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Marital & Family Law

Marital and family law is a broad category that incorporates many areas, all related to the family. Joryn Jenkins has been practicing family law for over 40 years and brings a wealth of experience to all areas. Open Palm Law, in addition to the traditional family law and divorce process, encourages and employs a collaborative approach as well.

An Overview of Family Law

What are the different aspects of marital and family law? What does it cover? In this brief video Joryn Jenkins explains what family law is, what it covers and what that means to you whether you are looking to get married, married or looking for a divorce. Know what your options are at all stages.

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Divorce is the termination (often called the “dissolution”) of a marriage; it cancels or reorganizes the legal duties and responsibilities of the spouses to each other and to their children.

During a divorce, the following issues should be addressed, if relevant:

  1. Parental responsibility (timesharing and decision-making);
  2. Equitable distribution (the division of marital assets and liabilities);
  3. Spousal support (a.k.a alimony);
  4. Child support;
  5. Attorney’s fees; and
  6. Any other important issues in your specific divorce.

While divorce often begins with one spouse filing a petition for divorce, some divorcing couples negotiate their divorce settlement completely before actually filing. If the parties are not able to reach an agreement regarding all of their divorce issues, they must go to court for a judge to order the remaining issues.

A final judgment of dissolution of marriage ends the marriage and dictates how issues should be handled between the former spouses going forward.

Florida’s family law courts and custody statutes define two separate but linked issues: parenting time (timesharing) and parental responsibility. Timesharing is the time that you spend with your child(ren), usually quantified by the number of “overnights.” (This used to be termed “custody” and “visitation.”)

When Children are Involved

Parental responsibility defines who makes the parenting decisions about your child(ren); it can cover issues ranging from who will be their doctor and which school they will attend to what time they will go to bed. In most situations, it is shared by the two parents. However, in some cases, one parent has the final say for all decisions or for specific types of decisions. If Mom is a doctor, it might make sense for her to have ultimate decision making on medical issues. If Dad is a teacher, perhaps he will enjoy ultimate decision making regarding the kids’ education.

Divorcing parents enter into parenting plans that will specify their family timesharing schedules. Many judges no longer allow vague schedules because of the post-judgment issues such ambiguities can create. Instead, timesharing schedules should be specific and include details about holidays and school breaks. Parenting plans also address issues such as child support and parental responsibility.

Equitable Distribution in Divorce

Equitable distribution refers to the way that spouses in Florida divide their assets (property) and liabilities (debts) in a divorce. The court divides all marital property in an equitable fashion unless agreed otherwise by the divorcing couple. The courts consider “equitable” to be what is fair, and not necessarily equal. A court’s analysis of a fair and equitable award will focus almost exclusively on the economic conditions of the parties at the time of divorce to determine what division of resources is fair. In doing this, a court will consider, among other things:

  1. The length of the marriage;
  2. A spouse’s contribution as a homemaker;
  3. The spouses’ relative earning capacities;
  4. One spouse’s absence from the job market;
  5. One spouse’s contribution to the other’s education or earning ability;
  6. The spouses’ respective financial needs, especially considering parenting duties; or
  7. The relative health of the parties or the disability of one party.

Because Florida follows equitable distribution laws, it is not a community property state.

What is Alimony?

Alimony (also referred to as “spousal support”) is an allowance paid to a person by that person’s spouse or former spouse for maintenance. Alimony may be ordered if one spouse has the need for it and if the other spouse has the ability to pay it.
When it comes to alimony, the length of the marriage matters. For marriages lasting under seven years, there is a presumption against an award of alimony. For marriages lasting from seven to seventeen years, there is no presumption for or against it. And for marriages over seventeen years, there is a presumption in favor of a support award. The facts of your case will determine whether an alimony award is appropriate.

There are six different types of alimony recognized in the State of Florida:

  1. Temporary;
  2. Bridge the gap;
  3. Lump sum;
  4. Rehabilitative;
  5. Durational; and
  6. Permanent periodic.

What is Child Support?

Child support is court-ordered payments to support one’s minor child(ren). Child support is the child’s right, not the right of the parents. Therefore, judges view child support as something that is not really open to negotiation in a divorce.

The amount of child support is determined by the Florida child support guidelines by employing a mathematical formula that accounts for both parents’ incomes, the number of overnights each enjoys every year, the cost of health insurance, and the cost of day care, if any. However, if a parent is paying for other expenses like travel or extra-curricular activities, a judge may allow a deviation from the guideline amount.

In Florida, generally speaking, child support is paid until the child turns 18 and graduates from high school. But if a child has special needs, child support may be extended beyond the age of 18. Once a child reaches 18, the child support amount may be reduced to reflect the appropriate amount for any remaining children.

If a party fails to pay court-ordered child support, his/her driver’s license may be suspended, among other sanctions.

Attorney Fees Who Pays?

Whether a party should be required to pay the other’s attorney’s fees is an issue that must be decided in a divorce, either by agreement of the parties or order of the judge. Attorney fee awards may be temporary, to cover fees during the pendency of the divorce litigation. Or, they may be ordered at the end of a case to recompense a party for his/her attorney’s fees.

Like alimony, a spouse may be ordered to pay some or all of the other spouse’s attorney’s fees if a spouse has a need for it and the other spouse has the ability to pay them. The purpose is to allow both parties to have access to similar legal counsel. Additionally, attorney’s fees may also be ordered as a sanction if the court determines that a spouse engaged in frivolous litigation. The purpose of such sanctions is to deter parties from unnecessary, costly litigation.