Common Family Law Issues (Questions and Answers)
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Common Family Law Issues (Questions and Answers)

Alimony/time-sharing reform in the state of Florida (SB 668). Is the second time a charm?

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 04/06/16

As an attorney in St. Petersburg, FL, who practices primarily in the area of Family Law, this is one of the biggest topics currently being discussed in the family law arena.  For the second time in 3 years, lawmakers in the state of Florida are looking to completely overhaul the original alimony statute, which means major changes are coming in the area of divorce law.

Specifically, the proposal will set out a formula for judges to use when deciding alimony payments.  Moreover, it will lack a retro-activity provision (which allegedly was what lead Gov. Rick Scott to his veto in 2013).  It has been argued by many, that this alimony provision will hurt stay at home parents, who may have a hard time finding jobs later in life.  Under the proposal, the duration of alimony payments would be based on a few things:  1)  The number of years of marriage; and 2) The couple's gross income (the higher earner's salary subtracted from the earnings of the spouse seeking alimony).  

In the bill, there is also a time-sharing component that states that "judges would begin with the premise that a minor child should spend approximately equal amounts of time with each parent" before considering a myriad of other factors. However, the language seems very similar to the current law, that states there is no presumption in favor of either parent, but the judges must decide what is in the child's best interest.  The time-sharing provision would only apply to cases filed after October 1st.  

If you are looking to file for a divorce, it is very important you retain an attorney that is knowledgeable in the area of family law.  This bill can mean major changes as to how divorces are handled and might determine your strategy if you indeed find yourself in this type of situation.  Please feel free to contact our law firm for a low cost in-office or over the phone consultation, if you find yourself in need of a divorce attorney.  

Concurrent Estates and Dissolution of Marriages

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 03/25/16

A concurrent estate is a term used frequently in property law.  It describes the various ways in which property is owned by more than one person at a time. The different types of concurrent estates are the following:  Tenancy by the Entirety, Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivor-ship and Tenancy in Common. For the purposes of this post, we will talk about the different aspects of Tenancy by Entirety.  

As a Family Law/Divorce attorney in St. Petersburg, Florida, when rendering advice about how to prepare for a divorce, it is imperative that as a client you are well informed about this legal theory.  Essentially, the term Tenancy by Entirety ("TBE"), is reserved for situations where personal/real property are owned as husband and wife.  The four unities necessary to create a joint tenancy must exist, in addition to being married.  With this concept, essentially, both parties own the property as a whole, not 50/50.  This rule usually applies in instances such as home ownership, cars, bank accounts, etc.  

A TBE can only be broken in one of four ways:  Death of one spouse, Divorce, Joint Creditor, or Mutual agreement.  If any of these four occur, your TBE is transformed/converted into a Tenancy in Common.  An individual who owns property as "TBE" cannot convey their interest via will, due to the fact that the other spouse owns the property as a "whole." Now, let's say that one spouse decides to add their 24 year old daughter to the deed (that has both the husband and wife's name on it as they acquired it as Husband and Wife).  That one spouse would need the other spouse's consent to put their 24 year old daughter on the deed.  If this occurs, then breaking the "TBE" usually results in all parties owning a 1/3 as tenancy in common (this theory will be discussed in a future post).  Furthermore, both husband and wife, along with their child have the option to own the property as "Joint Tenants w/ Right of Survivor-ship."  Please note though, that this must be explicitly stated in the deed, or whatever documents it must be listed on.  Why is this so important?  Well, if we're dealing with a Joint Tenancy with a Right of Survivorship, then none of the three parties can will their part of the property.  They all own 100%, and as a result, the surviving owner will receive 100% interest.  However, if the parties own the property as Tenancy in Common, they are free to pass on their 1/3 of the property any way they would like and the law of intestate succession would apply if no will was found.  

We welcome you to contact us for a free over the phone consultation, or a low-cost in office consultation in our St. Petersburg office.  As a Family Law/Divorce attorney, I will apprise you of your legal rights and fight for you until the very end.  

Emotional abuse in your relationship? It may have an effect on time-sharing with your child....

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 03/21/16

As a divorce attorney in St. Petersburg, my practice focuses primarily in Family Law.  As a result of this, it is often brought to my attention that there are matters that one parent may feel needs to brought to a judge's attention.  One issue that comes up fairly often in a contested paternity or divorce matter with children is emotion abuse. 

In comparison to other forms of abuse, the effects of emotional abuse are receiving attention only recently.  This is due to lack of consistent definitions, difficulty in detection, assessment, and substantiation.  

The characteristics of emotional abuse include, but are not limited to, rejection, degradation, terrorization, isolation, exploitation, and deprivation of emotional responsiveness.  Emotional abuse may occur on its own or accompany other forms of abuse.  it is usually repetitive, and without treatment, gets worse.

The adult may exhibit depression, withdrawal, low self-esteem, anxiety and fear, crying, self-blame, social isolation, avoidance of eye contact, discomfort or nervousness around relatives or friends, delay or refusal of medical treatment.  Other forms of abuse may be present or suspected.  There are certain vulnerability factors:  family history, lack of social and familial support, instability in other areas of life.  The adult may suffer problems with attention and concentration, many physical complaints without adequate medical explanation, fearful of persons or situations where no danger exists.  

Child emotional abuse is usually at the hand of the parent.  Abuse tends to continue over a period of time and the child has to cope with being in a dependent relationship with an abusive parent.  The developmental stages of the child will alter: how they understand the trauma and how they respond behaviorally and emotionally.  

Young children may be angry, uncooperative, and attached to their primary care-giver, even if that care-giver is the abuser.  The children who experience rejection are more likely to exhibit aggressive or hostile behavior, be overly dependent, or have negative opinions of themselves and the world around them.  Children who see or hear a parent being abused are themselves victims of abuse.  Note, that if a parent is reluctant to release the child to the other parent, or seems to constantly supervise when the other parent is around and only has vague complaints about the quality of the other parent's care. This is a huge red flag.  Parties in the emotional process of dissolution of marriage are already in the throes of emotional trauma.  He or she may know his or her behavior is questionable, but cannot control the behavior.  Some are reluctant to overcome abusive behavior.  Recognizing one's own behavior is important and individual counseling and anger management training may be necessary.  

If you believe you and/or your child have been exposed to emotional abuse, then it is almost mandatory that a professional evaluation take place. Furthermore, it is imperative that if you believe an issue like this has arisen, you hire a Family Law attorney well versed in child custody/time-sharing.  We offer free over the phone consultations and low cost in office consultations as well.  

What are the requirements for a divorce?

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 02/28/16

Here, I will provide a very brief overview of the divorce process in Florida.  As a family law attorney in St. Petersburg, Florida, I assist individuals with divorce along with other family law issues in Pinellas County and the surrounding counties. 

Is Fault an issue? 

Contrary to popular belief, Florida is a no-fault state.  This essentially means that you don't need a reason as to why you're getting a divorce.  In most instances, one spouse will declare that the marriage is "irretrievably broken," or irreconcilable differences."  

Please understand however, that spousal misconduct may still have an impact on a divorce and issues such as alimony, child custody, and distribution of marital property.

Jurisdictional Requirements for a Florida Divorce

There are two kinds of jurisdictional issues that arise in divorce proceedings. They are personal jurisdiction and subject-matter jurisdiction (please see earlier posts regarding these terms).  With subject matter jurisdiction, only of the two spouses must be a resident of Florida for Florida to assert subject matter jurisdiction and grant the divorce.  As for personal jurisdiction, Florida does not need personal jurisdiction over the non-filing spouse in order to grant a divorce or adjudicate issues related to child custody.   However, it's very important to note that Florida does need personal jurisdiction over the non-filing spouse in order to adjudicate issues of property, spousal support, and child support.  If the non-filing spouse resides in Florida, then the court will have personal jurisdiction over that individual (spouse).  However, if the non-filing spouse does not reside in Florida, then the court must look to Florida's long arm-statute to assert persona jurisdiction.  Personal jurisdiction will be asserted if the parties maintained a marital domicile in Florida, or if the other spouse resided in Florida prior to the action. 

To quickly sum up, to obtain a divorce in the Florida, one of the spouses must have been a Florida resident for at least 6 months prior to filing for divorce.  

Hopefully, this article helped you gain a rudimentary understanding of the divorce requirements in Florida.  If I can be of any assistance to you in regards to your family law matter, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me.  We offer free over the phone consultation along with low-cost in office consultations.  

Is a Contempt order that operates prospectively, by ordering automatic commitment in the event of future noncompliance without requiring additional hearing a violation of due process?

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 02/14/16

This was a question that was presented to the Florida Second District Court of Appeal not too long ago.  The appellant appealed a civil contempt order entered by the circuit court following his failure to abide by the terms of the marital settlement agreement between former husband and wife.  The civil contempt order, was imposed as a sanction in a prospective fashion.  The Appellate Court reversed.

To summarize what transpired in the lower levels without going into too much detail, the appellant and appellee were married for almost 30 years.  The parties entered into a marital settlement agreement, in which the crux of the agreement stated the wife was to transfer her half of the parties' business to husband, and in return, husband would pay wife $210,000.  In addition, husband was to pay wife $125,000 per year in alimony in addition to maintaining a life insurance policy providing a $1,000,000 benefit payable to wife.  The husband did make the payments for equitable distribution, however by September 13, 2013, husband fell behind $310,000 in alimony payments and $45,000 on premium payments for life insurance.  On October of 2013, the parties did stipulate to the entry of a judgment for arrearages, which judgment was entered in October of 2013. When the husband was unable to pay this judgment, the wife sought a civil contempt order to compel him to pay the judgment.  

A hearing was held on the wife's civil contempt motion and at that hearing, the court found that the husband was willfully refusing to pay his obligation. However, the order stated that "On or before the 16th of each  and every month beginning on January 16, 2014, Former Husband may purge himself of said contempt, and if incarcerated at that time shall be released from the Pinellas County Jail without further order, upon payment of the sum of $11,416.67 per calendar month..." Furthermore, "If Former Husband has not purged himself of said contempt within the time frame specified in this paragraph, he shall report to the Pinellas County Jail on the 16th day of each and every month beginning January 16, 2014, at 5:00 p.m, then and there to commence serving said sentence."

In Bowen v. Bowen, the supreme court set out the proper procedures for imposing contempt and held that "incarceration for civil contempt cannot be imposed absent finding by the trial court that the contemnor has the present ability to purge himself of the contempt. Incarceration cannot be imposed as a sanction for civil contempt in such a prospective fashion." "Moreover, due process requires that the contemnor be apprised of the nature of his contempt and that he be afforded an opportunity to be heard and defend the allegations against him." Cokonougher v. Cokonougher, 543 So. 2d 460.   As a result, a contempt order that operates prospectively, by ordering the automatic issuance of a commital order in the event of future non-compliance without requiring an additional hearing, violated due process and is improper.  

So to basically sum up, the lower courts order re: the contempt order, was reversed (only the portion addressing imposing incarceration based on prospective contempt orders). The court cannot issue prospective contempt orders as it would be a direct violation of due process.  In this present scenario, let's say on month 2, appellant is unable to make the payment by the 16th of the month.  Then according to the order, he would be in contempt of court without a hearing to determine if he has the ability to pay, proper notice, and an opportunity to be heard.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us for a free over the phone consultation, or a low cost in-office consultation in our St. Petersburg office.  It is very important to make sure you have a competent St. Petersburg Family Law lawyer or attorney by your side, as incompetent counsel can cost lots of money and headaches down the road.  

St. Petersburg Florida Family Law (Marital Agreements)

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 02/10/16

As a St. Petersburg Family law attorney, practicing in the area of Family Law, I have come to learn there are a plethora of areas one must be knowledgeable about in order to provide competent services to your client.  Whether it be alimony, child support, divorce, paternity or any other family law matter, it is important to choose someone who is up on current law, as it changes often.  In this post, I will focus on marital agreements (Pre-marital) specifically.  Looking for a St. Petersburg divorce attorney or St. Petersburg divorce lawyer when seeking assistance with drafting these documents is key to have it done correctly.

Pre-marital agreements [Fla. Stat. 61.079] between prospective spouses, other than contracts to marry, are generally valid.  The parties to a premarital agreement may contract with respect to spousal support, as well as matters relating to property.  However, if a provision of a premarital agreement modifies or eliminates spousal support and this causes one party to be eligible for public assistance program at the time of separation or marital dissolution, a court may require the other party to provide support to the extent necessary to avoid that eligibility.  In addition, a premarital agreement may not adversely affect the right of a child to support or authoritatively determine custody.  

Statute of Frauds:   Premarital agreements fall within the Statute of Frauds and must be in writing and signed by both parties.  

Marriage is consideration: Premarital agreements, like all contracts, require consideration to be valid.  Entry into the marriage is sufficient consideration to support a premarital agreement.  A premarital agreement becomes effective upon marriage of the parties.  

Amendment, Revocation or Abandonment:  After marriage, the agreement may be amended, revoked, or abandoned only by a written agreement signed by the parties.  The amended agreement, revocation, or abandonment is enforceable without consideration.  

Attorneys' Fees to Prevailing Party:  Premarital agreement provisions awarding attorneys' fees and costs to the prevailing party in litigation regarding the validity and enforceability of a premarital agreement are enforceable.  The purpose of a "prevailing party clause" is to indemnify the party who relied on the agreement and constitute a disincentive to one who may frivolously challenge it.  Such clauses do not implicate the state's interest in ensuring that each spouse supports the other during the marriage.   

As a St. Petersburg divorce lawyer, whose primary practice involves family law, I can help you draft an agreement like this.  Hiring competent counsel is essential to avoid any costly mistakes.  Please feel free to give us a call, for your free, no-obligation consultation regarding a pre-marital agreement, or any family law issue you may have.  As your Family law attorney, I promise I will not only give you competent advice, but I will be honest with you in my assessment of your legal situation.  

St. Petersburg/Clearwater Document preparation services

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 02/08/16

We are absolutely delighted at the number of people who have inquired about our $199 document preparation services.  As an attorney in St. Petersburg, FL, I know first-hand the struggle a lot of potential litigants have when it comes to finding affordable legal services.  I have assisted in the preparation of legal documents at Community Law Program in St. Petersburg, Gulfcoast Legal in Clearwater, and Bay Area legal services in Tampa, FL.  Whether you are looking to file a divorce on your own, or looking to have a simple will drafted, we can certainly help.  We focus on providing affordable, low cost document preparation services in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area.  We also provide services remotely throughout the state of Florida, so if you are inquiring about us drafting documents from Tallahassee down to Fort Lauderdale, we can help! Our pricing starts at a very low $199 for most legal documents, and lower for some.  We are excited to provide an alternative for those who want to take care of their legal issues themselves, but are just looking for a little guidance.  What we do suggest, is that you DO NOT hire a document preparation company to prepare your documents.  They are not licensed to render legal advice and I can't tell you how many times I have had to fix a host of problems a potential client has brought to me, as a result of consulting with a document preparation company or having them draft their documents.  Please feel free to give us a call, or e-mail to see if we can help and maybe we can save you a little bit of money.  We also provide free notary services for our clients that are in the surrounding St. Petersburg, FL area.     

What is considered Marital property in the state of Florida?

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 02/06/16

The general rule in a Florida divorce is that the court considers and divides up the "marital property" of the ex-spouses and that the non-marital property of each party remains with the spouse that owns that particular property.  When dividing up the marital property, the court is expected to be guided by principles of equity, making sure that the marital property division treats both spouses in a fair (but not necessarily in an exactly similar) manner.  The judge, depending on the circumstances might not necessarily divide marital property 50/50, instead he/she might divide it 70/30 or 60/40, etc.  Let's see how the court determines what can be classified as marital property?

Florida Statute 61.075 eloquently lays out what constitutes marital property in the State of Florida.  It includes:

Assets acquired during the marriage:  If a particular property or asset was purchased during the marriage, or acquired during the marriage, it most cases it is considered marital property.  It is not relevant if the property or asset was acquired by one or both spouses.  Let's say for example, a husband purchases a classic car during the course of his marriage to his wife, that classic car will be construed as marital property, even if the husband paid for the car with money from his own paycheck and only his name appears on the title.  The car is still likely to be treated as marital property. 

Enhancement in value and appreciation of non-marital assets:  If a non-marital asset becomes more valuable because one of the work of one or both spouses spent marital funds or assets on improving it, the enhancement can be considered marital property.  This situation frequently arises when one spouse owns a business from before the marriage.  After the marriage, the other spouse becomes an employee of the business.  By the efforts of both parties, the business expands and increases in value.  That increase in value would be considered marital property, even if the business existed before the marriage.  another example would be with real property owned prior to the marriage by one spouse.  Let's say that the wife owned a house in her name prior to the marriage.  Her name appears on the mortgage and title.  After she marries her husband, both of them spend a considerable amount of money improving and adding on to the house.  As a result of their efforts, the house appreciates in value.  That appreciation would be considered marital property.  

Real and personal property held as tenants by the entireties:  If the parties hold property as tenants by the entireties, then that property is presumed to be a marital asset.  Tenants by the entireties is a special form of ownership available only to married couples.  In order to be held as tenants by the entireties:

Both spouses must have an identical interest in the property;
The parties must have been marries at the time they acquired the property;
The spouses' interest must have been granted by the same instrument; and
The spouses' interest must have began at the same time.

Certain retirement benefits:  The statutes also includes "vested and nonvested" benefits, rights, and funds that accumulated during the marriage in any sort or retirement or insurance plan will be considered marital property. Suppose Bob works for an employer who provides a 401K.  Before the marriage, Bob had accumulated $20,000 in that 401K plan.  After marrying Gina, he accumulated an additional $40,000 in his retirement plan before Gina and Bob divorced.  While the $20,000 was acquired before the marriage (and will most likely be treated as non-marital property), the $40,000 would be considered marital property.  

As a divorce lawyer in St. Petersburg, FL who practices Family Law, our law firm focuses on various subsets surrounding Florida divorce laws.  While dealing with a divorce can be very emotional, as your divorce lawyer, I will handle your matter efficiently with courtesy and care.  The divorce process may seem overwhelming at first, but choosing an attorney that has handled divorces can help immensely in navigating through landmines, especially in St. Petersburg.  Whether it's child custody, child support, division of marital assets, I can help.  Please don't hesitate to contact us for a free consultation. We also offer low cost in-office consultations in our St. Petersburg, FL office.      

Are you and your spouse looking to enter into a "Marital Settlement Agreement?" It's not so easy to have it amended.

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 02/04/16

Lets look at the following question that a potential client in St. Petersburg, FL asked pertaining to a drafted "Marital Settlement Agreement."  

Question:  I am looking to get divorced and recently signed a marital settlement agreement with my spouse.  After it was signed by me, I wondered whether it was the right decision.  I determined I was not happy with what I signed and the terms I agreed to.  Is it possible that I can change the agreement?

Answer:  As an attorney in St. Petersburg, FL, I often run into scenarios such as the one described above when rendering legal advice.  To begin, we must note that a marital settlement agreement is a contract.  Any challenge or effort to change these types of agreements are usually in most instances subject to contact law.  As a result of your marital settlement agreement being a contract, it is subject to contract law.  The contract can usually be changed by agreement of the parties.  However, if there is no agreement, it can be difficult to change.  

Due to the fact that a marital settlement agreement is a contract, it must be challenged as a contract.  Grounds which might allow a successful challenge include mutual mistake.  That means the parties agree to one thing, however, the written document does not accurately reflect what they agreed to.  A unilateral mistake in most instances would not suffice as having a marital settlement agreement rendered void.  

On the other hand, if the agreement was the product of fraud or coercion, it might be successfully challenged.  That can be the case where one party is represented by an attorney and the other is not.  It can also be the case where one party conceals assets and/or bullies the other party into signing the agreement.  

Within the marital settlement agreement, there are areas in which the court can most easily modify marital settlement agreements.  These areas are child support and alimony.  Section 61.14 Fla. Stat. provides the courts with authority to modify these issues, even when the parties have agreed beforehand.  One recent case that illustrates this example is the recent case of deLabry v. Sales

In the Sales case, the parties had agreed to a child support amount which was to be paid by the former husband (per a marital settlement agreement).  The agreement was incorporated into the divorce judgment.  Approximately four years after the divorce, the former husband petitioned the court for a child support reduction on a basis of "change in circumstances."  Per the Florida statute, they provide for a modification of child support if there is a substantial change in circumstances of the parties.  The substantial change that the husband alleged, was that the wife had transformed from a stay at home parent, to a full-time employed lawyer.  While on the other hand, the former husband's income had dropped substantially.  The trial court ruled in favor of the former husband and the former wife then appealed.  The appellate court denied the appeal in a 2 to 1 decision.  The appellate court notes that child support obligations under a marital settlement agreement are modifiable as a matter of law.  Child support is a right of the child and cannot be contracted away by the parents.  The courts have inherent authority to enter and modify support orders.  The court noted that following 3 prong test had to be met and established:

  (a) a substantial change in circumstances;

  (b) a change that was not contemplated at the time of the final judgment; and

  (c) was sufficient, material, involuntary and permanent.

The court also agreed that the modification should be made retroactive to the date circumstances changed, not merely to the date the petition was filed.

Please remember that most aspects of a marital settlement agreement are almost impossible to change.  That's why it's very important that you retain an attorney in St. Petersburg, FL that is competent in the area of Family Law.  Child support and alimony are exceptions to the rule.  If an issue like this arises for you, please do not hesitate to reach out to us for a free consultation over the phone, or a low cost in-office consultation in our St. Petersburg office and let's see if we can help!

Looking to file a "Petition to Modify your time-sharing/parenting plan" agreement/Final Judgment? You may want to think again...

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 01/27/16

More often than not, you will have parties who were divorced or had a paternity issue resolved in the court, look to modify their time-sharing agreement in the state of Florida (St. Petersburg, FL or any other city in this state).  In order to do this, you must file what is known as a "Supplemental Petition to Modify Time-sharing/Parenting Plan."  From a legal standpoint, in order to have the appropriate legal grounds to prevail in this type of action, you must prove that there has been a "substantial change in circumstances since the execution of the agreement setting time-sharing in the final dissolution judgment."  Let's look at one case that clearly demonstrates the courts' opinion on what they do not deem a "legitimate change in circumstances."

In Reed v. Reed (No. 4D14-4012), the former wife/mother in a divorce case appealed an order that granted the former husband's supplemental petition for modification of time-sharing.  The trial court determined that there had been a substantial chance in circumstances since the execution of the agreement setting time-sharing in the final dissolution judgment, as the father had "stabilized his life and wanted more time with his child."According to the appellate court, this was insufficient to constitute a substantial change in circumstances.  The appellate court determined that not only was there no change in circumstances, but that it was not in the child's best interest to modify the final judgment.  

To quickly sum up what transpired on the trial court level regarding the supplemental petition to modify parenting plan/time-sharing agreement, the Magistrate's ruling in granting the father's petition was that the father had "stabilized his life," and that it was in the child's best interest to have overnight time-sharing with the father.   "Demonstrating to the court that there has been a sufficient substantial change in circumstances places an "extraordinary burden" on the party seeking to modify the custody order." Chamberlain v. Eisinger, 159 So. 3d 185, 189 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015) (quoting Sanchez, 45 So. 3d at 61-62).  The appellate court determined that the trial court erred by finding that the mere stabilization of the father's life constituted a substantial change in circumstances, as both the father's allegations and his proof were insufficient. Furthermore, they noted that just because the father now has a relatively stable home environment is, in and of itself, inadequate to constitute a substantial change in circumstances.  See Bartolotta v Bartolotta, 687 So. 2d 1385, 1387 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997); see generally Miller v. Miller, 671 So. 2d 849, 852 (Fla. 5th DCA 1996).  

What should you surmise out of all of this?  You do not have legal grounds to change your parenting plans, if you have "improved your lifestyle" since entry of the final judgment.  Please do not get me wrong, as that is great.  However, be wary of any attorney (in Florida and/or in the St. Petersburg area) that you approach with this reasoning as to why you should have your time-sharing agreement changed that agrees with you and takes your money.  It will be a losing battle, and an expensive one at that.  If you are looking to modify your time-sharing/parenting plan (Final Judgment), please do not hesitate to reach out to us at our St. Petersburg, FL office.  We will give you our honest assessment of whether you have a legitimate chance or not of having your time-sharing schedule amended.  As your St. Petersburg, FL attorney, my job is to stay up on current law to give you the best chance of succeeding in your case. We offer free over the phone consultations and low cost in-office consultations, in our St. Petersburg office.  

Parenting Plans (A general overview)

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 01/07/16

As a Family Law attorney in St. Petersburg, FL, there are a host of issues that I encounter that involve what is known as a Parenting Plan.  Many divorce lawyers, including myself, run into potential clients who come in with preconceived notions of "custody."  Both parents want to spend all of the time with the children.  Yet, with two different households, the reality of the Shared Parental Responsibility Act, unique to Florida must be understood.  A good divorce lawyer will have no problem doing this.  Furthermore, your divorce lawyer must understand the Shared Parental Responsibility Act and be able to explain it to you and distinguish it from "care, custody, and control."  

Shared parental responsibility is unique to the State of Florida.  There is no other state in the United States that has shared parental responsibility, which is what makes Florida's divorce laws so different that other states.  Shared parental responsibility is divided into parental rights and responsibilities in (1) decision making and (2) where the child lays his or her head more of the time (physical shared parental responsibility).  Effective October 1, 2008, Florida law requires that a parenting plan must be prepared for every non-support case involving minor children, dissolution of marriage included.  A parenting plan is a document created to govern the relationship between the parties relating to the decisions that must be made regarding the minor child.  It must contain a time-sharing schedule for the parents and child.  The parenting plan must be developed and agreed to by the parents, and approved by a court or, if the parents cannot agree, established by the court.  Please note, that contrary to popular belief, there is no presumption for or against the father or mother of the child or for or against any specific time-sharing schedule when creating or modifying the parenting plan.  Dealing with issues revolving around your child(ren) can be very stressful and take an emotional toll on you. As a Florida divorce lawyer, we can help you take the appropriate approach to give you the best chance of obtaining the best possible outcome.  Please do not hesitate to contact our Family Law firm for a free over the phone consultation.   

A brief overview of child support in the state of Florida

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 12/29/15

In most of the family law matters I have dealt with, as an attorney in the St. Petersburg area, child support is often discussed and understandably so.  It may be one parent that is questioning how much he/she is entitled to under the circumstances present.  Or, on the other hand it may be one parent who is questioning how much he/she should give the other parent under a hypothetical time-sharing scenario.  We must note, that there are two factors that are used to determine the amount of child support:  (1) the needs of the child; (2) the financial ability of each parent to meet those needs.  Florida has established a formula (child support guidelines worksheet) to be used in calculating the needs of the child and each parent's ability to meet those needs.  The following steps are used in determining the proper amount of child support:  

  • You and the other parent each provide proof of your gross incomes.
  • Taxes and certain other deductions are allowed to determine each of your net income
  • The combined income and the number of children you have are used to establish the children's needs.  
A few important points.  First, if your and the other parent's combined income is less than $650 per month, the child support guidelines cannot be used.  Secondly, a judge may depart from the guidelines by up to 5%, after considering the needs of the child and each parent's age, station in life, standard of living, and financial status.  A judge can also adjust the amount of child support in consideration of the following factors (including but not limited to):
  1. extraordinary medical, psychological, educational, or dental expenses;
  2. independent income of the child, but not including supplemental security income for a child;
  3. the payment of support for a parent (that is, the parent of one of the parties) which regularly has been paid and for which there is a demonstrated need;
  4. seasonal variations in one or both parent's incomes or expenses;
  5. the age of the child, taking into account the greater needs of older children; and many other factors.
If you are a parent who is looking to receive child support for your child(ren), or you are a parent who is curious about what their monthly payment(s) should be if any, please call our St. Petersburg office to set up a free over the phone consultation.  Some pro-se litigants may feel that it isn't worth it to hire counsel because it's too expensive. However, think about the long term effect if you are dealing with a child-support issue that is complicated.  Either you will end up paying too much in child support, or you will receive too little.  The cost up-front is definitely worth making sure that all of your legal options are explored prior to a final judgment being rendered.  

Low cost ($200) document preparation services

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 12/21/15

Participating in pro-bono clinics gave me a great and unique opportunity to discover an ongoing epidemic: the fact that there are a lot of people out there that cannot afford traditional legal services.  I have assisted many individuals with the preparation of their legal documents, especially in the area of Family Law for free.  As a result, I have decided to add an additional service that has been requested time and time again by potential clients.  For the low cost of $200, we will prepare your legal documents and file them for you (limited representation).  If you choose to have us represent you in your legal matter, we will reduce our hourly rate as an incentive.  We understand that times are tough and there are a lot of people out there struggling.  Some, have decided that they will approach their legal matter without an attorney.  While in some instances, especially when it involves a large sum of money, children or finances, I strongly advise against this, I understand that sometimes the money just isn't there.  With this service provided, we will prepare your legal documents and give you legal advice.  We urge you to stay far away from "document preparation services," where the person or people providing the service is/are not a licensed attorney.  They cannot give legal advice (which I'm sure they do) and may pose a danger to your case.  Please take a look at the following matters we can assist you with pertaining to document preparation:



As an attorney, I highly suggest (unless you are dealing with a relatively simple matter, with very little property) that you hire an attorney, even if it's just to prepare your paperwork.  I can't say it enough, that time and time again I speak to people who didn't know what they filed, and as a result needed to retain an attorney to fix the mess that was created.  As I have stated, we promise that irregardless of your financial situation, we will work for you, as everyone is entitled to competent legal representation.

Is your marriage irretrievably broken?

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 11/20/15

As a divorce attorney, that practices primarily in the St. Petersburg area, one of the questions that typically comes up during a consultation, is "can I get a divorce?"  The answer, invariably under most circumstances is yes.  With most scenarios, the most common ground to obtain a divorce is that the marriage is "irretrievably broken."  Specifically, a marriage is irretrievably broken when the parties can no longer live together because their difficulties are so deep and substantial that no reasonable effort could eradicate them and enable the parties to live together in a normal marital relationship.  [Please see Riley v. Riley, 271, So. 2d 181 (Fla 1st DCA 1972).]  Although the court is to inquire whether the marriage is broken beyond repair and why, there is no requirement that a written finding be made that the marriage is irretrievably broken in an order dissolving the marriage.  

In terms of whose fault it is as to why the marriage is irretrievably broken is not relevant, as Florida is a "no-fault" state.  However, it should be noted that when seeking alimony and/or equitable distribution of marital property, fault may be pleaded.  Be careful of looking to allege facts in your pleadings convincing the judge that one party was at fault when filing your divorce, or in your response. Oftentimes, pleading a cause for the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and attempting to allege fault can lead to your allegation being struck as immaterial or slanderous.  The only allegation that is needed in your pleadings is "The marriage is irretrievably broken."  Please feel free to contact me if you are individual that is looking to file a divorce, looking to respond to a divorce petition, or would like to know their rights should this issue come up. We offer free consultations and would be happy to help.  

Are you looking to get a quick divorce in St. Petersburg?

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 11/19/15

In order to obtain a quick divorce, you and your spouse must file what is known as a "Petition for a Simplified Dissolution of Marriage."  In order to qualify for this type of divorce, both parties must certify under oath that:

  • The parties do not have any minor or dependent children together, the   wife does not have any minor or dependent children who were born during the marriage, and the wife is not pregnant.
  • The parties have made a satisfactory division of their property and have agreed as to the payment of their joint obligations.
  • Both parties waive their right to alimony.
  • You are willing to give up your right to trial and appeal.  
  • Both parties must join in the petition and appear at the final hearing together.
There are major advantages for a party to use the simplified dissolution of marriage procedure.  First, the parties do not need to file a financial affidavit or a marital settlement agreement, as these requirements were deleted.  Secondly, no final judgment of dissolution of marriage may be entered until at least 20 days have elapsed from the date of filing of the petition of dissolution of marriage.  However, on a showing that injustice would result from this delay, the court may enter a final judgment of dissolution of marriage at an earlier date.  It's a relatively quick process and if all goes well, you may be able to get divorced no earlier than 3 weeks from the date you filed your petition.  If you believe that the facts in your case enable you to go this route, or just have general questions, please feel free to contact our St. Petersburg Family Law Firm for a free consultation to see if we can help.  

Brief overview of the law for unwed fathers

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 11/17/15

As a lawyer in St. Petersburg, that focuses primarily in Family Law, this is an issue that comes up fairly often.  We live in an era now, in which many parents choose to have a child or children, and decide to not get wed.  People's perceptions of what they deem a family have also changed and as a result, less and less people are getting married.  However, what if you find yourself in a situation where you and your significant other no longer see eye to eye, and decide to part ways?  This is where it gets interesting.

To begin, the law explicitly states that unless the parents of the child in question are married, the mother of the child(ren) has full rights to their child(ren).  The mother is deemed the natural guardian, and as a result is entitled to primary residential care and custody of the parties' child(ren) Fl. Stat. 744.301(1). According to the law, barring some unforeseen circumstance or emergency pertaining to the children that questions the safety of the parties' child(ren), you may not be able to see your child until after certain proceedings occur.  

Furthermore, if you and the child's mother no longer live in the same residence, the child's mother can request in the petition that they be awarded what is known as "retroactive child support" going back 24 months.  Please note that if the father is the primary caretaker, he can also in his filings make the same request for retroactive child support, again going back 24 months from the date of filing.  Specifically, the 24 months goes back to the time period both parties did not reside in the same household.  Of-course, we're assuming that if Parent A and Parent B lived in the same household as Child C, then both parties have contributed to the child's well being.  On the other hand, if you find yourself in a position where retro-active child support is being requested in your case, be prepared to show the judge or magistrate why it should be offset.  For example, checks, copies of bank statements showing deposits into his/her account, etc. would be great ways to demonstrate that you contributed to your child or children's needs during the time-frame you were not with your significant other.  

Last, but not least you must understand that this is a process.  Unless both parties/parents agree to just about everything (which is usually rare), you will be dealing with a contested action.  Sometimes, you will have situations where both parties can't agree to anything, but then go to mediation and are able to resolve most of the issues, even if it's on a temporary basis.  Other times, parties may realize that they are getting closer to trial, and would rather come up with a resolution on their own, as opposed to a judge making a life-altering ruling pertaining to their child(ren).  If you find yourself in a situation similar to this, please feel free to contact me for a free consultation, so I can apprise you of your rights.  

Are you looking to get divorced, but either you or your spouse lives in a state outside of Florida?

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 10/31/15

As an attorney in St. Petersburg, Florida that focuses primarily in the area of Family Law, this is a topic that comes up from time to time, and understandably so.  Both parties may reside as husband and wife in one state, and upon determining that their marriage is irretrievably broken, one party may believe that moving to another state may benefit him/her and or the children (if applicable). The first thing you need to determine, is whether subject matter jurisdiction exists. More specifically, the residence requirement must be met. Either party must be a resident of Florida for at least six consecutive months prior to the filing of the petition, per FL. Stat. 61.021.  In order to satisfy this requirement, residency must be corroborated one of three ways: Valid Florida Driver's License (most common), a Florida Voter Registration Card or the testimony or affidavit of a third party.  Please note that either party (Petitioner or Respondent) can satisfy this requirement, as it does not have to be the petitioning party.  Personal Jurisdiction over the non-resident is not required to grant a divorce.  However, if there are other issues pertinent to the case such as (child support, time-sharing/parental responsibility, equitable distribution, etc.), it becomes a little bit more complicated.  In all of the secondary issues mentioned above, Florida must have both subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction.  If either one is missing, Florida will not and cannot render a decision/Final Judgment addressing that issue.  If they do, I can almost guarantee it will be overturned in an appellate court.  Please do not hesitate to give us a call if you find yourself in the situation described above and we would be happy to set up a low-cost, no obligation consultation. Not only are issues that revolve around one spouse being a non-resident of this state pretty difficult to deal with, but throw in other issues such as child support, time-sharing, etc., and even competent attorneys can get tripped up.    

Should your child(ren) testify in your Family Law/Divorce case?

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 10/25/15

As a Family Law/Divorce attorney in St. Petersburg, FL, a question that arises from time to time is, "Should my Minor Child(ren) testify in this matter?"  Well to begin, in order to climb this hurdle, you need to first obtain the judge's permission.  It's difficult to determine on a broad scale whether it's a good or bad idea to have a child testify in a Family Law matter.  It can depend on a number of factors, such as the Judge, the allegations made, what type of hearing, etc.  More often than not, when a child testifies, it can cause the child great emotional stress, due to being placed in the middle of an argument between their parents and due to the stress of appearing in court and testifying.  Circumstances where it may be almost necessary to have a child provide testimony in a Family Law case is when you are dealing with allegations of child abuse, or perhaps a change in custody.  If you decide that in your case that your minor child should testify, you will need to prepare and file a MOTION FOR TESTIMONY AND ATTENDANCE OF MINOR CHILD(REN).  This form asks the judge's permission for a minor child to be subpoenaed to appear at a hearing or deposition.  You will have the opportunity to state what the child will testify about and why the child's testimony is necessary.  Of-course, you will have to notify the other party of your motion, by mailing or delivering a copy of the motion to the other party.  After that is completed, you must then obtain a few dates from the judge's assistant to schedule a hearing and confer with the other party which dates/times will work for him/her.  If you find yourself in a situation where you believe your child may need to testify in your legal matter, please contact us to schedule a low cost, no obligation consultation.  

About the Law Office of Jerome C. Williams, Jr., Esq.

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 10/18/15

As a law firm located primarily in the St. Petersburg, FL area, we have the unique opportunity to represent clients in the following areas of law: Family/Matrimonial Law & Landlord/Tenant.  Throughout the past 3 years, we have been fortunate enough to represent clients in specific Family Law matters, including but not limited to: Paternity, Alimony, Child Support, and Dissolution of Marriage.  We do offer our prospective clients low cost in office consultations, in order to give them the best experience and most practical advice upon their initial consultation.  In addition, if a client chooses to retain me to represent them in their legal matter, the consultation fee is applied towards their initial retainer, or flat fee payment, so in essence you have not lost your initial investment.  Depending on your circumstances, we may be able to work with you where you would be on a monthly payment plan.  We would just ask for $500 down to begin work on your case and then request the agreed upon amount per month, for X amount of months.  Some potential clients feel that initial consultations should be free (some areas it's mandatory).  I completely understand the notion behind that.  However, let's look at the following numbers.  Client 1 comes in for an initial consultation in our St. Petersburg, Fl office and decides to retain us for legal services (divorce without property & no children).  The $150 paid will be applied towards the flat fee charge or hourly fee (for the purposes of this hypothetical let's say Client 1 opts for the Flat fee), so it's $2,500-$150.  The payment would be $2,350 (+ court costs, etc.).  That's it and you're done!  Client 2 comes in to Law Firm X that offers free consultations.  Client 2 decides to retain Law Firm X and as a result is told that they must have $3,000-$5,000 just to start on their case, and that's being charged at a rate of $200-$400 per hour.  At that rate, you will blow through your retainer in 2-3 months, depending on how contested your legal matter is or becomes.  Your attorney will then ask for an additional $3,000-$5,000 minimum.  At our law firm, you just pay the one fee and you're done! If you find yourself in a situation where you are seeking guidance or potential representation regarding your legal matter, please feel free to give me a ring to set up a no-obligation low cost consultation.  

How can you determine what is considered or classified as "non-marital property" in your divorce proceedings?

by Jerome C. Williams, Jr. on 09/15/15

As a Family Law attorney in the state of Florida, this is a question that comes up very often.  Additionally, a Family Lawyer when dealing with any kind of divorce will first want to determine what is considered marital property and non-marital property.  "Non-Marital Assets/property" include the following:  1) Assets acquired and liabilities incurred by either party prior to the marriage, or 2) Any gift, bequest, or inheritance received before the marriage or during the marriage. Specifically in Robinson v. Robinson, 34 FLW d751 (Fla 1st DCA 2009) (abuse of discretion to treat husband's five shares of stock, acquired prior to the marriage, as a marital asset; non marital stock was not transferred into a marital asset merely because the husband derived the family income from his work for the corporation).  In Mills v. Mills, 845 So 2d 230 (Fla 3d DCA 2003) (trial court erred in finding that stock in husband's business, which had been given to husband by his grandmother was marital asset subject to equitable distribution; three elements must be shown to support finding of intent of gift: donative intent, delivery or possession of gift, and relinquishment of all possession and control of gift; there was no evidence to support finding that husband received stock in business from his grandmother as compensation for services; there was no evidence presented to indicate that stock transfer was anything other than gift).   Family Law attorneys (divorce attorneys) are trained to spot these issues.  Determining and classifying what valuable asset(s) is/are not marital property can protect you from having it exposed to the other party. Whether it be an expensive car, real property, or a very profitable business, make sure that you are protected.  Hiring the right divorce attorney can help you avoid this costly and detrimental mistake.   

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