LEGAL TOPICS

To learn more about the different issues in Marital and Family Law,
choose one of the items from the list below.

Divorce


Divorce, or Dissolution of Marriage, is the primary focus of our family law practice. Florida is a no-fault divorce state, which means that the only grounds necessary for the divorce are irreconcilable differences. In a divorce action, the Court will address issues of parental responsibility of the children, primary residence of the children, child support, equitable distribution, and/or alimony.
There are several ways to get divorced:

Uncontested Divorce
An uncontested divorce is the simplest, fastest, and least expensive way to accomplish a divorce. The parties to an uncontested divorce agree on ALL of the issues in the divorce, meaning that they have settled all issues such as child custody, assets, debts, support, etc. A mutual agreement to simply get a divorce does not constitute an uncontested divorce.

Contested Divorce
A contested divorce is required when the parties do not agree on one or more of the issues of the divorce. There is an opportunity for settlement during a contested divorce, but the parties may need the intervention of the court for determination of the issues of the divorce. The length and cost of a contested divorce can vary considerably from case to case, depending on factors such as cooperation of the parties and/or their attorneys, the use of experts, and the court’s schedule. Most divorces that start as a contested action will settle some or all of the issues before trial, but if every issue is not settled, then the court will conduct a trial to give the parties an opportunity to present evidence and testimony. The judge then makes the final decision on the issues of the divorce.

Collaborative Divorce
Collaborative family practice is a process that may enable divorce and other family legal disputes to be resolved in a non-adversarial manner, utilizing attorneys, mental health and financial professionals. The process requires both parties to agree to use the process and to have an attorney who is trained in the collaborative process. The attorneys and other professionals, such as a financial professional and a divorce counselor, will focus on settlement options rather than preparing your case for trial. The result is a more cost effective, streamlined process that may resolve your legal dispute faster and with less emotional turmoil to you and your family.

Collaborative practice operates in an environment that is grounded in good faith, cooperation, integrity, honesty, and professional ethics. This process can help avoid the hostility and pitfalls inherent in the adversarial litigation system and allows parties to be integral participants in fashioning a resolution that best suits their families’ circumstances.

Ask us if Collaborative Family Practice could work for you.




Paternity


The term paternity applies to a case in which an individual has a child or children but has not been married to the other parent. A paternity action usually encompasses issues such as parental responsibility of the child, primary residence of the child, and child support. Similar to a divorce action, a paternity action can be contested or uncontested, and the collaborative process or mediation can be used to resolve a paternity case. Unlike a divorce, a paternity action does not deal with property issues between the parties.

Establishing paternity means legally determining the father of the child. The term “paternity action” is a legal term of art, and does not necessarily mean that the parents are unsure who the father is. It only means that the father has not yet been legally established. If the parents are not married to each other when the child is born, the child does not have a legal father unless paternity is established. There are certain factors, such as the father being listed on the birth certificate, that may create a presumption of legal paternity, but in order for parental rights to be acknowledged or child support to be ordered against a party, paternity must first be legally established.

The easiest way to establish paternity is for both parents to sign a consent form acknowledging that they are the parents of the child. If there is a dispute as to paternity, then a court can establish paternity by determining the father's identity through genetic testing. Either parent can ask for a genetic test to confirm paternity prior to the court entering an order for paternity. There is no statutory deadline for determining paternity of a minor child and a parent may bring a paternity action before the court at anytime during a child’s minority.

Establishing paternity will give the child the same rights and benefits as children born to married parents. These rights and benefits may include:

  • Legal proof of each parent’s identity
  • Information on family medical history in case of inherited health problems
  • The child knowing the identity of both parents
  • The father’s name on the birth certificate
  • Medical of life insurance from either parent (if available)
  • Financial support from both parents, including child support, Social Security, veteran’s benefits and military allowances (if applicable), and inheritance




Timesharing & Visitation


Resolving custody and visitation issues is often one of the biggest challenges in family court cases. Although historically referred to as “custody” and “visitation”, recent changes in Florida law now use the terms “parenting plan” and “time sharing schedule”. The Loris Law Group is committed to ensuring that the best interests of the children are served in each case and that parents are able to spend quality time with their children without interference or hostility. Parenting plans also help the parents resolve potential areas of conflict such as:

  • How to handle transportation to each parent’s home
  • Extra curricular schedules for the children
  • Sharing child related documentation such as report cards and school notices
  • Ensuring each parent’s full access to the child’s health and educational records
  • Reimbursement of child related expenses between the parents
  • Dealing with future step-parents and significant others
  • Holiday schedules
  • Travel restrictions on the children
We make preparing for your future a top priority to help you solve future problems before they occur. There are several model parenting plans and time sharing schedules for use in divorce and paternity matters. While these model plans are a very helpful starting point for consideration, they merely serve as a template for the courts to use and are not mandated by law. We understand that your situation may require a different or more specific arrangement based on your family’s unique circumstances. We are dedicated to helping you identify what parenting plan will be most beneficial to your family and assist you in navigating through the family court system to achieve your goals.

Domestic Violence
We often handle cases in which children or spouses have been exposed to domestic violence in the home. In those cases, we strive to focus on these very serious issues when devising an appropriate parenting plan. This may include a request for supervised visitation, counseling, or other limitations on the abusive parent’s timesharing rights. Often a therapist or other expert is helpful in assisting the parties and their children in creating a parenting plan that will help the family move forward in these circumstances. We acknowledge that children need to maintain a positive relationship with both parents whenever possible, and attempting to resolve and rehabilitate these fragile situations is often the best service to the children’s long-term best interest.

The Role of Mediation in Establishing Parenting Plans
Attorney Tiffany Loris, the firm’s founder, is a Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Law Mediator, and believes in the process of mediation. We encourage our clients to resolve issues related to the parenting plan and time sharing schedule through mediation, and to try to avoid putting the decision in the hands of a judge who does not know you or your family. However, if litigation becomes necessary due to an impasse in negotiations, we have the skills and experience to help achieve the best possible result with regard to a timesharing schedule. Please note that if there is domestic violence involved, mediation may not appropriate. We can help you determine if mediation is safe or appropriate in those circumstances.




Child Support


Child Support is established by Florida guidelines by taking into consideration both parties’ incomes and the number of children you have. The timesharing schedule that you have or that may be ordered may also be a factor in determining the amount of child support.
We want to help you avoid discord and focus on the best interests of your children. Through thorough analysis of your and your spouse's (or other parent’s) financial records, personal circumstances, and your children’s needs, we will help you establish a child support amount that is fair and accurate. This involves:

  • Calculating income accurately by identifying all income sources
  • Identifying available income deductions and assessing appropriate or overstated income deductions
  • Identifying factors that may justify a deviation from the statutory child support guidelines




Property Issues


One of the most difficult and complex areas of divorce is the division of marital assets and liabilities (debts). Marital property may include cars, houses, retirement benefits (pensions, 401ks, IRAs, etc.), business interests, cash, stocks, bonds, bank accounts, furniture, personal property, and other things of value. Li­abilities include mortgages, car loans, credit card accounts, past due medical debts, tax liabilities, and other debts.

Generally, any asset or liability acquired during the marriage is considered marital and subject to distribution. Florida law concerning distribution of marital assets and debts is governed by a theory of “Equitable Distribution.” This should not be confused with the “Community Property” theory that is employed in several other states. The “Community Property” theory simply results in a 50/50 split of all marital property and debt. However, Florida’s “Equitable Distribution” theory attempts to determine a “fair” split of marital property and debts by taking into account the financial situation of each spouse. While equitable distribution is more flexible, it is also harder to predict actual outcomes, since there are so many factors to consider and each factor is subjectively weighed. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to ensure that the judge hearing your case has a complete understanding of all the relevant factors and financial issues in your case.

Factors that would be considered by the judge according to Florida Statutes are:

  1. The contribution to the marriage by each spouse, including contributions to the care and education of the children and services as homemaker.
  2. The economic circumstances of the parties.
  3. The duration of the marriage.
  4. Any interruption of personal careers or educational opportunities of either party.
  5. The contribution of one spouse to the personal career or educational opportunity of the other spouse.
  6. The desirability of retaining any asset, including an interest in a business, corporation, or professional practice, intact and free from any claim or interference by the other party.
  7. The contribution of each spouse to the acquisition, enhancement, and production of income or the improvement of, or the incurring of liabilities to, both the marital assets and the non-marital assets of the parties.
  8. The desirability of retaining the marital home as a residence for any dependent child of the marriage, or any other party, when it would be equitable to do so, it is in the best interest of the child or that party, and it is financially feasible for the parties to maintain the residence until the child is emancipated or until exclusive possession is otherwise terminated by a court of competent jurisdiction. In making this determination, the court shall first determine if it would be in the best interest of the dependent child to remain in the maritalhome; and, if not, whether other equities would be served by giving any other party exclusive use and possession of the marital home.
  9. The intentional dissipation, waste, depletion, or destruction of marital asset after the filing of the petition or within 2 years prior to the filing of the petition.
  10. Any other factors necessary to do equity and justice between the parties.
Florida law also provides for each spouse to maintain sole ownership over their pre-marital and non-marital assets. However, this too can be a complicated argument due to complexities of active vs. passive appreciation of assets, marital contributions to non-marital cash accounts, co-mingling of marital funds, and other factors.

Contact the attorneys at The Loris Law Group to discuss the specific property issues in your case and to find out what your options are regarding these issues.




Contempt And Enforcement


Once an order or judgement is obtained in any civil family law matter, you may still be left with post-judgement issues of contempt and enforcement to contend with. If the opposing party in your case refuses to comply with the court’s order, then you will need to file a Contempt and/or Enforcement action against them to seek court redress for their violation of the order. Depending upon the issues presented, contempt actions can result in penalties as minimal as a verbal admonishment and as severe as incarceration. The type of order, nature of the violation, and history of the case will all be considered by the court in fashioning appropriate remedies for contempt and enforcement actions.

Contact us to discuss the possible remedies you may have in a contempt and enforcement action.




Modifications


In any case that has been closed by entry of a Final Judgment resolving the issues in the case, a modification action must be initiated in order to request changes to the Final Judgment. These may include changes in child support, alimony, parenting plans, and other issues. A modification action is considered a new lawsuit, similar to the original action. It is not merely a motion that can be resolved by a single hearing, like many contempt and enforcement proceedings. Therefore, there are substantial requirements for pleadings and discovery that must be complied with before the court can hear the merits of the modification request. A substantial and material change in circumstances from those that existed at the time of the Final Judgment must be properly pled and proven at a trial. Although many parties who file modification actions believe their requests to be simple matters, such actions commonly require substantial time and effort to bring the matter to a close. This is partly because the procedural rules require that modification actions be heard at a trial, rather than a simple motion, which takes much longer to schedule. The parties are also required to comply with essentially the same discovery requirements as in an original action. Finally, the parties are usually required to mediate their issues before a trial will be permitted in a modification action.

Contact us at The Loris Law Group to discuss your rights and options regarding a modification of a Final Judgment.




Adoptions


Adoption is the legal procedure by which a child legally becomes part of a family other than their birth family. An adoption permanently severs ties with both the birth parents and all other blood relatives. and legally and permanently transfers the adoptee into the new family with the same rights and privileges as a blood relative of that new family. The birth parents are permanently relieved of all responsibilities towards the care of the child and permanently barred from all the privileges that a parent is entitled to.

Florida’s current adoption laws attempt to balance the interests of all parties: the biological parents, the adoptee, and the adoptive parents. However, the biological parent’s rights are primary until that parent voluntarily surrenders their rights or fails to act to protect their rights under Florida Law. A court presiding over any Florida adoption must receive proof that facts exist to terminate the biological relationship forever. A biological parent may properly execute a consent for adoption and surrender his/her parental rights to the child. Alternatively, a court must hear proof that the parent has abused, abandoned, or neglected the child or otherwise failed to protect their parental rights under Florida law before an involuntary termination of parental rights may be entered against them.

Four types of adoptions exist in Florida and each has their own unique statutory procedures.

  1. Entity Adoption: Includes adoptions that are facilitated by an agency or intermediary.
  2. Step-Parent Adoption: This would include situations where a step-parent wishes to adopt their spouse’s child.
  3. Close Relative Adoption: This may include adoption by grandparents, aunt and uncles, siblings, etc.
  4. Adult Adoption: While adoptions usually involve minors, adults may also be the subject of an adoption in order to legally sever ties with their birth parents in favor of their step parent, or other situations.
The adoption process is complicated, so it is very important to consult an attorney when contemplating any type of adoption. Contact us at The Loris Law Group to discuss your rights and options regarding adoption issues.




Alimony


Unlike Florida child support laws, which give very specific guidelines on how to calculate support, Florida’s alimony laws are quite general, making alimony awards difficult to predict. Florida statutes give a list of factual and economic circumstances that must be considered in determining an alimony award but do not provide a percentage of income or a mathematical equation for use in determining the proper award. The factors that the court will consider are:

Section 61.08, Florida Statutes

  1. The standard of living established during the marriage.
  2. The length of the marriage.
  3. The age and the physical and emotional condition of each party.
  4. The financial resources of each party.
  5. When applicable, the time necessary for either party to acquire sufficient education or training to enable such party to find appropriate employment.
  6. The contribution of each party to the marriage, including, but not limited to, services rendered in homemaking, child care, education, and career building of the other party.
  7. All sources of income available to either party.
  8. Any other factor necessary to do equity and justice between the parties.
Because there are no standard calculations, alimony claims can often be complex legal arguments requiring a careful presentation of facts and case law to support or defend a client’s claim concerning alimony. Factors that often complicate the issue further include cases where one spouse is voluntarily unemployed or under-employed, situations in which parties were living above their financial means during the course of the marriage causing the “standard of living” factor to be artificially inflated, and cases where the length of the marriage falls within a grey area time period of between 7 and 14 years that is not easily categorized as either short-term or long-term.

It is also important to note that the court is not permitted to make an alimony inquiry unless it first establishes that the party asking for alimony is in need of such financial support and that the other party is financially capable of paying such support. This inquiry will be made after considering the distribution of assets and debts in the case.

Finally, contrary to popular belief, there is no legally significant advantage to an alimony claim based on gender alone. Either spouse may seek alimony under Florida law. However, although courts are supposed to make decisions without regard to gender, reality often dictates otherwise, resulting in women still receiving some preference in alimony claims.

Contact the attorneys at The Loris Law Group to discuss the specific alimony issues in your case and to find out what your options are regarding these issues.