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In a Florida divorce the term for dividing up the assets and liabilities of a marriage during a divorce is called “equitable distribution”. The assets and liabilities of the marriage must first be identified, then classified as marital or nonmarital, and then a valuation of the marital assets must be completed. Only then can everything be equally distributed.

Family law judges have a lot of discretion to divide the marital assets and liabilities. This includes interpreting the intentions of the parties by analyzing their actions leading up to a divorce or over the course of the marriage. If it seems that one party was attempting to hide an asset or accrued liabilities in both parties’ names without one of the parties knowing, that will usually have a detrimental effect on the party engaging in such activity. The Court is also free to select the valuation method for assets to make its determination. A judge n a family law case must use competent substantial evidence when making its determination for equitable distribution.

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Every time the subject of mediation comes up in one of my family law cases clients always ask me the same thing, “do I have to go to mediation”? The answer is almost always yes in Florida. The judiciary has found in Florida that the majority of family law cases settle at mediation. Even if all of the issues are not settled, usually you can get some of the major concerns resolved and save a trial for the issues you couldn’t resolve at mediation. This helps free up the court dockets and allows for shorter trials or no trial at all in most family law cases.

Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution where two represented or un-respresented parties meet with a disinterested third party mediator, usually an attorney that is certified as a mediator, who helps them come to an agreement on the outstanding issues in their family law case. The decision of the mediator is not binding unless the parties agree to the terms and sign a consent final judgment or marital settlement agreement at the end of the mediation.

The key advantage of mediation is that you negotiate for terms you are willing to accept as opposed to submitting the facts of your case to a judge to make a decision. You have to remember though that negotiations involve give and take. You may have to compromise your position somewhat to get what you want from the other party and vice versa. Although you may not get everything you want, you can usually end up with more than you may have gotten at trial with less risk. Judges do their best to come to a fair decision n family law cases. However, the judges only get a small picture of the issues involved and have to make a decision that will affect you for the rest of your life based on this limited disclosure. At mediation you and your spouse know the entire history of your case and can usually resolve the issues better with a little bit of compromise.

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In Florida there is a difference between a Simplified Dissolution Proceeding and an Uncontested Final Hearing. In an uncontested divorce one party has filed a petition and the other party has filed an answer. A simplified dissolution is where the parties file a joint sworn petition that there are no minor children and the wife is not now pregnant; the parties have agreed on the equitable distribution of property and debts; and any other facts set forth in the petition are true.

Several important factors in a simplified dissolution of marriage are as follows:

1) Both parties must appear at the final hearing;
2) Financial affidavits do no have to be filed if the parties wish to waive the requirement;
3) The parties do not have to make the waiver in writing;
4) Mandatory disclosure does not apply; and
5) The marital settlement agreement must be filed.

Simplified dissolutions are designed for married couples to handle themselves. However, there are a lot of important rights and responsibilities involved in getting divorced. It is always a good idea, even in a simplified dissolution, to consult an attorney prior to signing a settlement agreement. These agreements are binding and not easily altered once a judge enters a final order.

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In a Florida divorce the trial court may order the payor spouse to get a life insurance policy as security for his or her alimony obligation with the payee spouse as the beneficiary. The burden in this type of case is on the payee spouse to show several things:

1) necessity for the insurance;
2) insurability of the payor;
3) cost and availability of insurance;
4) reasonable premium;
5) affordable to the payor spouse; and
6) in some districts you will have to show special circumstances which would require the security.

The requirement, while provided for in the statute, is subject to the discretion of the trial court when the parties cannot agree on the issue. The purpose behind the insurance is to provide for the needs of the spouse who is entitled to an alimony award should the payor spouse die unexpectedly while the obligation still exists. A payee spouse left in this position could face dire consequences without this type of security.

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In a Florida divorce the court can award alimony to either party which may be rehabilitative or permanent in nature. Generally after the court has determined which party is entitled to what assets and is responsible for which debts, it will address the issue of alimony. Alimony in a Florida Divorce is not automatic and not guaranteed. The primary factors that determine an entitlement for alimony are the needs of the payee spouse, the ability of the payor spouse to pay, and the lifestyle established during the marriage. The court must make a finding of fact regarding these factors before it can award one party alimony.

There are several types of alimony in Florida:

1) Rehabilitative Alimony– this type is intended for a spouse while he or she regains the ability to support his or herself after the divorce. Generally the party seeking rehabilitative alimony has the burden of proof as to the rehabilitative plan (ie. job training, school), the approximate cost, duration, and how it will make the party self-supporting.

2) Bridge-The-Gap-Alimony– this is short-term alimony for a designated period of time to help the spouse seeking the award transition from married life to single life. This award can be awarded in a lump sum or periodic payments.

3) Permanent Periodic Alimony– this is support paid to the payee until they remarry or pass away.

4) Lump-Sum Alimony– is only awarded if permanent periodic alimony is justified, there is a good reason for a lump sum award, there are specific findings of fact regarding the issue, and there is money available to pay it. This can also be used to effectuate an equitable distribution.

5) Nominal Alimony– this is awarded when there is an entitlement to alimony but there is not enough money to pay the award. This allows the court to reserve jurisdiction to award a different amount in the future should the circumstances of the parties change.

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broken%20heart.jpgA poll conducted by GFK Roper on behalf of the divorce information website has found that both men and women turn to family and friends first as a source of support while going through a divorce.

The poll was conducted by phone and included more than 1,500 respondents chosen at random. Both men and women were questioned about how and from whom they sought help during their divorce.

Overall, 26 percent of men said they chose family members for support and another 25 percent of men said they leaned on friends. Almost 45 percent of women said they chose family, while 25 percent of women chose friends.

This is a question I get on a regular basis from potential clients. The Florida Statutes outline who can and cannot adopt in the state. Fla. Stat. 63.042 states that a husband and wife jointly may adopt, an unmarried adult may adopt, and a married person without the other person joining as a petitioner under certain conditions specified in the statute. Although there has been significant controversy surrounding the issue, the statute specifically denies anyone who is a homosexual the right to adopt in Florida.

Adoptions can be confusing and there are numerous requirements set out in the statute that must be adhered to in order to prevent your petition from being dismissed. For stepparent adoptions, close relative adoptions, and adult adoptions the requirements of the statute are slightly less convoluted. However, the process for adopting any child that does not fit in one of the above categories is complex and requires a knowledgeable attorney or adoption agency to guide you.

If an adoption is not handled correctly a birth parent can potentially challenge the termination of parental rights or adoption and get the child back. This result can have a traumatic effect on all of the parties involved. Foreign adoptions are even more complex and deserve their own article to touch on some of the major issues involved. We will cover some of the issues involved there in another article.

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I have clients and potential clients ask me all the time…”What is the cheapest way to get a divorce in Florida?” Before I answer them, I remind myself that this is a loaded question with no correct answer. The reason I hesitate is that there are an endless list of variables that effect divorce proceedings and the expenses involved. For starters, divorce proceedings are emotionally charged by the very nature of the underlying dispute. Married couples often have a hard time letting go of the grudges that exist between them which generally have no place in the court room. Overcoming these feelings of animosity is one of the biggest challenges Florida divorce attorneys face.

Some people ask me if filing a divorce in Florida on their own without the help of an attorney will save them money. This is another question with no right or wrong answer. What I tell them is that the divorce laws in Florida are complicated. It takes lawyers several years just to become adept at handling family law cases. In addition, the laws tend to change frequently as do the courts’ interpretations of the existing law. Different jurisdictions may handle certain issues in divorces in slightly different manners which can have long-term and far-reaching effects once the divorce is final. It is impossible for a couple going through a divorce for the first time to get a complete grasp on all of the pertinent laws and procedures for a particular jurisdiction with a specific judge without having done it before.

One judge I have appeared in front of many times before likens filing for divorce in a Florida court without using an attorney to going to a hospital and asking the surgeon to give you a scalpel and then telling her/him that you will handle the surgery from there. It may seem doable but the long-term effect can be devastating. Although attorneys’ fees seem expensive, they may ultimately save you from making an expensive mistake that costs you much more money in the long run.

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This is a question I get asked every time I handle a divorce in Florida. One of the biggest concerns of divorcing couples in a Florida Divorce is who gets what in the equitable distribution process. One of the questions that needs to be answered is what are the marital assets? Part of this determination depends on when the assets were acquired. Some married couples go through a separation period prior to meeting with a Jacksonville Divorce Attorney to file for divorce.

During this separation period it is not uncommon for individuals to make new purchases or liquidate assets. Sometimes the spouse who moves out of the marital home will need to access marital funds to pay for their new living accommodations and purchase new furniture. So what are the marital assets subject to equitable distribution and when is the cut-off date for that determination?

Florida Statute 61.075 states that the cut-off date for determining marital assets in a Florida Divorce is the earliest of the date that the parties enter into a valid separation agreement, such other date as may be expressly established by such agreement, or the date the divorce is filed. This means that if the couple enters into a separation agreement and subsequently acquires property, the property can be considered individual property which is not subject to equitable distribution. However, couples in a Florida divorce may have to account for how they paid for the property if they used marital assets or funds to do so.


Written by Keith L. Maynard

A common occurrence in Florida Divorce and in the current economic climate is the division of marital debt according to the principles of Florida Statute 61.075. It is not uncommon in this age for a married couple who is seeking a divorce to have more marital debt than assets. When this happens it is common for my clients to ask me who gets which debt. Florida law requires the Court to equitably distribute marital assets and liabilities. This does not mean that everything will be divided 50/50. It simply means that a Florida Court will do its best to leave both parties on common ground after the divorce.

If there is marital debt that is in both spouses’ names, a judge will usually divide the debt up between the spouses. For instance, if both parties have several credit cards in both of their names, for similar amounts, the Court may give the responsibility of paying two of the cards to the husband, and two of the cards to the wife. If the amount divided up is somewhat equal, then this sort of settlement is about as fair as it gets.

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