Articles Posted in Parenting

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It may not snow in Florida, but the feeling of the holiday season is already in the air. Every year at around this time, some radio stations begin playing Christmas carols around the clock, while on other stations, radio DJs snark about how Thanksgiving and the winter holidays are peak season for family conflict. It is true that holiday-related stress is a real phenomenon, as anyone who works in the mental health field can attest. If you have shared custody of children with your ex-spouse or former partner, though, there are things you can do to reduce the stress of co-parenting during the holidays. Specifically, Florida’s parenting plans, in their current version, contain clauses specifically designed to avoid conflict about holiday plans before they start.

How do Florida Parenting Plans Address Holiday Timesharing?

People whose parents divorced in the 1980s and 1990s probably remember that life settled into a rhythm, usually including living with Mom during the week and with Dad on the weekends, but that sparks always flew at Thanksgiving and Christmas, when extended family members visited, or when one parent wanted to take the children to visit out-of-town relatives during a holiday.  This is one of the major issues that Florida’s new parenting plans address. The parenting plan template has questions to address every school vacation, including winter break, Thanksgiving, and spring break. Parents can choose, as soon as they divorce, where the children will spend each holiday each year. For example, they can specify that, in odd-numbered years, the children will spend Thanksgiving break with Mom until Friday afternoon and then spend the rest of it with Dad, but in even-numbered years, they will be with Dad until Friday afternoon and then go to Mom’s house. Parenting plans even allow parents to allot certain times for children to stay with grandparents, and they can choose to grant certain holiday days to the grandparents.

In some ways, Thanksgiving is the simplest holiday to plan because it is always on a Thursday.  What about Christmas, which is always on the same date, but on different days of the week?  What about Hanukkah, which sometimes coincides with winter break and sometimes does not?  What about Islamic holidays, which, because the Islamic lunar calendar is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, vary not only by day of the week, but by month?  (For example, this year, both Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha were during summer vacation. In 2000, Eid al-Fitr was between Christmas and New Year’s.) Florida’s parenting plans were made to be customized.  You can specify that each parent gets the children for four nights of Hanukkah, and that if it falls during a school week, each parent gets one non-school night of the holiday. Continue reading

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It is a great relief to many that the stigma surrounding seeking treatment for mental illnesses has lessened as much as it has in recent years. In many circumstances, mental health treatment has become routine even for patients who do not exhibit particularly alarming symptoms. In fact, recent statistics show that nearly 20% of American adults have been diagnosed with a mental illness at some time in their lives. If that is surprising, it is because the same privacy laws that protect nearly all health information also apply to mental health.

Unfortunately, though, things can get ugly in a divorce, especially when parents disagree about child custody arrangements. One parent sometimes argues that the other parent is unfit to spend a majority of the time with the children because of a pre-existing diagnosis of a mental health condition. If your former spouse does bring up your mental health history during divorce proceedings, will it affect the outcome of the case? Usually, it does not.

When Your Mental Health History Does Not Affect Parenting Plan Decisions

Under Florida’s current system of parenting plans, no two custody agreements are alike. The parenting-plan form is a multi-page questionnaire as long and complex as the longest tax forms.  Each decision regarding the children is a separate question; it is not simply a matter of one parent getting all or most of the custody of the children. The parents’ private health information usually does not factor into which decisions the judge approves in the parenting plan. The main goal is to cause as little disruption in the children’s lives as possible. Consider that, if a parent were undergoing treatment for a physical illness while the parents were married, most of the time it would not be a factor in the parenting agreement. The same usually applies to mental illnesses.  Furthermore, the parent’s psychiatrist cannot be asked to reveal the parent’s private health situation in court, except in the case of a true emergency, such as a suicide attempt or involuntary hospitalization. Continue reading

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When Floridians move out of state, for example, to attend an out-of-state college, they can find plenty of reasons to brag to their buddies from other states. I swam in an alligator-infested river and lived to tell about it! Yes, people flaunt their cosmetic surgery-enhanced bodies on Florida beaches every day, even Christmas! I have had a driver’s license since my 16th birthday, and I have never once parallel parked, not even on my driving test! The last boast is what makes your buddies do a double-take, since the other Florida quirks are quite famous. It is entirely possible to get a driver’s license in Florida without learning how to parallel park; almost everywhere has a parking lot or parking garage, anyway. What you do need to do in order to get a driver’s license in Florida before you can take the test to get your license is complete a one-day course about traffic safety and Florida traffic laws.

What has any of this to do with divorce in Florida? It turns out that many Florida divorce cases require parenting classes. In fact, mandatory parenting classes in Florida divorce cases are almost as routine as the one-day class for new drivers in Florida.

Mandatory Parenting Classes in Florida

It is common for Florida family courts to require Florida couples going through a divorce to complete the Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course before the judge will sign the final divorce decree. In fact, Florida courts require it of every divorcing couple that has minor children. Additionally, when a man who is not married to his child’s mother establishes paternity, the court requires both parents to complete the course. Continue reading

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Issues regarding the fitness of parents frequently appear in divorce cases.  Often times one of the spouses will question the competency or moral fitness of the other parent when issues concerning minor children arise.

There is a two-part test that the Court applies when a party is requesting that the other party submit to either a psychological evaluation or a substance abuse evaluation.  First, the issue must be “in controversy”, and second, “good cause” must be shown.

Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 1.360(a) provides for compulsory psychological evaluations or drug testing only when the party submitting the request has “good cause” for the examination.  The party requesting the examination has the burden of proof in showing that both the “in controversy” and “good cause” prongs have been satisfied before the court can order testing.

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It is understandable that some spouses who are divorcing are not necessarily in the mindset to cooperate with one another. After all, fighting and disagreements have likely played a role in the decision to end their marriage. However, refusal to come to an agreement regarding one or more issues in a divorce can cause serious delays and can increase the cost of a divorce.

Before a court will grant your divorce, you and your spouse must settle numerous issues including:

  • Property and debt division;
  • Child support;
  • Time-sharing and visitation;
  • Parenting plans;
  • Alimony.

If any one of those issues cannot be settled out of court, the divorce can be delayed as the court will have to decide for you. You and your spouse will have to present evidence to support your arguments for how you want to resolve the issue at trial and the judge will rule on the matter.

A recent divorce case demonstrates just how much a divorce case can be affected by adversarial disputes instead of cooperation. After 25 years of marriage, the wife of the founder of Cancer Treatment Centers for America filed for divorce. The filing occurred in 2009 and the case is still dragging on due to several disagreements regarding a prenuptial agreement, custody, and division of their millions of dollars in assets. The case has involved numerous hearings, appellate hearings, changes of lawyers, contempt orders, and other complications, and is now finally going to trial over asset and property division. In the meantime, both spouses have likely spent an enormous amount of money, stress, and time dealing with the divorce proceedings and have been unable to remarry since their marriage is not yet dissolved after more than six years. Continue reading

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A major issue between parents who split up is who will get custody of their child. In many cases, if you do not particularly like the other parent or believe he or she may be irresponsible in some way, you may want to obtain sole custody rights. However, getting sole custody in Florida is extremely difficult.

In order to understand why this is the case, you should have a basic understanding of custody laws in Florida. First, there are two different aspects to child custody:

  • Physical custody: the time you spend with your child visiting you or living with you; and
  • Legal custody: the right to be a part of major decisions in the child’s life, including schooling, activities, religion, and medical care.

In Florida, physical custody is called “parenting time” and legal custody is often referred to as “parental responsibility.” How these rights are divided between parents is set out in a parenting plan that must be approved by the courts. Continue reading

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If you are no longer married or in a relationship with the other parent of your child, you will need to make many legal decisions regarding time-sharing and visitation. These are the terms that have largely replaced the term “child custody” in Florida, since Florida law sets out that maintaining continuing and frequent contact with both parents is in the best interests of the child unless there is evidence to the contrary. No longer do the courts presume that the mother should automatically have full custody and the courts make this type of determination hoping to uphold both parents’ rights to share in raising their child.

Determining how to share time and legal custody of children is not a simple matter and many parents may consistently argue over specifics of the arrangement. To avoid this, parents who have joint physical and/or legal custody over children must have a parenting plan approved by the courts. It is always preferable for parents to agree to the specifics of a parenting plan and then have the court approve it, as they know their child’s schedule and specific needs firsthand. Unfortunately, in some cases, parents cannot agree on all of the specifics of a parenting plan and the court must intervene and decide for them. No matter who decides the specifics, however, a parenting plan must include certain provisions.

Necessary Provisions in a Parenting Plan

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On June 11, 2015, Governor Rick Scott signed the bill that will remove the language banning gay couples from adopting children from Florida law. Though a judge for the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami ruled that the ban was unconstitutional and state officials stopped actively enforcing the ban in 2010, the language remained codified in Florida law. Florida was the only state in the U.S. to have such a ban and, though removing the language is largely a formality, gay rights advocacy groups celebrated the fact that the “lingering insult” of the decades-old law will be gone.


Another Threat to Gay Adoption Failed in 2015

Earlier this year, there was another bill on the table in Florida regarding same-sex couples adopting, though that proposed law would have threatened gay adoption rights, not preserved them. HB 7111 would have allowed private adoption companies to deny adoption for gay couples by citing “religious or moral convictions or policies” without risking losing their adoption agency license from the state. Though the bill was presented as a protection of religious freedom, opponents maintained that it was no more than a thinly veiled attack on the equal rights of same-sex couples.

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Thousands of adoptions occur across the United States every year. Most of them proceed very smoothly and without any unexpected surprises.

However, there are a handful of adoptions that do occur that involve unsuspecting problems, and result in heart wrenching stories.

One recent story involves Sonya, a young child adopted by a Tennessee couple. The biological father’s rights were believed to have been terminated. The biological father received a 10 year sentence for illegally transporting firearms. State law provided for termination of his parental rights based upon the ten-year sentence that he received. This sentence paved the way for the adoption Sonya.

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Welcome to the 21st Century! With the popularity of Facebook, Twitter and the internet in general, your life has become an open book. You may need to seek the services of a seasoned attorney when social media becomes a central issue in your case.

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Postings to your facebook page can become fodder for your spouse’s lawyer, especially when there are minor children involved. Don;t be fooled thinking that what you are posting is off limits to your spouse. It’s not. As equally important are postings by others, which may have a direct link back to you, whether you were aware of it or not. One such example may be a posting of your underage child under the “influence at a party”. Who was the parent “on call” at the time?

Everything on-line becomes a record, which may be used either in your favor or against you, as the case may be. The electronic age is not limited to social media, but to all aspects of your life, including financial matters.