of the smart home devices, like Google Home, are activated upon a “wake word,” or action like approaching a front door, which causes them to not only respond, but also record their surroundings.  The recordings are stored remotely, and can be reviewed at a later date. Recently, a murder case in Arkansas brought the question of whether Amazon would be forced to release the smart home device information to determine if the recordings would shed light on who committed the murder.  Currently, the question of whether Amazon will have to release remains unresolved, but if so, it will then become a question if the recordings may be considered by the court in determining the case.

Clients routinely ask if evidence that they have gathered can be used in court, and many times the answer is yes.  Conversely, while the recording or evidence may be kept out of court, they can still be considered by counselors, therapists, or other experts, whose opinions will be heard by the court. Regardless of whether the recordings could be used in court, the impact of the smart home on a family law case is far reaching.  Perhaps, a cheating spouse could be caught because the cheater  is not home when the cheater states that he / she is home.  A conversation about a spouse’s actions and plans could also be captured by a smart home device. In many instances, the device recordings are kept on apps that the other spouse can either watch or listen in, and know what is going on.

Copurt-Order-300x242Dissolving your marriage in the State of Florida , in many cases, is a lengthy process.   Issues of property division and child timesharing cause couples to have conflicts without a great deal of guidance when they are attempting to finalize their plans moving forward. If you are divorcing in Florida, and specifically in the Jacksonville area, courts enter a standing family law order, once a divorce is filed with the clerk of court. This order provides some guidance on how couples should conduct themselves during the pendency of a divorce.

First, these orders prohibit one spouse from selling or hiding property, owned either individually or as a couple.   This order will typically hold off a spouse from cleaning out the bank accounts, selling off personal or real property, or hiding assets that ultimately need to be divided in the divorce. One tip that is essential to moving forward is to take a copy of this order to your bank upon receiving it, so that your financial institution is aware of the current status of your marriage, and protections can be put in place for your money.

One exception to this provision to the taking of assets is when a spouse needs to sell an asset for usual household expenses or attorney’s fees. In these cases, your spouse may be able to sell an asset without your consent in order to make financial obligations. This is another area that may cause continuing conflict, and could be avoided through communication or representation by an experienced family law attorney.

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.

Gray-Divorce-300x300

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.

Moving-Boxes-300x300

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.

Attorney-and-Justice-300x144

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.