FAMILY LAW DIVORCE ATTORNEYS TAMPA
Choosing family law divorce attorneys Tampa to handle your divorce can be overwhelming. Whether your looking online, thumbing through the yellow pages, or jotting down a number from an advertisement for family law divorce attorneys. The bottom line is you need competent counsel who can get you through this difficult time of need. We hope that we can serve and assist you as your family law and divorce attorneys. Call our office today so that we can meet and discuss your case.
What is Family Law?
So what is Family Law? Since divorce a part of family law, why isn’t it called Divorce Law? Family law is comprised of many different aspects of law. Divorce really speaks to the separation and legal dissolution of the married couple and is really just one part of family law.
Legal issues in family law include, dissolution/divorce, child custody, annulment, child visitation, parenting plans, alimony and spousal support, as well as child support. Additionally, family law addresses specific issues that involve children such as guardianship, adoption, and child protection services. Finally, adult issues including restraining orders as well as domestic violence are also included in family law.
In Florida, family law is made up of a frame work of statutes and case law precedents. Similar to the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, family law has its own Family Rules of Civil Procedure and both bodies of rules are used in conjunction and govern family law cases. Family law cases typically include participants connected by marriage or blood, while on the other hand family law can have an effect on casual as well as more distant relationships. Because of the wide array of psychological and emotional feelings that encompass a large part of cases in family law, parties should retain legal counsel to help them get closer and quicker to the finish line.
In the majority of family law cases, it is the end or dissolution of the marriage that brings couples to these proceedings. Divorce and family law attorneys assist their clients in matters such as filing a divorce, alimony and spousal support, division of property, and child custody/child support. Couples who were married only briefly can pursue an annulment, while same sex couples might be entitled to certain special rights.
Dissolution of marriage proceedings or divorce proceedings are either contested or uncontested. In an uncontested divorce, the spouses typically are in agreement and generally work out the differences relatively painlessly and therefore conclude the divorce quickly and with less cost, especially when represented by an attorney who can best advise them of their rights. In contested divorce proceedings, there is usually more disagreements and contention between the parties where a lawyer is almost always necessary. In a contested divorce it is highly advised to retain a competent attorney to assist you in the many complex issues that arise during a divorce. A skilled lawyer will be able to better advise you about property division, discover and in many cases recover income and assets purposefully hidden by the other spouse, help with spousal and child support, visitation, as well as represent you competently at trial if no settlement is reached.
Differences Between Divorce and Annulments
Divorce and annulment proceedings are two types of court actions that legally dissolve a marriage. Nonetheless, in contracts to a divorce, an annulment regards the marriage as if it never occurred. In Florida both actions are filed in circuit court, and the majority of the dissolution of marriage proceedings are divorce.
Determination of Child Custody and Visitation
In almost every jurisdiction the “best interest of the child” standard is used by courts in resolving child custody and visitation issues. This standard gives judges a lot of discretionary power. Here are just some of the factors that courts use in their consideration: minor child’s age, physical, health, sex, mental health, parents physical and mental health, emotional connection between child and parent, ability of parent to provide for the child’s welfare, as well as the stability of the parent’s daily routine, lifestyle and social components.
Child Support is a sum of money that is calculated by a statutory formula that a parent is obligated to pay to the party that holds primary child custody. Typically, the parent that pay child support has a higher income than the other parent and has less time sharing with the child. Child support is considered the child’s money and solely intended for the child’s benefit to pay for things such as clothes, food, medical care, educational needs, and shelter.
In Florida, there are several types of alimony/spousal support that may be awarded. Spousal support or alimony is based on a party’s need and the other party’s ability to pay. There are many factors that a court uses to determine whether a party is entitled to receive alimony such as length of a marriage, education, health of the party, etc. Alimony may be available to a party even during the pendency of a divorce. The primary purpose of alimony is to help the spouse in need to attain financial independence and be able to successfully transition from marriage to being single. In some divorce cases, alimony is paid in a lump sum, rather than monthly payments for a specified number of years.
Alimony is not intended to assist with childcare expenses. Rather, alimony is meant for only the receiving spouse as a contribution at the conclusion of the divorce. There are five types of alimony that may be available to the recipient spouse n in a divorce:
- Pendente Lite Alimony
- Bridge the Gap Alimony
- Rehabilitative Alimony
- Durational Alimony
- Permanent Alimony
Pendente Lite Alimony
Pendente lite alimony is usually awarded during of the divorce and generally ends when the divorce is finalized. The spouse seeking Pendente Lite relief must have her attorney ask for it in a motion at the commencement of the divorce. Based on information that a party provide the court and their circumstances, exclusive use and possession of the marital home may be awarded. Furthermore, the court can require a spouse to pay the household bills including, the mortgage, utilities and insurance during the divorce.
Bridge the Gap Alimony
Bridge the gap alimony is awarded to the spouse in need for the purpose of helping the spouse make a transition from married life to being single. Bridge the gap alimony is usually awarded to help with short-term needs and does not exceed two years. A common example of where bridge the gap alimony is awarded is when the spouse in need is moving out of the marital home and does not have the means to get furniture and cover all of the moving costs. Additionally, if the spouse in need has an older car which is in poor condition and requires consistent repairs, bridge the gap can be awarded to help the spouse get a newer car. An important thing to remember is that the short-term needs need be identifiable at the time the spouse asks the court for bridge the gap alimony. Moreover, once awarded, bridge the gap alimony cannot be modified, so the paying spouse will not be able to go back to court to have it changed.
Rehabilitative alimony is awarded exclusively for aiding and assisting the receiving spouse in becoming self-supporting. This can be achieved by paying or helping pay for training or retraining in a specific field, furthering education, additional training or credentials.
Comparable to bridge the gap alimony, rehabilitative alimony requires a detailed plan to be presented to the court outlining how the money will be used. Conversely, rehabilitative alimony can be terminated or modified if it is established that there is a substantial change in circumstances, plan had been completed, or the receiving spouse has failed to follow the specified plan and/or timeline.
Durational alimony is awarded for the primary purpose of providing support to the spouse in need for specified period of time either in months or years. Durational alimony is analogous to permanent alimony excluding the open-ended term of permanent alimony.
An award of durational alimony is usually awarded for either short or moderate term marriages which are less than 17 years. However, on occasion permanent alimony a long-term marriage is inappropriate and durational alimony is awarded instead. Durational alimony is not awarded for term that is longer than the term of the marriage. Furthermore, durational alimony is subject to being modified if there has been a showing of a substantial change in circumstances, with an exception that a change in duration can only be accomplished by a showing of exceptional unanticipated circumstances.
Permanent alimony is most commonly awarded for marriages that are longer than 17 years. The purpose of permanent alimony is to help the receiving spouse with life needs and necessities that were recognized during the marriage. Generally, the spouse in need is not able to ever become self-supporting. Marriages of moderate length (between 7 and 17 years) may be awarded permanent alimony if the receiving spouse can make a showing to the court by clear and convincing evidence that it is suitable.
How The Court Determines The Amount of Alimony?
Although the idea of alimony in Florida is pretty straightforward, the procedure to establish the right amount and sufficient length of time can be a quite challenging process. The process begins by first establishing that the receiving spouse has a need and the paying spouse has the ability to pay.
In order to be awarded alimony, the receiving spouse will have to show the court that he or she has a need. Once the court reviews all of the evidence, it will base its decision on whether a need exists on several factors including:
- Standard of Living
- Marriage Duration
- Age, Physical and Emotional Health of Each Party
- Each Party's Financial Resources, Marital and Non-Marital Property and Liabilities
- Contribution of Each Party to The Marriage
- Responsibility of Each Party With Minor Children
- Tax Status of Alimony
- Ability of Spouse to Pay Alimony
Standard of Living
When seeking alimony in a divorce proceeding, the court looks at the standard of living that the receiving spouse enjoyed throughout the marriage. While not always possible, the court will try to put the receiving spouse in as close as possible standard of living that was in place during the term of the marriage.
The dollar figure associated with the standard of living can be determined simply by reviewing the receiving spouse’s financial affidavit. However, in higher income divorce cases, forensic accountants are hired to assist in determining the divorcing couple’s standard of living. The forensic accountants will go through all of the assets and liabilities and come up with a final number that will be reviewed by the court.
The court will also take into account the duration of the marriage when determining an alimony award. In Florida, marriages are considered short-term if they are less than seven (7) years, while long-term marriages are longer than seventeen (17) years. As previously mentioned, permanent alimony is usually only suitable for long-term marriages, whereas other types of alimony may be appropriate for shorter duration marriages.
Age, Physical and Emotional Health of the Parties
The court looks at age, physical and emotional well-being of each party when making a determination on whether to award alimony. If the spouse seeking alimony is considerably younger and in better health than the other spouse, the court may make a determination that the spouse seeking alimony is able to work and reduce alimony accordingly. Furthermore, if the spouse seeking alimony is sick and/or disabled, that spouse may be entitled to receive the maximum alimony by the court provided there is competent evidence.
Each Party's Financial Resources, Marital and Non-Marital Property and Liabilities
The court in its analysis of awarding alimony will also look at the financial resources of each party, such as assets, retirement accounts and any inheritance received during the marriage. In cases where the couple spent everything that they earned, the amount alimony will be higher, especially if there are no assets. In contrast, couples that saved a lot of money and have amassed many assets, may have a lower alimony award if they lived conservatively throughout the marriage. If financial resources of the parties are limited to retirement funds such as IRAs, annuities and/or 401(k)s whose total value is inadequate to pay for future retirement, then the court will not take these financial resources into consideration since the law states that a judge cannot make the receiving spouse use up his or her retirement accounts for the purpose of meeting living expenses.
Contribution of Each Party to The Marriage
The court will also review contributions made to the marriage by each party. This factor is not only based on financial responsibility but also involves aspects such as being a homemaker and raising the minor children. Additionally, the court will see if one party sacrificed and dedicated their energy, time and resources in order to help the other spouse maximize their education in order to further their career.
Responsibility of Each Party with Minor Children
If minor children are involved, the court will consider how the parties intend on handling the child rearing duties at the conclusion of the divorce. This includes review of the timesharing schedule and a determination of which spouse will spend more time taking care of the children. In a case where the spouse that will be spending more time tending to the minor children, the court will likely find a greater need for alimony.
Tax Status of Alimony
Despite the alimony award for the receiving spouse, tax consequences may significantly lower the net alimony of the receiving spouse. The reason for this is because alimony is treated as taxable income for the receiving spouse and a tax deduction for the paying spouse. Due to this reason, the court will look at the tax implications before awarding alimony.
Ability to Pay
All of the aforementioned factors are reviewed by the court in determining alimony. However, the most significant factor is whether the paying spouse has the ability to pay. The judge will look at the paying spouse’s gross income, taxes based on single status, health insurance and discretionary income. Furthermore, the judge will decide what the paying spouse’s reasonable expenses were during the marriage.
As a general matter of law, the courts will terminate alimony in the event that the receiving spouse gets remarried.
What is a Collaborative Divorce?
Collaborative divorce is a new and progressive type of dissolution procedure in family law. First introduced by a New Jersey divorce lawyer as a new type of ADR (alternative dispute resolution), collaborative law has grown in popularity in many states. The concept of this type of divorce is to avoid the typical adversarial divorce and have both parties working together with their respective counsel in a cooperative manner where the goal is to avoid litigation. At the onset of a collaborative divorce the parties, each of their respective lawyers, and anyone closely involved in the proceeding pledge to complete an agreed upon outcome where no litigation is to occur during negotiations.
The parties with each of their attorneys sign a contract called a Participation Agreement. This agreement states that the attorneys will withdraw from representation if a settlement agreement is not reached including the subsequent litigation. Another distinction of the collaborative divorce from a traditional dissolution proceeding is that the attorney retainers are restricted to settlement negotiations.
How Can Family Law / Divorce Attorneys Help Me?
Dealing with a family law issue in court is frequently unclear, especially when trying to tackle the issues by yourself without a competent lawyer. A skilled family law attorney at the least will be able to help you understand your rights and make a plan on how to help protect your interests.
Additionally, a lawyer will guide you through the complex legal process in at your side and assist you in any foreseeable and unforeseeable issues that may arise along the way. As stated earlier, both the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure and Family Rules of Civil Procedure are used during the pendency of the family law or dissolution action. Complex discovery issues may arise where certain assets may have been hidden by a spouse so as not to be a part of the property distribution. There may be complications when dealing with retirement funds and where estate planning is concerned. Which spouse will get the marital home? What if there are other properties such as vacation homes in other states. What if the home is carrying a significant mortgage? How will the personal debt be divided for repayment purposes? What if one party is planning on going bankrupt during the divorce? Any one of these situations as well as others can happen and often do during the divorce.
Finally, there are almost always issues with alimony, child support, and child custody. Some types of alimony require a written plan by the receiving spouse and must clearly show how the alimony will enable the spouse to become self-sufficient. This usually involves continuing education or schooling and must carefully be planned out so as to meet all deadlines and expectations of the court.