Articles Posted in Child Custody

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.

School-Building-300x280Back to school is an exciting and hectic time for families. New school, new classroom, new teacher, but what if the same old situation exists with your co-parent where communication has hurdles, challenges, and yes disputes? Some families seem to do it seamlessly, by splitting the supplies list, attending orientations together, and sharing in the excitement of a new beginning. Others have more difficulty.

How can you help your children prepare to return to school with an uncooperative co-parent? First, know your parenting plan. Reading and comprehending the Parenting Plan entered in your case defines your timesharing, responsibilities, share of expense, and how the academic calendar affects your co-parenting relationship. These orders are typically routine and frequently addressed issues are set forth, and the order should provide guidance to navigate the path back to school.   At times, however, nuances and inferences can lead to issues where parents can find themselves disagreeing over simple issues. Speaking with an experienced family law attorney at the law firm Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A. to assist you in understanding what your rights and responsibilities are can provide invaluable guidance for the benefit of you and your children.  At Wood, Atter & Wolf, P.A., we have been On Your Side – At Your Side since 1957.

Second, start planning early. The academic calendar for your county is readily available on the school district website. Each year has slight changes and every county is different. It’s important to look at the upcoming calendar, school supply list, and be informed so that you can be prepared for discussions regarding your children’s enrollment.

Generally, children will not be called to testify as to matters in a family law case. Many parents have difficulty understanding why their child will not be called on to express their wishes, concerns, or input regarding the situation that greatly affects their lives. Florida Family Law Rule 12.407 precludes testimony from a child as a witness in custody related cases without a prior order made by the Court. To obtain an order allowing for the testimony of a child to be considered the parent requesting the testimony must file a Motion for Child Testimony with the court. The court will give consideration to the motion at a hearing in which the judge will determine the appropriateness of the child’s testimony in this case by weighing a variety of considerations. The judge will focus on the child’s maturity, ability to convey their desires, the age of the child, and the ability to make a decision without the child testimony.

While these considerations may seem like common sense, many people have difficulty understanding why children are not always allowed to be present at hearings that are determinative of their future. Parents in the midst of litigation tend to get caught up in the idea of winning the litigation and furthering those interests. It may be a misguided notion that presenting the child’s testimony for consideration by the judge would be in the best interest of the party or the child. Children at times often express their desires to assist their parents in the litigation process and then the idea of the child testifying reaches the attorney for consideration. It is very important that an attorney fully evaluates the facts surrounding their client’s case and educate their client regarding this request. There are various ways in which a child’s desires can be heard or taken into consideration by the court.

Parents who desire to have their child testify in their family law case will need to file the appropriate motion and having a hearing on the matter. If a parent believes that their child may not have the appropriate maturity to take on such a task, or if they desire to have their children’s wishes expressed in a less direct manner, the more appropriate motion may be a motion for the court to appoint a guardian ad litem. A guardian ad litem is a court appointed party who is utilized as the voice of the child to the court. The guardian ad litem acts as a messenger to the court of the child’s wishes, school progress, concerns of guardians or teachers, etc. The guardian ad litem is a respected avenue used by parties to have the child’s wishes expressed to the court, while allowing the child to remain shielded from the ups and down of continuous litigation.

899402_you_have_mailThe changing times allow for a change in an approach how parents can engage, interact, and build relationships with their children. It seems as if we live in a world where many children have a cellphone, laptop, and/or tablet device capable of communication in various forms. While these items used to be considered luxury items primarily owed by working adults, these items are now becoming very prevalent in the lives of children. While there are many concerns for these pocket computes being placed in the hands of children, there are many benefits to this oversaturation of technology. The growing prevalence in the use of technology by children has allowed for a window of opportunity for parents to foster and maintain relationships, no matter where they are located.

Decades ago people would think of custody or timesharing with children to only include the moments in which the child was physically with them. But now, parenting plans can include provisions in which telephonic, audio visual, or other forms of electronic communication is ordered to occur between a parent and a child. The court will not order this in all cases. Yet, it remains important for client’s to be aware that this type of order is available to them. The court will consider the child’s best interest, first and foremost, and then go on to consider other factors, such as, the availability of the communication method to the child, previous history of abuse or drug use of a parent, additional costs to the parent’s for the child’s use of a device, and the need for any safeguards for the child related to the use of such a device.

While children are to be protected from being utilized as a messenger between the parents, this order communication allows for a direct fostering of the parent child relationship, typically, without the intervention of the other parent. It is not a necessity for a child to have their own communication device to effectuate this type of order, as they can use one of their parent’s devices. Fostering a relationship with your child is of the utmost importance, if you find yourself limited in communication with your child reach out to a local family law attorney, today.

As a Jacksonville, Florida family law attorney, I often get questions from clients as to where their case should be handled if two parents and/or spouses live in two different cities. The question is one that does not always have an easy answer, as there are Florida family law rules governing, Florida statutes establishing the correct place to file a case, and there is also Florida case law that is down from the courts on the subject. Therefore, like many things in family law matters, it depends on the circumstances. To best answer this question, examples can be quite useful.

Example 1: Marie and Hank are married and spend the bulk of their marriage in Jacksonville, Florida where they purchase a home. After eight years of marriage, Marie and Hank decide to separate and Hank takes a job in Atlanta, Georgia. After a year of separation they would like to get a divorce realizing that reconciling is not an option.

Even though Hank is now a resident of Georgia and could technically file for divorce in Georgia, there is an issue of Georgia having control over the property of the marital home. Therefore, in order to make the divorce as clean as possible, Marie and Hank would most likely need to file for divorce in Jacksonville, Florida where the marital home is located. If they decide to file in Georgia, then Marie and/or Hank may have to take extra steps to enforce any court orders regarding the marital home.

589668_suspended_2.jpgCustody of a child has changed significantly over the last few years in Florida. Custody implies that one person has more control over a child than another, and the Florida legislature, along with members of the Florida family law division of the Florida Bar worked to make changes that no longer implied one parent being greater than another. While the changes started a few years back, the general public is still in need of education on the topic so that, hopefully over time, the the correct terminology will be used on a day-to-day basis and the animosity that generally follows with a divorce involving children or a paternity action will slowly wind down. While not an easy feat, we can at least make strides to make that happen with continuing to change laws and hopefully open up more communication between parents.

What are these changes? Historically, in Florida family law there was a presumption that one parent, typically the woman in many respects, was going to have “custody” of the children when there is a divorce or paternity case. Any case involving children had a certain spin to it in society where it was believed that women were more nurturing than men and therefore should have the kids. Laws, over time, have changed and the Florida judicial system started to recognize that life is not normally cut and dry in most family dynamics and there may be a need to change from the earlier presumptions of women over men. It is not to imply that the laws changed in order for men to be given preference over women, but that laws evolved to recognize that the court needs to look at the mother and father, their individual relationships with the children, and ultimately decide what is in the best interest of the child.

What took time to reach and is slowly becoming more recognized is that the alternating weekends and one evening per week may not always be the best situation for children of a broken home. The term custody was completely thrown out by the legislature in hopes of getting the parents on the same page and to help determine what type of visitation or time-sharing schedule is best for the children. The legislature’s hope in making this change was to get parents to communicate more openly and hopefully, over time, take away some of the animosity that is created through a divorce or paternity case and ultimately can lead to long, tiresome and often hurtful litigation between parents and the children suffering through the fight.

Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney

1344775_south_african_navy_helicopter_.jpgAs a Jacksonville, Florida divorce lawyer, I have many clients that have military ties. When there are military components to the case, often there are things that need to be considered dealing with time-sharing and relocation that do not come up as often in other divorce and paternity case. Time-sharing and relocation issues are often questioned by those going through the divorce or paternity proceedings in Florida because people are used to dealing with terms like visitation and custody, especially when it comes down to which parent is going to spend the majority of time with the child and whether that parent will have the ability to move somewhere else, if the issue arises.

In a military family, deployment and/or moving are often the concerns of the parents. The parents want to make certain that certain provisions are provided for so that there are not unanswered questions when the military calls with orders. Preparing for these changes can be difficult when the family is intact and can cause a riff when they family is separated through divorce or simply never actually lived together. In dealing with these issues the court has had to consider the factors of life for both parents. The truth is that regardless of which parent has majority time-sharing, the realities of military life will impact the separate families.

Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney

388623_justice.jpgIn the Jacksonville, Florida family law courts there is a debate as to when a child is old enough to provide relevant testimony in a divorce or custody proceeding. Many of my clients often want their child to testify as to what their wishes are, regardless of the child’s age. However, the courts value the testimony of the children, but also believe, and rightfully so, that the child should be of an age of maturity to fully understand what she or he is testifying to and that would be difficult to do if the child is under a certain age. The majority of judges feel that a child’s testimony should be elicited at no sooner than 13 years of age. The Florida legislature has not provided a specific age-range to judges, so the discretion really rests with the court to decide.

Florida Statute 92.55 provides for the use of witnesses for children that are under 16 years of age and for witnesses that suffer from a mental handicap or have other special needs. In order for a child to testify, the party requesting such testimony must submit a motion to the court asking for permission for the child to testify. Normally, in a family law proceeding, the request is for the child’s testimony outside of the presence of either parent and his/her attorneys, also known as “in camera testimony.”

Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney

788179_brothers_and_sisters.jpgTerminating a parent’s parental rights in Florida is not easy. As a Jacksonville family lawyer I often have clients that are frustrated because one parent has continuously failed to pay child support. The parent may have hired the Florida Department of Revenue to find the parent, but been unsuccessful in getting result. The parent who is responsible for the child the majority of the time often grows tired of always having to track down the “deadbeat parent”. However, Florida laws protect parents’ rights and want to make certain that the children’s best interests are looked after.

Under Florida law, nonpayment of child support is not enough to show abandonment of a child. A parent cannot seek to terminate another’s rights simply because child support has not been paid. Also, a parent cannot deny the other time-sharing (i.e. visitation) with the children simply because child support has gone unpaid. Child support and time with your child are two very different things and the Florida courts treat them as such.

Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney

1183643_must_be_true_its_written_in_books.jpgDivorce with children can be complicated, and in Florida, may require a parenting class to help deal with it. Florida divorces involving children have a requirement that the parents attend a parenting class previously approved by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). In some paternity cases in Florida, the parents are required to attend the same class that divorced parents attend given that the issues are similar in dealing with the children having, in essence, two homes.

There are online classes available, but they may not be permitted or used in the courts where you reside. For example, an online course is allowed for those who have a divorce case in St. Augustine, but not in Jacksonville. Unless a parent resides out-of-town, the parents in a Jacksonville divorce are required to physically attend the class.