Articles Posted in Visitation Issues

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.

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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.

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.

Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law

Do rapists have rights to a child conceived during the rape? That is a question being asked in a Massachusetts court. The question arose after the now, 24 –year-old male, who was 17 at the time, raped a 14-year-old girl that subsequently had a child. Jamie Melendez was sentenced to 16 years of probation after admitting his guilt to the rape.

The question on everyone’s mind is, “How does he stand a chance?” Well, the judge that oversaw the criminal case basically sent a portion of the case to the family law court system to have child support ordered. By establishing a child support obligation, the judge basically gave this rapist parental rights to the child that was conceived out of force. When biological parents are unmarried, a man’s rights to the child are typically established through a paternity action. When the State takes the reigns on establishing child support, it is generally done solely for the purposes of child support, which was the case here. Now, however, the family law case opened the door for this guy to seek visitation rights, since he is claiming that if he has to pay support who should be able to have a relationship with the child.

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As a Jacksonville, Florida family law attorney, divorce, visitation and custody issues are part of my daily practice. Visitation and custody are usually emotional and working with a client on their parental demeanor is vital in moving forward and eventually going to court. When dealing with custody and visitation of a child it is important that the court sees that you are willing to cooperate with one another in an effort to look out for the best interest of the child(ren).
As of October, 2008, the Parenting Plan Statute went into effect with the purpose of countering bad behavior. The time-sharing and parenting statute requires all parents to file and have the court approve a parenting plan that lays out exactly how all issues of time sharing with the minor children are going to be handled. Instead of limiting yourself to only two options, winning it all or losing, there is another, more productive way to approach the custody issue. The approach may require more maturity than some parties can muster, but, for those able to shift gears, think rationally and be patient, the following approach can be rewarding for them and their children. These steps can lead to a better solution for all, especially the children.
Think about, discuss and decide what your ultimate goals are for the kids. What outcomes would you like to see? Many people would want some of the following (or similar) goals:

1. Family Relationships
a. The kids having a great relationship with both parents
b. The kids having a great relationship with their extended families
c. Financial security for the children
d. Having a safe, secure home for the children
e. Having good schools for the kids
f. Providing for a college education for the children
g. Providing sports opportunities for the children
h. The opportunity for the kids to learn music, art or other interests

Each parent can decide what he or she thinks would be important goals for their children. Broader, underlying goals are more helpful and meaningful. If both parents think of goals in broad terms, they often can agree on them.

2. Look at the big picture.

a. Financial abilities of the parents
b. Parental/family member time available
c. What homes and schools are available and affordable
d. What the parents’ neighborhoods are like
e. The existing relationships between parents and children and the roles each parent plays with the children
f. What community resources are available
g. What special needs, if any, a child has
h. What interests the child has

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Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law

952313_gavel.jpgIn Florida, when the court enters an order regarding a divorce, child support, paternity, or other matter, then the court is telling the parties what they must do. If one of the parties is not doing what was previously ordered by the court, then the other party may file a Motion for Contempt, which means that she/he is asking the court to hold the offending party in contempt of court. Contempt of court basically means that a party has willfully and voluntarily not complied with the court’s orders. So, a motion for contempt is a way for the court to enforce the prior orders by punishing the offending party if she/he is held in contempt.

How does this work? If Mary and Frank have a paternity case and the judge entered an order that Frank will pay Mary $500 per month in child support, then Frank must pay $500 per month in child support. If Frank has a job and an ability to pay $500 per month and he chooses not to pay, then Mary may file a Motion for Contempt action against Frank. Mary would state in the motion what the prior order required and what Frank has not done. If Mary paid an attorney to file the action, then she may ask that Frank also pay for her lawyer fees since his actions are the only reason she had to hire a lawyer. Mary may also state that since Frank is voluntarily not paying child support that he should be put in jail.

Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law

1282783_silhouettes_8.jpgIssues involving children typically arise in Florida divorce and paternity actions. As a Jacksonville family and divorce lawyer, I often meet with clients that want to have sole custody of the child. However, sole custody is not what they imagine it to be. The confusion in the terminology typically leads itself down an unwanted path. The questions that need to be answered are whether both parents are fit to have shared parental responsibilities in making decisions regarding the child(ren) and what type of time-sharing or visitation they would most like to have with the child. Understanding the terms can be helpful when going through a divorce or paternity case because you better know what to fight for during the case.

Sole custody is actually no longer a term used in Florida family law cases. The implications of, “sole custody,” are that one parent wants the other parent to have absolutely nothing to do with the child. Typically, this is not the case. However, if you ask the court for, “sole custody,” then the judge is typically going to ask what it is about the other parent that makes him or her unfit as a parent. For example, if Mary and Frank are divorcing and Mary has a significant drug and alcohol addiction, then Frank may tell an attorney he wants sole custody. What Frank really means is that he wants to be the majority time-sharing parent, in accordance with Florida statutes. Also, Frank is saying that Mary is not capable of making decisions regarding the child’s welfare, including decisions related to education, medical attention and the like. Therefore, Frank actually wants to be the majority time-sharing parent and have sole parental responsibility for the child.

Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law

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First, the Florida legislature changed child custody to “primary timesharing parent” in October, 2008. However, since most of us are familiar with child custody and custody issues, this article will still address the issue as the historic term, “custody.”
As a Jacksonville Florida family law and divorce attorney, dealing with paternity cases and divorces with children, custody issues often arise and the Social Evaluation is an important factor in helping the parents better understand the issues facing the children, and the evaluation assists the judge in having a better understanding and comprehension of what is in the best interest of the children. In Jacksonville and throughout Florida, the social investigation is a component of the case that may be used in its entirety by the judge or may give the judge a basis for a particular ruling. In addition, the evaluation can provide the parties with a stepping-stone or format by which to reach an agreement regarding visitation issues.

The social investigation is conducted by a professional, usually someone with a psychology and law background, and the investigator actually interviews the parents, speaks with witnesses, talks to the kids, look at school records, etc. Once the reviews and statements are completed, the evaluator writes a comprehensive report to demonstrate the findings for each parent, child, and the overall assessment of a parenting plan and recommendations for the court regarding any other matters that should be addressed (i.e. whether counseling is recommended, communication issues, etc.).

So how do you present well in the social investigation? Basically, parties are often concerned that they need to present themselves in a certain light to impress the investigator. However, most of the individuals handing these matters can tell when a party is putting on a show. The idea is not to be fake or phony, but to present your concerns for the children, explain your relationship with the children, and truly identify your wants and needs and the children’s wants and needs before the interview. Being genuine with the investigator is beneficial because it allows the investigator to truly determine any family issues that may need to be addressed, the impact the divorce/separation is actually having on the children and the like. The reason for the investigation is not to berate the parents, but to simply identify what may be in the best interest of the children in the present and in the future.

Extend a mental olive branch to the other party. During your interview with the evaluator, do not destroy the other parent with disparaging remarks. Describe the parts of parenting that the other parent does well and be honest in your comments about the children’s relationship with their other parent. Then share the things that do concern you about the other party, or about the separation of the children. You do not have to make it sound like everyone is great, you’re getting divorced there were issues in the home, so being real about the situation can be helpful in reaching the right conclusion for your case.

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Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law

1082945_playground.jpgFlorida divorce and paternity cases often revolve around the parent-child relationship and all factors related thereto, including parental responsibility. When someone comes into our Jacksonville office regarding a divorce or paternity case, often the question is whether she or he can have sole custody. As a divorce and family attorney, I have to educate clients on multiple things, including custody and what it actually means. Custody and having sole parental responsibility are two very different things because one deals with the big decisions regarding your child and the other deals with where the child will actually, physically reside.

Child custody and visitation was changed by the Florida legislature in recent years. The change was done for a number of reasons, the main reason being the contentious actions of parents for, “custody.” So, the legislature made a decision to change the concept to what is now known as, “time-sharing.” No, this is not your condo at Disney, but actually the terminology used because after your case, you are actually sharing time with your child and your child is sharing time with his/her other parent. Time-sharing is basically the same idea, but instead of having the archaic, “custody,” you may request majority time-sharing, meaning that you spend the majority of the time with the child. In some jurisdictions, Jacksonville not being one of them, the courts have presumed this to mean that parents should start out with equal time-sharing. However, often that concept is being overruled by the appellate courts.
When looking at which parent will have majority time-sharing, the court looks to certain factors like:

a. Which parent is more likely to help facilitate a health relationship between the child and other parent;

b. Which parent is more likely to provide a stable environment for the child;

c. What is the historical relationship of the parent and child; etc.

Once the majority time-sharing parent is decided, the court or the parents, if they negotiated an agreement, enter a time-sharing plan. The time-sharing plan defines the times the parents will each have the child, including holidays, the actual visitation schedule and the like.

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