An important decision in a family law case is the process you use to resolve your case. There is contested, adversarial litigation; uncontested cases in which you and the other party agree, and you hire an attorney to prepare the paperwork and court pleadings for you; cases in which you and the other spouse or parent agree to go to mediation together, with or without attorneys to reach an agreement, rather than filing a court action; and a process called Collaborative Family Law — described in more detail in the Collaborative Divorce and Advantages of Collaborative Divorces pages here on this website.
In both Divorce and Paternity cases you will address parental responsibility (who makes decisions regarding the major issues in your child(ren)’s life; time-sharing (the schedule of when your child(ren) spend time with each parent; child support, and payment for childcare, medical and extra-curricular expenses.
In a Divorce, you’ll also address division of assets and liabilities — called equitable distribution, which can be simple in some cases, or more complex involving valuation and division of businesses, real estate, pensions and other retirement plans, stock options, executive deferred compensation and other assets and liabilities. Divorces also involve addressing the issue of alimony, which is financial support one spouse receives when they have a need for support and the other spouse has an ability to pay. In Florida, “need” is based on the standard of living during the marriage. The Alimony section of the website discusses this in more detail, including the different types of alimony ranging from short term to permanent alimony. There have been efforts over the past several years to reform alimony in Florida, and it is important as you begin a divorce case to be aware of any pending legislation seeking to revise the alimony or other family law statutes. Alimony reform bills for 2017 were recently filed in the Florida Senate and House of Representatives.
Two areas of Florida Family Law that are significant in many cases are Temporary Relief and attorney’s fees. If one party has a need for financial support, and the other party based on their superior income or financial resources has the ability to pay, the party with greater income/resources can be ordered to pay spousal support while the case is pending. This same standard — need and ability to pay, applies to payment of temporary attorney’s fees. The spouse with greater income can be ordered to pay all or part of the other party’s fees and costs in the case. This can be ordered as temporary relief while the case is pending and as part of the final judgment in the case. The are multiple other forms of temporary relief available in a divorce or other family law case, including temporary child support, temporary time-sharing orders, orders preventing dissipation of assets, or for exclusive use and occupancy of the family home. Domestic violence injunctions and injunctions against stalking or harassment, including cyber-stalking are important remedies available also.
I handle complex, high value divorces, in which we’ll most often retain an accountant and other financial experts to assist us — e.g. to value a business or assist us in calculating the spouses’ needs or ability to pay support. In cases where there is an issue regarding the accuracy of a party’s report of their income or assets, or of a spouse’s income earning ability, a forensic accountant and/or vocational evaluator are important experts. A parent’s income earning ability can be a significant issue in other family law cases as well
There are significant advantages to avoiding custody battles, but cases sometimes require appointment of a Guardian ad Litem, social investigations, and psychological, psychiatric or substance abuse evaluations of a party.
A further, significant area of family law practice is relocation. There is a Florida Statute, Section 61.13001, which sets out the factors for the Court to consider in evaluating a relocation case, and the process to be followed.