A Florida child support order may be modified based on a showing of a substantial change in circumstances, when the best interests of the minor child requires modification, or upon the child reaching the age of majority or is otherwise emancipated through marriage or joining the armed services. A substantial change of circumstances may be based upon a change in the financial ability of either parent which was not anticipated when the original order or agreement was entered, an involuntary decrease in income, extraordinary medical expenses, independent income of the child, the age of a child, the extent of overnights the payor exercises with the minor children, IRS tax credits and exemptions, the special needs of a disabled child and any other factor that requires consideration for an equitable result. The Florida child support guidelines provide that before the Florida family court may find a substantial change in circumstances, the difference between the existing monthly obligation and the amount provided for under the guidelines must be at least 15 percent or $50, whichever amount is greater.
Effective October 1, 2010, all Florida child support orders must provide that the order terminates upon the child’s 18th birthday. Child support may, however, be extended if the child is attending high school on a good faith basis, is in his or her senior year, and anticipates graduating prior to the age of 19. If multiple minor children are the subject of a child support order, the order must set forth the modified amount of child support for the remaining minor children after each child reaches age 18.
Uncontested divorces are the most affordable way to obtain a divorce in Florida. An uncontested divorce can result from negotiations and settlement or from a settlement through the mediation or Collaborative Family Law process. Nevertheless, Florida uncontested divorces still require the filing of the proper divorce records including the Petition for Dissolution, Answer, Waivers, a Marriage Agreement Contract outlining the spouses’ agreement and the Judgment of Divorce. Thereafter, a hearing will be held to finalize the divorce and related issues wherein the Family Court Judge will require proof that the Marital Settlement Agreement is fair and that the mandatory jurisdictional requirements have been met. Rarely will the Divorce Court Judge set aside a Marriage Agreement that was negotiated as a settlement between the spouses.
In Florida, uncontested divorces offer many advantages over traditional divorce litigation. First, a Florida uncontested divorce is much less expensive and less time-consuming than reaching the terms of divorce through contested litigation or perhaps even mediation. Second, the divorcing spouses know their personal circumstances including finances and the best interests of the children much better than a Family Court Judge will ever know even after hearing testimony at a contested trial. The divorcing spouses are in a much better situation than a judge to determine what would be a fair resolution of their child custody, child support, property division and alimony issues. Third, Florida uncontested divorces generally leave the divorced spouses in a better emotional state and allow healthier interactions in the future especially when minor children are involved in the case.
Mediation is a process that helps all parties to a family law dispute receives unbiased opinions and suggestions for settlement from an experienced family law mediator in an attempt to amicably resolve their differences and avoid contested litigation. Florida mediation cases are a form of conflict management and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and are especially useful mechanisms in the highly emotional areas involving divorce and children.
In Duval County, an administrative rule from the Family Court requires mandatory mediation before a Duval County Family Court judge will issue a trial date for disputed family law issues. Most family law mediation cases therefore arise after one party has filed a family court legal action. Because family court litigation has commenced, the Florida family law statutes require both parties to comply with mandatory disclosure of income and assets and the filing of Financial Affidavits and other legal papers.
There are many benefits to FL divorce and family law mediation including:
Cost – Typically the mediation process yields a financial savings to the family law clients over the cost of traditional divorce and family law litigation. Most family law parties choose to be represented by a family law attorney during the mediation process. However, some parties are unable to afford private counsel and elect to proceed with mediation without an attorney. The costs for the family law mediation process are generally cheaper than the traditional litigation process even when both parties have independent mediation and divorce attorneys.
Time – Private Family Law Mediators are generally able to schedule mediation sessions around the parties’ schedules and in a prompt timeframe. Some family law mediators will even work evenings and weekends! Contrast this to court mediation programs or a Family Court trial that is generally scheduled months down the road and around the judge’s or court ordered mediator’s work schedule and hours. Private family law mediation provides the opportunity for a much quicker resolution of Florida family law issues.
Control of outcome – Family law mediation allows the spouses, former spouses, or parents to control the ultimate outcome of their family law issues based upon negotiation and compromise instead of the imposition of an order by a judge who may have only a limited knowledge of your personal situation. Mediators for divorce are there to assist the parties in resolving their dispute and to guide the parties regarding how to mediate their case. Unlike the arbitration process where the arbitors decide the outcome of the case, Florida mediation laws prevent the Florida mediators from deciding the outcome of mediated cases.
Unbiased experts – In a complex case involving high income, high assets, or complex support cases due to self-employment or otherwise, the parties generally each retain their own team of experts – forensic accountants, financial planners, vocational experts, real estate appraisers and actuaries. In the mediation process, the parties agree on or permit the mediator to select the team of necessary experts and avoid the duplication of cost and uncertain outcome from the battling experts.
Future contact – When family law clients have children, it is inevitable that they will have contact with each other in the future. Most people agree that if the parties are able to come to an agreement regarding their family law issues, they are more likely to be able to have a working relationship in the future that will be beneficial to the children. Neither party feels that they were cheated in a mediated settlement agreement so they are less likely to harbor ill feelings towards the other parent in the future.
Discretion – The mediation process is conducted in a private with complete discretion for the family law clients. Family law mediation clients are not exposed to the glare of a hearing in a public courthouse where, in most circumstances, any person is free to witness the parties’ court hearings.
Confidentiality – Family law mediators will keep all personal information learned during the mediation process as well as all mediated communications confidential and will not divulge information learned to the court or any other person unrelated to the mediation process.
Private conference rooms – The mediation process allows those divorcing spouses who prefer to remain in separate conference rooms while the negotiations are underway to do so. Contrast this to a contested trial where the parties are forced to remain in the same room and hear each other’s testimony.
Settle today, sign today – If an agreement is reached during mediation, the mediator and the attorneys will draft a Mediated Marriage Settlement Agreement for the parties to immediately sign. Most mediation services provide typing services for the mediating parties.
Mediating post-judgment disputes – Florida family law mediators may be able to assist mediation clients with issues that arise after a final judgment is entered by the court. Sometimes minor issues involving the time-sharing parenting plan may arise or one of the parties may believe that the support or custody terms should be modified. Florida mediators are available to assist family law parties with post-judgment disputes.
Court process available for unresolved issues – The goal of family law mediators is to amicably resolve all family law issues between the parties including any issues of divorce, property distribution, paternity, child support, spousal support and alimony, child custody, and related issues. In the event that some, but not all issues are resolved, the parties are free to continue with a contested family court case with regard to the unresolved issues.
Florida law provides for equitable distribution of the marital estate. This means that all marital property and assets, as well as all marital debts acquired from the date of the parties’ marriage through their date of separation (or sometimes date of division or divorce) will be divided equitably or in other words — fairly. The divorce court will consider assets and debts marital even if they were acquired by only one spouse during the marriage or titled only in one spouse’s name as long as they are not exempted from the marital estate due to a prenuptial agreement, inheritance, gift from third party or otherwise. Increases in value of non-marital assets may, in some circumstances, also be considered a marital asset.
Resolving Marital Property Distribution in Florida
There are three steps to resolving Florida equitable distribution matters:
Identifying the assets. The first step for a Florida property distribution lawyer in analyzing a Florida equitable distribution of marital property case is to identify and/or locate the assets and debts of the parties. Identifying and locating each spouse’s assets and debts is generally accomplished through a legal process known as discovery. Discovery is a process whereby an experienced Florida equitable distribution lawyer will submit written questions to the other spouse regarding the marital property and debts, and a written response is required. Other times, the Florida equitable distribution attorney may request documents to be produced by the other spouse or may conduct a deposition and require the deposed spouse to answer questions under oath. In some circumstances, the exchange of documents and information is required under Florida law. In other circumstances, the information may never be uncovered unless it is requested and obtained by the spouse’s Florida property distribution lawyers. The discovery process is critically important when it is believed that a spouse may have hidden assets during the marriage in an attempt to prevent the other spouse from obtaining a fair property distribution settlement or order.
Characterizing the assets. The second step for a Florida property distribution lawyer in analyzing an equitable distribution case is to characterize the uncovered assets and debts as marital or nonmarital. Assets acquired before the date of marriage, assets acquired through inheritance or gift to one spouse, and assets excluded by way of valid prenuptial agreement are generally characterized as nonmarital property. An exception is that the increase in value during the marriage of nonmarital assets is generally considered a marital asset. Generally all other assets acquired during the spouses’ marriage are considered marital property and subject to Florida’s equitable distribution process. The same rules hold true regarding the characterization of debts as marital or nonmarital. While it sounds easy to characterize the assets and debts as marital or nonmarital, this is not always the case especially when nonmarital and marital assets are commingled.
Valuing the assets. The third step in evaluating a Florida property distribution case is to determine the value of the assets and debts. The balances in bank accounts or the amounts owed on credit cards are readily apparent. However, other assets and debts may require that experts be retained by the Florida divorce attorneys for a fair determination of their value. In divorce cases where real estate valuation issues emerge, a law firm may hire real estate appraisers. In a case where the cash value of a pension plan is involved, a Family law attorney may hire an actuary to perform a present-day cash value determination. In cases where the spouses own a business, business valuation experts and/or forensic accountants may be retained by a Florida divorce lawyer.
Examples of marital assets in a Florida divorce:
Retirement plans including pensions and 401(k)
Business interests including interests in corporations and partnerships
Motor vehicles including cars, planes, boats, RVs and other vehicles
Stocks and bonds
Cash, money owed to you
Furniture and furnishings
Collectibles, jewelry, sporting & entertainment equipment
Cash value of life insurance policies
Examples of marital debts and liabilities in a Florida divorce:
Mortgages on real estate
Credit card accounts
Automobile or other vehicle loans
Bank or personal loans
Judgments or tax liens
What are the Client’s Goals regarding the Division of Marital Property and Debts in the Florida divorce?
A marital property lawyer must develop a plan with his/her clients to identify his/her short-term and long-term financial goals. Clients need to consider not only their immediate needs such as housing, but their long-term needs such as retirement income.
Does a mother wish to retain the marital home for the benefit of the minor children?
Does a husband wish to retain the majority of retirement benefits acquired through his employment?
Can the parties continue to jointly operate a marital business?
Do spouses who both work wish to keep their retirement accounts in separate names and utilize other assets to make a fair division of property?
In today’s economy, many equitable distribution cases involve division of large amounts of debt or are debt-only cases. What is the best strategy for my clients in those equitable distribution cases?
What is the best option for clients if the value of the marital home is less than the amount of the mortgage?
Will there be any tax consequences of the proposed division of property and debts?
The use of the Internet or this form for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be sent through this form.
Use this form to find things you need on this site