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Making decisions about major medical treatments such as surgery for a child can be stressful for any family, even one where the parents consider themselves happily married and generally able to make decisions together without major conflict. When parents divorce, all of the conflicts about parenting that they had when they were married become amplified. In the worst cases, the courts have to get involved to resolve their disputes. The current system of parenting plans in Florida is designed to prevent these major conflicts. The parenting plan form seeks to anticipate every possible scenario in which conflict might arise and decide beforehand which parent will have the final say in each type of parenting decision. The Angeli v. Kluka case shows why this system is important because, when it comes to consenting to non-emergency surgery for a child, one parent’s consent is all you need.

Details of the Angeli v. Kluka Case

When Alexander Girgis was 3 years old, he underwent adenoid removal surgery. (Adenoid removal surgery is a non-emergency surgery; it is quite common for children who suffer from recurrent ear infections or sinus infections when other treatments fail to resolve the problem.)  Dr. Evelyn Kluka is the surgeon who performed the surgery, and Alexander recovered without any complications. At the time of the surgery, Alexander’s parents were in the process of getting a divorce. Alexander’s mother was the legal guardian who consented to the surgery, since medical treatments on minor children require a parent’s consent. 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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The statistic that half of Americans could not come up with $400 in an emergency without borrowing is certainly alarming, but it is hardly surprising. Debt and financial hardship are huge problems in the United States. For many Americans, every paycheck means picking and choosing which bills to pay on time this pay period. It is easier to get relief from some debts than others. Many people see bankruptcy as their only option to start their financial situations over with a clean slate, but bankruptcy does not erase all your financial obligations. One financial obligation you are still responsible for, even if you file for bankruptcy, is child support.

What You do and do Not Owe After Filing for Bankruptcy in Florida

Bankruptcy can free you from many of your debts. Debts that are “discharged” during bankruptcy are no longer your responsibility to pay. It does not, however, free you of all your financial obligations. With car loans and home mortgage loans, the car or house is collateral, meaning the lender can repossess it if you do not pay. If you declare bankruptcy, the lender can no longer pursue you for payments, but they can take back your car or house that is securing the loan.

Some debts, however, are non-dischargeable, which means that you still owe them even if you declare bankruptcy. Many non-dischargeable debts are obligations imposed on the debtor by a ruling in court. The following debts are non-dischargeable according to Florida bankruptcy laws: Continue reading

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Child support is supposed to cover a child’s basic needs, such as food and shelter. What about educational expenses, though? Education is hardly a luxury; school attendance has been mandatory for American children for well over a century. Providing for a child’s education is an important aspect of parenting. Thus, Florida parenting plans include provisions about which parent is responsible for making various decisions related to the children’s education. What happens when parents divorce while their children are enrolled in private school?

The Children’s Best Interest

Every question related to a parenting plan is, at its core, about the best interest of the children.  Education is one aspect of child-rearing about which parents are likely to have strong opinions.  Some parents feel that sending children to a private school, even if it requires great financial sacrifice on the parents’ part, is the only way to ensure that the children study in a safe environment where teachers are genuinely invested in the children’s success. Others feel that private school tuition is an unnecessary expense and that parents could help their children more simply by saving money to help them with college tuition and other expenses related to early adulthood. The education issue is a perfect example of why parenting plans are individualized and not one size fits all. Continue reading

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Even people who do not have a romantic bone in their bodies find it heartwarming to see elderly couples who have been married for many decades. For example, after Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc on Florida, readers all across the country took comfort in the news story about Harvey and Irma Schluter, a Washington state couple who have been married since 1942. Florida’s divorce lawyers know, though, that not all long marriages result in couples living happily ever after.  Divorce cases involving couples who have been married for more than two decades are often the most complex when it comes to property division, especially if the couple is wealthy. The divorce case of Burt and Lucille “Lovey” Handelsman, which has made news headlines recently, practically sets records for complex divorce, both because of the length of the marriage and because of the high value of the couple’s jointly owned assets.

Who are Burt and Lovey Handelsman?

Even if you have not heard the names Burt and Lovey Handelsman, their business dealings play a role in the lives of many Floridians. The Handelsmans own approximately $750 million in commercial real estate in Florida and New York state. Among their most famous holdings are the upscale shops on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. Burt and Lovey are both in their late 80s; they have gradually built their real estate empire over the course of their 67-year marriage, and their three children are also involved in the family business.

In 2016, Lovey filed for divorce, convinced that Burt was having an extramarital affair with Jane Rankin, a friend of the Handelsmans who has also been involved with the family real estate business.  Burt denies the affair; he believes that the couple’s children have intentionally alienated Lovey from him, thinking that they will gain more of the family wealth sooner if their parents divorce. The couple’s son and two daughters deny these claims. Continue reading

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Florida’s laws are quite clear about the fact that all assets acquired and liabilities incurred during the marriage should be considered marital property. Since Florida is an equitable distribution state, Florida divorce courts divide marital property according to the needs of each spouse. It is rare for a judge to classify an asset or liability taken on during the marriage as non-marital property. In the Mills v. Mills case, the former wife successfully convinced the appeals judge to re-classify a home equity loan as a non-marital liability, on the grounds that her then-husband had forged her signature on the loan documents.

Details of the Mills v. Mills Case

During the 37 years that he was married to his wife Brenda, Barry Mills entered into a number of investments, many of which turned out to be profitable. In 2007, Barry and several other investors attempted to form a startup bank. In order to cover his share of the startup capital, Barry took out a home equity loan in the amount of $100,000 dollars; as per the terms of the loan agreement, he pledged the couple’s house as collateral to secure the loan. Certain that Brenda would refuse to sign for the home equity loan, and knowing that he would not have sufficient funds to participate in the startup bank project without the loan, Barry signed Brenda’s name on the loan documents without her knowledge. When the startup bank applied for a state charter, the state refused to issue one, meaning that Barry lost his investment, which totaled more than $245,000. When the lenders required the Mills family to repay the loan, they repaid it using money from Barry’s retirement funds.

When the couple divorced, the trial court classified the loss resulting from the startup bank project as a non-marital liability. The court’s reasoning was that, except in cases of misconduct, all assets and liabilities taken on during the marriage count as marital property. Brenda appealed the decision, arguing that a forged signature qualifies as misconduct.  Barry did not deny forging Brenda’s signature on the loan documents. The appeals court sided with Brenda and re-classified the loss as a non-marital liability. Continue reading

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On the surface of it, the decision about whether to continue working after you have children or to leave the workforce for a certain number of years after your children are born is more controversial than it should be. It is not hard to find blogs and countless discussion forums full of unkind sentiments toward one or the other type of parent. Working mothers might imagine that the mommies on the playground in the middle of the day are judging them for being self-centered career women, while stay-at-home moms might imagine that their peers who continued working see them as boring and lacking drive. Fortunately, Florida law recognizes the contribution of income-earning spouses to a marriage and a family, and it also recognizes the contribution of spouses who do not have a paid job. In fact, Florida divorce courts freely acknowledge that having one spouse stay home with the children can be a source of support to the career of the other spouse and the financial health of a family.

Alimony and Stay-at-Home Parents

Permanent alimony in Florida is the stuff of legend, but it is neither a given nor terribly elusive.  It all depends on the specific circumstances of the family. Typically, the recipient of permanent alimony is someone who was married for at least 17 years and did not earn an income for most of the marriage. Besides chronic illnesses, being a stay-at-home parent is the most common reason for not working during a long marriage. These are some recent cases where stay-at-home parents have requested alimony; in some cases, the courts awarded it. Continue reading

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Of Florida’s six types of alimony, permanent alimony is probably the one that gets the most publicity and inspires the longest legal battles. Florida is one of only a few states where a court can require a divorced person to make monthly alimony payments to his or her former spouse indefinitely. Usually, courts only award permanent alimony when the couple was married for 17 years or more. That is a long enough time for the supported spouse to assume that the couple’s financial situation is permanent. After marriages of such length, it is also likely that the spouses are close to retirement age and may have health problems associated with age.

Courts also sometimes award permanent alimony after a long marriage when the supported spouse is young enough to have a career ahead of her. Kimberly Dickson successfully argued before an appeals court that, because of the 20 years she had spent as a stay-at-home parent, her earning potential was considerably less than if she and her former husband had not agreed that she should stay home for all those years. In other words, courts take into account a spouse’s contributions to a marriage that are not in the form of currency and other material assets. Kruse v. Levesque is another case where an appeal court awarded permanent alimony to a woman in her 40s; in this case, the marriage had lasted only 11 years, and the court ruled that permanent alimony was appropriate because of the wife’s disability. Continue reading

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For some people, complaining about money is a hobby, and some even elevate it to the status of a high art. While they might get a kick out of grousing about the prices of items on restaurant menus or in the supermarket, it is understood that they ultimately have a choice about which items they buy. What really ruffles people’s feathers are fees that they are legally required to pay.  Even generally cheerful people grumble about taxes and parking tickets. Child support is another financial obligation that people often feel is imposed on them against their will. It is not hard to find divorced parents who, given the opportunity, will go on at length about how much better their financial situation would be if they did not have to pay child support. Even people who would never complain out loud might secretly wish that there were a way to be legally exempt from paying child support. In fact, there are several ways, but most of them involve circumstances you would not wish for yourself.

The Child Support That Most People Have to Pay

Florida has standard child support guidelines. The main criteria determining how much you must pay are your net income and the number of children you must support. Judges usually follow the child support guidelines closely. In fact, when a judge orders a child support amount that differs from the amount determined by the guidelines by more than 5%, the judge must file a written statement explaining why he or she decided on this new amount. 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