Welcome to the Florida Family Lawyer Blog

The posts in this blog focus on Florida family law issues including divorce , child custody/time-sharing , child support , mediation , domestic violence , parenting coordination , parenting rights of same-sex couples , and other family law topics. The posts discuss these topics under Florida law, and also focus on the family law local rules in Broward, Dade and Palm Beach Counties.

I hope the information here is helpful for you.

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This post, like some of my earlier posts regarding computer software for family law attorneys, focuses not on family law topics themselves, but rather on a recent switch I made to Apple computers in my office, and information for anyone considering doing the same.

I had gotten to the point where, to say the least, I had begun to become a bit frustrated using the computer in my office — programs slowing down, things not always working. I looked at solving the problem by buying a new windows pc — I’ve used windows computers for a long time; and up until the past several months had not thought much of changing.

As I looked at new computers, I started to consider an Apple computer. They’re really pretty machines; the operating system seemed enjoyable to use; I wasn’t liking the new Windows operating system. One point of view could be that it’s not so important to enjoy using the computer you use; it’s a work tool; work’s not supposed to be enjoyable — that’s why they call it work. But there is something to having nice things, a pleasant work environment/experience, even for attorneys; or maybe even a Feng Shui notion of organizing a work environment in a positive way.

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I’ve written before about the role of a Guardian ad Litem (GAL). I want to focus in this post on some of the reasons you might consider seeking appointment of a GAL for your case, and the process for getting a GAL. I’ll use the terms Guardian, Guardian ad Litem and GAL interchangeably here.

Your attorney and the other parent’s attorney (or you and the other parent if you’re both unrepresented) can agree on an agreed order appointing a Guardian ad Litem for your time-sharing case, and send the order to the Judge for his or her signature. There are procedures you’ll need to follow if you’re doing this on your own – you can consult with an attorney, and there are usually case managers assigned to give some direction to clients who are representing themselves. If both sides don’t agree to appointment of a GAL, one parent/attorney can file a motion for appointment of a Guardian ad Litem, and have the motion heard and decided by the Court. Sometimes, there can be agreement on having a GAL appointed but not who to select, and the parties can submit an agreed order to the Judge for appointment of a Guardian, but leave a blank in the order for the Judge to select which GAL to appoint. The Judge might want to see both parties or attorneys in court to hear from both sides, before appointing the Guardian. Continue reading →

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So you are interested in a collaborative divorce – in keeping the divorce from becoming a fight in court, and believe it is a process that would work for you and your spouse. A next question is whether your spouse is interested in this collaborative approach also.

You can find more information about Collaborative Divorce by following that link, and by reading through some of the other posts about this topic on this blog. You can also visit the website for the Collaborative Family Law group in Broward County or Collaborative Family Institute in Dade County.

One Option

One first step in talking with your spouse about Collaborative Divorce, is to describe Collaborative Divorce as one option for the two of you to consider. You can give your spouse the web site address for the Collaborative Divorce organization in your county  The web site will have information about collaborative divorce, and the contact information for collaborative divorce professionals in the county. Many attorney websites will contain information about collaborative family law as well.

Staying Out of Court

You and the other spouse can discuss Collaborative Divorce as way to keep the case out of court.  You ultimately have to go in front of the family law Judge for a final hearing, but the final hearing for an uncontested divorce – where the parties have a settlement agreement, and parenting plan if there are children, settling all of the issues in a case, lasts about two (2) minutes – perhaps a little longer if the Judge takes a minute to congratulate the parties on successfully resolving their case.

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Paradigm Shift may sound to you like a phrase a consultant would use – it reminds me a little of a meeting I was in many years ago, when the consultant in the room talked about different community agencies and institutions “interdigitating”. A paradigm shift, though, as part of a collaborative approach to your divorce or other family law case, might be something you’ll want to consider.

In a Collaborative Divorce, the parties may be in conflict and angry or hurt, but agree to attempt to reach a resolution that is fair to both sides, rather than one side trying to get as much as they can, at the expense of the other side. The parties recognize and understand that ongoing conflict between the parents can damage the children. Your spouse’s attorney will let you know that he or she understands your position and what you’re saying, versus coming after you during cross-examination, or writing nasty pleadings or letters about you.

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Continued from Part I. There is also a school of thought that it is perfectly valid for spouses or other parties to settle a case based on their sense of what is fair, without considering necessarily what they are entitled to under the law. There are some limitations to this – for example orders regarding children have certain requirements and the Judge must sign off on agreements parents reach regarding the children, but if the parents are able to reach an agreement, most times it is something that can be included or incorporated in the Court’s order.

If both sides in a case are viewing the case through completely accurate lenses, and there is no uncertainty about what the law says or the facts of the case, both parties could see the same range of possible settlement options and then it would be a negotiation process, decided by what issues are most important to each party, or by the negotiation approaches or skills of both sides. Many times, the two sides to a case enter a negotiation or mediation on somewhat opposite poles or ends of the spectrum regarding how issues in the case should be resolved — they see the case differently, probably for a number reasons including each party and their attorney probably identifying more with their side or position.

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As a Broward county divorce attorney, one issue that arises frequently is that divorce and other family law cases, if they are contested, can take a long time. A party has twenty days to file their “Answer” after being served. There can be a period of at least a month or two or longer when the parties exchange or have disputes regarding discovery, or file motions for and attend hearings for temporary support, attorneys’ fees and time-sharing. There can be a period of negotiation between the parties or their attorneys, and before too long several months have passed.

In some cases, there is a need for a hearing on temporary support and attorney’s fees early in the case. One party may have the financial resources to support themselves and pay for their attorney while the case is pending, while the other side does not. It makes sense to try to settle these temporary support issues by an agreement, if possible, versus putting money into attorneys’ fees and time for a temporary support hearing.

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Continued from Part I. A collaborative divorce often includes a therapist as part of the team, as a person to facilitate positive interaction in the meetings, or address the dynamics or emotions that aren’t necessarily readily apparent to the parties and the attorneys. Moving from angry interactions to a process that has the potential to be curative or healing, in many cases is a positive thing. Even if you do not believe a therapist is necessarily capable of super-human results, or that therapy works, in the context of a collaborative divorce process I believe a therapist can help nudge the process in a more positive direction, and possibly help the parties leave feeling a little better. If you couple that with attorneys who are looking to represent their clients but cooperate and move the process forward peacefully, versus encouraging or going along with a party’s first inclination to fight, you have the prospect for a more positive option for resolving a divorce.

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It’s a choice that has to be made by both spouses, but it comes down to a choice to fight, or to attempt to resolve the divorce peacefully.

If there are minor children and the divorce is conflictual, it is rare that the children are not somehow put in the middle and affected by the divorce. Some parents are able to go through the conflict of a divorce and keep the children out of it, but if both parents are able to do that, they are often able to find a way to settle the divorce also without a heated court battle.

Collaborative Divorce is process in which both parties agree to attempt to settle all of the issues in the divorce without litigation – you can read more about the process by following this link – collaborative divorce.

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The United States Supreme Court recently handed down it’s decision in the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) case, and ruled that the Federal government cannot deny the status of married, when applying federal laws and programs to same-sex couples legally married under the laws of their state. You can find the full text of the decision at this link United States v. Windsor. The decision does not rule on the right of a state to ban same-sex marriage and is based on the historical rights of the states to define marriage, but many parts of the decision are relevant to a state like Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage. The decision also brings to the fore-front the issue of a state’s refusing to recognize marriages from another state.

Florida Statues Section 741.04 prohibits issuance of a marriage license for same-sex couples. Section 741.212 defines marriage as between a man and a women, and also provides that a same-sex marriage entered into in another state or any other jurisdiction is not recognized and is not given any effect in Florida.

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Continued from Part I. Gov. Scott vetoed the Florida alimony reform bill discussed in Part I of this post, based on the bill’s applying retroactively to alimony orders entered in the past, even many years prior to the bill’s passage. There is a pretty good chance there will be a push in upcoming legislative sessions for alimony reforms similar to those passed this year, without perhaps a provision for retroactive application, so it is worth the time I think to look at some of the other significant alimony provisions in this past session’s bill.

The bill removed the standard of living established during the marriage as a factor to consider in awarding alimony, and replaced that with “the needs and necessities of life” after the divorce, “taking into account the lifestyle of the parties during the marriage” and subject to a presumption that each party’s lifestyle will diminish following the divorce. For an award of durational alimony, the reform bill required the court to find that no other form of alimony is appropriate. This, along with other provisions including an unclear provision earlier in the bill prioritizing bridge-the-gap and rehabilitative alimony and seeming to indicate that durational alimony should further rehabilitation as well, seem to indicate an attempt in the bill to move away from a higher earning spouse supporting the lower earning to equalize their standards of living for some period of time following the divorce, although it would remain to be seen how such provisions would be interpreted by the courts.

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