Friday, November 9, 2012

Advice for Unwed Fathers

I recently heard a statistic that stated that more than 40% of children today are born to couples who are not married. While this percentage is lower if you are over 30 when you have your children or have a college degree, there is still a vast majority of people who are choosing to have their children before they get married or decide not to get married at all. This sometimes creates unforeseen issues and problems for unwed fathers if the relationship does not work out in the manner that they had hoped. First and foremost, signing a birth certificate does not automatically give you any rights. Fl. Stat. Sec. 742.031(2) has been interpreted to mean that unless a father is adjudicated the father and specifically provided parental rights, the mother is deemed to have sole parental responsibility and all the time-sharing of the child. This means that if the mother and the father of a child choose to part ways romantically, the mother would not be legally in the wrong for denying contact or making unilateral decisions regarding the welfare of a child, including potentially moving from the jurisdiction of the Courts here in Florida. Most men should be scared of this fact and should actively insure that their right to be a father is protected. While it is true that most Judges do not like when a woman denies a father contact just because "she can" and either provide make-up time or some other reprimand, if your baby's mother moves from the State of Florida the damage is done. So, here are some tips to help insure that your rights are protected and to provide you an easier path if you are forced to move forward with a court proceeding in order to set forth a time-sharing schedule: 1. Always, always, always sign the Birth Certificate and obtain a copy of the birth certificate for your files. 2. Make sure that you and the mother sign an Affidavit and Acknowledge of Paternity acknowledging that you are the father of the child. 3. Sign and file with the Putative Father Registry. The link to obtain the necessary forms to file are as follows: 4. If you have health insurance through your employer, place your child under your policy. 5. Prior to the child's mother and you parting ways as a couple, insist that you both agree to a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule. This should be filed with the Court with a properly filed Petition to Establish Paternity. This is the only way to insure that your rights are protected and that you have a way to enforce the schedule that you both have agreed to. 6. Make sure that your name appears on all emergency contact records and with your child's pediatrician. 7. Most importantly, be as involved as possible and work with the Mother remembering that you both are in the business of raising your child and the best chance that your child has of becoming a well-adjusted adult is if you two co-parent him/her with the least amount of animosity towards one another.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

High Conflict Divorce and the Toxic Ex Spouse

There are some people who end up in court and litigation with there ex spouse for the length of time that their children are minors. Usually this involves both people arguing over everything. In some cases there is one person who wishes for peace, and the other parent who thrives on conflict. These high conflict people fight you over haircuts, pick up times, extracurricular activities, holidays, exchange of uniforms, discipline measures, school photos, and every other day to day activity that is involved with being a parent. It seems as if there are some people that will stop at nothing to make your life stressful and unbearable. There is an old adage for family lawyers that states that in divorce its important to love your kids more than you hate your ex spouse. The people that are able to do that have no problem acquiescing on certain issues and sitting with their ex in a parent/teacher meeting. The other folks end up with adult children who choose not to invite either parent to their Thanksgiving tables because its not worth the hassle of choosing between the two parents or the risk of a fight if they invite both. I recently came across an article that addresses what you should and shouldn't do when you have a friend in this situation. I think that it offers some good advice and insight especially as it relates to the lasting impact that relationships like these have on divorced children. I don't have any advice for those folks who are dealing with this situation, what I have advice for are those folks about to get married or deciding to have children. If someone is controlling, confrontational or difficult to communicate with, that person will be 10 times worse if you were to get a divorce. Take that into consideration before you get married and have children. I often hear that "this is not the person that I married". That's because when we get married we are blinded by love. When we get married, its about romance, flowers and poetry and we often don't think about those things that have the biggest impact on the success of a marriage. (i.e., common interests, similar life goals, ability to hash out conflict without hurt feelings, similar morals and values, etc.) The article can be found at the following link:

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Bird In Hand.....Getting Alimony Upfront

We are in an era here as family law practitioners where a good portion of our practice consists of the modification of existing child support and alimony awards. People are losing jobs, losing homes, taking pay cuts, losing bonuses and other compensation that was previously used to determine a child support or alimony obligation. This is a big problem in cases where someone has received an alimony award and relies on those monthly payments to meet their basic living expenses. Regardless of whether or not an alimony award is non-modifiable, if the person responsible for making alimony payments loses a job and doesn't have any assets, your chances of being able to hold someone in contempt for non-payment of alimony is difficult. Furthermore, if someone retires, gets injured, loses their job or is otherwise unable to make alimony payments, if your alimony is not designated as "non-modifiable" you may very well receive a discounted alimony payment on an ongoing basis or it may be eliminated all together. With that being said, I feel that in the economy that we are currently stuck with, most people who are entitled to any form of alimony really need to consider the idea of "lump sum" upfront payments so that they can avoid the issue of an alimony award being terminated or reduced in the future based upon some unfortunate circumstance. If there are assets, especially cash assets, available during the initial divorce proceeding you should see how much of those assets can have distributed to you in a settlement in exchange for a reduced alimony payment. You never know what the future holds and if there is any way to "get your money up front" you should do it even if that means lowering your monthly alimony payments. If you are savvy with your lump sum payments and meet with a financial planner in order to manage your money properly, it may be a better deal for you in the long run. This is especially true if your husband/wife is in poor health, close to retirement or has a history of jumping from job to job. The old adage, "a bird in hand is worth two in the bush" is without question true when it comes to divorce settlements.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Alimony Reform?

Happy New Year! With the new year comes the annual discussion of whether or not there is a need to reform our Florida alimony laws. There is legislation currently pending that is trying to radically reform our current alimony laws. A link to the pending legislation can be found by clicking on the "Alimony Reform?" title above.

All of us in the family law community have been discussing whether or not this particular bill has a chance of being passed and the general consensus is that it doesn't. These are the major points that are contained in the bill that would have the greatest effect on our current alimony laws:

1. Limitations on Awards of Attorneys' Fees- May not exceed the greater of $7,000.00 or the reasonable value of the representation of the party paying the fee.

2. Termination of Permanent Alimony and Creation of Long Term Alimony- This would be for marriages lasting more than 20 years in most cases and an obligor reaching the normal age of retirement is considered a substantial and permanent change of circumstances. There would be a rebuttal presumption that alimony terminates upon retirement of the obligor.

3. Requirement to Look at the Earning Capacity of Obligee Spouse- This would require an obligee to maximize their earning capacity and allows the court to impute all income to the obligee that could be reasonably earned after achieving maximum rehabilitation.

4. Supportive Relationship- This would require a refund of alimony paid and an award of costs and fees if the recipient of alimony denies the existence of a supportive relationship that is later found to be true and would prohibit the Court from reserving jurisdiction to reinstate alimony if the supportive relationship terminates.

5. Determination of Income- This would state that that the income and assets of the obligor's spouse or person with whom the obligor resides may not be considered in modification of alimony. Additionally, in initial proceedings, when determining the financial resources of each party, it would only include the marital assets and liabilities distributed to each.

6. Standard of Living of Parties- There would be a rebuttal presumption that both parties will necessarily have a lower standard of living after the dissolution of marriage than the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage. Additionally, an award of alimony may not leave the payor with less net income or with a lower standard of living than the recipient.

7. Life Insurance- If the court awards life insurance, the cost of the life insurance or a bond would be deducted from an alimony award.

8. Long Term Marriage- Would be defined as a marriage lasting 20 or more years.

While many of the things that are stated above, I do believe the Judges take into consideration when determining an award of alimony, if this legislation were to pass, the courts would be REQUIRED to follow these rules. Its already quite difficult for someone to receive a permanent alimony award, and its even more difficult to obtain awards of lengthy alimony if the recipient spouse is educated and capable of being self-supporting. It will be interesting to see whether this legislation passes. Please let me know your opinion on this issue by posting your comments here.