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Articles Posted in Divorce

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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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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A new Florida alimony law recently was passed by Florida’s House of Representatives and Senate, and if signed by Governor Scott, goes into effect on July 1, 2013. An extremely significant provision of the new law is that it also applies retroactively to alimony orders entered before July, 2013 – more about that Part II or III of this post (The act that passed through the legislature also makes a change to the valuation of real estate in particular scenarios in a divorce, and a change to Florida’s time-sharing statute, creating a provision in the statute that equal time-sharing is in the best interests of the child(ren), unless certain conditions are present).

The alimony provisions of the act would change the definition of short-term marriage to less than 11 years; define a mid-term marriage as 11 to less than 20 years; and long-term as 20 years or more. The current ranges are 0 to 7, 7 to 17 and 17 or more (the term of the marriage is important for the forms of alimony available). The act eliminates permanent alimony, and provides that a court may award bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, or durational alimony or a combination of these types of alimony, but shall “prioritize” bridge-the-gap alimony first, and then rehabilitative alimony above any other form of alimony. (A rehabilitation plan is a fairly detailed plan which lays out how the spouse receiving alimony is going to go about increasing their skills or earning capacity). The remaining type of alimony is durational alimony – alimony for a set number of years. You can follow this link for a description of the different types of alimony. The act apparently provides (in new section 61.08(2)(b)) that although a court may combine the different types of alimony, giving priority as listed above, it may order “only a combination of forms of alimony to provide greater economic assistance in order to allow the recipient to achieve rehabilitation.”

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In a divorce or other family law case, if the Judge finds that it is in the best interests of the minor child(ren) in the case, the Judge can appoint a “Guardian ad Litem”. Either party to the case can request that the Judge appoint a Guardian ad Litem, or your Judge on his or her own initiative can make the appointment. The literal meaning of the phrase “Guardian ad Litem” is guardian for the lawsuit, or guardian for the purposes of the legal action only.

A primary role of the Guardian ad Litem is to investigate the facts of the case for the Judge and report back to the Court – to talk with both parents, the child(ren) and other important witnesses in the case. The types of case where Guardian ad Litems are appointed are cases where there is significant conflict between the parties regarding children’s issues and/or significant concerns regarding the well-being of the children. The Guardian ad Litem’s job is to act in the best interests of the child(ren) in reporting back to the Judge and making recommendations. The Guardian can obtain access to medical and other records, can request the court to order evaluations for the children or the parents, and can also assist with finding experts for examinations or evaluations.

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Even though Florida is a no-fault divorce state, issues of fault or wrong-doing often do come up in Florida divorces, regarding time-sharing, property and debt division, alimony and other issues in the case. This post, however, does not focus on fault or innocence in those contexts, but rather on relief that is sometimes available, and responsibility that can arise, when spouses file a joint tax return, and the IRS determines there are problems with the return and comes after the couple.

One caveat to mention at the outset — this post is intended to raise issues you should be aware of and to point you in the direction of seeking tax advice if these issues are present in your case, not to provide any tax advice. I practiced in the area of tax law earlier in my career, but it is not my focus any longer, and tax law, like most types of law, is something that requires specialized knowledge and experience. One of the provisions you will see in many settlement agreements or pre-nuptial agreements, is a paragraph or clause acknowledging that neither party received tax advice from their family law attorney. Many attorneys these days specialize in one area of law.

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An uncontested Florida divorce filed in Broward County or another county in Florida is a divorce where the spouses have reached an agreement about all of the issues in the case – property division, alimony, time-sharing, parental responsibility, and child support if there are children, and any other issues in dispute in the case. There needs to be a signed settlement agreement between the parties addressing the issues, and a Parenting Plan (a special type of settlement agreement addressing issues regarding the children) and proof that both parents attended a court approved parenting course, if there are minor children.

In an uncontested divorce, there still needs to be a divorce Petition filed, and there are number of other pleadings that need to filed and signed by one or both parties, but there is no need to go through the process of having the Respondent in the case served by a process server. The parties have all of the papers prepared, everything gets signed in front of a notary, and then all of the pleadings, including the Petition and Settlement Agreement can be filed with the court all together, at the same time.

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This holiday season and recent events effectively and painfully lend some perspective to the kinds of conflicts and disagreements that arise in many other areas of life, including family law litigation and other arenas as well.

We see some of a shift I believe in an area of disagreement like the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, that had been prominent in the political and financial life of the country recently – there seems to be less of a focus now on arguing or posturing and more on attempting to arrive at an agreement. That may have been something that was going to happen anyway, but the tone or approaches do seem different now (although in the one day since first writing this post, it appears that Washington may be returning to “normal”).

There also can be a shift in the approach or mind-set in divorce and other family law litigation, or really in just about any area where there is a choice between conflict or seeking to arrive at a solution. People can seek to work things out or seek to argue. There are obviously times when a threat or force needs to be met with an equivalent response – in the context of family law litigation sometimes there are apparent needs to push back, but even then there are sometimes options other than meeting a highly adversarial position with a similarly highly adversarial response.

The Third District Court of Appeals – the Florida appeals court covering Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties, decided a case this year that provides guidance regarding what it means to use the marital standard of living for determining Florida alimony – Quinones v. Quinones, 37 Fla. L. Weekly D 699 (Fla. 3rd DCA, Mar. 21, 2012). The Florida alimony statute, Florida Statutes Section 61.08, lists a number of factors to consider in determining whether to award permanent alimony, or other types of alimony called durational alimony, rehabilitative alimony, and bridge-the-gap alimony. The Quinones case involved an award of permanent alimony, and this post will focus on what it means to use the “marital standard of living” in determining the amount of monthly permanent alimony. “Permanent” alimony continues until one former spouse dies or the payee remarries, and can also be modified if the payee enters into a “supportive relationship” or there is a substantial change in circumstances. Spouses, in their Marital Settlement Agreement, sometimes change the rules that apply to alimony and when it can or can’t be modified.

The two primary factors considered in determining Florida alimony are the receiving spouse’s need and the paying spouse’s ability to pay, and one of the primary factors used in determining need is the marital standard of living. The ruling of the 3rd DCA in the Quinones case was that the marital standard of living is basically what the term says – the standard of living during the marriage, or the amount the couple spent on their various expenses during the marriage – e.g. mortgage, entertainment, grooming, household expenses. So if the couple lived an extravagant life-style during their marriage, and a spouse needs $20,000 to afford the same home, vacations, entertainment, etc. as enjoyed during the marriage, then $20,000 is an appropriate amount to consider as the amount needed.

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