Family law, in the Fort Lauderdale Courts and throughout Florida, is a concept that tracks the organization of the Florida Court system, and can be a bit confusing at times. Family Court is one of the 16 Divisions of the Court system in Broward County. If you want to see the court organization and different divisions you can follow this link to the Broward County Clerk of Court. As a Fort Lauderdale family law attorney this is my area or practice, and it includes the different types of matters which fall under the jurisdiction of the Family Court division.
I will include brief descriptions of the following types of matters below, but they include: Child Custody, Child Support, Dependency Cases (actually a separate division of the courts), Domestic Violence Injunctions, Paternity and Temporary Relief. Family Law (and the jurisdiction of the Family Court division) also includes Divorce, and the important topics of Alimony, Pre and Pos-Nuptial Agreements, Property Division and Uncontested Divorce, as wells as Enforcement and Modification; and the practice areas of Collaborative Divorce, Mediation, Co-Mediation, but we have those listed these as their own primary topics here on the website, to make it easier to see and access those areas quickly – and in large part because Collaborative Divorce, Co-Mediation and Mediation have become focusses of my practice over the years.Child Custody
Child Custody is phrase that has been replaced in the family law statues, and for most part is not used by family law attorneys in Fort Lauderdale or throughout the state, and generally not in court either anymore. It is broken down now into two issues – Parental Responsibility and Time-Sharing, which are both addressed in the Parenting Plan (a specialized settlement agreement covering children’s issues, generally other than child support).
Parental Responsibility refers to which parent has the authority to make the major decisions regarding the child(ren)’s lives, including medical, educational and religious decisions. I review Parental Responsibility in more detail on that page here on the website.
Time-Sharing refers to when each parent spends time with the child(ren), including during the week, weekends, holidays and vacations. It also includes issues like when each parent as telephone or other contact (e.g. video chat) with the children when they are with the other parent, and logistical issues like time-sharing exchanges. For the most part, we do not use the term visitation any longer, with the implication that one parent is the “primary” parent and the other has visitation. There is a presumption in Florida law that both parents are important for the child, but there are situations where one parent has significantly more time with the child(ren). In my opinion, although it is not explicitly written into the statute, and depending also on which court you are in and particular judges, there is a general presumption of equally shared “50/50” timesharing. The paramount factor, however, and the deciding factor under Florida law is the best interests of the child, and Judges are charged with ruling on a time-sharing schedule based on what is best for the child.
A significant additional children’s issue also addressed by Fort Lauderdale family law attorneys is Relocation – which addresses when a parent may move from the State, especially with the child, after there is a time-sharing order in place or a case has been filed in court.
In my opinion, as for other areas of divorce and family law, and especially for children’s issues, it is better when possible to arrive at an agreement without adversarial litigation, including through Collaborative Divorce, Collaborative Family Law, Mediation, or Co-Mediation (all described in more detail on their pages on the website).
As a bit of an interesting aside, when child custody came to be discussed as time-sharing pursuant to a change in the statute several years ago, it was pretty common before the term became well known for people sometimes to think we were referring to condominiums when we brought up time-sharing. Usually in divorces condominium time-shares seem to be the items both spouses are happy to give up.Child Support
This topic, as its name shows, deals with the support of children, including issues like payment for health, dental and vision insurance, non-covered medical expenses, and childcare expenses. Payments for items like extra-curricular activities are monetary items that are listed in the Florida Supreme Court form Parenting Plan – all of the issues are related but extra-curricular expenses, vacations, travel, etc. are handled as part of the Parenting Plan. One important issue for child support is how the payment is made – directly to the receiving parent, through the State’s State Disbursement Unit or via Income Withholding (a special type of garnishment which has priority over other types of garnishment); or securing payment of child support with life-insurance, or less frequently with a trust if funds are available to fund the trust – possible issues for you to discuss with your Fort Lauderdale family law attorney.Dependency Cases
These are cases in which Child Protective Investigations or the Department of Children and Family Services has become involved with a family, due to allegations of abuse, neglect or abandonment. These can involve situations in which the Department has not filed a Dependency Petition in court (i.e. opened a court case alleging abuse, abandonment or neglect) and also cases in which you are working the CPI or the Department when no case has been filed – sometimes there is a request to voluntarily enter in what is called a Case Plan for services; or there can be times the matte can be addressed via an order in Family Court (Dependency Court is a separate division of the Court System). It can helpful at times for you to have representation or to consult with an attorney while you are going through this.Domestic Violence Injunctions
There are injunctions available for domestic violence, dating violence, stalking and cyber stalking. The area of Domestic Violence is part of family law and is covered by the family law rules of procedure, but there is a separate domestic violence court (in a sense a subdivision of Family Court), and as an additional wrinkle, if you have a Family Court case like a divorce pending, the Family Court Judge will handle the Domestic Violence case also, other than for an emergency. There is more information about the types of domestic violence injunctions and procedures procedure for domestic violence injunctions, on that page here on the website.Paternity
As a family law attorney serving Fort Lauderdale, another important subject I address is Paternity. Paternity cases involve establishing via court order who is the biological father of a child, as well as the issues of parental responsibility, time-sharing and child support, and the related issues. As discussed more on that page of the website, Paternity is an important area of the law, because many parents have children without being married, and having these matters handled without additional extra stress and distress is important.Temporary Relief
Temporary Relief basically addressed obtaining relief on a temporary basis while a case is pending, and can involve virtually any issue in the case – e.g. time-sharing (visitation), child support, spousal support, interim distribution of assets (in a divorce), and no contact orders (a type of order in family law case that which forbids contact by one party or requires the parties to have to no contact with each other). The primary difference between a family court no contact order and a domestic violence injunction, is that the injunction authorizes law enforcement to arrest a person if they witness a violation of the injunction, and there are criminal penalties for violating a domestic violence injunction. There are avenues for jailing a person for violating a no contact order, and for a penalty called criminal contempt, but neither is as immediate as the sheriff or police taking someone into custody immediately.