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Relocation-Florida-Family-Law--300x234Family law cases are constantly evolving and changing, because like as children grow and change, their needs and the needs of the parents also change. In some instances, parents find that they have to move to a different state for a new job, better opportunities, or for a new marriage. When parents have divorced or have a Parenting Plan from a paternity case, where they share a minor child, when these changes occur, it’s important that you are aware of the limitations and procedures that you need to follow in order to make sure that you are following the Court’s previous orders in your case to be successful in attempting to move.

In some cases, co-parents have good communication and can understand how a different location can be better for the family as a whole. For example, if the Mother and Father have had a Parenting Plan for their child in Jacksonville, Florida, where they share time with their child equally, and the Mother is offered a job in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she can make double when she is making now, and the area that she is moving to offers a better educational system for their child, she can file to relocate to Knoxville with the minor child. If she and the Father can come to an agreement on how they will continue to co-parent their child, and share time and responsibility, even in light of the child moving to Knoxville, then the parties may be able to come to an agreement that can be approved by the assigned Judge on their case.

Obviously, in a situation like this, when one parent has the opportunity to be able to better provide for their child, and also the new location would be better for the minor child, then it makes senses that the parties can agree and work out issues like timesharing, holidays, and child support. It is always better for parents and children when a family can work together.

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.

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.

divorce-300x216The Florida Statute governing child support is 61.30. This statute covers in great depth the child support laws in Florida. The statute covers the base level of financial support for each child support obligation based on the household income and also explains in great depth how child support should be calculated for an after born child. Child support is calculated by taking the combined monthly income of both parties and factoring in day care costs, health insurance costs, prior support orders in effect, and few additional factors are also considered. In the instance that a parent has an existing ordered child support obligation and then have a child subsequently born the initial child support obligation for the first child’s benefit will NOT be lowered due to the birth of the second child.

The legislature created this statute in order to prevent a child born before another from being ripped of the support that they were awarded. While the operation of this law may not always have the effect of the birth order taking precedence this is referred to the prohibition of a downward modification as a result of an after born child. The statute does not operate in terms of birth order; instead the operation is in terms of the chronological sequence of judicial orders. Therefore, if a client has a 12 year old son, and he has contributed to the support of this child without a judicial order in place, if the man then has another child and he is ordered to pay child support regarding the second born child, the court is not to consider the amount of support he voluntarily gives the 12 year old child in the initial calculation. The court can take into consideration the older child to support a downward departure from the child support calculation.

If we revisit the previous scenario and the parent was paying child support to the 12 year old in furtherance of a child support order then then second born child’s support amount would be calculated by taking the parent’s income and deducting the amount of child support already paid to the 12 year old THEN calculating the support amount. There are numerous benefits to having a child support order in effect for a parent who is receiving support. The order would solidify the support obligation, allow for a child not to have their support amount reduced by an” after born” child, and it would allow for a calculation of arrearages if support is not paid.

363466_more_travel_teddies_series_n Recently in the Florida 2016 Legislative Session some new bills were passed which greatly affect the way child welfare cases under the supervision of the Department of Children and Families is handled. One of the biggest changes now requires the court to consider the child’s best interests when considering making a transfer of a child from custody to a placement with a prospective adoptive parent. Prior to this change of the bill the court was only required to evaluate the appropriateness of the placement. The change seeks to eliminate the circumstances in which a placement may be appropriate, in that the prospective adoptive parents are deemed a satisfactory caretaker, but that alone does not mean changing a child’s placement would be in their best interests.
The statute now evaluates the following factors regarding the best interests of the children: the permanency of the placement, the bond between the child and the current caregiver, the stability of the adoptive home, the importance of maintaining sibling relationships, the preferences of the child (if the child is of sufficient maturity), whether a petition to terminate the parental rights of the child’s biological family has been filed, and if the parent has any remaining rights to determine the appropriate placement of the child. If the Court finds that the adoption would be in the child’s best interests the court will transfer the custody of the child over to the prospective adoptive parents. This change to the statute may cause a large amount of the older aged department placements to remain in their current placements rather than with the prospective adopting parents. The older children who are dependents of the State will have a greater voice in determining their possible adoption. Typically with older placements they do not wish to continue to be placed in different homes, they will now be able to express that desire and a full evaluation of the interests of that child will take place, rather than just an evaluation of the placement.
This different evaluation will be completed only after a Motion to Intervene is filed by an adoption agency. The dependency system is difficult to navigate. The mere arrival of DCF on your door step will cause a number of questions to arise. It is essential that families who have children that have been placed under the care of the state understand their rights.

668001_danger_school_traffic_signalParties are able to file to dissolve their marriage on their own, without the assistance of legal counsel. This allows for many people who are unable to afford legal counsel to utilize the legal system and move forward with their desires of achieving a divorce. While legal counsel is not a necessity, it is an incredible asset to have. When a party represents themselves in a divorce, or in any legal case for that matter, they are presenting to the court that they are competent to act and represent their interests to the same level of an attorney. Therefore, they are attesting to the court that they are aware of the rules of evidence, the statutory considerations in their cases, defenses available, and statutory deadlines.

Evidence is essential to cases as without the proper presentation of evidence key information can be kept out of the court’s considerations. If the court is unable to evaluate and consider important evidence the support the positions of the parties then the trial merely becomes an evaluation based on he said she said. Prior to even reaching the stage where evidence can be considered there may be issues with meeting appropriate statutory deadlines for disclosing information to the other party. At the beginning of each case an exchange of discovery items is supposed to occur between the parties. There are specific items that must be furnished, deadlines that must be adhered to, and filing requirements that could greatly affect one’s ability to evaluate the case if the appropriate items are not provided in the appropriate time. In additional to missing out on the opportunity to evaluate a case fully, missed deadlines could lead to sanctions by the court to encourage adherence to the rules.

Divorce Attorneys Jacksonville FL

HandshakeDuring a divorce parties must divide the assets and the liabilities accumulated during the course of their marriage. One of the first things they tend to divide is the personal property items. Parties typically divide this property based out of simple want and desire. But, often times they hit a roadblock, as there is inevitably an item that neither of them wants to give up. How are parties to resolve these conflicts when they reach this barrier? Parties who are agreeable with one another tend to approach these issues by engaging in a give and take type of negotiation. However, in the midst of the emotional split one party tends to concede on the item, due to simply wanting to resolve this issue and move forward. While an amicable split and division of personal property is ideal, this is typically not the normal set of circumstances. Thus, it is essential for parties entering into divorce to understand what the court will consider when they move forward with dividing your assets and liabilities in litigation.

If warring couples are not able to amicably spit their personal and real property they will find themselves at the mercy of the court that will take into consideration the following factors related to the items: the classification of the item as a martial or non-marital asset, the value of the item, items already distributed as a part of equitable distribution, if the liabilities that have been distributed, the contributions to the marriage by each spouse, the economic circumstances of the parties, the length of the marriage, any sacrifices that lead to the interruption of the career or educational pursuits of a spouse, the desirability of one spouse in maintaining the property, the contribution of each spouse to acquiring, enhancing or producing income of the assets, any intentional depletion of the asset, and any other factors that the court would think must be considered to do equitable justice to the parties. The statute governing the distribution of property is found in Florida Statutes 61.075.

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FatherCustodyFlorida statutes require unmarried fathers to establish Paternity. While many parents believe merely signing a birth certificate is sufficient to establish rights to timesharing and parental responsibility regarding the child, it is not. I see many fathers who were never married to the mother of their child(ren) who act under the presumption that they have rights to see their child(ren), prior to legally establishing those rights. While each parent may not have the rights to timesharing with their children, each parent has a responsibility to support their children.

Through the Florida Courts an obligation for payment of child support can be established without establishing a right to timesharing. Florida Statue 409.256 allows for the state to begin a Paternity action in the following circumstances: the child’s paternity has not been established, when no one is named as the father on the child’s birth certificate or the person named as the father is the putative father named in an affidavit or a written declaration as provided in subparagraph 5 of the statute, The child’s mother was unmarried when the child was conceived and born, The department is providing services under Title IV-D., or The child’s mother or a putative father has stated in an affidavit, or in a written declaration as provided in s. 92.525(2), that the putative father is or may be the child’s biological father. The affidavit or written declaration must set forth the factual basis for the allegation of paternity as provided in s. 742.12(2).

While the establishment of child support payments without the establishment of timesharing for a Father can occur in numerous circumstances, I typically see it occur after the mother seeks state sponsored aid, which would fall under the category of the department providing services under Title IV-D. Often times when a mother is in need of state financial assistance, such as WIC, food stamps, or HUD housing, her case worker will request will inquire as to the support she is receiving, or not receiving, from the father of her children. The state will then seek to establish paternity of the child for the purposes of implementing a child support obligation on the father. Since the establishment of a child support obligation does not necessarily establish any rights of the father over the child, the father should file with the putative father registry in the State and file a petition to establish his parental rights. Filing with putative father registry allows for the State to be on notice that there may be a child that is biologically connected to the registered man and if anyone ever tries to terminate the parental rights of the child, then the registry is checked for a potential father of the child. Whereas, filing a petition to establish parental rights will allow for the establishment of timesharing, parental responsibility, and a child support arrangement (if one is not already in place).

MoneyIn Florida parents are responsible for the support of their children. This support is not limited to just emotional and physical support, but also extends to financial support. This financial support is regulated by Florida Statute 61.30. There is a common misconception that exists amongst many clients regarding the amount of support each child is due. Many clients believe that if they are awarded 50/50 timesharing the support award will terminate. The logic is often based on the notion that if the parents are equally dividing time then there will be no need for extra financial support beyond what is provided during the time that the child is with each parent. This logic is flawed when dealing with Florida child support cases.

The Florida Statutes require the courts to assess child support by combining the net monthly income of the parties responsible for support, and then calculating the individual responsibility by determining the parent’s share of support based on their income. This calculation is done by dividing the parent’s net monthly income by the parties’ combined net monthly income. Then once the share of support is determined a calculation is made based on the timesharing awarded to each parent.

Typically when parents have a substantial difference in income the 50/50 timesharing award will not insulate the higher income earning parent from not paying some child support. The purpose of the Florida child support model is to allow the supported child to be financially supported to the same extent they would be if the parents lived together. Thus, when the income amounts are disproportionate and the timesharing award is 50/50 the higher earning parent will typically still owe a child support obligation to the lesser earning parent. While this may be the case in some instances, it does not apply uniformly to all cases.

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