Family law is a term used to refer to the many statutory laws and previous court decisions that legally affect families. Family law is like an umbrella under which many various legal actions are executed, such as those described below.
Divorce is the most common legal action affecting families. While divorce often legally separates and divides marital assets, a divorce does not need to destroy the emotional bonds amongst the family members, nor wipe out the family’s lifetime savings. Divorce can be contested (often called litigated divorce) or uncontested. Uncontested divorce proceedings are usually handled through mediation processes, such as collaborative divorce.
Collaborative divorce is also a mediation process, but one which addresses all of the issues pertaining to a divorce. In a collaborative divorce proceeding, each party has his or her own attorney, and all parties must agree not to litigate in court. Whenever questions arise that cannot be addressed by the parties, an outside expert can assist, such as might be the case in determining the value of a business or shares of stock. People often choose collaborative divorce proceedings when they want to protect parental relationships, their assets, and their privacy.
In dealing with child custody and visitation issues, the legal terminology used by the Courts is either shared or sole “parental responsibility” and “time-sharing.” Probably 80% of all cases involve shared parental responsibility; sole parental responsibility is usually reserved for cases where one parent’s conduct has been so detrimental to the child that the Court believes that parent cannot be trusted to make decisions for the child. In either type of case, the Court must consider what type of time-sharing is in the best interest of the child, and will create a time-sharing schedule if the parties cannot agree.
If you are contemplating divorce or have any other family law needs, please contact Mark for an initial consultation.
Below are requirements for a Florida divorce, of which you’ll need to be aware.
One of the parties involved in a divorce must be a resident of Florida for at least 6 months. A person can be a member of an armed force stationed in the state of Florida.
To begin the Florida Divorce Process for residents also called a “dissolution” of the marriage, the Florida Divorce Process legally begins when you or your spouse files a “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage” with the Family Department of the local circuit court. The court then serves the other spouse with paperwork and gives him or her time to respond.
Marital Assets and debts amassed during the marriage, are referred to as “marital assets,” and divided “equitably,” or fairly, upon divorce. Any assets you had before marriage may be considered “non-marital assets”. Many times, each of the spouses retain their non-marital assets, unless an asset is considered mixed, which means part of the value was acquired during the marriage from marital effort.
Judges generally divide family assets equally, unless there’s a basis for unequal distribution. The judge considers both you and your spouse’s economic circumstances and contributions each of you made to the marriage, including care for children and your marital home.
Alimony is an extension of the obligation for spouses to support each other financially during the marriage. Under Florida’s divorce laws, a court can order alimony if it is “well-founded.” Factors the courts look at include: the standard of living during the marriage; the length of the marriage; and the age and physical condition of each spouse.
If you and your spouse can’t come to an agreement on child custody, the court will make a decision based on what is in the “best interests” of the child. Unless there is a reason that it would be detrimental to your child’s upbringing, the court will usually grant shared responsibility, although that does not necessarily indicate that the children will spend an equal part of their time with each parent.
Divorce laws in Florida include child support guidelines that judges use to determine the support needed for a child and how much each parent has to pay. The court looks at both parents’ incomes and the child’s health and childcare costs. Florida’s standard needs table lists support amounts based on the child’s age and the parents’ income.
The court will need to know all of your assets to divide them. Make copies of bank statements, tax returns, mortgage documents, and any other financial information as possible. Take an inventory of your major household possessions. A detailed household budget will help the court determine temporary support, as well as if either you or your spouse can afford your marital home on your own.
Any debt incurred before the marriage, such as educational debt, is not considered a marital debt, while dividing debts. Like assets, marital debts will be divided equitably. If you have a mortgage and you stay in the home, the mortgage may be restructured to make you the sole owner and borrower.
A divorce will change taxes, property transfers, taxability of alimony payments, dependency deductions for children, and may affect your tax filing status.
Divorce Mediation, a cooperative problem-solving process that gives parties an opportunity to mediate decisions affecting their future. In circuit civil mediation, those parties will consist of people who have a dispute usually over money. In family law mediation, couples come to a mediator to deal with their separation or divorce outside of a courtroom setting and is usually less costly both financially and emotionally then litigation. A mediator helps the parties identify the points on which they already agree, then works with those parties to create practical, informed solutions to the others. The mediator will then reduce that agreement to writing in a format that the court will accept. At all times, the mediator remains neutral between the parties. The mediator works with the parties involved in disputes to help them reach mutually acceptable decisions, rather than on focusing on who is “right” or “wrong.” A mediator assists the parties in reaching a mutually satisfactory settlement. Mediation facilitates early and voluntary resolution of issues as opposed to a court-imposed judgment; that is the parties decide the outcome in the mediation conference. Mediation touches people in all walks of life ranging from issues such as neighborhood disputes to dissolution of marriage or business disputes. Mediation is voluntary. It continues only for so long as the parties want it to. The mediator has to have a good reason to withdraw. Either party may withdraw from mediation at any time for a good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all.
People often ask “does mediation really work?”. In Family law, the most frequent answer is, “yes.” Statistics show that when you compare parties who have mediated their case with parties who go through an adversarial proceeding, the mediating parties are more likely to be satisfied with the process and the results, likely to spend less time and money, and are less likely to go back to court later to fight about something. In fact, mediation is such a successful method of resolving cases that every civil case in the State of Florida is referred by the court to mediation before the court will allow that case to proceed to trial.
The main advantage of mediation is that it keeps the parties in control of their own destiny. That can make all the difference in recovery from either your divorce or civil dispute and moving on with your life. Mediation allows the parties to get through their dispute with less conflict than they would experience in an adversarial court proceeding, because mediation is all about working with shared knowledge, which could also translate into keeping more money in your pocket. During my 35(+) years as a trial lawyer, I have seen that alternative dispute resolution (mediation) is a far superior method to resolving disputes than proceeding through an adversarial court proceeding. For this reason, in every mediation I have ever conducted, or that I have been a part of, I tell my clients that they can usually achieve a much fairer result in mediation than taking a chance in court.
Attorney Mark Schleben has throughout his legal career been dedicated to helping families resolve family law issues including divorce, paternity, and child support issues. If you would like assistance in determining what your legal options are, please contact us today for a FREE consultation regarding your specific case.