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Breaking up is hard to do. Sometimes, one person finds out that another has been unfaithful, or another person may just be out of love, and a Florida divorce can come as a surprise or without very much warning. But for most when a marriage is on the rocks, both parties may be considering filing for divorce. Clients coming in for an initial consultation about getting divorced will ask in many instances the following questions:

Does it matter that I file the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage first?

Will my spouse get the upper hand if he or she files first?

Tax-Reform-300x300When couples divorce in the State of Florida, one consideration is will there be alimony and if so, how much for how long? Alimony comes in different shapes and sizes, but one aspect has consistent: the spouse that pays the alimony is allowed to reduce his or her payments from the gross income in the IRS Income Tax filings, and the receiving spouse needs to include these payments in his or her gross income.  This may soon, however, become a thing of the past. Tax reform is one of the biggest issues in Washington D.C., which will have an impact on every person in the United States.  There are many aspects in the proposed 2017 tax reform, but one that seems to less talked about is the plan to change how alimony is treated. Instead of the paying spouse being able to deduct alimony payments from gross income, the proposed reform will no longer recognize that deduction. Further, the receiving spouse will no longer have to claim the alimony as part of his or her income.

Since tax reduction has been one way to make alimony more palatable to the paying spouse, this change will have significant impact on the likelihood of couples reaching mediated agreements or settlements in a Florida divorce case.  One reason given for the proposed change is that while most paying spouses claim their alimony deduction, many receiving spouses do not include alimony in their taxable income.   This possible change, however could have considerable effects on how divorce will evolve, as family law attorneys and judges will need to consider the tax implications far more closely when determining if alimony is not only appropriate, but also what the likely ramifications will be to the payor spouse.

Alimony is  one of those issues that continues to be an area of contention, battle, and court fight between divorcing spouses. While it is reasonable that the spouse who stayed home to raise the children, should have some financial support, the legislature and courts in Florida have already started to chip away that at the presumption that financial support from a divorced spouse should last for decades or the rest of a spouse’s life. The burden to overcome not only the need for alimony, but now the ability of a paying spouse will become far more difficult to show in court if this proposal ultimately becomes law.

Military-Salute-300x199Getting divorced creates a myriad of obstacles, but one of the biggest issues for military families is the question of “what state am I supposed to get divorced in?”  In the State of Florida, the court requires that a party live in the state for at least six months prior to filing for divorce.  This is required for anyone seeking a divorce in Florida, but becomes of special importance for military families due to relocations for active duty.

Additionally, federal law requires that in order for a spouse to seek enforceable orders relating to a military retirement, there are particular rules that must followed for a court to be able to assume jurisdiction over your family law matter. In order for a court to make decisions about your military retirement plan, the state that you file in must be:

a) A state where the military spouse is domiciled;

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Unfortunately, divorce has become a common reality in our society and in the State of Florida, and it has far reaching impacts for individuals, couples, and their children. Twenty percent of divorces are highly contested, causing courts to label these cases as “high conflict,” meaning that there is a troubling trend in communication style between the parents of the children in the case. With intervention, almost 80% of those “high conflict” cases improve and parties are able to address the needs of their children as a team.

Being in a high conflict Florida divorce, throughout the process and after, can be physically and emotionally damaging to the spouses and children. Improving your communication is the single most effective strategy to long term growth in co-parenting conflict. So, how can co-parents improve how they communicate? There are a variety of strategies that can be used to reduce conflict and anxiety. That being said, if you are in fear for your safety or your child, then your best course of action is to remove yourself and your children from danger.

First, stop building a case against your ex, former spouse, or former partner. Judges do not look favorably on parents having long text exchanges that start out discussing the children, and end up in name calling. Requiring your former spouse to only communicate in writing is also unhealthy. In situations where you feel that you need to memorialize a conversation, a follow up email to your co-parent detailing what you discussed in a phone call is more appropriate. Having an experienced Jacksonville Florida Family Law Attorney to conduct the litigation on your behalf is the best tool to helping improve your communication with your co-parent. Leave the lawyers to do their job, and focus on your child in your communication with your co-parent.

Florida-Family-Law-Divorce-300x200For many people, when you and your spouse are getting divorce, the last thing that seems possible is that you will come to agreements about how life will work once you are divorced. Florida courts, however, routinely order that couples attend a Florida Family Law Mediation to work out their differences. Many times, our clients will ask, “why do I have to go to mediation?”

The short answer to that question is simple, “because it works.” Another answer would be because it is ordered by the Judge. Research has indicated that when spouses can have some input and control over the outcome of the divorce that both sides tend to work better at holding to that agreement and being more satisfied than if the judge decides. Mediation in Florida divorces is an opportunity for each spouse to communicate through a third party over how each spouse’s finances, parenting responsibilities, timesharing with the children, and assets can be split based on the priorities of the family. Mediation occurs in a casual office like setting, so the environment is more comfortable for reaching agreements as opposed to the formality of the agreements. Additionally, you and your spouse usually sit in separate rooms with your respective attorney, and the mediator, who is typically a lawyer or counselor trained in family law, talks to both sides individually to help create an agreement for the future of this family. Also, at mediation, everything that you say is confidential, and negotiations can not be used against in court later, so this gives each side freedom to make offers to find a resolution and not worry that their words will come back to haunt them in front of the judge.

In addition, when it comes to timesharing with your shared children, you can craft a parenting plan that is not only going to work for the particular needs of both parents, but it is focused on the needs of the children. For example, maybe your soon-to-be former spouse has an work schedule where the work overnight shifts, mediating a parenting plan can help to take those considerations into account when you and spouse come to an agreement about how to maximize time with the kids and parents, considering the work hours of both parents.

The dissolution of a marriage can be a frightening and stressful ordeal that many divorcing couples might not be emotionally equipped to handle on their own. Because emotions run high, even for the spouse who is seeking the break-up of the marriage, unresolved issues that led to a divorce often-times takes years to resolve. These problems are compounded when children are involved and add additional emotional issues that can led to severe complications for both parents and children. Divorce can be one of the most difficult, life altering events that can take place in a person’s life. The judicial process, once initiated can also be a daunting reality which adds to the emotional stress experienced by one or more of the spouses. The final outcome in divorce matters is usually decided by the courts if mediation does not present a remedy for the parties involved. Having an effective opportunity to resolve differences is usually not experienced during divorce proceedings without the guidance from an experienced attorney. At Wood, Atter and Wolf, we have experienced first-hand, the pain and suffering endured when clients are not guided in the right direction. We understand that unresolved issues stemming from an unsuccessful marriage can bleed over into the experience divorced couples endure after the legal issues have been resolved. We try to guide our clients towards, not only a successful outcome, but ways former spouses and children can deal with the trauma of divorce and find common ground moving forward. We find that the quicker you can put anger and unresolved issues behind, the sooner all parties will be happier and enjoy fulfilled lives again. This is why we encourage a collaboration between divorcing couples, working through their differences and trying to proceed with the interests of both parties in mind. While seeking an amicable solution, many formerly married couples can become happy singles again.

Roadblocks for Divorcing Couples

In most divorce cases, unresolved issues left on the table can feed over into post-divorce issues that complicate and exacerbate even simple matters. Just because a divorce decree has been finalized doesn’t always mean that all parties have moved on emotionally.  Especially when children are involved, parents with new co-parenting roles should try and develop a shared communication allowing parents to work together in the mutual best interest of the children. At Wood, Atter and Wolf we try and promote an ever evolving, harmonious relationship between former spouses focusing on what is truly important, the future, rather than mistakes made or regrets of the past.

Scales-of-Justice-Gold-300x200Domestic Violence is a very serious topic. In fact, many victims of “domestic violence” dislike even using the term, because the reality is that if it were always violent, it would be much easier to detect. The truth is that domestic violence happens in everyday, in every city in the State of Florida and other States. Victims can be male, female, or transgendered. Victims range in age from infants to elderly. So, why is it so difficult to identify whether domestic violence is happening in your home?

Section 741.28, Florida Statutes, aims to solve that problem with a clearly defined law of what domestic violence is: “any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member.” But the reaches of domestic violence go much further than that. The Florida Association of Domestic Violence identifies that domestic violence is rather a series of threatening and controlling behavior, where one member of a household, or former household, seeks to establish power over or intimidate another. These behaviors are disrespectful, abusive, and harmful. It is the role of an experienced Florida Family Law Attorney that can help you to prepare a Petition for Injunction Against Domestic Violence to protect you and your loved ones from someone trying to threaten your safety.

When you file for a Petition for Injunction Against Domestic Violence, you are asking the court for protection on temporary basis. This may include: removing the abuser from the house, keeping a distance from you and other household members, setting up temporary financial support, and establishing a temporary timesharing agreement for your children. These temporary fixes are limited to no longer than 14 days under Florida Law. After the two weeks, you will have to appear before a Judge, who will decide if you should have longer protection based on how serious and dangerous the situation is and what has happened in the meanwhile. During this time, counseling may be ordered for the abuser, or the victim, which can help to make the situation better. Therapy for the victim can also help to establish a support system for their healing.

Natural-Disasters-300x300Pounding rains, whipping winds, and treacherous flooding poses threaten the safety of your family, your home, and your daily life. As a hurricane or other natural disaster looms, questions about what to do with about the Florida Family Law Timesharing Plan of your beloved children start to circulate between you and your former spouse. What is a co-parent to do when these issues are not addressed in a parenting plan?

It is highly unlikely that your parenting plan contemplates what to do in case of a natural disaster or emergency situation. When the urgent need for shelter, water, and possible evacuation becomes a reality, courthouses are closed and the aid of the judiciary is extremely limited. First, you should communicate with your former spouse or co-parent, with the consideration of your shared children’s safety being the primary concern. Providing accurate location information and contact between the absent parent should be maintained.

Second, consider the obligations of your co-parent and their family. Is he or she a first responder, serviceperson, or will he or she be called into work? Does the co-parent have the care of vulnerable person, such as an elderly family member or infant/small child? Finally, where does the c0-parent live? Will he or she need to evacuate based on their evacuation zone or do they have special needs?   When creating a emergency plan for your shared children, it’s important to realize that your children will be worried about the parent that cannot be with them, but also for their own safety, so taking the steps early to make a plan is key.

Scales-of-Justice-Gold-300x200You didn’t need a lawyer when you got married, so many times people feel like they don’t need a lawyer to get divorced.  This, however, is not typically the best approach. Most divorces have at least one issue that is a legal matter. Whether it is alimony, child timesharing, child support, dividing the marital home or assets, it is important to speak to a Florida family law attorney to guide you through the law that exists pertaining to the legal issues that are in your case. While many couples feel that they can fairly and equally divide their assets, the truth is once dollar signs begin getting assigned, self interest begins to override the fairness principle. Having an attorney that you can rely on to be looking out for your best interest is your best approach, as the attorney should be aware of how a judge or magistrate will most likely rule in your case, and can advise you appropriately.

But lawyers are so expensive?! It’s true that the hourly rate of many lawyers seems staggering at first glance, and those hours pouring over your file and the details of your life add up. The question for most clients is what are the costs associated with retaining an attorney? In Florida, unlike personal injury cases, divorce cases cannot be taken on a contingency basis, meaning unless you win, you don’t pay.  Rather, Florida divorce attorneys typically take a retainer, basically a down payment for services, where the lawyer charges against the amount of your retainer, and when that is depleted, they either ask for an additional retainer or charge you monthly based on the work that they perform. This can include preparing motions, drafting pleadings, taking phone calls with opposing calls, attending court hearings or mediations. There are other tasks that lawyers charge for as well such as researching your specific legal issue that may be complex, updating you with the status of your case, and writing letters or emails. This is not an exhaustive list of what lawyers, but rather the most commonly seen things that clients see on their bill. When speaking with an attorney about retaining their services, it is important to weigh many factors.  It’s important to feel a good rapport with your attorney, this relationship must be built on  honesty and similar mindset for your case. When you are interviewing a lawyer, the lawyer is also interviewing you to determine if you are the right type of client for them. It’s also very important to consider their experience in life and in law.

The following questions can be asked during the initial meeting with the Florida family law attorney:

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In the State of Florida, ending a marriage (otherwise referred to as a Florida divorce) is a difficult decision, and it may takes months or even years for either party to come to the realization that things are not working anymore. Research indicates that many couples give the holiday season or the summer for “one last shot” at making things work, and ultimately when things don’t work, they find that divorce is the only option. A recent University of Washington study indicates that there are particular times of year that divorce filings increase, specifically, the months of March and August. Over 15 years of analysis, the State of Washington demonstrated increased filings in spring and late summer that these times of year are when individuals tend to make the decision to end their marriage. Interestingly, the study indicates a similar trend throughout the United States, including Florida.  While there are trends, the selection of the month or time of year to file a Florida divorce action is up to the party filing the divorce action.

While divorce is a year round consideration, it makes sense that these two months are the highest filing times for divorce. First, considering the needs of the children is important to parents when deciding to divorce. Holidays and summer vacation bring times of optimism that “things will get better,” and when they don’t, couples turn to make the final decision. This “domestic ritual” calendar is important, researchers say, because it governs family behavior that they don’t want disturb during the initial stages of divorce. From a real life examination, it makes sense no one wants to splitting up their house with summer plans and back to school around the corner. There are too many unknowns. In addition, the high stress and emotional times in holidays also

Second, spouses need to find time to meet and interview lawyers. Once the children return to the routine, these provide opportunities for unhappy spouses to make the time to sit down with an experienced Florida family law attorney to discuss their legal priorities and options This is very important step that every spouse, because being educated as to what to expect and how to approach the divorce process should include an experienced attorney who can advise and advocate on behalf of your rights. Every family and even each spouse has different priorities to consider when it comes to what they hope to receive in a divorce. Knowing that the kids are back to their routine, gives parents a chance to consider how to make the necessary changes while the kids have stability of a scholastic calendar.