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Alimony, spousal support, and spousal maintenance all refer to money paid by one ex-spouse to another after a divorce. The idea behind alimony is that, if one spouse depended on the other financially during the marriage, that spouse cannot become financially independent immediately after divorce. Florida alimony laws are quite favorable to the spouse receiving alimony payments. In fact, Florida is one of only a few states that can require the supporting spouse to continue making alimony payments indefinitely.

A change in the financial situation of one or both parties can lead to a modification of the spousal support order. One of the most common reasons for early termination of alimony payments is if the supported spouse remarries. As with so many legal issues, though, there is a gray area in which judges must consider the unique circumstances of the couple in deciding whether to terminate or reduce alimony payments.

Lump Sum vs. Monthly Payments

Most alimony payments in Florida take the form of periodic alimony, meaning that the supporting spouse pays the supported spouse a certain amount of money each month.  Bridge-the-gap alimony is intended to help the supported spouse through the transitional period of divorce and cannot exceed two years. Durational alimony, which is new as of 2010, lasts for a finite period of time specified in the court order. Both temporary and permanent periodic alimony stop immediately if the supported spouse remarries. Continue reading

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In Florida, children rarely testify in court. Even when the children are old enough to provide useful testimony, judges always avoid having minors testify in family law cases unless there is no other alternative. Divorce and custody battles are stressful enough for children and teenagers, and being questioned in a courtroom could cause them unnecessary additional stress. Therefore, courts often appoint a guardian ad litem to speak on behalf of the child.

What is a Guardian ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem is a person appointed to provide information about the child and his or her situation in order to help the judge make a decision about the child’s best interest. The guardian ad litem does not have custody of the child even temporarily; the child’s legal guardians remain the biological, adoptive, or foster parents. The guardian ad litem’s legal responsibility to the child is only to represent the child’s best interests before the judge.

In Florida, guardians ad litem are volunteers, and each guardian ad litem is assigned to only one child or family at a time. They come from all different professional and educational backgrounds. Regardless of previous work experience, they must take a training course to become qualified to work as guardians ad litem. Many of them have worked with children in their professional lives and have a keen sense of what constitutes a child’s best interest; many guardians ad litem are social workers, teachers, and healthcare workers. Continue reading

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When a court is called upon to create a parenting plan and a time-sharing schedule, the court is required to consider the factors found in Florida Statute 61.13(3).

The best interests of the minor children involved in the proceeding should always be the paramount concern of the trial court judge.  One section which should not be overlooked by the judge is found in section 61.13(2)(c)(2).  That section creates a presumption of detriment to the minor children when the parent seeking time-sharing has been convicted of domestic battery upon the other spouse.

The operative word under this particular section of the statute is “presumption”.  A trial judge must inform the party who has been found guilty of domestic violence that it is their burden to overcome the presumption of detriment to the minor children.  Failing to overcome the burden could lead to the denial of shared parental responsibility or any time-sharing.

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Although there have been several recent attempts to abolish permanent alimony in Florida, all those recent attempts have failed.  Permanent alimony is still alive and well in the State of Florida.

So what does this mean to you, either as a potential recipient, or as a potential payor of alimony?  Permanent alimony is generally, as a rule, reserved for those cases in which the marriage has lasted at least 17 years.  Once that 17 year threshold is met, the potential for either paying or receiving permanent alimony is quite real.

An award of permanent alimony is not however, based solely upon the years of marriage between the parties.  The court is still required, and is mandated by Florida Statute 61.08 to consider the 10 factors listed in that statute regarding the award of alimony.

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Relocating from Florida with minor children can often times present a challenging situation.  The Court must engage in a balancing test between the rights of the parent wishing to relocate against the rights of the stay behind parent. Ultimately, the judge must decide the issue based on the best interests of the minor children.

The judge’s discretion however, is not unlimited or unchecked.  The trial judge is bound to follow the mandates of the Florida relocation statute, found in Florida Statue 61.13001.

The relocation statute includes a list of ten (10) factors that the judge hearing the case is required to consider. No one factor is more important than any other.  The judge will hear evidence on all of the various factors, and do what is best for the children.

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When it comes time for the court to determine and establish a time sharing and parenting plan between the biological parents of a minor child, the court applies the “best interests of the child” test in making its consideration.

There are numerous factors that the court will look at in making its determination as to the best interests of the child.  All of these various factors are set forth in Florida Statute 61.13.  You can review the criteria under the statute and examine the nonexclusive list of things the judge will be looking at when you go to court.

What happens in a case, however, when only one biological parent is competing with a relative, for example, a grandparent, for custody and time sharing with a minor child?  How will the court look at a situation like this? Will the judge apply the same standards regarding the best interests of the child in structuring a time sharing or custody arrangement of the child?

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The question frequently arises in a divorce case as to whether or not an inheritance is a marital asset or non-marital asset.  The Florida equitable distribution statute which deals with the distribution of assets, both marital and nonmarital, clearly sets forth that assets acquired separately by either party by non interspousal gift, bequest, devise, or descent, and any asset acquired in exchange for such assets, are non-marital.  See Florida Statute 61.075(6)(b)2.

The initial determination as to whether an asset received as an inheritance is marital or nonmarital is rather straightforward.  The issue can become more complex as the years go on in a marriage, and the separate nature of the inheritance becomes clouded.

In order for an asset to maintain its separate, non-marital status, it is very important not to commingle marital assets with non-marital assets.  Therefore, in order to preserve the integrity of the inheritance being a non-marital asset, the inherited funds should be maintained in a separate bank account, in your own name, and you should never, ever deposit or commingle marital funds into your separate account.

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Supplemental security income or as more commonly known as a SSI  benefits, are in fact included in your income when it comes time to calculating child support in Florida.

Florida is, however, in the minority when it comes to utilizing SSI benefits for child support calculations.  Most states exempt this type of income from an individual’s gross income when it comes time to calculating their gross income.

In Florida, child support is calculated by utilizing a formula which includes the gross income of each party from all possible sources.  Florida Statute 61.30(2) provides a non-exclusive, detailed list of items that are included in a person’s gross income in order to arrive at an accurate amount of child support that is to be paid in any particular case.

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Although 401K accounts and IRA retirement accounts are generally protected from creditors, they may not have the same protection against an ex- spouse regarding the payment of alimony or child support arrears.  Stated another way, if you are owed either alimony or child support, do you have a right to collect the monies owed from your ex-spouse’s retirement accounts?

Statutes that were designed to protect the family assets from creditor claims, so that the family would not become dependent upon the state for support, do not afford an individual the same protection against their ex-spouse for the payment of child support or alimony arrears.

In order for a spouse to reach funds held in a retirement account, whether it be an IRA or a 401(k), there must first be an existing support order.  Next, there must be a finding by the court that there are in fact arrears owed pursuant to that court order which have accrued as a result of nonpayment by the obligor.  If the court makes an affirmative finding that the obligor has willfully refused to pay support obligations, he or she may be found in contempt of court.

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Do you have a divorce case, a paternity case, or a supplemental petition for modification of alimony or child support pending before the court?   If you have answered yes to this question, you need to be sure that you have “clean hands” when you proceed to court with your case.

What in the world does this mean “clean hands”?   “Clean hands” simply means that you must act in good faith when you appear in court.  You cannot expect to be rewarded for bad behavior when you appear in court.  You must act in good faith, “have your house in order”, and be candid and honest with the Court.  This is what “clean hands” means.

The clean hands doctrine frequently arises in supplemental petitions for modification of alimony or child support.  A party may be seeking to reduce the previously ordered obligation for support, based upon a change in their financial circumstances.  Often times these individuals will have a large, accrued balance, of either child support or alimony arrears.  If you fall into this category and proceed to court seeking relief,  you better have a good explanation as to why you have not been paying the previously ordered amounts for either alimony or child support.