When challenges arise in a family that can only be settled through the law, they can often be sensitive, confusing and heartwrenching. Family law is an area of the law that typically involves high conflict. Family issues often result in emotional pain and distress that lasts for many years. Depending on the family's situation, help may be needed walking through divorce, adoption, child support, or ownership issues.
We've All Heard of the Scary "D" Word: Divorce...
If a marriage between two people has ended, particularly with children, emotions can run high and the attorney’s fees and expenses of ending a relationship can be expensive. Stress can elevate, especially if you are concerned whether the ending of a marriage will cause you great financial harm. Understanding your rights and preventing the complete loss of a lifestyle can take on great importance if you have been served with divorce paperwork from an attorney, especially if it is unexpected.
Why Does Divorce Happen in the First Place?
There are many reasons why marriages end. However, the decision to get a divorce should be taken very seriously. Typically, a couple will try to work through their issues prior to filing for divorce. Professional help is offered by:
- Marriage counselors
- Other counselors
If the couple decides that their marriage is "irretrievably broken," even after discussing with a professional, they may file for divorce. Either the husband or the wife can file for divorce in Florida. Under state law, neither party needs to be at fault for the divorce. In order to file in Florida, at least one party has to have resided in the state for the six months prior to filing. The difficult part comes with determining what this means for the family and assets that the couple has shared.
What are the Different Aspects of Divorce?
During a marriage, a couple may begin a family or decide to buy a home. There are many aspects of the relationship that have to be divided when the couple decides they don't want to continue their lives together. Important things to consider in a divorce include:
- Child custody
- Alimony payments
- Child support
- Property division
- Tax concerns
If the couple disagrees on any of the above issues, they may need attorneys to help during divorce proceedings. The time it takes to get divorced depends on whether or not the couple can work towards a compromise.
Regular vs. Simplified Dissolution of Marriage
Regular dissolution of marriage involves one spouse filing papers to begin divorce proceedings. The other spouse has 20 days to respond to the petition and mention anything they disagree with or wish to add. Both parties may be required to provide financial information to the court, especially if one party requests alimony or child support.
This form of divorce may require mediation. Mediation is a meeting between you, you lawyer, your spouse, and their lawyer. A mediator helps you work through the contentious issues of divorce, such as custody, alimony, or property division.
Simplified dissolution of marriage is for couples who decide to pursue divorce without legal representation. They are required to file all of the necessary paperwork and appear before a judge in order to have the agreement finalized. This option is only available to couples who agree to use the procedure, have no minor/dependent children, have agreed on how to divide their property, and do not seek alimony.
Compromise for Divorce Settlement
When the two spouses are able to work through their differences, their attorneys work to develop paperwork that makes this agreement official. To finalize a divorce, the couple and their lawyers appear before a judge and submit an agreement. If the couple cannot agree, the judge may make certain decisions for them.
Divorces never really leave people "happy" with the result. Instead, each person tries to get through the proceedings with the least emotional damage possible. The Florida Bar offers more information about divorce at their website.
Divorce can be devastating and stressful on the family as a whole. Ending a marriage can have a serious impact on many areas of your life. While you worry about the personal and emotional aspects of divorce, let an attorney work towards protecting your legal rights.
What Happens to My Money When I Get a Divorce?
The financial impact of a divorce is no secret. When a couple decides to separate or end their marriage, it isn't just their relationship that is severed. Financial support can be essential if a person is unemployed or earns much less than their spouse, and divorce courts have taken this into account. If you want to begin divorce proceedings, something called alimony is an important consideration.
What is Alimony?
Alimony, also known as spousal support or maintenance, is a form of financial support paid from one spouse to another after they become divorced. During the course of a marriage, spouses have a financial and personal relationship. Sharing finances can create a standard of living that the couple is used to. A person may want alimony in order to maintain the lifestyle they were used to when they were married. There are four types of alimony in Florida, according to the intention of the monthly payment:
- Bridge the gap alimony: provides support for a spouse as they transition from married to single life.
- Rehabilitative alimony: provides support to the spouse who needs vocational training in order to become self-sufficient.
- Permanent alimony: paid after a long marriage until the spouse earning less income remarries or dies.
- Durational alimony: paid for a certain amount of time following a short or moderate-term marriage.
Alimony vs. Child Support
Child support is a monthly payment to provide financial support for a child, while alimony is financial support for a former spouse. These two obligations are separate and cannot be combined or reduced simply because the other one exists. When a person falls behind on either of these payments, it is referred to as an "arrear."
Determining the Amount of Alimony
A number of factors aside from a couple's financial situation go into calculating alimony. These factors include:
- The income of each person
- How long the couple was married
- How long the couple was separated before divorcing
- Health of each person
- Age of each person
- Anticipated future financial standing
- Why the marriage ended
- If adultery took place
Gender is also an important consideration in determining alimony. Although some may believe that only women receive alimony, it can also be granted to men. Some divorce courts are more likely to grant alimony to women because, in many cultures, they earn less than men. When a marriage ends, this pay difference can affect the woman's standard of living, so alimony can come into play. In any event, both the man and the woman may have a right to petition for alimony if they need it. Under Florida's alimony law ( §FL 61.08 ), alimony payments may be periodic or lump sum. After a judge or divorce court looks at the facts of the relationship and each spouse, they will determine an amount for alimony.
How Will Divorce Impact Your Children Financially?
When two people have a child, they have a responsibility to provide for that child's routine needs. When divorce happens, child support payments help provide for the monetary needs of a child.
Situations that Require Child Support
When a child's parents separate or divorce, their family unit is broken. They almost never maintain a single home for the child to be raised in, and their income is not combined to support their child. Divorce or separation most often leads to one parent having to pay child support to the other.
Amount of Child Support
There are some standard expenses for raising a child, but there are other financial considerations that go into calculating the monthly amount a parent needs to pay in child support. The Department of Revenue is the government agency responsible for enforcing child support payments. Their website states that a child support payment is based upon:
- Income of both parents
- Health care & child care costs
- Standard needs of the child
The Dept. of Revenue lists a child support calculator at their website for parents to estimate their monthly contribution.
Child Support Enforcement
Some individuals try to avoid paying child support, which is a punishable offense that can even lead to jail time. Not only is it unfair to their child, but it also hurts the other parent's financial situation. However, a parent who has too little income or assets to pay monthly child support may avoid this punishment. The system is designed to provide for a child's welfare when possible.
Notification of Payments
If you are a parent and order child support, make sure the appropriate agencies are made aware of each payment. Because divorced couples may use this situation to act spitefully towards each other, it is important to have a paper trail. Otherwise, your child's other parent may collect your monthly payment and claim in the future that they received nothing. This is a tricky situation to resolve, so try to prevent this situation by going through the proper channels before it becomes an issue. Child support is an important part of family law, but it can also be one of the most disputed. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed during a child support claim, an attorney may be able to help.
How Can You Protect Your Children During Divorce?
We try to protect our children from emotional and physical harm, but sometimes special considerations are necessary. Custody and guardianship are important decisions if your family is going through big changes.
The Three Types of Custody
When a parent has the legal right to take care of and make legal decisions on behalf of their child, they are said to have custody. There are different arrangements for a parent's custody over their child, including:
- Joint physical custody, in which both parents can have the child stay with them in their separate homes.
- Joint legal custody, in which both parents have the ability to make decisions on behalf of their child.
- Sole physical custody, in which the child only lives with one parent and is under their supervision. This situation may lead to developing one parent's visitation rights.
The parent with custody of their child is referred to in the legal system as a "custodial parent." So, if both parents have joint physical custody of their child, they are both considered custodial parents. A non-custodial parent does not have custody over the child's physical and legal wellbeing.
What Is Guardianship, and When Is It Needed?
Guardianship is similar to custody in that both arrangements dictate who has the responsibility to care for a child's physical and legal needs. Custody usually belongs to a biological parent, whereas guardianship can be given to a close relative, friend, or even the state.
A person may need a guardian if they are unable to make decisions on their own. These individuals include children who are incapacitated or severely injured, and adults dealing with an intellectual disability. The person with guardianship is referred to as a "legal guardian," while the child or adult they are responsible for is called a "ward."
Guardian Ad Litem
There are some unfortunate situations in which an impartial party must represent the interests of a child, usually during divorce cases. Two parents may have a bitter custody battle during their divorce, which leaves a child unrepresented. These cases of he-said, she-said can leave children vulnerable, so a guardian ad litem may be appointed. When a child's physical wellbeing is threatened, a court can also appoint a guardian ad litem.
When to Appoint a Guardian
A minor may have a guardian appointed for various reasons such as if the parents die or are unable to care for the child, or the child receives a certain sum of money from a lawsuit, inheritance, or insurance. An adult that is determined incapacitated by the court may need a guardian appointed to take care of him or her personally and/or make financial decisions for him or her.
Florida guardianship law is complex and requires a guardian to file documentation with the court. Every guardian appointed in Florida must be represented by an attorney admitted to practice in Florida. It is important that the guardianship lawyer representing you is experienced in handling these cases and is knowledgeable of guardianship laws.
There are certain instances when a guardian needs to be appointed for an adult. If an adult has been found incapacitated by the court system, the court will appoint a guardian. A court will determine a person to be incapacitated if it finds the person lacks the capacity to manage some or all of their property, or if the court finds the person lacks the capacity to make at least some essential health and safety decisions.
Every guardian of an adult in Florida must be represented by an attorney. If you are looking to set up a guardianship, or have been appointed as a guardian for an adult, it is important you have an attorney represent you that is knowledgeable in Florida guardianship laws.
What Happens During the Adoption Process?
Parents choose adoption for many reasons when they wish to start or expand their family. This process can be an exciting time, but it can also be stressful. The legal aspects of adoption can be overwhelming to someone with no experience with the adoption system.
Reasons for Adoption
A family may decide on adoption for many reasons, including:
- The parents are unable to have children due to infertility.
- They have personal experience with adoption.
- They want to provide a safe and stable home for children in need.
- They want the ability to make legal decisions on behalf of a spouse's child or
- They prefer not to have a traditional pregnancy.
There are many more reasons that couples choose to adopt, most of which are personal. No matter the reasons for choosing adoption, it is a big step and requires careful consideration.
The Different Types of Adoption
Believe it or not, there is actually more than one type of adoption! A birth parent's relationship with the child defines the type of adoption.
- A closed adoption is when information about the child's adoptive family is not available to the birth parents, which usually also results in the birth parent having little to no contact with the child.
- Open adoption, on the other hand, allows the adoptive and biological parents to have contact with each other and communicate on a regular basis in regards to the child.
The terms of an adoption can be written or informal depending on the wishes of the biological parents and the adoptive parents. If you are the biological parent and want to maintain a relationship, or you want your adopted child to have no contact with their birth parents, it may be best to have an adoption contract. This can specifically outline the adoption terms and be legally binding. Having a written document stating an adoption arrangement can help protect your child's rights and your rights as a parent.
The Adoption Process in Florida
Adoption processes may vary from state to state, but Florida's requirements and recommendations are outlined at AdoptFlorida.org. There are a few standard steps in the process of adopting a child, including:
- Orientation to learn from adoptive parents and counselors.
- In-depth training about adoption. In Florida, this is called the Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting (MAPP).
- Home study. This stage of the process determines whether or not a home is safe for a child. All adults living in the household must go through background checks, supply a list of references, and have an honest and detailed discussion with a counselor.
- Finding a match. After you're approved, you will want to find a child that is right for your family. There are many resources for parents looking to adopt, including support group meetings or Internet listings
Who Can Adopt a Child in Florida?
In general, an adult who lives and works in Florida, has displayed good character, and is able to care for and nurture a child is able to adopt in the state. Single adults, married couples, same-sex couples and stepparents may adopt children. Disabled individuals can adopt children if their physical disability does not interfere with their ability to be a good parent.
How Can I Protect My Legal Rights for a Successful Adoption?
Adoption is exciting and joyful for parents and the adopted child. If your family is considering adopting a child, or has already completed the adoption process, our firm wants to help you protect your rights. The adoption lawyers at the Coye Law Firm may be able to consult you on your rights and draft documents to help make your family's adoption a smooth transition.