Coronavirus-1-300x123Couples fight and argue. Families get into disagreements. Roommates can’t get along. But, in some cases, these conflicts rise to the level that violence between people is dangerous and needs intervention. Our recent situation, where families, roommates, neighbors, and others are confined to their living spaces for elongated time periods highlight for many that their homes are not safe places for themselves or the people around them. It’s another serious dilemma facing us all as schools who watch over the safety of children are closed, and those who suffer feel as though they must suffer in silence, because there is no place that is safe for them to go.

Unfortunately, as liquor stores are considered “essential businesses” and many individuals face economic stress as well as fear from the Coronavirus, the climate for domestic violence is warming and becoming dangerous. Many law enforcement agencies have reported lower than normal call logs for assistance in situations of domestic violence, but that does not mean that the incidents themselves are lower, but rather that many who find themselves in a domestic violence situation feel as though there is no where for them to go, or they fear where they will have to go while trying to keep themselves safe during these days of “social distancing.”

If you are experiencing a violent or threatening situation in your home, now is not time to remain quiet. As a community, we are surging in reaching out to others, and being of service to one another in helping to get through this time. Calling law enforcement to report violence, or going to the hospital if you have been injured is not something that you should wait on in hopes that your partner will stop, no matter what they say. If you are being hurt, or threatened, you can go to the local courthouse in your area. In the State of Florida, the Courthouse remains open with a trained staff to help you to file the necessary Petition for Protection Against Domestic Violence, and the judges are reviewing these Petitions and placing temporary Orders for Protection Against Domestic Violence, if legally sufficient, to protect people during these times. At Wood, Atter, & Wolf, P.A., we are also working diligently through this time to help those in need that may need representation to facilitate the filing or advocacy in the courtroom of domestic violence injunctions to keep victims and children safe. As an experienced attorney in the field of domestic violence, knowing whether your situation is one that requires an injunction, and what services may available to help you through this time, is a main priority, as well as ensuring that your home can remain a safe place for you.

COVID-19-and-Family-Law-300x223The times we are living in are unprecedented.   As “non-essential” businesses are closing and schools seem to be either closing or “going online,” the endless spring break has created a situation where many co-parents lack the necessary guidance that they need to proceed these dark waters in effectively parenting.  Court orders are drafted to provide reasonable guidance for circumstances, but the current status of a national health emergency is not a provision contained in parenting plans.   A recent study of Americans found that the greatest current fear is that of “the unknown,” and when you do not know how to move through this situation regarding your child, that fear of the unknown is amplified.

Living in the eclipse of COVID-19/Corona has made many feel helpless, so what should you do to prepare for the virus with your co-parent?

Below are reasonable steps that every parent should be taking with their spouse or other parent.   Just because you may be living in a shared household, or under a timesharing parenting plan, communicating effectively about your plan, boundaries, and how to address the needs of your children is paramount to having a successful outcome for your minor children.

Florida-Alimony-Modification-300x246When you are getting divorced, the court is going to have any different components when dividing up your life between you and your spouse. From Parenting to Personal Property, the lists can be significant and the stress of balancing what your priorities can take its toll. In many cases, when spouses divorce, a big question that comes up is “what about alimony?”

In Florida, there is a gradient of marriages that helps to guide parties and judges as to when alimony is appropriate. In short term marriages, those under 7 years, the likelihood of substantial alimony is low. In moderate marriages, between 7 and 17 years, there is a better possibility that you will receive alimony, but more likely for the length of time that your marriage lasted. For individuals married for more than 17 years, there is a rebuttable presumption that the higher paid spouse will owe alimony to the lesser paid spouse for a long time period, and in some instances, permanently.

But what happens when the situation changes from when you get divorced? Many alimony paying spouses find themselves in new territory when they find out that their former spouse has now gotten married or is living with someone new. If there has been a substantial change in circumstances, then you may be entitled to a modification of your alimony. Marriage to someone new is a termination of alimony, but it does not happen automatically. Having an experienced Florida family attorney file a motion to stop your alimony, and being able to prove that your ex is remarried is a prerequisite to alimony termination. Next, if your ex is living with a new romantic partner, and they are sharing in living expenses, or there is a financial dependency between them, co-habitation or “living together” is another basis for when your alimony may be decreased or terminated. These cases are very evidence based, and that is the tricky part. Being able to prove that your ex is now living with someone else may be the hardest part.

Paternity-Fatherhood-Florida-Law-300x189Learning that you are expecting a child is one of the most exciting and life changing moments that parents experience.   Between the planning and wonder of what this new life will bring to your life, parents are on a roller coaster from the beginning.    In cases where the parents are not married and remain together, it seems like the perfect setting as you embark on a new aspect of your relationship.   In some instances, the years pass, and the couples stay together, as if just like married couples, raising their families and sharing in the memory making moments.   In others, just like married couples, the struggles of daily life and raising children take their toll on the central relationship between the parents and break ups occur.

We are faced in many cases where new fathers come in asking about their parental rights at various stages in the process of both expecting and raising their baby.    In Florida, if you are not married to the mother, Chapter 742, Florida Statutes, contains the state laws on how fathers and mothers can establish the rights of the Father.  Even if you have signed the birth certificate for your child, this act does not convey rights for decision making or timesharing to your child.  Many fathers are unaware that they need to take legal action to formally establish their rights as a father beyond just signing the birth certificate.    In many instances, we are asked when should I do that? Should I file paternity even if the mother and I are living together and raising our child together?

Our answer is simple.   You should file to establish your parental rights as soon as possible to the child’s birth, regardless of the living situation with your child’s mother or father.   This is important to establish your rights as a parent both moving forward with raising your child together and in case, your relationship breaks down.   In these situations, establishing yourself as a parent, or establishing the father’s rights, while you are still living together should be welcomed by both parents.   As a follow up to our answer, we often are asked, “but doesn’t that mean I will have to pay child even if we are living together?” The answer is no, you can establish your parental rights, and determine decision making responsibilities between yourself and the other parent while you get along so that should the parties break up, you already have the process started, and you can quickly modify your already existing paternity order to include timesharing and child support, while also maintaining consistency for your child.

Florida-Adultery-300x223Infidelity is a heartbreaking reality for many marriages.    The spouse who discovers the infidelity often goes through a spectrum of emotions, but at the bottom of all of them feels betrayed by their partner.   This break of trust makes many spouses angry or skeptical of believing anything from the other spouse and causes there to be walls to communication that are difficult to overcome.

In Florida, we are a “no fault” state, when courts consider dissolutions of marriage.   Each spouse will come before the court with their requests for how life should look post-dissolution, but the court rarely gets into why the parties are divorcing.   This is difficult for many “cheated on” spouses to understand who have felt a true sense of loss in dealing with divorce.

In Florida, there are some instances, however, when the court does look at the impact of infidelity, though they are few and very limited.   If the spouse has used marital funds in furtherance of the extra-marital affair, the court will consider this “waste of marital funds” as a component in determining whether alimony is appropriate and how much to award.  In order to prove that marital funds have been used, it is imperative that actual evidence shows transactions that indicate the spending.   An experienced Florida family law attorney can help you obtain access to your spouse’s accounts, credit cards, and other means by which these transactions can be shown.   Looking for florist purchases, jewelry stores, hotel charges, or high meal expenses, over periods of time, may show patterns of infidelity.  Further, in many instances, dating apps and other social media, may be ways to discover whether your spouse is involved in an extra-marital affair.  In many instances, hiring a private investigator to take photographs, track your spouse, or search for financial holdings that you may not know about is helpful and can be used as clear evidence for the court’s consideration.   While this can be another expense, if it has the likelihood of awarding more alimony or timesharing, it may be well worth it.   Discussing this with an attorney, before you file for divorce, is key, as once the filing for divorce occurs, typically spouses are more careful in their actions, and proving relationships after the date that you file do not indicate infidelity, but rather that your spouse is commencing to moving on.

Florida-Alimony-300x213Many people stay in marriages that they would otherwise leave, because they are afraid of the financial strain that divorce presents.  For many, the question of whether an alimony award is required by Florida law is an obstacle that seems insurmountable when considering going it alone after many years of marriage.

For the spouse who has stayed home to raise children or has sacrificed their career by moving for the higher paid spouse, the reality of how this spouse will afford to pay the bills, keep the marital home, or have any sense of security is terrifying, and in many instances, they have relied heavily on the higher paid spouse to take care of the finances while they have taken care of the household.   Alimony in the State of Florida is meant as a means of making that transition a more normal consideration, because the court will consider whether the lesser paid spouse has a work history, and what their needs actually look like, and how the higher paid spouse can continue to provide financial stability to both spouses while going from married to single.

On the other hand, the higher paid spouse in many instances, may recognize that his or her higher income has been able to afford a level of comfort when providing for the family under one roof, but the likelihood of the same level of financial freedom while providing for two households seems impossible.  In these cases, it is important to recognize that Florida family law courts have to balance the need and ability of both spouses to contribute to the transition of being married to single for both spouses. Alimony may be presumed in long term marriages, in Florida, meaning over 17 years of marriage, but it is not guaranteed and the court will consider whether an actual need for financial assistance between spouses is required. Factors that the court will consider not only include how much money each spouse makes, but also what the lifestyle of the marriage included, what each contributed to the marriage, and also the overall asset and debt liability that exists for each spouse after the marriage has ended.

https://www.jacksonvilledivorcelawyerblog.com/files/2020/01/Permanent-Alimony.001-300x171.jpegThe concept of permanent alimony is a frightening proposition for many breadwinning spouses who are getting divorced from a long time spouse.  In fact, it can be a reason or deterrent for people filing for divorce, who have been the higher earning spouse in a marriage.  Permanent alimony in Florida is a rebuttable presumption in divorces for marriages when the spouses have been married more than 17 years, which means that the court is more likely than not, assume that in cases where two spouses have been married for at least 17 years, that the spouse that has earned less or stayed home may be entitled to support for the remainder of his or her life, if the spouse can show that they have a need for alimony.  What it does NOT mean is that if you are married for 17 years that a spouse is entitled to alimony, regardless of the facts and circumstances.

In determining whether to award alimony, the court must first consider if the party requesting shows a need for alimony, after considering not only the incomes of the parties, but also in how the debt and assets from the marriage are being divided between the parties. If the court does find that one spouse has a need for alimony, the court next examines whether the higher paid spouse has the ability to pay alimony, considering their income, expenses, and also the division of assets and liabilities in the marriage.

If the court finds that there is a need and ability to pay, next the court will examine the statutory factors to determine an alimony amount, which include:

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In most Florida family law matters, especially those concerning the long term care of shared children, judges prefer to have individuals reach their own agreements about how the divorce is going to structured, including how to share time with their children, divide their property, and decision making about raising their children.   Clients routinely ask, “do we have to go to mediation? If we don’t get along, how on earth will we agree on anything?”   Simply put, mediation is magic in many but certainly not all cases.

Over the years and hundreds of cases, we have seen even the most difficult cases and parties find resolution with their spouse or former spouse through the process of mediation.  Mediation is where the spouses meet with a neutral third party, who acts as a go-between in order to find solutions to the parties’ disputes over their dissolution of marriage, modification, or other issues that may be worked out.  Typically, parties remain separated in two rooms, and may never see one another, or may briefly at the onset of mediation for the mediator to explain the process and the rules.

While getting to an agreement may seem like an insurmountable task, using a trained mediator and having an experienced family law attorney at your side makes mediation an excellent opportunity to have control and input in deciding the most important components of your family law case.  Not only that, mediation discussions are prohibited from coming into court for the judge to consider if your case goes to trial, therefore, people feel more willing to discuss their concerns and also to be open to creative solutions that may not be available should a judge decide your case.

Marital-Home-Florida-Family-LawAs experienced family law attorneys, we get many questions from prospective and current clients about moving out of their shared home and their concerns about “abandoning” the home.  As with any relationship, the answer is usually “it depends” but in reality, it’s important to realize that certain circumstances make the answer very simple, and courts quickly step in to help parties to deal with the temporary “split up” in the face of divorce.

Under Florida law, if you are married and residing in home that you purchased together, the marital home is a shared asset.  Simply moving out of the house does not mean that you have abandoned the property. In instances where your ex spouse or potential ex spouse has been violent or threatened  you with accusations (even false) of domestic violence that could have devastating impacts on your life, leaving the marital home is with good reason and would not result in you being viewed as an “abandoner.” In addition, courts recognize that when parties are going through a split up and tensions are high, getting out of the shared residence may be the best way for people to start working together to either co-parent or start the process of dividing to lead to resolution.

You do not lose your legal or property interest in the marital home, and while you should continue to make sure that the residence is continuing to be maintained, you can come to agreements with your separated spouse to divide the associated expenses to maintain the property.  If you are “breadwinner” spouse or the spouse who traditionally has paid for the home, ensuring that you are maintaining the financial status quo while occupying another place to live, is a reasonable approach to continue consistency and showing your ongoing interest in the marital home.

Court-House-300x274In the State of Florida and other states,  domestic violence injunctions can negatively impact your life in several different ways, including the inability to carry or have firearms, exclusion from consideration for jobs (or fired from jobs you may already have), and negatively impacting your timesharing with your children.

The injunction process begins by filing for a Petition for Temporary Injunction, which remains in place for 15 days until a hearing is held, where both parties are given the opportunity to be present. The Temporary Injunction can require the Respondent to have no contact with the Petitioner and to stay away from specific locations in which the Petitioner frequents including the shared home.  The contact includes direct contact like via phone, text, email, or other means, including through third parties, like friends or family.  A temporary injunction can also create a temporary parenting plan for the parties’ children.  Further, it can also establish child support for the care of the minor children during the timesharing.  Rights as far as a shared residence, and other considerations may be customized based on the needs of the case.  At the hearing, the judge will hold a hearing, where evidence, such as text messages, photos, testimony of the witnesses and parties, will be considered in weighing whether the court will order that a final injunction will be in place regarding the parties, the children, and the property at issue.

As part of an Injunction for Domestic Violence, the Court will also limit the Respondent to possessing firearms and ammunition.  Further, the Court may also order an anger management class, substance abuse evaluation, mental health evaluation, or any other tool that the court may feel is in the best interest of maintaining the safety of the parties.  The required tasks that are ordered are then monitored by the court to make sure that the ordered party has complied.  In some cases, parents may have supervised visits with their children, if the court feels that there is a risk of harm to the children.  In those cases, visitation can occur at a visitation center or with a mutually approved supervisor.  In cases where a supervision center is used, the visitation between you and your children will be observed by an unbiased adult who records notes and interactions that may be used later in court.   Further, in some cases, where children have been in the home during an incident of domestic violence, the Department of Children and Families may also become involved in your case to not only put a safety plan in place, but also offer services to the victim and the children.